11-23-2011By Taimur Rabbani
Crimes Against Humanity Program
On Tuesday, the U.N. General Assembly’s Human Rights Committee voted overwhelmingly to condemn the Syrian government’s brutal crackdown on civilians. The resolution is now subject to a plenary General Assembly vote, which is nearly certain to pass. While General Assembly resolutions are often toothless, this step would provide the moral footing necessary to effectuate a more robust international response.
The resolution passed overwhelmingly, 122 to 13, with 41 abstentions. Britain, France, and Germany drafted the resolution, and Arab nations offered significant support. The resolution condemns a multitude of human rights abuses, including arbitrary executions, torture, forced disappearances, and the persecution and killing of protestors. Since protestors began their calls for a regime change in March, 3,500 people have been killed by President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown.
While General Assembly resolutions have no legally binding effect, the vote reflects an international consensus condemning the crimes against humanity being perpetrated by the Syrian government, and may force the Security Council to reconsider imposing U.N. sanctions. The vote is an opportunity for the United States and its partners to renew their call for Russia and China to change their stance on Syria.
Last month, China and Russia each vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian atrocities and threatening sanctions. Those vetoes demonstrate the perverse incentives that have prevented an effective U.N. response to the crisis. Earlier this year, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton identified Russia and China as two countries that have enabled the ongoing crisis by selling weapons to the regime and providing political and economic support in the face of the atrocities. Despite the atrocities and mounting international pressure, Assad has continued his horrendous crimes by purchasing Russian arms and shifting oil exports to Asia.
As the bloodshed worsens, the United States must capitalize on the General Assembly’s condemnation of Syria by publicly renewing calls for Russia and China to change their positions and accept the growing international consensus against Assad. The United States should also continue to promote further sanctions against Syria, and bolster financial monitoring capacities to make sure Syrian banks cannot evade existing sanctions. An effective response must target the third-party governments, corporations, and individuals that have sustained the atrocities in Syria by directly or indirectly providing Assad with support.