The UN General Assembly is huffing and puffing about Syria today, while crimes against humanity perpetrated against Syria’s civilian population continue unabated. The spectacle exposes the wholly undeserved status of the United Nations as an agent for the common good and the disastrous nature of the three-year love-affair that the Obama administration has carried on with the organization.
Though the Assembly meeting today is full of breast-beating avowals of care for the Syrian people, it is actually not the highest level of concern which the Assembly is empowered to express.
For starters, it is not an "Emergency Special Session."
After Russia and China vetoed a painfully weak Security Council resolution on Syria on February 4, 2012, the General Assembly was entitled to convene an emergency special session under a procedure introduced in 1950 by the United States as a response to Soviet vetoes during the Korean war.
Why hasn’t the General Assembly, therefore, called an emergency special session on Syria? Answer: because it would interfere with the UN’s treatment of its favorite whipping boy – Israel.
There have been only ten emergency sessions of the Assembly in its history.
Five have been directed at Israel alone, and the most recent – the “tenth” emergency session – began in April 1997. The “tenth” session has been “reconvened” fifteen times – that is, kept as a private weapon in the political arsenal of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. An 11th emergency special session of the General Assembly on Syria would require ending the tenth session on Israel. And the Arab League has its priorities.
The General Assembly never had an emergency special session on genocide in Rwanda, despite 800,000 dead, or on Darfur, Sudan with more than 450,000 dead and millions displaced. So as far as the Assembly is concerned, Bashar al-Assad is just warming up.
In fact, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is not even counting. In response to a question concerning the numbers of Syrian dead at a press conference on February 10, 2012, spokesperson for the OHCHR Rupert Colville said: “numbers were climbing every day, but issuing a ballpark figure was not appropriate.” Odd, considering that the OHCHR has no problem broadcasting any number of alleged victims manufactured by Palestinians – including worrying about “hundreds of trees” in their fall 2011 “briefing notes.”
And then there’s the flagship human rights body, the UN Human Rights Council. Since April of last year the Council has been busy sponsoring and gathering reports on Syria.
Last December they hurried to create – in March 2012 – a special rapporteur who will be asked to report next fall. In the meantime, the Council is scheduled to adopt formally a “universal periodic review” (UPR) report on Syria in March.
The Obama administration’s ambassador to the Council, Eileen Donahoe, has called the UPR process “an incredible success.” More precisely, when the Syrian review took place last October, Syria rejected “recommendations” to stop the horrors, and received the following response from the Council president: “we’ve noted the commitment of Syria to abide by its [treaty] obligations…We wish you every success for the future in your country.”
The General Assembly now has before it a draft resolution on Syria which is all about promoting the Arab League and what it might (or might not) do to stop the bloodshed.
Even the UN Secretary-General has become – more overtly – the servant of the Arab League.
The draft concludes: “Requests the Secretary-General to report on the implementation of this resolution, in consultation with the League of Arab States.” And as the draft resolution makes clear – ever mindful of their members’ own transgressions – the League steers clear of major interference with Syria’s “sovereignty.”
A resolution the League itself adopted Sunday “invites” the Security Council to form an “Arab peacekeeping force” “joint” with the UN “to oversee the implementation of the cease-fire” – a ceasefire which is non-existent.
The moral bankruptcy of the world body is perhaps most evident by noticing today’s simultaneous meeting (and public webcast) of the UN Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) “at the ambassadorial level.”
The Committee will adopt its annual program of work and receive a report from its chairman on a Committee-sponsored “Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People” held in Cairo on February 6 and 7, 2012.
The Cairo seminar did not discuss assistance to Egyptian Christians or American hostages in Egypt, but did support recent “achievements” on “Palestinian state-building.” Though on February 6 Mahmoud Abbas decided to form a unity government with Hamas, a group openly committed to the annihilation of the Jewish people, state-building via the embrace of genocide wasn’t mentioned.
Instead, the UN’s CEIRPP will agree to spend the next year producing reports and publications, drafting resolutions, holding seminars and conferences around the world, building NGO networks, and developing a massive UN-Palestinian website– all dedicated in practice to fomenting anti-semitism, or as Cairo seminar participants put it, railing against “Judaizing” Arab land and Israeli “apartheid reborn.”
The contrast between today’s non-emergency session of the General Assembly and the CEIRPP meeting is instructive. Imagine how many Syrian (and other Arab) civilians might have been saved if the UN was not a gang of Israel-bashing firsters.
Anne Bayefsky is director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust.