Syria condemned for crackdown
UNITED NATIONS ― The Human Rights Council has strongly condemned the continuing human rights repression by the Syrian regime and has called for an international inquiry into the violence.
In an emergency session in Geneva, the U.N. rights body voted overwhelmingly to condemn the “grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities” which has taken more than 2,200 civilian lives in the past six months.
A European Union-sponsored resolution was passed 33 to four with nine abstentions. That’s the good news. The predictable news was that both Moscow and Beijing pressured the EU to substantially tone down the condemnation of the Damascus rulers. And when the vote was taken in the 47-member council, Mainland China, Cuba, Ecuador and Russia, voted against the condemnation.
Curiously a number of abstentions included India, Angola, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Djibouti, Malaysia, Mauritania, the Philippines and Uganda.
“The writing is on the wall for the Syrian regime,” said U.N. Watch director Hillel Neuer. “The government of President Bashar al-Assad is an enemy of human rights and should surrender power immediately.”
Significantly, the director of the human rights group expressed, “profound concern that India, a great democracy, joined autocracies Russia and China by taking the floor to make excuses for Syria's massacre of its own population.”
Recalling that Syria was a longtime Soviet client state, it remains diplomatically supported by Moscow and Beijing. Damascus moreover is closely aligned with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Given the particular pedigree of Assad’s family dictatorship, it comes as no surprise that the rulers are shooting political protesters. Syria after all has long been one of the Arab world’s nastier political regimes on par with Libya. And along with political repression, the 22 million people of this ancient land have been beset by economic hardships.
But there’s also a lesson for Syria in the recent rights condemnation. Earlier this year, Libya’s membership on the Human Rights Council (which was preposterous in the first place) was suspended by the U.N. General Assembly in March at the onset of the rebellion against Colonel Gadhafi.
More importantly as the Syrian crackdown continues, the Libyan revolt was in the final stages; Gadhafi was ousted from power and a coalition of rebels has captured the capital Tripoli. The mercurial colonel’s regime dating from September 1969 has finally been toppled by the rebels along with significant French, British and Turkish support.
The Assad family rule, based on the Alawite minority sect of Islam, has had an iron grip on Syria (a Sunni Muslim state) since the 1960s.
The brutal crackdown was condemned by Valerie Amos, the U.N.’s humanitarian chief, who expressed serious concern at reports of protesters being killed and injured in the Syrian city of Homs. “I am shocked by these reports,” said Ms. Amos.
According to the U.N., some 2,200 people have been killed in the violence since March. “I call on the Syrian authorities to ensure that people are allowed to protest peacefully and in safety.” Well that’s easier said than done, given the nature of the regime.
In a separate report, the U.N. stated that the “widespread and systematic” attacks against its own people could amount to crimes against humanity and warrant in investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The U.S. and Europeans are again pressing the Security Council for new sanctions on Syria. Wider actions by the U.N., especially any serious censure by the Security Council, have already been blocked by Beijing and Moscow.
The wider question remains how Syria’s own population, increasingly radicalized by their government’s repression but jolted into action by the political reverberations of the “Arab Spring,” will endure the current minority dictatorship. With the dramatic fall of the Libyan ruler emboldening many Syrians, the days of the Assad dictatorship may be numbered.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of “Transatlantic Divide; USA/Euroland Rift” (University Press, 2010). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.