U.N. Still Stupefied on Syria

Condemnations of Israeli self-defense come more easily than condemnations of state-sponsored massacres.

The United Nations Security Council continues to sink lower and lower in an effort to find language acceptable to all members condemning the Syrian government's ruthless massacre of its unarmed citizens. Meanwhile, under the leadership of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently called a "reformer," more than 1000 civilians have been killed to date.

Rather than confront directly the evil of mass murder imposed by the Syrian regime, the latest draft resolution proposed by the United Kingdom “calls upon all sides to act with utmost restraint.” This moral equivalency between the acts of government forces and protesters was an attempt to win over Security Council members such as India who complained that there were “armed extremists among the protesters” and wanted the council to condemn the demonstrators as well.

The draft resolution does little to bring international pressure to bear on the Syrian regime. Instead, it reportedly declares that the “only solution” is a “Syria-led political process.” Apparently, some members of the UN Security Council still believe that the "reformer" side of President Assad will show up sooner or later.

According to a report by Inner City Press, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) threw an additional monkey wrench into the drafting process. The OIC issued its own statement on May 22, 2011 calling upon the Syrian security forces to show restraint and to refrain from targeting innocent civilians. But the OIC objected to including, with attribution, a quote in its own words critical of the Syrian regime in the UN Security Council resolution. The resolution authors removed the OIC language from the most recent draft circulated to the Security Council members for their review.

Even this latest watered-down, moral-equivalency-version of the resolution is meeting resistance from Russia and a possible veto. The following is a transcription by Inner City Press of comments made on the latest draft by Russia's Permanent Representative Vitaly Churkin:

Amb. Churkin: No, because we're not persuaded it can establish dialogue and reach a political settlement to put an end to violence in Syria. We are concerned it may have an opposite effect.

[Questioner]: Russia's been pretty strong all along, so you're basically saying -- I don't want to put words in your mouth -- that this is a veto situation?

Amb. Churkin: You know, someone else made even before us our position. It is exactly as I've described it to you now. We don't think this helps.

While the Security Council did not hesitate to refer members of the Libyan regime to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecution, nothing of the sort is presently contemplated for the leaders of the Syrian regime. When asked at a press conference held on June 8, 2011 at UN headquarters in New York whether he would recommend a referral of Syrian authorities for possible prosecution for human rights violations, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Mr. Luis Moreno Ocampo, demurred. He had no jurisdiction to investigate in the absence of a formal Security Council referral, he said, because Syria is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, which is the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court.

The UN Human Rights Council did take a brief respite from its incessant condemnations of Israel, issuing a statement last month asking the Syrian government to stop the violence against its own people and to allow a fact-finding mission to visit Syria. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay reiterated these demands in a statement issued on June 9th. “So far we have not received any official reply from Syria – either positive or negative,” Pillay said.

For his part, President Assad is doing everything possible to divert attention away from his atrocities against his own people. As usual, like many Arab dictators, his chosen means is to exploit the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in order to manufacture a confrontation and incite, once again, world opinion against Israel.

While stonewalling the UN Human Rights Council regarding Syria's own atrocities, for example, a Syrian government representative played right into the Human Rights Council's anti-Israel sentiment by declaring on June 8th: “Israel…is a state that is built on hatred."

In the latest Syrian-engineered provocation against Israel, which occurred just three day prior to this statement to the Human Rights Council, the Syrian government bused hundreds of Palestinian refugees to the Golan Heights border.  As the would-be infiltrators converged on the border fence, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) called on them in Arabic to cease, and used riot dispersal gear before firing warning shots in the air. Once these warnings were ignored, the IDF was forced to fire towards the legs of those breaching the fence.

The IDF spokesperson told Xinhua News that “soldiers shot into the air as dozens of protesters kept approaching the fences, despite warnings to stay away,” and that the IDF used “bullhorns to warn rioters in Arabic” to not approach the border fence. The Syrians claimed that 23 Palestinians were killed by IDF forces, but Israel disputes that contention.

Israel decided to take the diplomatic offensive at the United Nations this time, rather than wait for the customary condemnations of Israel from UN officials and the UN Human Rights Council. Ambassador Haim Waxman, Israel’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, submitted a letter of complaint dated June 6, 2011 to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the president of the Security Council in response to the latest provocations that were carried out on the Israel-Syrian disengagement line.  In the letter, Ambassador Waxman wrote that “this incident — which could not have taken place without the knowledge of the Syrian authorities — reflects a blatant attempt by Syria to distract international attention from the violent repression of its own people."

Ambassador Waxman highlighted the way in which the Palestinian demonstrators used violent means in their attempts to move across the border. For example, they sought to break fences and threw Molotov cocktails and other large objects at the IDF.

"On numerous occasions during this incident," Ambassador Waxman observed, "the IDF halted its operations so that members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) could access the area and treat the wounded. However, instead of cooperating with the ICRC, many of the protestors continued to act violently. They even seized ICRC flags in blatant violation of basic principles and norms of international law."

Ambassador Waxman stressed that the responsibility for any harm caused to the individuals involved in these violent provocations lies with the Syrian government and called on the international community to “convey a clear message to Syria that such provocations carry serious potential for escalation and must cease completely.”

I contacted the secretary general's spokesperson office to inquire whether Ban Ki-moon had either responded to Israel's letter or had any comment on its contents. I was told the answer is no, and was referred to a bland statement the spokesperson for the secretary general issued to the press concerning the incident before Ban Ki-moon's receipt of Israel's letter.  The statement called "for maximum restraint on all sides" and indicated that the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) is seeking to confirm the facts of what actually happened. Of course, it does not seem to dawn on the UN disengagement "observers" that if Syria had not set this provocation in motion in the first place by sending Palestinian mobs to try and illegally cross the border, there would have been no incident to investigate. It also raises the question of why the UN force was not more proactive in helping to maintain the disengagement. Instead, the UN was AWOL as usual.

And so it goes at the United Nations. We may see a meaningless resolution put to a vote in the Security Council in a few days while the Syrian government continues to kill its own people and stoke more confrontations with Israel to divert attention. Evil is whitewashed as the courage to clearly distinguish between right and wrong has given way to a policy of accommodating the enemies of true peace and freedom at all cost.