KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — This country on Thursday joined the international chorus of nations condemning violence in Houla, Syria as the civil war there intensifies.
“The Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines condemns in the strongest possible terms the abhorrent killings and wounding of civilian men, women and children in Houla,” Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said in a ministerial statement in Parliament.
“Our country proudly counts among its citizens many individuals and families who were born in Syria and Lebanon, and who now make myriad contributions to the vibrant tapestry of a modern and cosmopolitan Vincentian society,” said Gonsalves, who has ministerial responsibility for citizenship issues.
“We weep with our Syrian brothers and sisters at the deepening spiral of violence, unrest and loss of life occurring in this civil war, while steadfastly advocating a course of peaceful diplomacy and strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria, as well as to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter,” he further stated.
Gonsalves, who also has ministerial responsibility for national security, said his government “remains committed to the application of peaceful diplomatic and political solutions to the root causes of the on-going civil war.
“We are fully supportive of the efforts of [former U.N. secretary-general] Kofi Annan, the joint United Nations and Arab League Envoy to Syria. Kofi Annan’s Six-Point Plan must be actively supported by all peace-loving states and fully implemented by all parties to the Syrian conflict,” he told lawmakers.
Among other things, the plan calls for commitment “to stop the fighting and achieve urgently an effective United Nations supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians and stabilise the country”.
Gonsalves said that his government was calling for the relevant national and international authorities to conduct a full investigation into the atrocities committed in Houla, with a view to ensuring that the perpetrators are held accountable and brought to justice”.
He also extended his government’s “deepest and most sincere condolences to the affected families” and said that the deepening civil war in Syria “is of grave concern” to his government.
“We are also concerned with the potential for the conflict to spread beyond Syria, as has been the case with recent cross-border skirmishes in the Lebanese Republic and the Republic of Turkey.
“The active presence of radical Islamist terrorists, including the confirmed involvement of al-Qaida in anti-government violence, is cause for particular alarm,” he said.
Gonsalves told lawmakers that the “complexity of this conflict, its potential for further escalation or expansion to neighbouring states, the increase in sectarian strife, and the growing al-Qaida presence in Syria all demand coordinated diplomatic efforts that will lead to a cease-fire by all parties, the commencement of genuine dialogue between the government and the opposition, and a peaceful resolution to the crisis crafted by the Syrian people themselves”.
He listed the three principles that guide Kingstown when formulating its foreign policy stance “on situations involving civil war and sustained violent conflict”, such as in Syria.
The principles call for the “immediate cessation of all violence between and among all parties to the conflict”.
Further, the principles say there should also be “commencement of an inclusive political process geared towards a locally-crafted and negotiated solution to the conflict, without undue outside interference”.
Additionally, the international community “should not take actions that will exacerbate the violence, make a negotiated solution more difficult, or serve as a pretext for military intervention or undue external interference in the sovereign affairs of states,” according to the principles.
“As such, in the case of Syria, the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines remains committed to the application of peaceful diplomatic and political solutions to the root causes of the on-going civil war,” he said as he voiced Kingstown’s support for the former U.N. chief’s effort.
“In that regard, care must be taken to ensure that the mandate to assist all victims of the Syrian conflict is not misused as a pretext to engage in activities that will exacerbate or prolong the civil war. Threats of intervention or efforts to further militarise the conflict only undermine the efforts of the Special Envoy and a de-legitimise the internationally-agreed Six-Point Peace Plan,” he said.
Gonsalves said that Houla, in the days before the statement, “was the site of a protracted military conflict between Syrian Government forces and those of the Free Syrian Army, the main opposition force.
“Additionally, there is uncontroverted evidence that scores of civilians in Houla were subject to severe physical abuse, and many were shot at close range,” he said and noted that those responsible were still at large.
“The vicious massacre of innocent women and children in Houla is but the latest, deeply disturbing example of the rapidly deteriorating situation on the ground in Syria,” he said.
The text of the Kofi Anan six-point plan is as follows:
- commit to work with the Envoy in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people, and, to this end, commit to appoint an empowered interlocutor when invited to do so by the Envoy;
- commit to stop the fighting and achieve urgently an effective United Nations supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians and stabilise the country. To this end, the Syrian government should immediately cease troop movements towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centres, and begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres. As these actions are being taken on the ground, the Syrian government should work with the Envoy to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism. Similar commitments would be sought by the Envoy from the opposition and all relevant elements to stop the fighting and work with him to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism;
- ensure timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and to this end, as immediate steps, to accept and implement a daily two hour humanitarian pause and to coordinate exact time and modalities of the daily pause through an efficient mechanism, including at local level;
- intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons, including especially vulnerable categories of persons, and persons involved in peaceful political activities, provide without delay through appropriate channels a list of all places in which such persons are being detained, immediately begin organizing access to such locations and through appropriate channels respond promptly to all written requests for information, access or release regarding such persons;
- ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists and a non-discriminatory visa policy for them;
- respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed.