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.
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President Obama on Friday signed an executive order imposing sanctions on three Syrian officials and two organizations – Syria’s intelligence agency and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps–Qods Force – in connection with the government’s violent actions.Skip to next paragraph
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The Syrian officials, including two relatives of President Assad, are not thought to have many assets in the US, so the action freezing all US-based assets is unlikely to have much real impact. But US officials say the idea is primarily to send a message to Syria, including to Assad himself, that sticking to the course of violent repression will lead to additional – and stronger – action.
The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said after the vote in Geneva that the council was acting “against attempts to silence dissent with the use of gratuitous violence, which is not the act of a responsible government.” She called the statement “an important precedent,” adding that it marks “a strong step forward for this world body at a critical time.”
She did not mention the compromises the US had to accept to get to a bare majority in favor of the statement. Among other things, the US stripped out a call for an official commission of inquiry to investigate the Syrian violence – the step approved by the council in the case of Libya – in favor of a lower-level mission led by the UN’s high commissioner for human rights.
In addition, a reference in the statement to Syria’s candidacy to the Human Rights Council – and a line calling on UN members to consider Syrian official violence when voting for new council members – was eliminated. Nevertheless, Ambasssador Rice insisted the statement as approved speaks against Syria’s campaign for a council seat.
The statement “underscores the incongruity of Syria’s current candidacy” for the council, she said. “Meeting legitimate calls for reform with tanks and bullets is unacceptable behavior by any government, least of all an aspiring member of the Council.”
The organization Human Rights Watch said after the Geneva vote that electing Syria to the Human Rights Council now, when an investigation of the violence has been approved, would be “like inviting the accused to sit in with the jury."