Syrian troops have shelled rebel-held neighbourhoods in the city of Homs, a day after the UN General Assembly condemned human rights violations by the regime.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said shells were slamming into the Homs neighbourhoods of Baba Amr, Bayadah, Khaldiyeh and Inshaat.
Syrian troops have been attacking the neighbourhoods on February 4. Amateur videos showed at least one tank shelling Baba Amr from a close distance.
Homs, a province in central Syria that stretches from the border with Lebanon in the west to the frontiers with Iraq and Jordan in the east, has been one of the key centres of the 11-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad’s authoritarian rule.
The rebels have taken control of small parts of the province including neighbourhoods in the city of Homs and the nearby town of Rastan.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has accused the Syrian regime of committing “almost certain” crimes against humanity.
The UN General Assembly also overwhelmingly voted for a resolution that strongly condemns human rights violations by Assad’s government. According to the UN, more than 5,400 people have been killed since March in the regime’s bloody crackdown.
The 193-member UN General Assembly voted 137-12 on the Arab-sponsored resolution calling on Assad to hand power to his vice president and immediately stop the crackdown. There were 17 abstentions.
Though there are no vetoes in the General Assembly and its resolutions are non-binding, they do reflect world opinion on major issues. Russia and China, who recently vetoed a similar resolution in the UN Security Council, voted against the General Assembly measure along with North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and others who heeded Syria’s appeal against the measure.
The high number of “yes” votes was the strongest international condemnation so far of Assad.
“Today, the UN General Assembly sent a clear message to the people of Syria: The world is with you,” US Ambassador Susan Rice said.
The Observatory also reported clashes between troops and defectors in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, saying one civilian and one of the regime forces were killed.
More protests against the regime were expected following Friday prayers.
In other developments, state-run news agency SANA said that the command of the ruling Baath party has postponed its general conference scheduled for later this month until after a referendum on the country’s new draft constitution is held.
Assad has ordered a February 26 referendum on a new constitution that would create a multiparty system in Syria, which has been ruled by the Assad family for 40 years.
Furious winds of change continue to blow through the Middle East and North Africa following the Arab Spring of 2011, when protests and rebellions broke out like wildfire across Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Morocco, Libya, Yemen, Djibouti and of course Syria. The leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were removed, but Bashar al-Assad is proving to be particularly stubborn and resilient.
It is quite stunning the way the “people power” fervour then spread from this region to the United States in the form of the Occupy Movement. It started as a protest on Wall Street against the growing income gap and the greed of large corporations and the super-rich individuals, whom protesters accused of manipulating the political and economic system to their own advantage. The Occupy Movement then spread all around America, and subsequently to some 95 cities in 82 countries around the world, including Australia, Belgium, Nigeria, Germany, Denmark, South Korea and Colombia.
It is no coincidence that this surge in populist empowerment comes at the same time as rapid growth in Internet access and usage across the world. Mobile phones are another swiftly proliferating technology which have contributed to the speed and efficiency with which dissatisfied ordinary folk have been able to organise and rally against the powers that be. Protesters have created antigovernment pages on Facebook, discussed plans on Skype and through text messages, and shared the latest information via Twitter. It is much more difficult for autocratic governments to monitor communications on the Internet than on more traditional communication channels like phone calls and face-to-face meetings.
While these protests are a testament to the power and magnetic appeal of democracy, I would urge the masses not to get carried away with the heady rush and euphoria of democracy. Think about it. If democracy was so wonderful, why are even developed democratic nations like Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain so plagued with problems? Not to mention other highly democratic countries like India, Indonesia and the Philippines. Democracy is always at best only part of the answer. Equal attention must always be paid to governance.
As a Singaporean, this is as plain as day to me. My country was led from Third World status to First in 25 years after independence (1965-1990) by our first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who is widely seen as an authoritarian leader who firmly circumscribed freedom of the press and freedom of speech, and denied people the freedom of assembly (even today, two prime ministers later, Singaporeans still have very limited liberties with respect to the media and assembly).
It is apparent that Mr Lee Kuan Yew has always regarded democracy with suspicion and scepticism. His thinking has clearly left an imprint on the ruling People’s Action Party even after he stepped down as Prime Minister in 1990. Even though Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore had little democracy (aside from elections), it had excellent governance. This description still largely holds true today. Mr Lee’s government adopted a zero tolerance policy towards corruption right from Day One, and took all necessary steps to secure the best and brightest men and women of honour to serve in government. As a result, Singapore today enjoys one of the highest GDP per capita in the world (US$50,312 in 2011), low crime rates, virtually full employment, low levels of pollution and social stability and harmony.
Rather than being mesmerised by idealistic notions like democracy, Mr Lee always governed with a generous dose of realism. That is why he took the revolutionary step of benchmarking political leaders’ salary to top earners in the private sector, making Singapore’s leaders the best paid in the world. Even after a recent downward revision, the current PM Lee Hsien Loong will make $2.2 million (US$1.76 m) a year. While controversial, it is hard to dispute that paying ministers well has helped Singapore to attract top talent into government and keep its leaders honest. Let’s get real. Money talks. And it matters a great deal, even in the often over-idealised area of governance.
Democracy without good governance is totally and utterly hollow.
The writer is a full-time GP and English tutor who graduated with First Class Honours in English Language and has an excellent track record in over 10 years of teaching. To learn more about the tutor, please click “About” in the menu bar on top of this page or call Steven Ooi at 98392152.