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UN Week – 8/8/2011

This blog is written by members of our blogging community and expresses those experts’ views alone.

by John and Douglas, editors,

Contents of this issue: rescuing innocent Syrians.

          Hundreds of Syrian demonstrators have recently been shot dead or brutally wounded by their own armed forces. What their individual offences may have been in the eyes of the authorities we may never know. But we do know that extrajudicial executions are illegal and disgraceful.

          There used to be a notion in international law called “humanitarian intervention.” That meant other governments could, but did not have to, move in with force to quell atrocities committed by officials against their own people. This idea never gained real traction among the nations of the world because of its susceptibility to abuse for political purposes.

          In recent years a new principle has been struggling for recognition as valid law among nations. It is called “responsibility to protect,” or R2P for short. This idea originated inCanadaand received lukewarm support in the UN a few years ago.

          R2P was in effect invoked by the UN Security Council to authorize the use of outside force to rescue threatened Libyans. Such a move had received indirect support in advance from the League of Arab States. No such request has apparently come from the League as regardsSyria.

          On August 3rd, the Security Council issued a Presidential Statement (requiring agreement by all 15 members) on whichUS Ambassador Rice made the following comments:

“This is an important and strong statement. It was long overdue. Finally we were able to speak with one voice in clearly condemning the violence perpetrated against civilians by the Syrian government and call for a halt to the violence and insist that what has transpired is utterly unacceptable, was an important step and we were pleased that the Council was able to do so today.”

When asked, “Didn’t you want a resolution?” Rice replied, “Well obviously the sponsors began with a resolution. We strongly supported that. * * * We didn’t want a split Council and we didn’t want a weak statement. And as I said when we spoke about this on Monday, what was most import-ant from a U.S.point of view was a clear and unequivocal condemnation of the Syrian authorities for the abhorrent and crazy violence they perpetrated against their own people. And we got that and so we’re pleased.* * *

“I think the Assad regime has been counting on the fact that the Security Council would be unable to speak. And that they would not be condemned. And that they would have protectors and defenders that would make it impossible for that condemnation to emerge. And surely they must be quite surprised and disappointed by the outcome.

“And hopefully, the people of Syria will get the sense that there are many in the international community, including in the Security Council, who are deeply concerned, profoundly troubled by the violence, who see their efforts and their peaceful protest as just. And the government will hopefully also be chastened by the strength and the unity of the condemnation. And obviously our over-arching goal, first and foremost, is for the violence to stop and the people ofSyriato have the opportunity to chart their own course and have a democratic future. * * *

So our interest was in being able to actively uphold international law, that their abuses are unacceptable and condemnable, and that those who have been responsible for the violence need to be held accountable. * * *

We did not make any concessions. We negotiated and obtained a very strong, clear-cut condemnation. That’s a large part of the reason why we think this is a very strong outcome. And with respect to the Lebanese statement, the Lebanese allowed this Council to speak with one voice. It was a unanimous statement by the Security Council and we don’t view their statement after the fact as in any way undermining that unity.”

The text of the Presidential Statement, S/PRST/2011/16, reads as follows: “The Security Council expresses its grave concern at the deteriorating situation inSyria, and expresses profound regret at the death of many hundreds of people.

 “The Security Council condemns the widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities.

“The Security Council calls for an immediate end to all violence and urges all sides to act with utmost restraint, and to refrain from reprisals, including attacks against state institutions.

“The Security Council calls on the Syrian authorities to fully respect human rights and to comply with their obligations under applicable international law.  Those responsible for the violence should be held accountable.

“The Security Council notes the announced commitments by the Syrian authorities to reform, and regrets the lack of progress in implementation, and calls upon the Syrian Government to implement its commitments.

“The Security Council reaffirms its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity ofSyria.  It stresses that the only solution to the current crisis inSyriais through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process, with the aim of effectively addressing the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the population which will allow the full exercise of fundamental freedoms for its entire population, including that of expression and peaceful assembly.

“The Security Council calls on the Syrian authorities to alleviate the humanitarian situation in crisis areas by ceasing the use of force against affected towns, to allow expeditious and unhindered access for international humanitarian agencies and workers, and cooperate fully with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“The Security Council requests the Secretary-General to update the Security Council on the situation inSyriawithin 7 days.”

Caroline Ziade ofLebanondisassociated her country from the  Presidential Statement, saying that that the text did not help the situation inSyria. She regretted the loss of life and hoped reforms announced by the Syrian authorities would lead to progress and prosperity. SC/10352.

On August 4th, Ambassador Rice stated that: “Today, President Obama directed a thorough review to strengthen our national capacity to prevent mass atrocities. Crucially, the President will establish a new Atrocities Prevention Board with the authority and the policy tools to respond quickly to early warning signs and make recommendations before options narrow and the costs of both action and inaction rise precipitously. The President also expanded grounds to deny visas to serious human rights violators and war criminals and to isolate those who engage in or conspire to commit atrocities.
          “The United States is deeply committed to ensuring that no individual, now or in the future, sees a path to power in division and death. Moreover, in the enduring fight against mass atrocities, the United States will continue to enlist the contributions of all nations who know that in war, there must be rules; that, in the pursuit of power, there must be limits; that, even in a violent world, there must be rights; and that, when the embers of conflict threaten to ignite, we must be ready.”

In conclusion, I may say that no American newspaper or magazine that I know of, nor any radio or television show, will give you this much information on these maneuvers at the UN intended to rescue innocent Syrian protestors.

And with that, I’ll say good-bye until the next issue of United Nations Week: News and Views. Do send along your own views on these or other UN-related issues, to

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