Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to the surprise of many, has been readmitted to the 22 countries of the Arab League, after 12 years of isolation from the international political scene. Like many such international organizations, including the UN, membership of the Arab League has great symbolic and moral value; being excluded from it represents condemnation. Assad’s readmission to the League coincides with his political rehabilitation, at least for most Arab countries, which thereby also implicitly recognize his victory in the long and bloody civil war that has ravaged the country since 2011, a conflict that continues.
It is well known that Assad, to keep himself in power, used brutal methods throughout the period of civil war. More than 300,000 Syrian citizens have died as a result of missile and chemical weapons attacks, as reported in UN investigations. In addition, the Syrian security apparatus in recent years has captured tens of thousands of political dissidents who were not terrorists. All this has been carried out methodically with the help of Assad’s allies, Iran and Russia (starting in 2015), who have experimented with the most destructive methods of warfare in Syria.
The return to the international stage of a president accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity undermines the entire system of rights and sanctions that the West has built since World War II, including Putin’s recent indictment for the deportation of Ukrainian minors. This rehabilitation of Assad by Arab countries and others raises political, legal and moral questions about the real effectiveness, in the long run, of the sanctions system so far adopted by the international community against dictators who commit serious crimes against their people.