More than a month ago, Syria's ambassador to the United Nations Bashar al-Jaafari declared victory over the United States and its European allies when China and Russia vetoed a Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Damascus' bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters.
Today, Syria was back on the defensive.
Fresh from defeat in the Arab League, where its membership was suspended, the Syrian government faced another bruising setback at the United Nations, where the General Assembly adopted a non-binding -- but politically potent -- resolution condemning Syria's action. You can read an early draft of the resolution, which doesn't include all of its cosponsors, here.
Not a single Arab country voted against the resolution. Even Sudan backed it.
The resolution was co-sponsored by Turkey, a former ally, and six Arab governments -- Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Kuwait and Morocco, which will begin serving as the Arab world's lone representative on the Security Council. Egypt, which had initially urged governments to oppose the resolution, ultimately voted in favor.
The council's European powers, meanwhile, are plotting a new
push for a Security Council resolution on Syria.
"It's now a new game: the Arab region has spoken," said Peter Wittig, Germany's U.N. ambassador. "We support the Arab region -- and today there is a message that Syria and the Syrian authorities would better listen to....We were very disappointed when the Security Council could not act because of a double veto. And we think that now, as the Arab region has spoken out so clearly with two momentous decisions in Cairo and Rabat, that the Security Council can not fall behind the region. We would encourage the Security Council to come back to this issue."
Back in its own neighborhood, Syria was facing an increasingly hostile reception from its old friends. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan excoriated his Syrian counterpart, President Bashar al-Assad, for persecuting his own people, and called on the Syrian leader to "step down from that seat without causing any further persecution."
"Assad is showing up and saying he would fight to the death. For God's Sake, against whom will you fight? Fighting against your own people is not heroism, but cowardice. If you want to see someone who has fought until death against his own people, just look at Nazi Germany, just look at Hitler, at [Benito] Mussolini, at Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania." Erdogan told members of his party's parliamentary bloc. "If you cannot draw any lessons from them, then look at the Libyan leader who was killed just 32 days ago in a manner none of us would wish for and who used the same expression you used."
Jaafari, Syria's U.N. envoy, countered that many of the resolution's principal sponsors, including the United States, have deplorable human rights records and are simply using the United Nations to apply pressure on his government. Some co-sponsors, he alleged, have backed the country's armed opposition in an effort to engineer a "coup attempt supported from abroad."
"The goal is a political one, it is not the protection of human rights," he said. "All these ridiculous plots and maneuvers will not prevent us from protecting our country and our people from foreign ambitions."
The Syria resolution was passed by a vote of 122 in favor, 13 against, and 41 abstentions. China and Russia were among those who abstained.
The resolution" "Strongly condemns the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities, such as arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the persecution and killing of protesters and human rights defenders, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture and ill treatment of detainees, including children."
It also "Calls upon the Syrian authorities to immediately put an end to all human rights violations, to protect their population and to fully comply with their obligations under international human rights law, and calls for an immediate end to all violence in the Syrian Arab Republic."
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice lauded the General Assembly vote, saying that countries "spoke up for the people of Syria and against the Assad regime, which has repeatedly gone to horrific lengths to silence dissent."
"By overwhelmingly adopting its first-ever resolution on Syria's
human rights abuses, the General Assembly's Third Committee has sent a clear message
that it does not accept abuse and death as a legitimate path to retaining power,"
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HASSAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.