By Thalif Deen
September 16, 2011
"Syria is on fire," says one exasperated U.N. diplomat, "while the Security Council fiddles."
The revolt and the bloody street demonstrations are nearly six months old but the U.N.'s most powerful political body continues to remain paralysed - unable and unwilling to help resolve the spreading crisis.
At last count, the number of civilian protesters killed so far has reached a staggering 2,600, according to the latest figures released by the United Nations.
The beleaguered government in Damascus points out that the killings also include fatalities among the Syrian security forces trying to clamp down the demonstrations.
Still the 15-member Security Council has failed to act on two draft resolutions, one from the Western powers and the other from Russia, to bring peace and stability to a country whose president, Bashar al- Assad, is determined to hold onto power despite the mass uprising.
Radwan Ziadeh, founder and director of the Damascus Centre for Human Rights, told IPS, "The Syrian people feel frustrated by the Security Council's lack of action."
He said it has been six months now and the Assad regime has used the Security Council's inaction "as a green light to continue the killings".
The Western draft resolution, sponsored by the European Union and strongly supported by the United States, calls for a comprehensive sanctions regime penalising individuals by name.
The Russian draft is milder, urging the Syrian opposition to engage in a political dialogue with the Assad regime.
Asked why Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member, is openly sympathetic to the government, Ziadeh said, "Russia has a historical relationship with Syria since the Cold War, and this relationship has been strengthened by military and economic agreements."
In August, the Security Council did issue a "presidential statement" condemning the violence. But it stopped short of calling for punitive measures against the Assad regime.
The Russians are backed by China, another veto-wielding permanent member, which also has strong economic and military interests in Syria.
"I think their opposition is a combination of several factors," says a representative of a non-governmental organisation (NGO).
"They are also furious about Libya (where Western powers have been accused of overstepping their Security Council mandate). And in general, they never like/support punitive measures because they favour national sovereignty," he added.
Last week, a coalition of over 170 local and international organisations from 17 countries across the Arab world urged the League of Arab States to suspend Syria's membership rights and end its silence on the crackdown.
In a letter, the coalition urged the League to adopt a series of measures to ensure an immediate end to the use of lethal force against protesters, and the full application of the 13 points of the Arab initiative to Syria.
The letter commends the initiative for including clear demands for the cessation of violence, the release of all political prisoners and compensation for the victims of the crackdown.
Don Kraus, chief executive officer of Citizens for Global Solutions, which has been closely monitoring the crisis in Syria, told IPS, "International cooperation is essential to resolve global challenges, building a safer, more secure world."
He said U.S. and other Security Council members should push a resolution with tough sanctions on the Assad regime.
Even if Russia or China chooses to veto this motion, he said, a strong majority vote by other Security Council members will send a clear message to President Assad and his cronies that they will inevitably face consequences for their actions.
While there is room for the Security Council to evaluate lessons learned from how the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) implemented the Responsibility to Protect in Libya, punishing unarmed protestors and innocent civilians in Syria is not an appropriate way for member states to address concerns, said Kraus.
"A vetoed resolution will allow member states to shame Russia, China, or any other permanent Security Council member that uses its veto privilege to protect perpetrators of mass atrocities," he said.
By doing so, he noted, they become just as guilty as those who pull the trigger.
Kraus also said that Security Council members have a choice. "Either they stop using the veto in situations dealing with mass atrocities, or they can maintain their status as controlling members of a body that will become increasingly irrelevant," he declared.
Meanwhile the NGO coalition, including international human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch, AVAAZ and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), along with national organisations from Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Qatar, Morocco, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Syria, calls on the League of Arab States (LAS) to bring an end to the ongoing basic human rights violations in Syria.