In a post a few days ago, I speculated on when we would hear the Russian Federation finally say “Do svedanya” to Bashar al-Assad and allow for action in the United Nations. Today contained both a glimmer of hope for the prospect of that occurring and a curbstomp to the face of that chance.
Hope first. The Third Committee of the GA today had before it a draft resolution on Syrian human rights abuses initially drafted by several European states. The revised version can be found here. As noted in my previous post, several Arab states were thought likely to join on as sponsors, and that they did. Saudi Arabia, Morocco Bahrain, Jordan and Qatar were all original sponsors of the draft; during this morning’s debate, Kuwait joined on as well. Several states expressed hesitancy to support the draft, primarily those in the Non-Aligned Movement and led by Cuba, due to its singling out one state in particular’s rights abuses. The term “country-specific resolution” was thrown around a lot, as well as pleas to utilize the Universal Periodic Review process in the Human Rights Council rather than GA3 to deal with human rights. It’s worth noting that the loudest voices prior to the vote were those who have either had human rights charges level against them by the body or were extremely likely to.
The Syrian delegate, in attempting to fend off the measure, stated that the end goal of the Arab Spring is to bring about a “new Middle East, to be led by Israel”, which would then launch a new wave of ethnic cleansing. So there’s that. In the end, despite speeches by the DPRK and Iran against the measure, the final vote was recorded as 122 in favor, 13 opposed, and 41 abstentions. Among the abstentions were Yemen and Lebanon, but as has been noted on Twitter, not a single Arab state voted against the proposal, not even Sudan. Also abstaining were the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, which raised several eyebrows.
Following the vote, much was made of the twin abstentions of the PRC and Russia, calling to mind the twin veto in October in the Security Council. Several articles and blog posts went so far as to call the move a potential shift in the Security Council, which is the spectre of hope I discussed at the start of the post. And here comes the curbstomping.
Following the vote, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin spoke to Kuwait New Agency (KUNA), and had this to say:
“It’s a completely different situation. This does not mean that our position in the Security Council has changed. It does not change our position vis-a-vis the Security Council, that I can tell you,” Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told KUNA following the vote.
Churkin was responding to diplomats who said the overwhelming vote in the Assembly’s Social Committee earlier today on a Syria resolution and the Arab position in Cairo and Rabat would open the door to the possibility of revisiting the Syrian issue in the Security Council in the future.
That certainly was a flush of cold water. While beaten, the sliver of hope is not quite dead yet. While the League of Arab States continues to dither on whether or not Syria is fully suspended and facing sanctions, its member states seem to be indicating quite clearly that what is happening in Syria is unacceptable. Churkin’s statement was in the abstract, however, and not in reference to specific draft resolutions or proposals on the table. We may still yet see a condemnation of Syria’s actions in the Security Council, with the potential of “further actions”. But anything beyond that will require the Arab League to take the first step and/or Russia to stand aside. Considering Russian intransigence and the fact that five days have passed since the Arab League gave a three day extension on its ultimatum, it’s unclear which is less likely at the moment.