Why Today’s Human Rights Council Session On Syria Matters

One of the biggest obstacles stymieing most plans that you see about international intervention in Syria–from “mobilization of the instruments of international justice,” to sanctions against top regime officials, to setting up “Humanitarian corridors“– is that each of these actions require Security Council approval. And, so far, Russia and China have been steadfastly protecting the Assad regime from any potential punitive measures at the Security Council.

Unlike the Security Council, resolutions at the Human Rights Council are not binding in the sense that they use the power of international law to force regimes to change their behavior. They are more a symbolic show of international will, though the Human Rights Council can and does refer situations to the Security Council for follow up.

Still, as things are demonstrably deteriorating on the ground there is still some hope that Russia will feel compelled to abandon its role as Assad’s defender. This week, at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, we will see one decent indicator of whether or not there is any potential that the Security Council will be able to take up Syria anytime soon.

Russia and China are members of the Human Rights Council, which this week will overwhelmingly approve a resolution condemning human rights violations in Syria. If, as I expect, Russia votes against the resolution at the Human Rights Council than we can be sure that nothing much has changed in Moscow’s calculations over standing by its man in Damascus. However,  if Russia and China abstain or vote for the resolution, that would be tantamount to a diplomatic tectonic shift that could set in motion a discussion at the Security Council over the aforementioned punitive measures against Syria.

After the vote, we will have a better sense of the prospects of a renewed Syria push at the Security Council.