UN Human Rights Council

Behind the Human Rights Council Vote on Syria

Despite overwhelming pressure from the rest of the international community, the Russian Federation and China today voted against the Human Rights Council’s resolution condemning Syrian atrocities. The two were only joined in their objection by Cuba, making the vote a lopsided 37-3, with three abstentions. The draft recalled the recent General Assembly condemnation and approval of the League of Arab States’ political transition plan, while stressing the need for the Syrian government to end all human rights violations.

Moscow and Beijing’s unwillingness to support the draft, or abstain, shows a troubling continuance of policies towards Damascus for the two countries.  Both countries also voted against a resolution of condemnation in a Special Session on Syria held in December. The international community, however, is becoming more in sync; this morning’s resolution had fewer no votes and abstentions than December’s draft.  Still, that Russia in particular continues to insist that bringing Syria’s rights violations before international bodies consists of “politicizing the situation”, it casts considerable doubt on the odds of Russia’s support shifting more completely away from Assad in the coming days and weeks, particularly as the Security Council readies debate on a new resolution.

One unfortunate thing that today’s UN HRC resolution did not do was extend or attempt to amplify the mandate of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria. The Commission’s work had been hampered from its outset by unwillingness for Syria to allow its investigation to take place within its borders. As such, only interviews with exiles and refugees were able to be consolidated for the two highly disturbing reports issued.

Meanwhile, in the Security Council, a draft Presidential Statement’s text was floated last night, calling for increased access for humanitarian aid to areas affected by heavy fighting. Colum Lynch of the Turtle Bay blog indicated that member-states of the Council would have until nine this morning to object to its passage. As of this writing, there is no time scheduled on the Security Council’s website for the members to meet and approve such a text. Given the unanimity needed to pass Presidential Statements, it’s likely that the statement is under dispute. Given the innocuous nature of the language, however, it’s hard to see just what could be tying up passage. Even Moscow’s normal calls for balance in Security Council action don’t seem to apply here, as it can’t be said that the opposition has hindered Valarie Amos’ entry into Syria. Even China has in recent days called for “creating conditions” to allow for greater humanitarian aid into Homs and Daraa.

It can easily be said that today’s action in Geneva is another strong show of support by the world that President Assad’s continued assault on his people will not be ignored. But given the complexities on the ground, the likelihood of outside actors taking strong, positive steps towards actually forcing the atrocities to stop are dwindling as time passes. Hopefully joint UN-League of Arab States Envoy Kofi Annan has better luck getting through to Assad than the Human Rights Council.

UPDATE: According to the US Mission to the UN’s Communicaitons Director, Mark Kornblau, the Council has reached an agreement on the previously mentioned Presidential Statement regarding humanitarian access to Syria. The delay seems to have been caused by China wanting to call for “all parties” to allow for humanitarian access, rather than merely the Syrian government. This demand closely mirrors previous Russian calls for balance, signaling a strengthening of the two’s shared policy.