(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) WE ARE TOLD that we should avoid civil war in Syria, even as it unfolds before our eyes.
We threaten, and yet we don't act. We hold international meeting after international meeting, but each delivers only a small batch of sanctions and escalating commentaries. Reading the dispatches from Houla and Al-Kubeir, from Mazraat Al-Qubeir and Al-Heffa, ministers of foreign affairs, powerless, add their adjectives:
The massacres are "despicable," "scandalous," "revolting," even "unacceptable." The horror becomes an exercise in vocabulary. The abuses continue without any visible military preparations to reassure us. Or to alarm us.
In reality, no one wants a war. Americans have memories of Iraq, and President Barack Obama faces a difficult election campaign. The Russians strongly support the last secular regime in the region. Europe, embroiled in a severe financial crisis, prefers televised indignation " a facade of political unity and weak popular protests. Only Britain and France show any engagement.
Such reluctance is understandable, given a Middle East that is always ready to burst into flames of sectarianism. Northern Lebanon, around Tripoli, is already involved in confrontations, and all communities are armed. The two allies of Damascus " Hezbollah and Iran " would resort to arms. Neither Egypt, the largest of the neighbouring countries, nor Iraq, would be able to stay away. Nor would Turkey and Israel. Are we prepared, in order to stop a Syrian civil war, for such a conflagration? No.
Without unanimity in the UN Security Council, there is no recourse to Chapter 7, no UN military cover. And Nato is silent. Only a few brave observers in blue berets rush about to witness the damage, always too late. And they themselves are attacked by Syrian Army rockets. The right to intervene and the responsibility to protect have been part of UN doctrine since 1988 and 2005, and they have become popular. Yet human rights have retreated, victims of amateur experimentation and political maneuvering. Humanitarian assistance to Syria does not always arrive, and Kofi Annan's peace plan is dying.
Will a public opinion tired of these massacres remain on alert for long? I do not think so. What then? The urgency of the crisis demands an appeal to international justice, which is the traveling companion of the right to intervene. This may appear rhetorical, but it is the only path still open for now. We know the International Criminal Court opens cases at the request of the Security Council, and we know that for now Russia and China would block that.
But the UN secretary-general can recommend an investigation by the prosecutor of the ICC. And the victims themselves have the right to refer a case to the court. It is imperative that we support them, that we persist, that we amplify their protests and sound the cries of the families in the corridors of the ICC. All witnesses must come forward. All human rights organisations must demand that international justice be satisfied. The ICC must start an investigation.
We did it, successfully, in the Balkans, in Liberia and most recently in Guinea. And the signatories of the Treaty of Rome must support the victims with all the power of their diplomacy.
On the political front, we must encourage Kofi Annan to convene an international conference with the Russians, Chinese and even the Iranians. And let's not feign indignation: We're already talking to Tehran.
At this stage, it is unrealistic and illusory to demand Bashar Al Assad's departure, which would guarantee failure. To make peace, it is always necessary to talk to the enemy.
Bernard Kouchner is a former foreign minister of France and founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres