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‘A Sad Day for the Council’


Susan Rice, US Ambasador at the Security Council meeting on Syria.
Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, said she was "disgusted" by the vetoes of Russia and China on a Feb. 4 vote on a resolution to protect civilians in Syria. PAULO FILGUEIRAS/UN PHOTO

Russia and China vetoed the draft resolution on Syria today after the draft went through tense, protracted rounds of Security Council negotiations this week, despite optimism shown yesterday by diplomats involved in the process at the United Nations. The draft was backed by Western powers and the Arab League, which has been leading the way to help end the government crackdown in Syria against rebels and civilians.

The resolution would have condemned widespread gross violations of human rights and “all violence, irrespective of where it comes from,” while demanding that the Syrian government carry out “without delay” the elements of the Arab League plan of Jan. 22.

“This is a great disappointment to the people of Syria and the Middle East, and to all supporters of democracy and human rights,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.

“It undermines the role of the United Nations and the international community in this period when the Syrian authorities must hear a unified voice calling for an immediate end to its violence against the Syrian people.”

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Ban said that as a result of the vote, it has “become even more urgent” for the international community to redouble its efforts to seek a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic political system. He pledged the UN”s willingness to increase efforts to “find a peaceful and durable solution which will bring the violence and the killing in Syria to a halt.”

Thousands of people have been killed since March 2011 in the crisis, pitting the government against fighters inspired by the Arab spring revolts in the Middle East and North Africa.

Thirteen of the 15-member Security Council voted for the draft, which was watered down all week-long to meet Russia’s demands and had been submitted by Morocco, a new nonpermanent council member. Since Russia and China are permanent members, their vetoes mean a resolution can die. Both countries have repeatedly emphasized that sovereignty of Syria is paramount.

Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, said after the vote that the draft “sent an unbalanced signal to the Syrian parties,” with no call on the opposition to distance itself from extremist groups. He added that a solution must be “objective” and that some council members had pressed for “regime change.”

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, is traveling to Damascus, the Syrian capital, on Tuesday for talks with Assad.

The veto occurred just as the Syrian government, led by Bashar al-Assad, intensified attacks by zeroing in on Homs. The onslaught also happened around the anniversary of Syria’s crackdown in 1982 on another Syrian city, Hama, by Assad’s father, President Hafez al-Assad. Up to 20,000 people were killed in one of the most violent attacks in modern Arab history.

No more violence

The Security Council draft resolution had called for “a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system, in which citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations or ethnicities or beliefs,” starting with a dialogue between the Syrian government and the “spectrum of the Syrian opposition” under Arab League supervision.

The resolution also called on the Syrian government to stop violence against civilians, withdraw its armed forces from cities and towns and return them to their barracks, guarantee the freedom of peaceful demonstrations and allow unfettered access for Arab League institutions to “determine the truth about the situation on the ground and monitor the incidents taking place.”

In addition, the text condemned “all violence, irrespective of where it comes from, and in this regard demands that all parties in Syria, including armed groups, immediately stop all violence or reprisals, including attacks against State institutions.”

The draft followed many permutations, dropping an Arab League recommendation that Assad cede power to his vice president, appeasing Russia, and some members also wanted it clear that no military intervention in Syria would occur. So the draft explicitly stated that “nothing in this resolution authorises measures under Article 42 of the Charter.” (That provision allows for the use of force “to maintain or restore international peace and security.”)

Russia has honed a strong military relationship with Syria, as recently reflected in a $550-million contract to sell fighter planes to the country, it was reported last week. Russia and China also soured on the military intervention of NATO in Libya last spring, when the Security Council passed a no-fly zone authorization to protect civilians against possible atrocities by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

China’s ambassador to the UN, Li Baodong, said that the draft’s “undue emphasis” on pressuring Syrian officials would complicate the issue rather than end the fighting.

Rice: ‘Disgusted’

The French ambassador to the UN, Gérard Araud said, “It’s a sad day for the council, it’s a sad day for Syrians and it’’s a sad day” for supporters of democracy. “What message is now being sent to the Syrian people and to all the victims of human rights violations?”

Susan Rice, the American ambassador, said she was “disgusted that a couple of council members” had prevented the council from taking action to protect Syrians.

Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Bashar Jaafair, said that the post-vote statements made by some members showed their “true hostile intentions” against his country and would “fan the flames” of bloodshed.

The 13 yes votes on the council were cast by Azerbaijan, Britain, Colombia, France, Guatemala, Germany, India, Morocco, Pakistan, Portugal, South Africa, Togo and the United States. The draft was also sponsored by nine Arab countries: Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates.

Additional resources:

“The Responsibility to Protect Gets a Checkup”

A New Digest on R2P

“Human Rights Chief Calls for More Action in Syria”


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Dulcie Leimbach

Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.

Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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