On 3 August the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) through a presidential statement (PRST) condemned the violence against civilians and the widespread human rights violations by the Syrian regime.
Syria has invested heavily in avoiding any sort of condemnation from the UN Security Council. Syria has through SANA again and again repeated that Russia and China would under no circumstances support a resolution condemning Syria.
Russia has a naval base in Tartous and sell a lot of arms to Syria, their only springboard to influence in the Middle East. China has invested heavily in the Syrian oil fields. Instability in Syria could easily spread through an already volatile region and threaten the supply of oil from the Arab world and Iran, something that could have catastrophic effects on the Chinese economy. Russia and China champions a restrictive reading of the UN charter, especially chapter 7. Both Russia and China have their own internal problems with regional and ethnic separatists, and do therefore not want to set or support any precedent that can be linked to the doctrine of R2P (here, here), as what happened in the resolution on Libya.
Syria has also targeted South Africa, Brazil and India, three members of the UNSC who are viewed, if not by other states than by themselves, as vying for a greater role in international politics and who have a profound skepticism of the interventionist policies of USA and EU, as exemplified by Libya. Days before India was due to take over the rotating presidency of the UNSC Syria’s deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad paid a visit in an effort to hamper the attempts by EU and USA to get any form of critique through UNSC.
Russia and China had opposed the draft resolution on Syria. The UNSC had been deadlocked. But as the attacks by the regime against protesters intensified and the support for Bashar al-Assads regime continued to dwindle the position of Russia and China became untenable. They had to act. But they did not want to switch and support a UN resolution, hence the Presidential Statement.
The difference is crucial. A UN resolution is binding. A presidential statement is not. But there is also another aspect of a presidential statement. Every member of UNSC has to agree, i.e. every member as a veto on a presidential statement. A presidential statement on Syria – if all members could agree on one, something not to be taken for granted with Russia, China, India (as the president for the month of August), South Africa, Brazil and last but not least Lebanon would in effect risk becoming a very weak product indeed. But it turned out not to be the case. Why?
First as outlined above – it is not binding which in effect gives more freedom to states such as Russia and China to accept and indeed endorse what became a powerful rebuke of the Syrian regime. At also allowed them to insert language that in effect might act as a safety against any language in a future UN resolution referring to humanitarian intervention. If we take a look at the language of the presidential statement we can easily identify parts that I believe originates with Russia and China (in black):
“The Security Council expresses its grave concern at the deteriorating situation in Syria, 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 of Syria. It stresses that the only solution to the current crisis in Syria is 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 in Syria within 7 days.”
The presidential statement calls upon the Syrian regime do the following (my comments below each statement):
– to fully respect human rights and to comply with their obligation under applicable international law,
There are no signs as of today that the Syrian regime in any way shape or form as changed their strategy, i.e. ‘business as usual’.
– that those responsible for the violence should be held accountable,
As the Syrian regime refuses to acknowledge that the army, security forces of shabiha in any way are responsible let alone any one on charge
– to implement the announced reforms,
The first reaction on the PRST was the announcement of the issuing of presidential decrees on political parties law and a decree on a general elections law. These have not been implemented. But has other reforms have not been implemented this does not count for anything other then the smoke screen they are.
– to alleviate the humanitarian situation in crises areas by ceasing the use of force against affected towns
As of today there are no change in the strategy of attacking, arresting, torturing and murder of protesters.
– to allow expeditious and unhindered access for international humanitarian agencies and workers,
As of today, no change.
– to cooperate fully with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
As of today, no change.
The Syrian regime’s reaction to the PRST was silence. Then today we have seen a couple of articles on SANA: Cuba (not a part of UNSC) rejects the UNSC presidential statement. In an article on Russia and the PRST it is presented in a watered down form talking of Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, the need for implementing reforms and that this should be done through a comprehensive national process without any foreign intervention. Yes SANA tries to spin the PRST as a victory for Syria.
Syria’s ambassador to the UN Dr. Bashar al-Jafari, interviewed by SANA, tries to argue that the reason that Syria has been targeted is because of its efficient diplomacy (!) and regional role. He also tries to paint a picture that the PRST was enacted to protect Israel – by weakening Syria. Finally he argues that the PRST is only a procedural matter and is not binding.
Of course the full language of the PRST has not been published by SANA. No surprise.
As I read the presidential statement the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon have been requested to update UNSC on the Syrian regimes compliance with the presidential statement. The possibility that a report will find that Syria is complying with the demands in the PRST is just about none. If the Syrian regime has not complied with the PRST then I would not be surprised if we will see a UNSC resolution being adopted soon after the Secretary-Generals report to the UNSC on the situation in Syria. By the adding and getting acceptance of USA and EU to statement of Syria’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity Russia and China and any other country that might not want to join a resolution has taken out an ‘insurance’ from the risk that a resolution will have a R2P element.
The question is then, what indication do we have that Russia would accept a UNSC resolution? If we have listen to the Russian president’s statement to Russian media on Syria we will get a clue: “He (Assad) needs to urgently carry out reforms, reconcile with the opposition, restore peace and set up a modern state. If he fails to do this, he will face a sad fate”.
What Medvedev is saying is that Russia will no protect the Syrian regime any longer, i.e. veto or threaten to veto a UNSC resolution. Either Bashar al-Assad does what is needed or Russia will take their hand from him (If he fails to do this, he will face a sad fate). Russia has made their point with respect to the UN resolution on Libya. They will not accept humanitarian intervention under the R2P doctrine, but Russia will likely not veto a UNSC resolution calling for economic sanctions against Syria. In the end Russia has its own interests to think of. If Assad cannot do what is necessary he will fall. Russia will have to position itself do deal with an emerging new government and you do not do that by backing the wrong group.
China? They are not known for vetoing UNSC resolutions if Russia abstains or vote in favor. China’s interest is in the economic sphere. They crave stability in Syria. If Assad cannot deliver (which he cannot) they will go for the solution that in the quickest way will bring about the necessary change and stability to Syria as long as it does not entail R2P.
We will know more as to the developments in Syria in accordance with the PRST and the forthcoming report from the UN Secretary-General on Syria. It is due next week, on 10 August.