"We are all powerless, there is no justice for Syria". With these damning words, Carla Del Ponte announced her resignation on Sunday from the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria. A former Swiss attorney general, Ms Del Ponte prosecuted war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. In Syria she felt shackled by the UN security council, which refused to act on the evidence of war crimes that the commission has amassed against senior members of the Syrian government and military since she joined it in 2012. Ms Del Ponte denounced the security council's inaction as "a disgrace for the international community". It is impossible to disagree with her.
The Syrian people deserve an urgent resolution to the conflict that has engulfed their home for more than six years, resulting in nearly half a million deaths and the displacement of 10 times as many people. Part of the reason for the gridlock in negotiations has been the fragmentation of the opposition to Mr Al Assad. Saudi Arabia has been labouring behind the scenes for some time now to forge a united front under the umbrella of the Syrian opposition's High Negotiations Council. The announcement on Monday that Riyadh will host a meeting of competing factions in October is an indication of the progress made so far.
But before Syrian opposition groups assemble in Saudi Arabia to iron out their differences, there is likely to be another round of UN-organised peace talks in Geneva. Mr Al Assad has diligently exploited the disunity of the opposition. There is no doubt that he will do everything in his power to frustrate the Swiss summit, tentatively scheduled for September.
president Bashar Al Assad used to be a proponent of talks when his future seemed uncertain. Now, having presided over the destruction of much of Syria with the aid of Hizbollah, Iran and Russia, and consolidated his chokehold on a truncated portion of the country, he says that his own position is non-negotiable. But his ability to coerce Syrians does not confer legitimacy on his rule. To make concessions to Mr Al Assad would be tantamount to sanctifying his savagery. A settlement that allows him to continue in power despite his crimes would be an insult to his numberless victims – and a recipe for yet more bloodshed. Why would Mr Al Assad give up killing and maiming Syrians if the world rewards him for killing and maiming Syrians?
Saudi Arabia’s success in bringing Mr Al Assad’s opponents to the table is a sign that the desire to find an urgent solution to the Syrian civil war is gaining momentum. At the same time, Ms Del Ponte’s resignation is a sobering reminder of the severe challenges that stalk peacemakers. There is no easy way out. But the world should not give up on Syrians – or give in to Mr Al Assad.