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Monitoring the Monitors

The Syrian uprising, now in its ninth month, has recently experienced some of the most ruthless and deadly violence on the part of Bashar al-Assad’s government. The stronghold city of Homs, a center of the revolt, is a war zone. Images from the city show bodies lying on the sidewalks and tanks rolling down the streets. Dozens are being killed daily in fighting among the army and defecting soldiers and other government opponents. Residents cower in their apartments trying to avoid the crossfire.

The Arab League’s decision in early December to send in monitors comes at a time when we badly need information about what is going on in Syria. The Assad regime has apparently agreed to give access, even to Homs. The people of the city are desperate for the monitors to arrive.

But all is not right with this group of observers. Wissam Tarif, an Arab human rights activist with the group Avaaz, complained that the monitoring group, at just 50 people, is too small to possibly cover all of Syria and, furthermore, will be relying on Assad’s security forces for protection. Then there is the question of who the monitors are. Tarif asked the Arab League for biographical information and was denied. Those who are known do not inspire confidence, to put it mildly. Leading the group is a Sudanese general, Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, who is accused of being the creator of the fearsome janjaweed force that carrried out the genocide in Darfur. Did we mention he’s being sought by the International Criminal Court?

The Syrian people need the eyes of the world to be watching, especially now. The Arab League’s initiative is a good one, and we can only hope that Assad is true to his word and allows these observers to do their work. But we share Tarif’s serious concerns about the makeup of this mission and its ability to remain impartial. As he put it, “A rapist can’t be one of the forensic experts examining a victim.”

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