Last week, several countries initiated a new draft UN Security Council resolution on Syria. Officially, Australia, Luxembourg and Jordan – all non-permanent members of the UN Security Council – were the instigators, although the authorship of three Western powers, the US, Great Britain and France – all permanent members of the Security Council – is not being hidden. The draft resolution was initially submitted to a panel of experts for discussion and after just a couple of days, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos also began lobbying for the resolution. Amos joined the anti-Syrian coalition back in November last year, when she started holding monthly briefings at which she constantly spoke of the worsening humanitarian situation in Syria.
It is clear that the humanitarian situation in Syria is catastrophic. According to official UN statistics, from October 2013 through to January 2014, the number of fatalities in the Syrian war increased by 36 percent (from 100,000 to 136,000, of which 11,000 were children); the number of refugees increased by 11 percent (from 2.2 to 2.5 million); and the number of internally displaced persons increased by 55 percent (from 4.2 to 6.5 million). Nearly 10 million people are in need of humanitarian aid, especially the quarter of a million people living in besieged cities and villages.
Amos’ unique position lies in the fact that the government of the Syrian Arab Republic is exclusively to blame. It is difficult not to notice that the anti-Syrian motives in the work of the UN Under-Secretary-General arose at almost exactly the same time as the successful process began to liquidate Syria’s chemical weapons and intensified with the start of the Geneva II peace talks. It was also at this time that preparation of the new draft UN Security Council resolution began.
The Western draft resolution was initially submitted to Russia and China on 6 February, and its discussion at a meeting of the Council’s permanent members was planned for the very next day. Russian and Chinese representatives did not attend this meeting, justifiably regarding the rush to discuss the resolution as pressure. Neither did they attend the meeting on 10 February. Later, however, China made an elegant diplomatic move by agreeing to meet with the draft resolution’s sponsors separately (so only with representatives of Australia, Luxembourg and Jordan). After the meeting, the Chinese representative declared that the actions of the UN Security Council could hinder the Geneva II peace talks currently under way.
Russia has refused to discuss the draft resolution at all. The Russian representative has stated that the proposed text is not even suitable as a basis for further discussion. He added that the draft resolution is of no benefit whatsoever and that it is essential to focus on the issue of terrorism.
So what exactly have the UN Security Council’s Western members and their allies suggested?
Firstly, the draft resolution has set a deadline for the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012. Let us look at the text of this communiqué. It contains rather a lot of points, but the most important one is the transfer of political power. (1) Secondly, the draft resolution requires the Syrian government to fully implement the so-called 2 October 2013 presidential statement by President Bashar al-Assad. The draft resolution also calls for the full implementation of provisions in other documents.
Thus a new tactic has been chosen by the Security Council’s Western members. While previous draft resolutions vetoed by Russia and China were notable for their clumsiness and heavy-handed pressure, now the situation has changed considerably. The new draft resolution supports the West’s primary objective much more subtlely than the anti-Syrian draft resolutions periodically submitted to the UN Security Council in the past. This objective is to discredit Russia in the international arena whilst at the same time discrediting the UN as an organisation that has allegedly lost the ability to fulfil its own functions of maintaining international peace and security… (2)
At present, the text is not so heavy-handed and, most importantly, it addresses a number of Russia’s permanent objections to previous draft resolutions. For example, the new draft resolution condemns the use of sieges, and calls for neutrality in the provision of medical assistance to all sides of the conflict. The new draft resolution also condemns terrorism and the participation of foreign militants (although they are referred to rather neutrally as «foreign fighters»). In the same section, there is also a call for the opposition to maintain its rejection of terrorism. After being lulled into a false sense of security by these calls and condemnations, the following section on terrorism urges Hezbollah to immediately withdraw from Syria.
Gradually, however, the ostentatious objectivity of the draft resolution’s sponsors disappears, as the text once again condemns arbitrary detention and torture «in Syrian prisons», so pointing the finger at the authorities rather than the militants. It should be noted that «arbitrary detention» and «torture» can be both ordinary crimes and international crimes. If it is peacetime, then it is an ordinary crime and is prosecuted according to the internal law of the state. However, if the crime is committed during armed conflict (especially an international conflict), then it becomes an international crime and as such is subject to the jurisdiction of international criminal courts. The same objective is served by the draft resolution’s reference to «the use of starvation as a method of combat». This has clearly been taken from provisions in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 for the protection of war victims, and is therefore an attempt to drag the International Criminal Court into the Syrian conflict.
Which is to say that by mentioning «torture in Syrian prisons» and «the use of starvation as a method of combat», the legal preparations are being made to transfer the situation in Syria over to the International Criminal Court (ICC). This move has been made with the expectation that if Russia uses her veto during the vote to transfer the situation in Syria over to the ICC, it will damage Russia’s reputation, portraying her as a country which is supposedly preventing «the punishment of persons guilty of committing international crimes» and hampering the fight against the «humanitarian catastrophe» in Syria.
Finally, the draft resolution contains a reference to the use of force. So, a 15-day deadline has been set for all the demands of the UN Security Council’s Western powers to be met. If the demands are not met, the draft resolution refers to the possibility of introducing «measures under Article 41 of the UN Charter». This article covers a rather wide spectrum of measures which are all essentially sanctions. Article 41 of the UN Charter states that «the Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.» As we can see, the list of possible sanctions is quite diverse and, most importantly, it is not closed, so the Council could also adopt any other measures.
With good reason, Russia and China rejected the draft resolution, not allowing the Security Council to be used as a tool to escalate the conflict.
It is interesting that nearly every member of the UN Security Council that had officially and unofficially developed the draft resolution (3) approached the UN General Assembly at one and the same time, thereby creating a parallel discussion of their draft resolution. One would certainly not call such a step elegant work. Such actions by the UN Security Council members who penned the new anti-Syrian (and anti-Russian) draft resolution are in direct violation of the UN Charter, Article 12 of which states that: «While the Security Council is exercising in respect of any dispute or situation the functions assigned to it in the present Charter, the General Assembly shall not make any recommendation with regard to that dispute or situation unless the Security Council so requests.»
The new draft resolution on Syria is just a slightly ground down version of exactly the same clumsy work that the West has been busy with at the UN Security Council over the last few years.