Day: January 1, 2012

Not time to withdraw the observers

The Guardian reports:

An Arab League advisory body has called for the immediate withdrawal of the organisation’s monitoring mission in Syria, saying it is allowing Damascus to cover up violence and abuses.

This is well meaning, but wrong. Here’s one reason why:

“I saw the snipers with my own eyes,” the Arab League observer says. Shocking, but not surprising. At least some the observers, rather than following the bad example of their Sudanese leader, are trying to restrain the authorities in Syria by saying plainly what they are seeing. Friday’s demonstrations, which the Western press thinks brought out as many as 500,000 people, were large and energetic precisely because the observers were present.  Withdrawing them prematurely would be a serious error and give the regime another opportunity for a massive crackdown against reduced numbers of protesters.

No, the observers should stay, at least for now.  They should be encouraged to go wherever the regime tries to prevent them from going and to document abuses, communicating as directly as possible with the world beyond Syria.  So long as they function as the eyes and ears of the international community, their presence will encourage larger numbers of protesters and discourage (not end) the overt use of force against them.

The day may well come when the observers act more as a fig leaf for the regime than protection for protesters.  But that day has not come yet.  Withdrawing the observers now would encourage more violence–both by the regime and by those among the protesters who are inclined in that direction–and push Syria farther down the path towards civil war.

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