UN Security Council Should Pressure Syria

News and Press Release
Originally published

(New York, February 2, 2012) – The United Nations Security Council is considering a Moroccan draft resolution that includes demands the Syrian government end all human rights violations and cooperate with the commission of inquiry dispatched by the UN Human Rights Council, and the Arab League observer mission. The draft resolution also warns that the perpetrators of human rights violations must be held to account.

A majority of the 15 council members is considered supportive of these efforts, which are also backed by the Arab League. This includes Azerbaijan, Colombia, France, Germany, Guatemala, Morocco, Portugal, Togo, the United Kingdom, and the United States. According to diplomats who spoke with Human Rights Watch and media reports, Russia, backed by China, India, Pakistan, and South Africa, has been reluctant to endorse any meaningful pressure on the Syrian government to end the abuse.

“After 10 months of passivity, during which more than 5,400 people have been killed by Syrian security forces, Security Council members should have run out of excuses for inaction,” said Philippe Bolopion, UN director at Human Rights Watch. “Any country should be wary of supporting the position of Russia, which is signing lucrative arms deals with the Syrian government, while providing it with diplomatic cover.”

Four months have passed since South Africa and India, alongside former council member Brazil, abstained on a resolution designed to pressure the Syrian government into ending the violence. By refusing to take a stand, they empowered Russia and China to veto the text, thus signaling to President Bashar al-Assad’s government that the Security Council would not meddle with its bloody repression campaign.

At the time of the October 4 2011 vote, the civilian toll in Syria was close to 2,700 dead, according to the UN, including many children and women. It has since more than doubled, but the UN says it can no longer keep track of the rising death toll given the difficulties of gathering information from Syria.

Countries preventing Security Council action have made a number of excuses, from vague calls for a “political solution” to allegations that the opposition is just as responsible as the government for the violence. These allegations have been disproved by the UN commission of inquiry and by Human Rights Watch’s research. Human Rights Watch has documented incidents of violence and potential crimes by opposition forces, but the scale of these violations pales in comparison to the massive and systematic campaign of killing, disappearances, and torture unleashed by the Assad government.

Despite the absence of sanctions or a call for military intervention in the draft Moroccan resolution, countries resisting action have argued that recent versions of the draft resolution could be used to justify a Libya-type intervention.

“Countries invoking the straw man of Libya are playing politics with the lives of ordinary Syrians,” said Bolopion. “Instead of discarding the efforts of the Arab League to find a solution to the crisis, these countries should support efforts to stop President Assad’s persecution of his own people.”

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