In the week since they arrived in Syria, Arab League monitors have failed to stem state-sponsored violence against civilians, once again demonstrating the League’s ineffectiveness and irrelevance. It was the League’s insignificance and absence from regional affairs that made its intervention in Syria so surprising. Many were taken aback when, on November 12, 2011, the Arab League took the uncharacteristically bold step of suspending and imposing sanctions upon Syria, one of the League’s founding members. For a fleeting moment, the Arab League seemed to have awakened from its long slumber, risen to the occasion, and reasserted its relevance to the Arab world.
After much prevarication and procrastination, the Syrian government agreed to allow Arab League observers into the country to oversee the military’s withdrawal from the streets and to ensure the safety of peaceful protesters. With an UN-estimated 5000 Syrians killed in the government crackdown against demonstrations, there was both urgent need and high hopes for the Arab League observer mission. From its very inception, however, the mission’s legitimacy was compromised by the appointment of Sudanese General, Mohammad Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, as its leader. Human rights groups and journalists, such as David Kenner , have condemned al-Dabi’s for his complicity in human rights violations in Sudan, where he formerly served as chief of military intelligence. In a press release, Amnesty International stated that “the Arab League’s decision to appoint as the head of the observer mission a Sudanese general on whose watch severe human rights violations were committed in Sudan risks undermining the League’s efforts so far and seriously calls into question the mission’s credibility.”
Since the mission’s arrival in Syria, violence has continued unabated in towns where the monitors have been present, such as Homs and Deraa. These two towns, in particular, have seen some of the heaviest repression since the Syrian uprising began last March. That the Arab League will likely remain irrelevant is no great tragedy. What is tragic is that many more Syrians will likely lose their lives because of the League’s inertia and inability to respond to the crises in its own backyard.