South Africa's cautious UN vote for Syrian action
While Russia and China vetoed a UN resolution calling for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to step down, South Africa voted for the measure. But it voices qualms on foreign intervention.
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Russia and China claim their votes were aimed at preventing a further escalation of the conflict, and that punishing President Assad at this time would be counterproductive to coming up with a peaceful resolution of the almost year long conflict in Syria.
Less noticed was the role that South Africa and other emerging nations are playing in this dispute. South Africa – which is serving as president of the UN Security Council – voted with the majority to urge Syrian president Assad to step down, but when Russia and China vetoed the resolution, South Africa’s government voiced its own qualms about foreign intervention in Syria.
“It is important that the Syrian people be allowed to decide their own fate, including their future leadership,” read an emailed statement sent by Clayson Monyela, spokesman for the South African ministry of international relations. “Fundamentally, no foreign or external parties should interfere in Syria as they engage in the critical decision-making processes on the future of their country. Any solution must preserve the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.”
In explaining South Africa’s support for the UN resolution, Mr. Monyela’s statement said, “We were also satisfied that the final draft resolution was not aimed at imposing regime change in Syria, which would be against the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
At issue is the thorny issue of when nations have a right to intervene in each others affairs. In the post-Rwandan genocide era, human rights activists began to talk of a “responsibility to protect,” enshrined in the United Nations charter. The UN invoked this responsibility to protect in voting to intervene in the Libyan civil war last year, but Russia, China, South Africa, and other nations argue that this responsibility was misused. Instead of preventing the Libyan government from attacking civilian areas where rebels were based, NATO warplanes began to actually target Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s forces and other government installations, setting the stage for the removal of Qaddafi from power.
By vetoing the UN resolution this time, Russia and China are accused of protecting a client state. But by adding their own voices of dissent, South Africa, Brazil and other emerging nations are voicing their own disquiet, and signaling they won’t be fooled again.
At news time, Syrian forces are reported to have shelled civilian areas, including a civilian hospital, in the central Syrian town of Homs, where rebels have established a stronghold. UN observers estimate that at least 6000 people have been killed since the rebellion began in March 2011.