Round 2 at the UN. Arab League taking the fight for Syria to the floor of the General Assembly

After twin vetoes in the Security Council, it looks like the Arab League hasn’t given up on the United Nations. Reports have been trickling out today that the League of Arab States may push for a new resolution to be taken up in the General Assembly. The full Assembly is set to meet on Monday on the situation, and hear a briefing from the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on the ongoing chaos. No resolution has been discussed yet, but action may become clearer following an Arab League meeting this Sunday in Cairo.

So why take the matter to the General Assembly? Because in the 193-member GA, the veto power of Russia and China is non-existent; equality is the order of the day in the GA Hall. Some hope that the General Assembly goes further than endorsing the Arab League’s political plan for Syria, instead acting under a provision known as Uniting for Peace. Under Uniting for Peace, developed at the onset of the Korean War to circumvent the Soviet veto in the Council, if the Security Council is unable to act due to the disagreement of a Permanent Member, the General Assembly can take up the matter.

There are several problems, however, with using this provision to bulk up punishment of Syria. First, while High Commissioner Pillay has stressed the need to refer Syria to the ICC, under the Rome Statute only the Security Council may do so if a state is not a party to the treaty, which Syria is not. Second, the idea of using the General Assembly to impose any sort of arms embargo on Syria is misguided, due to the very nature of the General Assembly. Most international law experts agree that resolutions of the Assembly are non-binding recommendations. The main government under fire for providing arms to Syria is the Russian Federation. Moscow isn’t likely to allow those who would want to enforce the arms embargo’s terms to board their ships under the authority of the General Assembly. Finally, an endorsement of any sort of military intervention, even on a humanitarian basis, is likely to be rejected both by the Arab League and the developing world writ large. That said, should a draft resolution limit itself to endorsing the Arab League’s plan and condemning the ongoing crackdown, a blowout lopsided vote is likely.

One point worth noting is that Qatar has been at the thrust of formulating Arab League policy on the ramifications of the Arab Spring, and was at the forefront of Libya last spring, going so far as sending military support to aid NATO in enforcing Resolution 1973. The Arab League’s point-person on Syria policy is Qatari Prime Minister Shiek Hamad bin Jassim, who joined the League’s Secretary-General Nabil al-Araby in briefing the Security Council last Tuesday on the situation. And the President of the General Assembly for this Session, the one who invited High Commissioner Pillay to speak on Monday? That would be H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser of Qatar. As Chris Albon pointed out in our 12 Trends That Will Drive the Global Agenda in 2012, Qatari diplomacy is pretty clearly in the driver’s seat this year.