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UNSC Approves Weak Resolution on Syria

Alex Finkelstein

The 15 members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted a resolution Saturday that condemned violence in Syria and called for improved access for aid organizations. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said in a statement that the resolution “should not have been necessary” because humanitarian assistance should not have to be negotiated, but rather a given under international law. In this case, however, hundreds of thousands of Syrians are living under siege and urgently need aid due to the country’s ongoing civil war.

In the first half of the resolution, the UNSC demanded that all humanitarian workers be allowed unhindered access throughout Syria. Specifically, UN agencies and other aid groups need to be able to evacuate civilians from conflict areas and provide medical treatment to wounded non-combatants. The resolution does not mention humanitarian corridors, or areas which would be demilitarized and exclude fighting.

Security Council members vote on a resolution authorizing a UN observer mission to Syria in April 2012. (Photo: UN)

Saturday’s agreement also condemns the Syrian government’s use of barrel bomb attacks, crude explosives used by the al-Asad government now that other conventional weapons stockpiles are running low. The government uses helicopters to drop barrel bombs, often oil drums containing shrapnel, nails, and other sharp objects. The bombs do not have aiming devices, meaning they cause damage indiscriminately, terrorizing civilians.

Similar measures to pressure al-Asad have been raised in the past, but have not been implemented due to veto threats from China and Russia. Russian and Chinese support came this time only after changing or removing other important elements from the final text. Major alterations include adding condemnations of international human rights violations committed by the opposition; removing a provision to prosecute war criminals in the International Criminal Court; striking references to Hezbollah and the Iranian Quds Force; and dropping the threat of sanctions from the text.

According to Secretary Kerry, the resolution represents a step in the right direction and could possibly be the start of real, tangible progress. Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power acknowledged that signing the measure does little, and only implementation would improve the lives of Syrian civilians. The text does not include sanctions or an enforcement mechanism, only making reference to vague “further steps.” With Russia and China blocking a stronger text and any consequences for al-Asad, the international community remains largely paralyzed while the conflict in Syria continues.