Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry for Syria, spoke to DW about the importance of finding a political solution to end the conflict, and misplaced comparisons with Rwanda and Iraq.
Deutsche Welle: Despite the fact that President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to destroy his chemical weapons, the war in Syria goes. Will the suffering of the Syrian people come to an end sooner after the latest agreement?
Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro: I consider this agreement to be extremely important. Twelve days ago, we were discussing when [US] air strikes would happen. After this weekend, these risks are in the past. And Syria, which would previously not even admit that they had a stockpile of chemical weapons, has now acknowledged their existence and has asked to enter the treaty on their prohibition. After October 14, they will be a member of this convention. On the other hand, the war with conventional arms continues. What we expect is that this agreement will be a “springboard” to negotiation, the beginning of a political negotiation to end the war. This will take some time, but the situation today is much better than 12 days ago.
What factors besides the agreement on chemical weapons would help to end the war?
First, there is no military solution for the crisis. It is an illusion to think that the government or the rebel groups will be victorious. It is very important also to stop providing arms to all the parties. The best recipe for continuing this war is to carry on providing resources and delivering weapons to the different parties. We have said this very clearly. This is unacceptable, because most of these arms will be used to commit war crimes, to kill more Syrians, to create more refugees, more internally displaced people, and the only way to stop this is negotiation. It is also very important that the countries that are influential in the region and internationally build some mutual trust, that they follow the example of the Russian Federation and the United States. They seemed so far from each other but have now reached an agreement. This agreement demonstrated that it is possible to move towards a political solution.
Do you think that the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria could be enforced by military action, if the Syrian government does not cooperate?
The use of force has to be authorized by the Security Council. But that is a discussion among states: it’s not my business. It’s a discussion within the Security Council and its five permanent members.
The main question of who used the chemical weapons – the government or the rebels – has still not been answered. When will we know?
I have barely finished reading the full UN report. I read information saying sarin was extensively used, but it would be irresponsible to make any indication about the perpetrators. The Commission of Inquiry for Syria has the mandate [to find this out]. And we are asking to come to Syria, because we will perform our mandate: in the next reports we will necessarily say something about who the perpetrators were. We’ll say something before the end of the year.
In Iraq, the destruction of chemical weapons took more than 10 years. Are you optimistic that the chemical weapons in Syria can be destroyed within a year?
We cannot compare the two situations. Syria as a state has much more importance historically than Iraq. And the balance of forces in the world has changed so much. I don’t think that the disaster of Iraq is the future history of Syria. What I see is that there are new dynamics after the agreement between the Russian Federation and the United States.
Is the agreement a sign that the role of the US as the “world’s policeman” has ended?
I don’t work with this notion of the United States as the world’s policeman. All permanent members of the Security Council have great responsibilities. I think President Obama showed great statesmanship and President Putin also. International politics is not a soccer match. It’s great to prevent a military escalation. I think everybody has gained. Of course, one day we’ll need a reform of the Security Council – many countries in the world are lobbying for that – but for the time being, the reality is that we have five permanent members with a veto and it’s great that the United States und the Russian Federation were able to reach an agreement.
Has the trauma of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda injected any urgency into the UN’s so-called “responsibility to protect” in a catastrophe like this?
The high commissioner for refugees António Guterres, for whom I have great admiration, mentioned that the flux of refugees from Syria in the last month is similar to Rwanda. But the situations are very different. Even if we have a horrific war I don’t think there is a genocide in progress in Syria. It is very complicated to compare situations in dramatically different contexts. And even the responsibility to protect – to use force, you need the authorization of the Security Council. I think that after the terrible crisis that we witnessed 12 days ago, there was a shock of recognition of the seriousness of the war in Syria.