Syria: UN Security Council inaction earns reprimand from General Assembly

The UN General Assembly is voting Thursday to demand that Syrian President Assad step down. The symbolic move will also chastise the Security Council, where Russia and China have vetoed firmer action.

Goran Tomasevic/REUTERS
A woman walks through rubble from a building destroyed by shelling from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in downtown Aleppo August 1.

Frustrated with the Security Council’s inaction on Syria, the United Nations General Assembly is set to take matters into its own hands Thursday and demand that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down.

The purely symbolic resolution, sponsored by Arab League countries that have pressed the more powerful Security Council to take action against President Assad, calls on the embattled Syrian leader to cede power to a transitional government. The resolution also demands that the Syrian Army stop its heavy-arms and helicopter attacks on the Syrian populace.

The question now seems to be not whether the resolution will pass, but with how many votes in favor. A General Assembly vote in February on a resolution condemning Syrian authorities’ “widespread and systematic” human rights violations garnered a commanding 137 votes. Only 12 countries voted against that resolution, but some UN officials speculate that a larger slice of the assembly’s 193 members will balk at voting for a head of state’s ouster, even as a symbolic gesture.

Thursday’s vote won’t just demand Mr. Assad’s departure, but will also express the international community’s frustration with a deadlocked Security Council.

The draft resolution, written by Saudi Arabia with the support of Egypt and Bahrain, knocks the Security Council by “deploring” its inability to act on Syria. Last month permanent members Russia and China vetoed a Syria resolution for the third time over the course of the 17-month-old crisis.

Condemnation of Russia and China’s persistent blocking of action on Syria has not been limited to the lower General Assembly but has also come from the other three permanent and veto-wielding council members, the United States, Britain, and France.

After the July 19 vote, the French ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, noted that 3,000 Syrians had already died in the fighting when Russia and China cast their first vetoes in October. The deaths had climbed to 6,000 by the time the same two Security Council members thwarted action in February, he said. The third double-veto came, he added, as 17,000 Syrians were reported dead.

France, which took over the rotating month-long presidency of the Security Council on Wednesday, is proposing a foreign-minister-level meeting of the council on Syria before the end of the month.

But UN officials say it is not at all clear that the intensifying violence and mounting toll in Syria have budged Russia and China from their opposition to outside intervention in Syria’s internal affairs.

The draft General Assembly resolution also “demands that the Syrian authorities refrain from using, or transferring to non-state actors, any chemical and biological weapons.”

Inclusion of that statement was apparently prompted by assertions from Syrian officials last month that the regime would not resort to its stock of weapons of mass destruction – except to repel an invasion from outside forces.

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