Syria October Update: Father Dave Smith.

Vietnam war memorial
Vietnam war memorial (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Posted October 3, 2013

by Jerry Alatalo

The following is Father Dave Smith’s latest post on the situation in Syria, from his website


I’m writing to you from the lovely town of Narooma on our state’s south coast. Our family is taking a few days off at Ange’s parents’ house and, as you can see from the pic below, the children are frolicking in the sunshine and enjoying the great outdoors!

Enjoying the great outdoors!

Enjoying the great outdoors!

I’m afraid that since we last spoke I seem to have been bogged down in desk work and other clerical duties, though I have been keeping myself up-to-date with Syria. Indeed, I’ve been finding myself increasingly mired in the ongoing information war.

I hope that you saw my article on “How Obama lost the first battle for Damascus”.  It got quite a wide circulation and can now be found on,, and, as well as on my own Syria blog –

My aim in the article was to try to unravel some of the rhetoric that was being used to prepare the ground for open war. Since writing, I’ve been made even more aware of just how deep and dirty this war of words really is!

The Battle for Hearts and Minds

Some of us are old enough to remember the only war in human history that was ever brought to a close due to popular demand – the war in Vietnam (1955-75). The reason the Vietnam War was so unique and was concluded in such a unique fashion was that it was the only war to have ever been televised by an independent media!

The power-brokers learnt their lessons from Vietnam. Mainline media is no longer so independent, and reporters are no longer allowed to move freely around the front lines. They are now safely ‘embedded’ at well-determined vantage-points.  The makers-of-war lost control of the narrative in Vietnam and determined not to lose their grip again. Then along came the Internet, and with it, the threat of the true democratization of information!

This where Obama came unstuck, I suspect. He announced that Assad had committed a crime that warranted his country being invaded and a million bloggers cried foul!

From what I could see, the mainline media did very little to question the official government narrative, just as they completely failed to notice that every sector of the church across the globe had united in opposition to US intervention. Even so, the multiple voices of dissent could not be kept below the surface. There were too many of them, and too many people had the capacity to hear them!

It would be interesting to do a detailed comparison of the various lies that have been used to justify wars and see how this latest set compares. Even putting to one side the obvious lies concerning Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction and his supposed links to Al Qaeda, we could push back a little further and compare:

  • The stories told by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, in April 2011, about how Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was issuing Viagra to his troops to encourage the systematic rape of civilians – a charge that was later investigated by both ‘Doctors Without Borders’ and ‘Amnesty International’, and shown to be without foundation (see here).
  • The eerily similar 1993 story of an unnamed Serbian General who commanded his troops to “Go forth and rape”. It made the front page of the New York Times and helped grease the wheels for NATO’s intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The paper later published a small correction saying that “the existence of “a systematic rape policy” by the Serbs “remains to be proved.”” but this received little attention.
  • The Kuwaiti girl who testified before Congress in 1990 that she had seen Iraqi soldiers storm the hospital where she worked and dump newborn babies out of their incubators. She turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US, if you remember, and the whole ‘baby-killer’ story turned out to be the brain child of an American marketing firm, but nobody questioned the story until well after it had played its role in justifying the first invasion of Iraq.
  • George Bush I’s outlandish depiction of Manuel Noriega, accompanied by the transparently false claim that American lives were at risk in Panama, used to justify the invasion of 1989, cynically named “Operation Just Cause”!
  • The outrageous lies told by Ronald Reagan back in 1983 to justify the invasion of the tiny Caribbean nation of Grenada – claiming that the tiny country was being developed into a Cuban-Soviet military base that would be used to launch communist attacks against the US!
  • The staged “The Gulf of Tonkin” incident that launched America into a full-scale war in Indochina in 1964!

Most of us are too young to remember this last incident, but recently declassified documents reveal quite unambiguously that the “unprovoked attack” by North Vietnamese vessels on the USS Maddox on the night of August 4, 1964, never actually took place!

In short, government lies are nothing new and they are rarely particularly sophisticated. You get the impression that the great powers assume that their voting public will believe anything that comes from the top, and history shows that generally we do!

I think the reason for this is simple. The papers inevitably report what our leaders say. If there is a denial of the leader’s statement, it’s nestled somewhere deeper in the paper, on the pages that most people never reach.

But nowadays the counter-narrative is in your face! It’s coming at you through your smart-phone, and it’s all over Facebook and Twitter before the papers carrying the official narrative are even printed! This must be causing those who reap the big profits from war and human misery to panic!

The Machinations of Propaganda

It’s macabrely fascinating to watch the way the power-players are handling these latest developments.

On the one hand we see the relatively sophisticated US propaganda machine try to reframe the argument for war and refocus us on other issues (using their full arsenal of ‘weapons of mass distraction’ as Chomsky calls them). On the other hand we see basic thuggery and intimidation being used in the Arabic press!

One saga that has gripped me has been the unraveling of an article published in Mintpress News on August 29 that was the first to claim eye-witness accounts of the gas attacks in Ghouta! According to the two Jordanian journalists to whom the article was attributed, it was actually the Saudis who were behind the attack!

Since the publication of that article, one of the journalists seems to have disappeared and the other is trying to distance herself from the work completely. Apparently she’s under pressure from … (you guessed it) … the Saudi’s! (see the full story here).

In the middle of all these machinations is our own dear Mother Agnes, who published a lengthy study of her own that disputes the official US version of the gas attacks. This has earned her praise from some quarters and ridicule from others. Mother Agnes’ study can be downloaded here.

Mother with Mairead and myself in Beirut

Mother Agnes with Mairead and myself in Beirut

I found it difficult to study Mother Agnes’ report in detail as it contains multiple images of apparently dead and suffering children, and it is hard to look at such images analytically. Even so, I appreciate that if we are to take these children’s suffering seriously we must investigate these crimes scrupulously, and this is what Mother Agnes has done. If you’d prefer an abbreviated version, this RT News article draws directly on Mother Agnes’ work and makes it clear that at least some of the videos used by the US to justify the proposed attack on Syria cannot be trusted!

And so, as Mother Agnes tries to unravel the propaganda, she becomes a target of propaganda herself! Media sources from Russia and other countries that oppose foreign intervention in Syria have been praising her while those in favour of intervention pillory her.

The effort from Australian mainline media seem particularly pitiful. One recent article published in the Melbourne Age that was straightforwardly critical of Mother Agnes turned out to be a simple cut and paste job done on an article that appeared in the New York Times. The interesting thing is that the New York Times article is actually far more balanced. The Australian version has all the balanced bits cut out!

And now ‘Human Rights Watch’ have come out in opposition to Mother Agnes! This might sound like a damning indictment, but it probably says more about ‘Human Rights Watch’ – an organisation whose objectivity has been under suspicion for some years – than it does about Mother Agnes. Read this article published on the ‘Ron Paul Institute’ site if you’d like to know more about this

A Solution for Syria?

And while the propaganda war rages, a solution to the actual war on the ground may be nearer than we had thought!

One consequence of the proposed intervention that the Americans may not have anticipated was that it has further fragmented the Syrian opposition, many of whom hate the Americans even more than they do Bashar Al-Assad!

One the one hand this has led entire units of the ‘Free Syrian Army’ to defect to Jabhat Al Nusra – the largest of the Islamist groups – who are by no stretch of the imagination fighting for a free and democratic Syria! Conversely, those Syrians who are still fighting for reforms to their homeland are now considering teaming up with government forces to help throw out the foreigners!

Robert Fisk reports that secret meetings between FSA and government officials have already taken place and that we may well soon see a complete reshaping of the conflict! If this happens I expect that the war in Syria will end pretty quickly. There will be no way that the US will be able to justify arming Al Qaeda against an all-Syrian coalition who are defending their country from foreigners. And once support for the opposition dries up from the US and its allies (the Saudis, Qatar, Israel and Turkey) it will not take long before the insurgents will be in full retreat!

I pray that this will happen quickly, as I would much rather return to Damascus when this is all over there than go there as a human shield. Even so, things are by no means resolved as yet, and the propaganda machine still has plenty of fuel left in the tank.

“Christian Card” Trumps U.S.’ Syria Chemical Attacks Claim?

Posted September 25, 2013

by Jerry Alatalo

The following article was written by Julie Levesque and Prof. Michel Chossudovsky. It raises very serious questions about who was responsible for the August 21, 2013 chemical attacks in Syria.

(Source of this article:

mother agnes mariam

The chemical attacks which took place in East Ghouta on August 21, 2013 could be the most horrific false flag operation in history.

To date, available evidence indicates that numerous children were killed by “opposition rebels”, their bodies manipulated and filmed with a view to blaming the Syrian government for the attacks, thus sparking outrage and galvanizing worldwide public opinion in favor of another bloody, imperial US-led war.

While confirming the use of chemical weapons against civilians, the UN report has failed to identify the authors of the attacks:

Instead of a non-politicized investigation and lab analysis, the UN investigation of alleged nerve-gas attacks inside Syria was led by Professor Ake Sellstrom, a man of mystery who keeps a veil of secrecy around his research and political-military relationships…

This cosmetic veneer of Swedish neutrality has been deftly exploited by Israel and NATO to perpetrate falsehoods throughout Sellstrom’s work for the UN, including denial of the chemical-and-biological causes for “Gulf War Syndrome” and the shipments of U.S. chemical weapons to the Saddam Hussein regime…

What is publicly known about Sellstrom is that the biochemist heads the European CBRNE Center [Center for advanced Studies of Societal Security and Vulnerability, in particular major incidents with (C)hemical, (B)iological, (R)adiological, (N)uclear and (E)xplosive substances], at Umea University in northern Sweden, which is sponsored by the Swedish Defense Ministry (FOI)…

Umea University is deeply involved in joint research with Technion (Israel Institute of Technology), the Haifa-based university that provides state-of-art technology to the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and its intelligence agencies. Several departments, which are involved in joint Israeli research, participate in multidisciplinary studies at Sellstrom’s CBRNE center…

American ambassador to the UN Samantha Power made emphatically clear that the “nerve gas used in Syria was more concentrated than the nerve gas in Iraq.” Her statement should be rephrased as: “Saddam may have trans-shipped U.S.-supplied nerve gas into Syria, but it wasn’t our nerve gas used against Syrian civilians.”

That is the essential point of the Sellstrom report: To take Washington off the hook for being the major supplier of nerve gas precursors, formulations, delivery technology and storage systems to the Middle East, including Israel, Egypt, Libya, Iraq and very possibly Syria (during the Clinton era of good will).

The UN report of chemical weapons on Syria lacks basic credibility due to the duplicitous record of its chief inspector, Ake Sellstrom, who is politically and financially compromised at every level. (Yoichi Shimatsu, The Sellstrom Report: The United Nations’ Syria Inspector Shills for NATO and Israel)

A day beforte the release of the UN Mission report, another carefully documented report by Mother Agnes Mariam de la Croix and the International Support Team for Mussalaha in Syria (ISTEAMS) was released with minimal media coverage.  (To read the full report in pdf click here large pdf slow download)

Its findings are unequivocal: the videos used by the US and its allies as evidence to blame the Syrian government were staged.

The study says:

From the moment when some families of abducted children contacted us to inform us that they recognized the children among those who are presented in the videos as victims of the Chemical Attacks of East Ghouta, we decided to examine the videos thoroughly…

Our first concern was the fate of the children we see in the footages.  Those angels are always alone in the hands of adult males that seem to be elements of armed gangs. The children that trespassed remain without their families and unidentified all the way until they are wrapped in the white shrouds of the burial. Moreover our study highlights without any doubt that their little bodies were manipulated and disposed with theatrical arrangements to figure in the screening.

If the studied footages were edited and published to exhibit pieces of evidence to accuse the Syrian State of perpetrating the chemical attacks on East Ghouta, our discoveries incriminate the editors and actors of forged facts through a lethal manipulation of unidentified children. (Mother Agnes Mariam de la Croix and the International Support Team for Mussalaha in Syria (ISTEAMS), The Chemical Attacks in East Ghouta Used to Justify a Military Intervention in Syria)

Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya who examined the report writes:

The independent ISTEAMS study contradicts the assertions of the Obama Administration and the entire US Intelligence Community […] through simple observations of the video material that has been put forward as evidence by the United States.

The ISTEAMS report does not deny that chemical weapons were used or that innocent Syrians have been killed. What the study does is logically point out through its observations that there is empirical evidence that the sample of videos that the US Intelligence Community has analyzed and nominated as authentic footage has been stage-managed.  This is an important finding, because it refutes the assertions of the representatives of the US Intelligence agencies who testified that the videos they authenticated provide evidence that a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government took place in East Ghouda. (Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, Look With Your Own Eyes: The Videos of the Chemical Attacks in Syria Show Tampered Scenes)

A lot of things do not add up in the footage presented by the US government.

 The same little boy in red is in two different locations

At least nine of these children appear in different footage from different locations

 A little boy that appears in two different videos with two different scenarios

Among a series of important findings, the ISTEAMS report notes that even though the attacks are said to have killed over 1400 people, mostly children appear in the videos and several corpses are shown in different videos said to have been shot in various locations.

While this report seriously challenges the assertion that the Syrian government was behind the attacks, it was not covered by the Western mainstream media, toeing the imperial line and parroting Washington’s claims, which still lacking evidence and credibility.

In addition, some controversy arose pertaining to allegations that the rebels were responsible for the attacks and used chemical weapons provided by Saudi intelligence. Dale Gavlak, the co-author of an article containing these allegations, now wants to dissociate herself from the article and is facing threats. Her career is in jeopardy:

The MintPress article, published on 29th August, through interviews with rebels, family members, and villagers in Eastern Ghouta, alleges that elements within the opposition were responsible for the alleged chemical weapons attack on 21st August, and that those chemical munitions had been supplied through Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan…

Dale is under mounting pressure for writing this article by third parties. She notified MintPress editors and myself on August 30th and 31st via email and phone call, that third parties were placing immense amounts of pressure on her over the article and were threatening to end her career over it. She went on to tell us that she believes this third party was under pressure from the head of the Saudi Intelligence Prince Bandar himself, who is alleged in the article of supplying the rebels with chemical weapons.

On August 30th, Dale asked MintPress to remove her name completely from the byline because she stated that her career and reputation was at risk. She continued to say that these third parties were demanding her to disassociate herself from the article or these parties would end her career. On August 31st, I notified Dale through email that I would add a clarification that she was the writer and researcher for the article and that Yahya [Ababneh] was the reporter on the ground, but did let Gavlak know that we would not remove her name as this would violate the ethics of journalism. (Phil Greaves, Syria: Controversy surrounding MintPress Chemical Weapons Ghouta Report)

The information according to which Saudi intelligence was allegedly implicated in the Ghouta chemical attacks was mentioned by a UN official who wished to remain anonymous:

A senior United Nations official who deals directly with Syrian affairs has told Al-Akhbar that the Syrian government had no involvement in the alleged Ghouta chemical weapons attack: “Of course not, he (President Bashar al-Assad) would be committing suicide.”

When asked who he believed was responsible for the use of chemical munitions in Ghouta, the UN official, who would not permit disclosure of his identity, said:“Saudi intelligence was behind the attacks and unfortunately nobody will dare say that.” The official claims that this information was provided by rebels in Ghouta…

The UN official’s accusations mirror statements made earlier this year by another senior UN figure Carla del Ponte, who last May told Swiss TV in the aftermath of alleged CW attacks in Khan al-Asal, Sheik Maqsood and Saraqeb that there were “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof,” that rebels had carried out the attack. Del Ponte also observed that UN inspectors had seen no evidence of the Syrian army using chemical weapons, but added that further investigation was necessary. (Sharmine Narwani and Radwan Mortada, Questions Plague UN Syria Report. Who was behind the East Ghouta Chemical Weapons Attack?)

All of the above leads us to believe that this attack was one of the most horrific crimes committed in modern history, a diabolical staged operation which consisted in killing small children, producing fake video footage and photo ops of the corpses, all of which was intended to fabricate a pretext for military intervention under a humanitarian mandate.

The mainstream media which has obfuscated these crimes bear a heavy burden of responsibility. The New York Times has smeared the findings of Mother Agnes and her team, accusing her of “defending the regime” and “playing the Christian card”.  The NYT casually dismisses the evidence that the videos are fake. Read the ISTEAMS Report and then judge for yourself.

The war criminals who designed and launched this diabolical staged operation must face justice.

Procedures in the United Nations Security Council directed against the Syrian government  must be suspended.

We invite our readers to consult the ISTEAM Report. Please share the ISTEAM report!


Syria Chemical Attack Update.

Posted September 20, 2013

by Jerry Alatalo

More reasons for beginning an investigation of the chemical attacks in Syria on August 21, 2013 at the International Criminal Court. The truth must prevail. Those responsible for the most barbaric killings of the 21st century need to be identified, arrested, prosecuted and punished.

Interview With Patricia O’Brien – United Nations Legal Counsel.

Posted September 19, 2013

by Jerry Alatalo

(The following comes from the United Nations website: Patricia O’Brien will be heavily involved in bringing those responsible for the August 21 Syria chemical attacks to justice. This interview provides a greater insight on legal issues of an international nature.)

Interview with Patricia O’Brien, United Nations Legal Counsel

Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and UN Legal Counsel, Patricia O’Brien. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

 19 August 2013 – In August 2008, Patricia O’Brien was appointed the  Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and UN Legal Counsel. She oversees the Office of Legal Affairs (OLA)  at UN Headquarters in New York,  the 200 or so staff members of which provide unified legal services for the  extremely varied needs of the Organization.

Much of the work of the Office deals with international law  – for example, advice on law applicable to treaties, war, peacekeeping, oceans  and criminal justice. It also extends to  the internal administration of justice for a UN staff of more than 60,000, UN  procurement contracts and relations with the host countries of UN facilities,  as well as to advice on the development of national legal systems.

Before taking up her work at the UN, Ms. O’Brien held high  legal positions in her native Ireland, the most recent having been Legal  Adviser to the Department of Foreign Affairs. UN News Centre spoke to Ms. O’Brien as she  was about to complete her term after five years of service and become Permanent  Representative of Ireland to  the UN in Geneva.

UN News Centre: It seems that the Office of Legal Affairs has a  daunting range of responsibilities. Can you give us an example of the kinds of  things that preoccupy you on a day-to-day basis?

Patricia O’Brien: As a general introduction, I would say  that our principal task is to support the Secretary-General’s commitment to the  rule of law, to the quest for justice and to the ending of impunity for war  crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.   The rule of law, both at the national and international level, is  critical for the United Nations in so many ways, at so many levels.  We are working in a very political  environment, however; that is the reality.  So our legal advice is given in the context of  the political reality that we face.  That  is not to say in any way that our legal advice is designed for political  purposes.

I am particularly proud, not for myself, but for the United Nations, to see the rule of law becoming more and more relevant for the work of the Organization as every day goes by.

UN News Centre: Does every decision taken by the Secretary-General  or Security Council have legal implications?

Patricia O’Brien: I wouldn’t say that every decision does,  but most decisions do.  The  Secretary-General, as the leader of the Organization, has ensured that  international law – and “The Law” – lies at the heart of everything he’s  doing.  We’ve had to face legal issues in  relation to Gaza and [Operation] Cast Lead, in  relation to the Sudan, Sri Lanka, general Middle   East questions, questions of piracy, ocean matters, ocean/maritime  disputes.  The range is quite  extraordinary. One of the most critical things from my perspective has always  been to try to ensure that the objective legal advice of my office is provided  at the earliest stages of any issue, so that it can be factored in.

UN News Centre: What  has been the role of your office is helping to operationalize international  tribunals?

Patricia O’Brien: We have a significant role to play in the day-to-day support provided to  these tribunals and, indeed, in their establishment.  For many years after Nuremburg, there was  essentially no international system of criminal justice.  In the 1990’s we had the terrible events in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, which gave rise to the  Security Council decision to establish those tribunals.  These were shortly followed by what’s known  as the SCSL for Sierra Leone  and the ECCC for Cambodia.  These were essentially the basket, if you  like, of international criminal mechanisms, which have been established under  the umbrella of the United Nations in one way or another.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon swears in Ms. O’Brien as Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and UN Legal Counsel. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Essentially,  international criminal justice as we know it now has really only been evolving  over the last 20 years.  The tribunals  have reaffirmed the principles established at Nuremburg that those who commit or  authorize the commission or perpetration of grave international crimes, war crimes,  crimes against humanity and grave violations of IHL [International Humanitarian  Law] will be held individually accountable.   We also have a formal cooperation agreement with the International  Criminal Court (ICC), which is known as the relationship agreement of 2004. International  criminal justice has become a central feature of international law, but the  challenges are enormous and we must always remember that the ICC is actually  relatively new. I think that we are achieving an enormous amount through these  mechanisms.

UN News Centre: How  has your work in relation to the tribunals impacted lives or the situation on  the ground?

Patricia O’Brien: Providing justice for victims is at the heart of what we are doing.  There is also the deterrent effect, which we  in my office believe is a real factor. Of course it’s not absolute; we have to  work on it every day.  I think we are now  at a very critical junction in relation to international criminal justice where  we must not allow ourselves to lose sight of the priority of justice.  As the Secretary-General has said, peace and  justice must go hand in hand.

We are now  truly in an age of accountability, as the Secretary-General stated a few years  ago.  The beginning of the end of  impunity has begun.  No one is above the  law.  Leaders will be held accountable –  this is a relatively new concept in terms of its implementation.  Sovereignty as a barricade to international  criminal justice is gone.  And finally,  there can be no sustainable peace without justice.  These principles are vital for the future of  international justice and the United Nations needs to make sure that it doesn’t  lose sight of them in its day-to-day political activities.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) receives a copy of the 2,500th Volume of the UN Treaty Series from Ms. O’Brien during an event to commemorate the publication of the milestone volume. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

UN News Centre: Some  people have claimed that the ICC is just focusing on Africa  when it comes to indictees.  What is your  take on that criticism?

Patricia O’Brien: This is a difficult issue.  The  perception that the work of the Court is focused on Africa is very unfortunate,  because we all know that the reality is that the Court would not be in  existence if it were not for the support that Africa has given to it, and  indeed continues to give to it, in the various Member States that are parties  to the Rome Statute [that established the Court].  I would argue that the Court might never have  come into existence if it hadn’t been for their support.

Also we  have to remember that the preponderance of cases and situations that are under  review by the ICC are cases of what we call ‘self-referral’ by African  States.  Those situations would possibly not  be under review by the Court if it weren’t for the fact that the leaders in  those countries decided to refer the situations.  There is of course a tension, currently,  between the African Union and the Court.   In my recent visit to Addis, it became quite palpable to me that this  tension is very real and it is something that we have to address with respect.  But at the same time, we at the United Nations  cannot for one moment lose sight of our commitment to support the Court.  We may be tempted to move off course in order  to accommodate the skepticism that is developing.  But we cannot do that in my personal view.

UN News Centre: Why  has it proven so difficult for President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan, accused of crimes against his own people  in Darfur, to be arrested and brought to  justice? 

Patricia O’Brien: Well, once again you’ve given me a perfect example of a legal issue that  is fraught with political dynamics.  The  answer to this is not a legal answer; it’s a political question with a  political answer.  The Rome Statute  provides the framework for cooperation.   This is a legal framework and legal obligations arise from States  becoming parties to the Statute.  There  is an obligation to arrest when an arrest warrant is in existence.  That obligation is clear.

Ms. O’Brien addresses the Security Council’s open debate on “The promotion and strengthening of the rule of law in the maintenance of international peace and security.” UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The fact  that some States who are parties to the Rome Statute are not complying with  their obligations is a matter that I would not pronounce on as a political  issue, but clearly this is a problem from a legal point of view as well. They  have a legal obligation to support it.   This goes back to the fundamental principles of the rule of law.  They have signed up to an international  treaty that gives rise to obligations; they are obliged to comply with those  international legal obligations.  If they  do not comply, they are in breach of the law.   That is essentially the legal position.

Of course,  it doesn’t take an enormous amount of imagination to wonder why particular leaders  are disdainful of the Court and behave in a way that undermines the Court.  It comes back to, possibly, their own  personal concern and interest.  This, in  another way, shows the effectiveness and importance of the Court.  So it’s something as I say that we cannot in  the United Nations ever lose sight of.

UN News Centre: We’d  like to move on to the principle of Responsibility to Protect.  Why has it been so difficult to employ this  principle, in stopping the killing in Syria, for example? 

Patricia O’Brien: Well, that’s a huge question.  The  Secretary-General divided the principle of Responsibility to Protect, for use  and comprehension, into three pillars.  The  first two are focused on prevention, the first being the responsibility of  States to protect their populations from war crimes, crimes against humanity  genocide and ethnic cleansing.  The  second pillar is the responsibility of the international community to support  States in protecting their populations.   And the third pillar, which is of course the most controversial,  provides, when States are manifestly failing to protect their populations, for  the international community to intervene using all the authority provided by  the Charter.  This includes Chapters VI,  Chapter VII and Chapter VIII.

This is one  area that has been open to a lot of misunderstanding, certainly from a legal  perspective.  The rule of law weaves its  way through each element of Responsibility to Protect, but most importantly in  the third pillar, and this is relevant when you’ve gone beyond prevention, talking  about Syria.  The misinterpretation is the suggestion that  Responsibility to Protect provides a further layer of international law for  humanitarian intervention when the Security Council has not given its  authorization to intervene, which is the case in Syria; that there is another  legal basis to actually intervene.  This  is not the case as far as we are concerned.

Ms. O’Brien (left) and a member of the Secretary-General’s team prepare for the transmittal of the Palestinian application for UN membership to the Security Council. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The legal  framework, as provided by the Charter, has a prohibition on the use of force  except where it’s in self-defense or where the Security Council has authorized  it.  In this case, the Security Council  has not authorized it.  Then the question  arises, is the Responsibility to Protect relevant at all for Syria now?  I would say yes, every single day, in the  form of the first pillar, prevention.  This  is what [Joint Special Representative Lakhdar] Brahimi is doing and what the  Secretary-General is spending so much of his time doing, even in the most  recent efforts to establish a mechanism to investigate the use of chemical  weapons, in order to prevent and to deter the perpetration of further crimes. The  fact that the Security Council has not agreed on certain authorizations is one  aspect which is, of course, unfortunate.   But we can’t lose sight of the continuing relevance of Responsibility to  Protect.

UN News Centre: Is  there a clear example of where the Responsibility to Protect has been applied and  has saved lives with the necessary backing of the Security Council that you  have described? 

Patricia O’Brien: Well, the obvious situation is Libya. But the Secretary-General’s  efforts in so many other areas have had a very positive effect in the context  of Responsibility to Protect.  Of course,  we don’t have the proof that Responsibility to Protect was effective when  crimes have been prevented. For example, all the efforts for Côte d’Ivoire,  I think have had a success in terms of civilians and prevention of further  conflict.

Libya is the obvious example because it is  the most robust application of the Responsibility to Protect, and because the  Security Council for the first time actually expressly referred to the principle  in its Chapter VII measures.  This gave  an umbrella, if you like, for the activity that then took place.  Of course there are those who had  difficulties after the NATO intervention with the use of force and how it was  used, etc.  But I think also it cannot be  argued against the fact that many civilian lives were saved.  It continues to be relevant for Libya  in that way because we are on the ground working with the Libyans to try to  ensure that there will not be a return to conflict.  That goes back to the first pillar –  prevention.

UN News Centre: Explain  to us how decisiveness in the Security Council, or lack of it, impacts on the  work you have to do.

Left to right: Ms. O’Brien, Foreign Minister Paul Toungui of Gabon, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki of Iran, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs George Chaponda of Malawi, and Radhika Coomaraswamy, the former UN envoy for children and armed conflict, pose for a group photo after signing the Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict. UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

Patricia O’Brien: Well, once again, the question is political, but I’m going to steer it  to a legal answer.  When the Security  Council is formulating its mandates, we have been asked to assist in the  formulation of particular aspects and to advise on relevant elements, say in  the establishment of peacekeeping operations.   But when the Security Council has made a decision, it is our role to  first of all fully respect it and then to assist the Organization in the  interpretation and implementation of its mandates.

UN News Centre: Turning  to Haiti,  the UN has come in for a lot of criticism as to whether we are legally obliged  to be taken to court after 8,000 people died because of cholera allegedly  brought into their country by UN peacekeepers.   It is not a simple issue.  Give us  a summary of your position.

Patricia O’Brien: What happened in Haiti  is a tragedy for the people of Haiti  and for everybody.  The issue of  liability of the Organization in that context has been one of the most  difficult briefs which has fallen to me to address.  We have spent a considerable amount of time to  get it right in the context of the application of the rule of law in terms of  the Organization.  A decision was made  that, as you know, the claims of those affected – the victims – were deemed not  receivable because they include a review of political and policy matters.

UN News Centre: Why  not receivable?

Patricia O’Brien: Section 29 of the Convention on Privileges and Immunities is inextricably  linked to the issue of non-receivability on the basis of involving a review of  policy and political decisions.  On that  basis, we deemed the cases not to be receivable.  This was a very difficult decision to arrive  at, not least for the Secretary-General.   This isn’t for one moment to deny the fact that what happened was a  terrible tragedy, and one which we would regret from every perspective.  But I can only answer from a legal perspective  and I can only give you that answer, because this is the answer which we have  given to the claimants.  And this is the  basis of our response in international law.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon bids farewell to Ms. O’Brien. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

UN News Centre: Turning  to more personal matters, what are some of the thoughts you have as you are  about to move on from your position?

Patricia O’Brien: When the Secretary-General interviewed me five years ago, I felt within  the first couple of moments that I would have a really good relationship with  him.  And it has been for me, and from my  perspective, an extraordinary relationship.   He has always respected my views, and has made me feel I could express  them without inhibition at critical moments.   We’ve had good dialogue – sometimes we have what we would call ‘constructive  tension,’ but it has always been a great honour.  But also in a lighter way, it’s been  tremendous fun.  It’s been exciting.  That’s not to trivialize it, but simply to  say that, with the seriousness of the issues which we grapple with every day of  the week, to have a certain lightness of being is important.  Not easy, but important.

UN News Centre: You  are the first woman to hold the position of UN Legal Counsel and head of OLA. In  what way could your job or the role inspire or empower more women, particularly  in the UN?

Patricia O’Brien: This is something that I’ve always been extremely conscious of, actually.  That one has a responsibility as a woman, no  matter what level of work one is doing, to represent ourselves well in an  environment dominated, frankly, by men.  It  gives us an added burden, which is that we need to be not just good, we need to  be excellent.  Sometimes we need to be  better than the men, in order to prove we are as good as the men.  From my point of view, I hope that the few  women who would be interested in me would take me as an example of how it’s  possible to follow your dreams and to really try to make a difference, without  sacrificing on the most fundamental aspect of life, which is to support those  we love.

Ms. O’Brien discusses the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ in international law. Credit: IBA Global Insight

UN News Centre: Finally,  I see that you seem to be a citizen of the world.  You were born in Brunei,  and grew up in Nigeria, Cambodia and Democratic Republic of the Congo.  How does this inform your attitude to the  work you have been doing here in the UN?

Patricia O’Brien: I never really thought about it in terms of my childhood, but from the  first days after I arrived here, I felt very comfortable.  In my office, there are 60 different  nationalities out of a staff of just over 200. It is a wonderfully global and  diverse environment to work on legal issues.   I have also made friends from so many parts of the world.  I had been in private practice as a lawyer, and  I had worked as an advisor to the Irish Government for many years, and then I  moved into the international sphere in Ireland.  But really, it was only when I arrived in New York to work for the  United Nations that I sort of felt that ‘now I’m home.’

UN News Centre: What  has been most rewarding for you as Legal Counsel?

Patricia O’Brien: I am particularly proud, not for myself, but for the United Nations, to  see the rule of law becoming more and more relevant for the work of the Organization  as every day goes by, with rule of law now a critical aspect of all of our discussions.