Coffee House

Ukraine and Syria expose the West’s lack of appetite for protecting human rights

12 March 2014

11:59 AM

12 March 2014

11:59 AM

‘We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.’ So wrote Vladimir Putin in The New York Times in September last year. Last week, he invaded Ukraine.

A system of ‘international law’ which gives a man like President Putin the right to decide whether a proposed action is legal or not, is morally bankrupt. Yet that is how the United Nations Security Council functions – and that is why Western democracies should not shrink from taking action even when the Russian veto stands in the way.

President Putin’s New York Times piece was about Syria. He was appealing to the American public not to assist Bashar al-Assad’s opponents. Assad has used barrel bombs to cause indiscriminate death among civilians, has enforced starvation sieges on Syrian cities, and has sent out his forces with orders to arrest, torture and kill his opponents. Photographs smuggled out of the country in January showed evidence that 11,000 people had been tortured and killed in detention. In all, over 140,000 Syrians have been killed since Assad initiated a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters in March 2011. During all this time, Putin’s government has given Assad military, economic and diplomatic support.


In contrast, Western support for the Syrian opposition has been limited and hesitant. Even when Assad used chemical weapons against his own people in 2013, the UK Parliament voted against taking any decisive action in response. No wonder Assad has dragged his feet in implementing the agreement he made to ship out all his chemical weapons stockpile: he has only surrendered so far about 11 per cent of it. And no wonder Vladimir Putin, watching the West’s disarray, has felt able to annexe the Crimea.

In January this year, we went to peace talks at Geneva, in the hope of reaching a peaceful and just settlement to the conflict in Syria. The talks broke down because Assad’s delegates were wholly intransigent. As Ambassador Robert Ford revealed, even the UN chair of those talks, Lakhdar Brahimi, blamed Assad’s chief delegate ‘100%’ for their collapse. Subsequently the UN Security Council managed to agree Resolution 2139 on 22 February, demanding an end to all attacks on civilians, a lifting of all sieges, and humanitarian access. The Security Council asked for a report from Ban Ki-moon on implementation of the Resolution, and expressed its intent ‘to take further steps in the case of non-compliance’. So far the Syrian regime has done nothing to comply.

The international community has been distracted from the crisis in Syria by events in Ukraine. But these two situations are interlinked. The failure to punish the Russian-backed Assad regime’s multiple abuses has shown that the West has no appetite to protect human rights. Neither sovereignty nor international law has been strengthened by this, as the invasion of Ukraine shows. When Ban Ki-moon reports, Russian veto or no, the West has a chance to put this right. Notwithstanding a likely Russian veto, now is the chance for the international community to ensure Syria’s compliance with resolution 2139, which would finally uphold the rights of Syrian civilians, rather than the interests of the Russian-backed Assad regime.

Brooks Newmark is the Conservative MP for Braintree

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • WinstonCDN

    West is lost…

  • D Whiggery

    Maybe this is due to the concept being eroded at home.

  • Paul J

    ” As Ambassador Robert Ford revealed…”

    Ambassador Ford was VERY heavily involved in sponsoring the infiltration of Iraqi security forces by Shia death squads, in another idiotic “enemy of my enemy is my friend” wrongheaded calculation. That was something the British police advisers were having kittens about every single day back in 2005-6, and whereas the US were totally blase.

    Having that utter scumbag lecture anyone, even butcher Assad, about human rights is a revolting joke.

  • Tom Tom

    Come on Brooks, as a Lord of the Treasury I have never heard you wanting higher taxes on the LBO jockeys like yourself from your Lehman days to pay for proper Defence

  • starfish

    Why is it ‘our’ duty to intervene?

    • gerontius

      You are correct – we have no duty to intervene and even if we did intervene we would do no good, because whichever side wins will simply butcher the other. That’s their way.
      We have to accept that some cultures are still firmly rooted in the dark ages and treat them accordingly.

  • saffrin

    Doing business with Saudi Arabia has shown the West doesn’t give a toss for human rights now or at any time in the past.
    And with the EU now actively promoting China, why would we think any different?
    Lions led by liars and hypocrites.

    • Tom Tom

      But Britain does supply Internet bots to help Saudi Occupation Forces monitor Freedom Activists in Bahrain

  • the viceroy’s gin

    “…now is the chance for the international community to ensure Syria’s compliance with resolution 2139…”


    You can jump right in and ensure that compliance, lad. Just grab your socks and rush right over there and join your islamofascist buddies in Syria. Maybe they’ll even let you chop off a Christian head or two, just to cement the bond.

    It’s amazing how detached you progressive-neocon nutters truly are.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      By the way, how’s your last glorious campaign in Libya coming along, lad? I hear your buddies the eastern Libyan islamofascist headchoppers are loading tankers for the North Koreans, to help them build nukes, in violation of the UN restrictions you progressive-neocon nutters are so infatuated with.

      You clueless nutters really need to just sit down and shut up.

      • Tom Tom

        UN Security Council received report 2 days ago that Libya is now supplying weapons in conflicts in 14 countries

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Mission accomplished, apparently. There are islamics in Crimea, I understand. A small minority, but they could be propped up into Putin killing mode most readily, no doubt.

    • ADW

      Haven’t you noticed? Libya is now a prosperous, free, democratic country, respecting the rule of law, human rights and equality. They have a new constitution ensuring universal suffrage, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom from discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation and disability; they have their own NHS; and they have a pacifist constitution modelled on the post-war Japanese and German examples. They have also constructed statues of Cameron, Sarkozy et al as a measure of eternal gratitude to the liberators of their great nation.

      Or maybe not. But no Western soldiers died in the heroic bombing campaign so we’ve forgotten that one.

  • zanzamander

    “Ukraine and Syria expose the West’s lack of appetite for protecting human rights”

    But there is no lack in West’s appetite for instigating coups, arming Islamist terrorists, propping up vicious regimes, trading with obnoxious dictatorships and generally undermining democracy.

    BTW, what has the West done for protecting human rights in the entire Islamic world where non-Muslims are treated worse than the blacks were in apartheid South Africa, where their religious freedoms are taken away, they can’t marry non-Muslims, discriminated in jobs, housing and welfare?

    No, instead we sell them more weapons of mass destruction and look the other way when gays and women are tortured and burned alive.

    And I’ve not even touched on our dealings with China that has gobbled up an entire country the size of Western Europe, for which we reward it with more deficit inducing trade and trillions in direct investment.

    Welcome to the new liberal Obama world.

    Our entire stance against Russia and Putin stinks of hypocrisy and double standards.

  • arnoldo87

    A timely description of the weakness of the West in general since Obama came to power. A period that has allowed Putin to take control of affairs in Europe and the Middle East.

    Cameron and his cabinet, as good Blairites, have tried to take a harder line on these issues, but have been stymied by the distaste prevalent on both sides of the Atlantic for anything that approaches the use of our respective armed forces.

    Unfortunately, this state of affairs will continue until some foreign policy disaster occurs and forces us to confront the truth that we have become 1930’s style appeasers.

    • Makroon

      Here is some more ‘good news’ for you – the Republicans have got no hope of winning the presidency until they get rid of the Neo-con tail still wagging the party dog. As a first step, they could send that senile old warmonger McCain to a retirement home.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Unfortunately, they don’t appear close to doing that. Maybe Putin can help out here, and invite him to one of his sushi dinner parties.

    • Tom Tom

      Putin is leader of the most populous country in Europe and talk of his
      taking control is absurd. It is a Eurasian land mass and Russia is key
      and should be treated with respect. This loutish approach by the
      Anglo-Americans that they are Masters of The Planet is psychotic

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Don’t forget, the Germans are in on this as well.

  • The Commentator

    Yet more xenophobic anti-Russian nonsense from an increasingly irrelevant Conservative party. Russia invaded Ukraine in the same way that Britain invaded Northern Ireland in 1968. However, we most certainly did invade Iraq in 2003 without any justification in international law and we did bomb Belgrade in 1991 killing many innocent civilians.

    • telemachus

      And besides historically Crimea belongs to Russia

  • ADW

    We can:

    1. Continue with diplomacy (asking nicely). The Russians have not shown themselves likely to listen.

    2. Impose economic sanctions, which will hurt poor Russians not rich ones (who all live in London anyway), hurt those countries which can no longer buy gas, hurt us by hiking the price of gas and oil, and hasten the Russian attack as they will want to finish the job before sanctions bite too much – if they bite at all, that is, since there will be enough regimes around the world who will continue to deal with them.

    3. Go to war. Russia has massive if in many ways rather clapped out conventional forces (but some unstoppable anti-ship missiles, take note), and a lot of nuclear weapons. D Cameron, you’ll have to stop the T Blair impression accordingly.

    So 1 it is, and a win to the Russians.

    • Tom Tom

      Not sure Russian conventional forces are clapped out……76th Division is probably superior to its British equivalent

      • ADW

        I didn’t mean all of them. I doubt they’re at NATO standard as a co-ordinated unit, though they have numbers (we have sweet fanny adams compared with 20 years ago). Their navy has a lot of rust buckets still, and I wonder how many of their ground units are still using soviet-era equipment.

        All that said, given our ruthless evisceration of the defence budget, I agree we would not want a conventional confrontation with anyone much at the moment. And certainly Russian planes and anti-ship missiles would give us pause for thought. Anyone confident the Sea Viper could stop a Sunburn or its more modern equivalents?