European push for UN condemnation of Syria fails

Russia, China, Lebanon put up resistance to draft statement which would call on Assad to prosecute those behind violence, exercise restraint.

April 28, 2011 05:23
4 minute read.
Picture of Syria’s President Bashar Assad

Syria Assad 521. (photo credit: Reuters)


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UNITED NATIONS - A European push for the UN Security Council to condemn Syria's violent crackdown on anti-government protesters was blocked on Wednesday by resistance from Russia, China and Lebanon, envoys said.

"There will be no statement," a Security Council diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Syria tightens its grip on protest centers
EU says 'all options on the table' to quell Syria violence
Calls for sanctions grow as Assad steps up offensive

Instead, Western countries called a public debate on Syria, but the meeting highlighted differences in the 15-nation council, with Russia charging that it was outside interference in Arab countries that could be a threat to peace.

After meeting for an hour behind closed doors, the situation in the Middle East was brought before an open chamber Wednesday evening. The UN representative of Syria was invited to participate, as was UN Undersecretary General for Political Affairs, Lynn Pascoe.

Pascoe opened the meeting’s public session by saying he had been briefed by both confidential and public sources. “They are increasingly calling for the downfall of the regime, echoing slogans that have been heard elsewhere in the region,” he said of the Syrian protesters.

Pascoe spoke of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s efforts to respond to demonstrators, but added that “despite the promise of reform, the government crackdown intensified dramatically” – noting that over one hundred people were thought killed over the past weekend.

Pascoe alluded to the unreliability of news coming from the region due to the circumstances, but cited reported shortages of food, water and medicine in the area.

“This could become a major humanitarian issue in the coming days,” Pascoe said.

The Security Council’s late afternoon meeting Wednesday was slated to discuss a draft statement from Germany, France, Portugal and the UK – which would call on Assad to prosecute those behind the violence against demonstrators, and to exercise restraint.

Pressure on the body to respond in some way to Syria’s actions against demonstrators was ramped up by Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who issued a statement Tuesday saying that he is watching events in Syria with “increasingly grave concern.”

“I condemn, utterly, the continuing violence against peaceful demonstrators – most particularly the use of tanks and live fire that have killed and injured hundreds of people,” Ban said. “It goes without saying that Syrian authorities have an obligation to protect civilians and respect international human rights.

“That includes the right to free expression and peaceful assembly. The High Commissioner for Human Rights and I agree: There should be an independent, transparent and effective investigation. I remain convinced that only an inclusive dialogue and genuine reform can address the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and restore peace and social order,” Ban continued.

Calling the violence used by Syria’s government against its own people “abhorrent and deplorable,” US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said Tuesday night that the US condemns Syria’s violence “in the strongest terms.”

“The outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end – and now,” Rice said. “The Syrian Government’s actions to repeal the decade’s old emergency law and allow for peaceful demonstrations were clearly not serious given the continued violent repression against protesters.”

Rice said the US, among others, is currently pursuing a range of policy options – including, but not limited to, sanctions.

While the Security Council’s European members continue to push the body to adopt the statement condemning Syria’s violence toward protesters, they are expected to face opposition from Lebanon, China and Russia.

Russia and China view Syria’s protests as an internal matter that should be handled domestically.

Meanwhile, China’s ambassador to the UN, Li Baodong, has called for a “political solution” to end the crisis.

Lebanon is a long-time ally of Syria, and is expected to vote against any condemnation of Syria.

Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East

Russia in particular has evinced signs of fatigue regarding Middle East actions, and has expressed apprehension about air raids on Libya, and similar future Middle East scenarios.

“The Syrian people’s call for freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and to choose their leaders freely must be heard,” Rice said. “We strongly oppose the Syrian government’s treatment of its citizens and we continue to oppose its continued destabilizing behavior more generally – including support for terrorism and terrorist groups.”

Rice characterized it as “disingenuous” for Syria to blame outsiders for its unrest, while simultaneously seeking Iranian assistance in repressing its citizens.

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