UN passes symbolic condemnation of Syrian government

The UN General Assembly has called on Syrian President Assad to step down. The resolution passed Thursday is worded similarly to a document vetoed in the UN Security Council by Russia and China. The adopted resolution has no executive power.

­The Assembly has passed the Egypt-sponsored resolution with 137 in favor, 12 against and 17 abstaining. It blames the Syrian government for “widespread and systematic” violation of human rights, and voices support for an Arab League plan for a transition of power in the country.

Russia and China voted against it, as expected. Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin lashed out at the resolution, saying it was one-sided and failed to condemn the opposition for their part of the violence as it does condemn the government. The resolution is in line with what Moscow sees as a trend “to isolate the Syrian leadership, reject any contacts with it, and impose a form of political settlement from abroad”.

“The violence in Syria must be stopped by all parties, and the necessary decisions may only be reached through an open political process led by Syrians themselves,” the Ambassador said.

US Ambassador Susan Rice, who praised the adoption of the resolution, confirmed that America’s goal is to chase the Syrian government into a corner: “Bashar al-Assad has never been more isolated. A rapid transition to democracy in Syria has garnered the resounding support of the international community. Change must now come.”

Britain, France, Egypt and some other nations supporting the resolution said it sends a powerful and clear message to the Syrian government.

China’s ambassador to the UN Wang Min backed Moscow’s position, saying: “The actions of the international community should be aimed at easing tensions, promoting political dialogue… rather than aggravating the problem.”

Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar Jaafari prior to the vote warned the resolution would send a wrong message to those “behind terrorism and sabotage” in Syria and undermine the authority of the United Nations. He called the document “biased” and “sponsored by the countries involved in a hostile campaign against Damascus and interested in fuelling the conflict”.

Unlike the UN Security Council, no country has a veto right at the 193-member-strong UN General Assembly. However, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding and only serve as recommendations to the UN Security Council. This makes Thursday’s document more symbolic than policy making.

Syria has been facing violence for 11 months now. More than 5,000 people have been killed, according to UN estimates, and some 25 thousand have become refugees.

Critics of the Syrian government say it is using force against its own population in an attempt to quash a pro-democratic drive in the country. Damascus says it is under a subtle attack from abroad, as its enemies are arming and sponsoring bandits to ramp up the violence and carrying out a massive smear campaign in the international media.

Russia and China have opposed what they see as a rushed and unbalanced UN action against the Syrian government, citing the negative example in Libya, where a UN Security Council resolution, which was meant to stop violent clashes, resulted in a months-long bombing campaign and forced regime change.

Proponents of putting more pressure on Damascus accuse Moscow and Beijing of abusing their power to protect economic interests in the region. Meanwhile critics of the anti-Assad drive say the west and its allies in the Persian Gulf say they want to oust the Syrian government to cripple the country’s key regional ally Iran.