News / Middle East

    Hopes Rise for UN Action on Syria

    Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during a meeting with Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011, at the State Department in Washington.
    Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during a meeting with Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011, at the State Department in Washington.

    Russia Thursday proposed a new draft resolution condemning the violence in Syria, giving rise to hopes the U.N. Security Council will end its relative silence on the nine month crackdown on protestors. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the United States is ready to work with Moscow on the proposal.

    Officials here say the Russian draft falls short of the harsh condemnation of, and sanctions against, the Syrian government that the United States and key allies have been seeking.

    But they say the fact that Moscow, which has along with China blocked previous resolution efforts, is now supporting stronger language than it had previously gives rise to hope the Security Council can take a collective stand on the crisis.

    According to copies of the Russian draft obtained by reporters, it condemns violence by all parties, including the use of “disproportionate” force by Syrian authorities.

    It also raises concern over what is termed the “illegal supply of weapons” to armed groups in Syria.

    U.S. officials had said previous language proposed by Moscow equated the actions of Syrian security forces with those of largely peaceful protestors, and gave comfort to President Bashar al-Assad, who says Syrian forces are responding to an armed insurrection.

    At a press event with Danish Foreign Minister Villy Soevndal, Secretary of State Clinton said the Russian draft still has language the United States cannot support, but it can be the basis for negotiation.

    “There’s unfortunately a seeming parity between the government and peaceful protestors and then other Syrians who are trying to defend themselves. But we’re going to study the draft carefully. It will have to be shared with the Arab League, which has taken the lead on the response to what’s going on in Syria. And hopefully we can work with the Russians, who for the first time, at least, are recognizing that this is a matter that needs to go to the Security Council," she said.

    British and French diplomats also welcomed the Russian draft, though saying it requires amendments. The United Nations said earlier this week the death toll in Syrian violence since March now exceeds 5,000.

    The monitoring group Human Rights Watch issued a report in Moscow and other capitals Thursday naming more than 70 high-ranking Syrian military commanders and government officials who it said ordered authorized or condoned killings, torture and unlawful arrests on unarmed protestors.

    The rights group said the chain of command extends up to President Assad despite his recent televised denial of responsibility. It said it based the compilation on testimony from more than 60 defectors from the Syrian military and intelligence agencies.

    Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa division of the New York based group, said the report was released in Moscow in part to prod Russia to act on the Syrian abuses. “I hope that Russia and China will stop acting as the obstacles that they’ve been for the past several months on the Security Council. And the reason why we launched our report today from Moscow is to really challenge Russia’s leaders about their continued notion of relying on Assad to reform, and to really challenge them and confront them with the evidence of the crimes again humanity, the wide-spread, wide-scale campaign of killings and arrests and torture that the Syrian government has been responsible for," she said.

    Whitson said the Security Council needs to refer the Syrian crackdown to the International Criminal Court, saying there is ample evidence not only of crimes committed but the individuals responsible.

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