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UN council issues tepid rebuke of Syria. Does it want to avoid another Libya?

The UN Human Rights Council barely backed a watered-down condemnation of Syria for its attacks on civilian protesters. The pushback suggests some nations worry that the West overstepped its bounds in pressing for strong action against Libya – and want to avoid a repeat.

By Staff writer / April 29, 2011

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Permanent Representative of Syria to the United Nations in Geneva Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui delivers a statement during the Human Rights Council Special Session on the situation of human rights in Syria Friday.

Martial Trezzini/AP

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Washington

The United Nations’ top human-rights body on Friday split over how to respond to Syria’s state-ordered violence against civilians – even as Syrians defied the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and turned out in protests across the country.

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The UN Human Rights Council approved a watered-down statement sponsored by the United States that condemns the military-on-civilian violence that has killed as many as 500 people, according to reports from Syrian rights organizations. The statement also calls on the UN’s top human-rights official to undertake an immediate investigation of the violence for violations of international law.

But the statement had to overcome a barrage of opposition from China, Russia, and some African countries that made it clear they were balking at following the same path the international community has taken against the regime of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. The statement squeaked by with 26 votes in favor from the 47-member body.

Nine countries – including China and Russia – voted against the measure, while 11 either abstained or were not present.

The council’s split suggests that the long-lived divide over human rights between Western and developed democracies on one side and developing, often autocratic regimes on the other is alive and well.

Declarations at Friday’s council session from Russia, China, and some other members suggest that a number of countries now feel Western countries have overstepped their bounds in using international condemnation of Libya to enter the conflict there, and they don’t want the same to occur in Syria.

The cautious international response took place as Friday protests in Syria reportedly erupted even in the heart of Damascus, where little public dissent had occurred over the past week of bloody demonstrations elsewhere. Reports from inside the country, difficult to confirm because foreign journalists are being kept out, claimed that perhaps “dozens” of people were killed Friday.

The council’s action in Geneva was followed in Washington by the US government’s first new sanctions on Syria since this year’s popular upheaval across the Middle East began pitting governments against their populations.

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