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General Assembly overwhelmingly condemns Syria's crackdown

The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly today in favor of a resolution demanding Syria end its brutal 11-month long crackdown on anti-government protesters, and endorsing an Arab League plan for a political transition that would require President Bashar al-Assad yield some of his powers.

The non-binding resolution, which passed by a vote of 137 to 12, with 17 abstentions, is largely symbolic and includes no provisions to enforce its commands on Syria through the imposition of sanctions or the threat of force. But it highlighted the growing isolation of Syria's closest allies at the United Nations, particularly China and Russia, who voted against today's resolution and vetoed a similar resolution in the U.N. Security Council. China and Russia were joined by Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe in voting against the resolution.

The motion would also step up the United Nations role in seeking to mediate the crisis, which has left more than 6,000 people dead, by calling on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a special envoy for Syria.

The resolution, which was introduced by Egypt on behalf of the Arab League and co-sponsored by more than 70 governments, including the United States, "strongly condemns the continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities." And it calls upon the Syrian government to "immediately put and end to all human rights violations and attacks against civilians."

Before the vote, Egypt's deputy U.N. ambassador voiced concern about a "major escalation of acts of violence" in Syria and demanded that the "Syrian government heed the demands" of its people and "stanch the bloodshed, ending the suffering of the brotherly Syrian people." The Egyptian diplomat assured the draft would not be used as a pretext for military intervention in Syria.

Syria's U.N. ambassador Bashar al-Jafaari, denounced the sponsors of the resolution for "leading a political and media aggression against Syria" and providing logistical and military support for "armed terrorists" seeking the overthrow of Assad's government. He accused the resolution's chief Arab and Western sponsors of ignoring his country's offer to introduce political reforms, and dismissing a series of Russian amendments calling on the opposition to dissociate itself with the country's armed resistance.

France and Turkey, meanwhile, revived a proposal to lessen the impact of the violence by establishing humanitarian corridors to permit the distribution of assistance to civilians. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe sought to overcome Russian opposition to such a plan, urging Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a meeting in Vienna, Austria, to support a U.N. Security Council resolution establishing such corridors. Ban Ki-moon also urged Lavrov to help secure access for U.N. relief workers, telling him in a meeting in Vienna it is "vital to establish humanitarian access as soon as possible while the search for a political solution to the crisis continues."

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis have been stalled since Feb 4, when China and Russia vetoed an Arab- and Western-backed Security Council resolution that called for the establishment of a government of national unity, headed by an individual approved by both Damascus and the opposition. After today's vote, Russia's U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, criticized the sponsors of the General Assembly resolution on Syria, expressing concern that they were seeking to isolate Assad's government, and impose a foreign political settlement on the Syrian people.

For its part, the Arab League hoped today's vote would help reinforce their political plan. The text "fully supports" the Arab League plan for a political transition which requires Assad yield authority during the transition to a vice president. It also reinforces a series of Arab League demands that Syria has so far ignored. For instance, it demands Syria cease all violence, release all political prisoners, withdraw military forces from Syrian cities and towns, and grant free "unhindered access" to journalists and humanitarian aid workers.

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