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David Ignatius: Charting a Syrian way out

BY DAVID IGNATIUS Published: January 6, 2013

To implement the plan, the opposition would gather a team of Syrian legal experts. Among the possible names suggested are Suhair al-Atassi, a prominent human rights activist and a vice president of the opposition coalition; Haitham al-Maleh, a former judge and longtime dissident; Anwar al-Bunni, a human rights lawyer who has represented Kurdish protesters; and leaders of Free Syria legal groups in Turkey and Jordan.

By using modern legal tools for asset tracing and recovery, Syrian lawyers would have both carrots and sticks for regime change. A targeted individual could save his dignity (and perhaps some of his fortune) by breaking with Assad and obtaining partial amnesty; he could lose it by clinging to the dictator. The tribunals for judging guilt of regime loyalists would resemble traditional Syrian legal systems.

As with everything affecting Syria, time is running out before the country collapses into an anarchic failed state. As rebels take control of areas, such as the northern suburbs of Aleppo, some brigade commanders are already taking the law into their own hands. “Some Free Syrian Army are acting more like the shabiha they used to fight,” says one Syrian source.

U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned last week that without a political settlement, Syria would be “transformed into hell.”

What Syria needs urgently is a path to a new government based on the rule of law. The plan prepared by the Syrian Support Group is the best road map I've seen, and the international community should embrace it quickly.