Assad’s increased bombardment of city areas before the monitors’ arrival has generated cynicism and criticism of this UN effort as irrelevant. And Assad’s Russian patrons permitted only the most limited Security Council action. To secure Russian agreement, Western nations watered down nearly every meaningful demand made of Assad other than the monitors.
But the monitoring presence is not futile. Rather, the monitors’ documentation and related work, especially in making consistent demands of all fighting parties to end particular actions, can decrease the killing. The monitors provide a first, small crack in the previously closed door of Syrian repression.
The challenge now is how Mr. Annan and his allies can leverage this opening to increase options for violence reduction, for condemning cease-fire violations, and for increasing the constraints on Assad’s forces.
To assist this, the United Nations and its individual member states must push Assad to respond to every request and pressure him to cooperate with each provision of the Annan plan. Other diplomats must follow the lead of US Ambassador Susan Rice, who has aggressively named and shamed each Assad rejection of his humanitarian obligations.
The courageous recent report of a Human Rights Watch team that documented dozens of extra-judicial executions in Syria in March should receive wide international exposure. And a global call for International Criminal Court indictments of police and armed forces commanders leading such killings must be issued.
Other proactive initiatives will need to take advantage of the emerging realities that already exist to undermine Assad’s tactics. For example, the presence of UN observers might reawaken the Arab League and embolden them anew to narrow the military and political space available to Assad.
Even a part-time cease-fire might well permit more Syrian armed forces personnel to desert or defect than have been able to under conditions of continued fighting.