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Monday, August 29, 2011

Who voted against UN condemnation of Syria crackdown, and who abstained

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 UN 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 4 with 9 abstentions. That’s the good news.

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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 UN 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 it own population.”

Recalling that Syria was a longtime Soviet client state, it remains diplomatically supported by Moscow and Beijing. Damascus moreover is closely aligned politically with the Islamic Republic of Iran and with North Korea with which it shares nuclear technology.

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 very same Human Rights Council (which was preposterous in the first place) was suspended by the UN General Assembly in March at the onset of the rebellion against Col. 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 have 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 majority state) since the 1960s.

The brutal crackdown was condemned by Valerie Amos, the UN’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 UN, 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 UN 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).

Now the USA and Europeans are again pressing the Security Council for new sanctions on Syria. Wider actions by the UN, especially any serious censure by the Security Council has 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 leader emboldening many Syrians, the days of the Assad dictatorship may be numbered.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for

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