Syria came under fresh pressure on Monday from states seeking UN action against its crackdown on protesters, as a new Arab-backed draft resolution surfaced amid a heated debate at the General Assembly.
UN General Assembly helds a meeting to discuss the human rights situation in Syria at the headquarters of the UN, New York, the United States, Feb. 13, 2012. (Xinhua/Wu Jingdan)
SYRIA UNDER FIRE
The General Assembly opened a plenary session on Monday morning to discuss the human rights situation in Syria, with member states including Arab nations, EU countries, the United States, Russia and China taking the floor to deliver sometimes conflicting views.
Also speaking at the forum was UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who claimed that crimes against humanity in Syria "are likely to have been committed."
Expressing concerns over the possibility of a civil war in Syria, she said the international community "must act now to urgently protect" the Syrian population.
Back in December, Pillay had asked the Security Council to refer alleged "crimes against humanity" to the International Criminal Court (ICC), although such a move seems unlikely at least for now given the deep rift among council members.
UN envoys from Arab nations including Saudi Arabia, the United States and its allies also spoke against the Syrian government over mounting civilian casualties, continuing their efforts to pile pressure on and isolate Syria.
Syria's UN ambassador Bashar Ja'afari attempted without success to stop the UN General Assembly meeting, citing an alleged violation of assembly procedures, which was overruled by assembly president Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, a Qatari diplomat.
Ja'afari blamed Pillay for taking an unprincipled and biased stance against Syria, rejecting her allegations against the government. He also blasted states promoting UN moves against Syria for violating the UN Charter and meddling with the internal affairs of a member state.
Syria's view was echoed by countries including Iran and Russia. Russia's UN Ambassador reaffirmed that both the Syrian government and the opposition were responsible for the violence and that the assembly meeting should not have taken place.
While the agenda on the table was the human rights situation in Syria, diplomats here said the real focus was on a draft resolution being prepared by Arab nations and to be presented to the General Assembly.
The Arab League (AL) agreed in January to request that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad hand over power to his deputy and start a national reconciliation process including free elections and setting up a unity government within two months.
The Arab proposal was brought before the UN Security Council for endorsement, only to be rejected by a council vote that saw double veto from Russia and China, two permanent members with veto powers.
Russia and China argued that the draft was "unbalanced" and would, if adopted, only worsen the situation in Syria and inflict unworthy complications in the Middle East country and the region in the long run.
This time, however, the Arab nations intend to turn to the General Assembly for support, where a resolution is passed by majority and no veto power exists, although a UN document adopted this way carries less weight and is not binding.
Diplomats said the text of the new draft was largely based on the one presented to and then vetoed by the Security Council, which contained measures that seek a regime change in Syria and the condemnation of the government over its "attacks against civilians."
The draft could be presented to the General Assembly as early as Monday, said diplomats. If it is the case, the draft could be quickly adopted sometime later this week.
Despite its limitations as an unbinding document, a General Assembly resolution still carries a moral authority and could bring new international spotlight and pressure on Syria.
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