How hard was it for the 193 member states of the United Nations General Assembly to vote in favor of Thursday’s resolution condemning human rights violations in Syria? The violations are obvious, and horrific. Since last March, Syria’s regime under dictator Bashar al-Assad has been trying to exterminate open dissent by jailing, torturing, shooting, and shelling its own citizenry. With the Syrian government using heavy weapons against its own people, the death toll is now estimated at roughly 7,000.
If any of the UN’s member states had hesitations over the details of the resolution, which calls for Assad to make way for a peaceful transition to a democratic and pluralistic system, they could comfort themselves that General Assembly resolutions are nonbinding.
The resolution passed, by a vote of 137 to 12, with 17 abstentions (and the remaining 27 presumably out to lunch). By standards of the UN General Assembly, that’s a triumph. But it still means that with Syria’s totalitarian regime trying to keep its dynastic grip on power by murdering its own people by the thousands, 29% of the members of the UN General Assembly could not bring themselves to condemn the process.
That’s quite bad enough. But then there are the dozen states that didn’t just abstain, or duck out of the room, but actively voted against the resolution. The UN, as far as I can discover, has not yet gotten around to posting the voting record. But the BBC has done us the favor of providing a roster. One of those states is Syria itself, which is represented at the UN by the same regime that is butchering its own people — and among its international depredations boasts a horrendous record of terrorist bombings and other variations on murder in Lebanon and Iraq, and support for terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, in Gaza and Lebanon.
On the next page is the full dirty dozen, on this voting roll of dishonor:
This is not by any stretch the sum total of repressive regimes that enjoy seats at the UN. Geostrategic considerations — as policy jargon would have it — have aligned against Assad a number of governments that show no respect at home for the pluralistic, democratic medicine they are prescribing for Syria. But the list above is a good starting point for a basic question:
What are these states in the above list doing to deserve membership in the UN at all? Let alone, why do some of them deserve to sit on such major UN bodies as the Security Council (Russia and China), and such theoretically vital bodies as the Human Rights Council (Russia, China, Ecuador, and Cuba)? The UN charter spells out the conditions of membership. Those conditions include accepting the obligations contained in the UN charter — which specifies such aims as tolerance, freedom, living together in peace, as good neighbors, and reaffirming “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person.” Does it uphold the UN charter, to allow voting rights at the UN to governments that neither reflect nor support democracy or aspirations for basic freedoms? Governments that look at a resolution condemning such horrors as the atrocities in Syria — and vote no?
There are some suggestions that may never gain traction at the UN. It’s worth saying them out loud, nonetheless. An obvious retort to a list like that above, is: Throw the bums out.