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Invoking Pontius Pilate After the Vote

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Abdullah Hussain Haroon, Pakistan's representative to the UN, speaking at the Security Council on the resolution to end violence in Syria. The resolution failed to pass.

Of the many eloquent, impassioned speeches voiced by ambassadors in the Security Council right after Russia and China’s veto of the resolution aimed at ending the violence in Syria, Pakistan’s stood out for its professorial panache.

Abdullah Hussain Haroon, the ambassador of the UN from Pakistan, invoked Pontius Pilate’s washing of his hands over the crucifixion of Jesus to draw an analogy of the Security Council’s action over Syria, saying, “We cannot wash our hands of this.”

Haroon, who is heavy-set, white-bearded and speaks in a clipped Churchillian oratory, said on Feb. 4 in one of the longest speeches at the council that day, seven minutes, that the problem in Syria “has assumed dimensions which are not only regrettable but are condemnable.”

“I believe we accept too much too easily,” he went on. “Reminds me of 1,000 – 2,000 years ago, Pontius Pilate washing his hands and saying, I have nothing to do with this. And 2,000 years later, we still see humanity suffers that particular point.”

Haroon delved into the stance of Pakistan on the Syrian resolution and situation, saying that his country had “some serious concerns, mainly against killings and massacre of innocents,” but that on a point of principle, Pakistan was “not happy about any infringement of sovereignty or integrity of Syria.”

“There was a very spirited attempt  . . .  to take care of issues and concerns, and we’re thankful for that.”

Pakistan, which became a nonpermanent member of the council in January for a two-year term, voted yes on the resolution.

Going on about the resolution, Haroon said that “it became important to be able to end killings by asking both sides, and in fact forcing both sides, that it is not acceptable, and that was a strong moral point that the Arab League draft introduced into this.”

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“Everyone,” he emphasized, “has to get into it to stop it!”

The veto as ‘heart-wrencher’

Don’t forget, he roared, “nothing succeeds anywhere in the world against a government without external help. That is a point of history which cannot be ignored.”

Toward the end, Haroon was using the first person in his speech, bemoaning the power of the veto by the permanent-five council members.

“I believe that even today our system has indeed let us down, but then we’re being very clear . . . that this aspect of veto is always a heart-wrencher, and both ways it guts itself and lets the other one for the moment, the other side, be beneficial. “

Continuing in this vein, he added, “ I think everyone should have the veto and then see how the world gets on. Perhaps we should all consider not using it whatsoever.”

As Haroon finished up, he reiterated that “we cannot wash our hands of this” and cited the Arab League plan as the best way forward.

“This matter,” he said, “should not be allowed to die.”

Additional resources:

Security Council Votes on Syria Resolution

New Members of the Security Council

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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