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Prying Eye: Syria, the UN and toothless sanctions

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Originally published in The Pryer: 09/10/2011


Could Russia and China be more unpopular in the international community? First they abstained from voting on the UN resolution in March which authorised a no-fly zone in Libya, and then on Tuesday they vetoed a Western-backed Security Council resolution threatening military action and sanctions against Syria, while South Africa, India, Brazil and Lebanon abstained. South Africa et al weren’t lectured for being spineless (for abstaining) but Russia and China bore the brunt of the world’s anger.

US envoy Susan Rice accused Russia and China of wanting to sell arms to the Syrian regime rather than stand with the Syrian people. Someone should remind Ambassador Rice that in the half-century after 1945, the United States sold the Saudis about $100 billion in military goods and services. A year ago the Obama administration announced the biggest weapons deal in US history – a $60 billion program with Saudi Arabia to sell it military equipment across the next 20 to 30 years. The Saudis are also aiding the Bahraini royal family to put down Shi’ite demonstrations. That should topple Ms Rice off her high-horse.

She went on further to say: “The courageous people of Syria can now see clearly who on this Council supports their yearning for liberty, and universal human rights, and who does not.” Furthermore, Britain’s UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the veto “will be a great disappointment to the people of Syria and the wider region that some members of this council could not show their support for their struggle for basic human rights”. I suppose one can say the same about the US promising to veto a resolution for a new Palestinian state. Britain will, no doubt, do the same as its ally across the Atlantic. Clearly the Syrian people are more worthy of human rights and protection under the UNSC than the Palestinians.

Rice herself said the two countries have vetoed a “vastly watered down text that doesn’t even mention sanctions”. The resolution itself was ‘toothless’, demanding that the violence in Syria stop. The draft underwent repeated dilutions, which dropped all but the vaguest reference to sanctions as a future possibility. Basically, the resolution ‘condemning’ the Syrian government was a technical way of saying “let’s give Syria a bit of a telling off”.

The Russian and Chinese veto is neither an endorsement for the Syrian regime, nor a sign of Chinese and Russian alliance with the al-Assad regime. The aim, as Ali Younes wrote for the Palestine Chronicle, is to make a stand against the Western powers’ attempt to repeat the same methods used in Libya that eventually led to a regime change and lose their political and economic interests in Libya.

What we are seeing in Syria is an attempt by Western governments to be seen to be doing something – to use rhetoric, sanctions, everything short of military action to give the impression that they really are serious about pressing for change in Syria. With the amount of time it has taken the UNSC to do anything, the Syrian government can easily find other investors, thereby rendering the resolution useless. Sanctions, it must be remembered, affect the ordinary citizens the most, not the political elite. Sanctions were imposed on Iraq 20 years ago, and we all know how that turned out.


Written by Iram Ramzan

October 9, 2011 at 1:00 pm

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