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Syria proves the case for UN Security Council reform

The killing spree in Syria

A United Nations Security Council, genuinely concerned with the welfare of people and applying objective standards, would have taken positive global steps to apply biting sanctions on the regime in Syria to compel an end to the killing of innocent civilians including children.

Instead, the Security Council, hamstrung by the interests of a few governments that have an outdated power to exercise a veto, is effectively paralyzed from taking strong action against the Syrian government that is throttling dissent by open and vicious warfare against its own people.

Both the Chinese and Russian governments have vetoed global sanctions against Syria. Emboldened by this, the government of President Bashar al-Assad stepped-up violence against Syrians and forced thousands to flee the country. So far, official reports indicate that 11,000 and 10,000 Syrians have sought refuge in neighbouring Turkey and Lebanon respectively. Jordan, with 80,000 Syrian refugees is carrying the biggest burden. The UN says over 8,000 have so far been killed including children shot in the head.

The ‘right to protect’ principle that justifies UN human intervention in a country where there is gross abuse of human rights and large scale killing of people should be applied urgently in Syria.

But, so far naked self-interest has motivated the governments of Russia and China, which enjoy advantageous economic and military agreements with the Assad regime. Further, their own harsh treatment and military force against dissident groups in their own countries have long been the yardsticks by which they respond to the behaviour of other regimes. Fearful that their own turn may come for harsh UN criticism, Russia and China have supported brutal regimes such as Syria’s on the basis of the outmoded concept in an interconnected world of “non-interference in the internal affairs of a state”.

Other nations should let both the Russian and Chinese governments know that the time has passed for governments on the UN Security Council to turn blind eyes to atrocities and human suffering. The members of the UN Security Council should be trustees for the well-being of all mankind and not simply government representatives pursuing narrow political interests.

In saying this, there is no inference that other Security Council members with veto powers, such as France, Britain and the United States, have not also been guilty of safeguarding their government’s interests at the expense of suffering nations. US vetoes of matters regarding Israel are cases in point. They too should be held to account.

The entire world knows that the UN Security Council should be reformed in its composition, the rules by which it works, the principles that guide it and the purposes for which it functions. The first step should be the abolition of the veto by any country and the introduction of graduated majority voting in line with the extent of a violation of principles; in some cases it could be a simple majority graduating to a two-thirds majority.

Of course, the chief opponents of any radical reform of the Security Council are the present “permanent” members themselves. But, that should not prevent other nations from vigorously advocating comprehensive transformation, and from keeping up the struggle until the walls of resistance tumble down.

It is significant that, while both the UN and the Arab League have appointed the well-respected Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, as its Special Envoy to Syria to try to bring an end to the current brutal conflict and to broker a way forward acceptable to the broad Syrian community, the Chinese government has appointed its own special envoy.

If the Chinese government were earnest in their desire for a solution to the conflict in Syria that would result in genuine representative government and respect for democracy and human rights, it would have thrown all its weight behind Kofi Annan, including providing him with authority to use China’s leverage as part of his bargaining power.

Pre-occupied over the last few weeks with its presidential elections – and no doubt awaiting the expected return of Vladimir Putin -- the Russian government has vetoed Security Council resolutions but has not made any unilateral efforts in Syria.

Russia and China are further blemishing their standing in their own countries and worldwide by opposing tough UN action against the Assad government. They are also out of step with popular sentiment in the Arab world against authoritarian regimes, and in the Arab league whose governments are determined to avoid contagion from uprisings in neighbouring states.

China and Russia also play into the hands of powerful zealots in some countries, such as the United States, who believe that military action should be deployed on a unilateral basis. For instance, US Senator and former Republican Presidential candidate, John McCain, has called for “US-led air strikes on Syrian forces to protect key population centres in the Arab nation”.

The last thing the world needs is a return to unilateralist military interventions by any country or group of countries. If there is to be intervention in Syria to stop the present slaughter of civilians and the hardship being faced by refugees and neighbouring countries forced to accommodate them, such intervention should be sponsored unanimously by the Security Council to protect life and establish stability.

Small countries have a particular interest in a functioning UN Security Council whose primary role should be as trustees for the well-being of people everywhere. Other than the Security Council, small countries have no other protector from direct external threats, grave internal strife or from undesirable consequences of conflict elsewhere.

For small countries, the ongoing conflict in Syria brings higher oil prices; aid being allocated to Syrian refugees from which they may have benefitted; finances allotted by financial institutions to rebuilding Syria in the aftermath of conflict, instead of being available to them; and, even to an influx of Syrian immigrants.

The Security Council has failed the people of Syria.

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