Syria: Why The Security Council Matters

January 31, 2012

Update: Take action now by urging the Russian government to join others on the UN Security Council in putting an end to the bloodshed in Syria.

The crisis in Syria has reached a pivotal point. The situation on the ground has sharply deteriorated over the last few days, prompting the Arab League to suspend its mission.

In New York, the UN Security Council will be briefed today by Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, followed by a potential vote on a new draft resolution later this week. A Syrian activist currently based in the U.S. described this new development yesterday by stating: “It has become the last chance for the Security Council to act.”

I agree that it is high time for the Council to end its silence—if demands to end the serious and widespread human rights violations are front and center of the resolution.

This should include a referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court, an imposition of an arms embargo, and an asset freeze of President Bashar al-Assad and his senior associates. Such a resolution will not immediately result in the end of the bloodshed in Syria; however, strong Security Council action this week could be seen as one of the defining moments of the uprising.

The Showdown

The fact that those in attendance at today’s Council meeting will include U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe indicates that a legally binding condemnation of the grave human rights abuses is finally within reach. In total, ten countries on the Council are reportedly supportive of the draft resolution.

However, let’s be honest: the adoption of the resolution will depend on Russia, who continues to threaten to veto the resolution (again). Other countries on the Council who are concerned about the resolution are expected to follow Russia’s lead. Barbara Plett, the BBC’s UN correspondent, provides a concise summary of Russia’s position:

Keen to protect a thriving arms trade with Syria, they have complained about the resolution’s call to stop the flow of weapons to the country (although it doesn’t impose an arms embargo).

But the critical issue is the fate of Bashar al-Assad, Russia’s closest Arab ally. The Arab peace plan calls on him to delegate power to a deputy. For the Russians, this is regime change by another name.

The Syrian regime led by President Bashar al-Assad is becoming increasingly isolated internationally, with Russia being one of its last major supporters. I believe that an international condemnation of the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters in the form of a Security Council resolution will occur in only a matter of time. This week, Russia has the choice to either end its shameful support for a regime we believe is committing crimes against humanity or to remain the oppressive regime’s last collaborator.

Why It Matters

The next 24 to 48 hours may mark a pivotal moment in the uprising of the Syrian people. Most notably, a UN Security Council resolution would confront the regime with a unified international voice, making it clear that it cannot pursue its current actions without consequences. Additionally, it might give the human rights crisis in Syria a regular, prominent place on the agenda of the Security Council, making it harder for world leaders to ignore the systematic and widespread crimes.

Key Resources On The Developments At The UN

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