The United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly denounced Bashar Assad’s crackdown on civilians Friday: 133 countries voted in favor of the resolution — which also called for a lockdown of Syria’s chemical and biological weapons — while 12 nations voted against it and 31 abstained.
Russia and China were two of the 12 countries that did not support the measure.
At the vote, Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, leveled harsh criticism against the “Assad killing machine.”
“In the month since we last gathered here to speak about Syria, the Assad regime has slaughtered thousands more innocents, indiscriminately murdering civilians — including women and children — using the firepower of its artillery, armor, and even its air force,” said Prosor. “Assad’s Council of Terror continues to operate ruthlessly in Damascus.”
Prosor added that “on Assad’s advisory board sit Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah, who offer him guidance on how to butcher the Syrian people more effectively,” referring to the president of Iran and the head of Hezbollah, respectively. “It is time for the international community to hold all three members of this ‘trio of terror’ accountable for their crimes.”
“No matter what Assad says, he can’t alter the horrific truth about the brutality that he and his morally bankrupt regime have unleashed and are unleashing on the Syrian people,” Prosor added.
Addressing concerns over Syria’s chemical weapons, Prosor said that “for years, Assad repeatedly denied that he held chemical weapons. Surprise, surprise…last week we heard a new revelation from Syrian officials: Assad has chemical weapons — and his government is prepared to use them.
“The world should wake up to this dangerous reality today, not tomorrow. We should not pretend that a regime that cuts the throats of children today will not be prepared to gas them tomorrow. Assad must know that he will be held accountable for using these weapons. He must understand that transferring chemical weapons to Hezbollah or other terrorist organizations is a red line that he cannot cross.”
Before the vote, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon reminded the Assembly of the fresh violence in the city of Aleppo and drew comparisons between the failure to act in Syria with the international community’s failure to protect people from past genocide in Srebrenica and Rwanda.
“The conflict in Syria is a test of everything this organization stands for,” Ban said. “I do not want today’s United Nations to fail that test.”
The vote came after the more powerful Security Council was stopped by a series of Russian and Chinese vetoes on resolutions that would have opened the door to sanctions on Syria.
The General Assembly vote was 133 in support of the resolution and 12 against, with 31 abstaining. Though General Assembly resolutions are unenforceable, a strong vote can carry moral weight.
Even so, the resolution’s Arab sponsors this week weakened two key provisions — a demand that President Bashar Assad resign and a call for other nations to place sanctions on Syria.
Russia and China had objected to those provisions.
The revised resolution takes a swipe at Russia and China by “deploring the Security Council failure” to act.
Frustration over the lack of action was clear. Former UN chief Kofi Annan resigned Thursday as the joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria after his peace proposals failed. Friday’s session rang with accusations over why Annan’s mission failed.
The Syria uprising has left 19,000 dead since it erupted in March 2011. The UN estimates that 1.5 million people have been forced to abandon their homes but remain in the country.
“The acts of brutality that are being reported may constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes,” Ban said of the Aleppo fighting. “Such acts must be investigated and the perpetrators held to account.”
The resolution backs Annan’s “demand that the first step in the cessation of violence has to be made by the Syrian authorities.”
It denounces attacks on children as young as 9 by the Syrian government, military intelligence services and militias, as well as “killing and maiming, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, and use as human shields.”
It also condemns the increasing Syrian military reliance on heavy weapons, including tanks and helicopters, and “failure to withdraw its troops and heavy weapons to their barracks” in line with Annan’s proposals.
It also demands the lockdown of the regime’s chemical and biological weapons.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari reacted angrily to the resolution, calling its main sponsors, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, “despotic oligarchies.”
Another likely victim of the Security Council stalemate are the UN military observers who have been monitoring the spiraling violence in Syria. The mission is in the midst of a 30-day extension of its mandate, which expires on Aug. 19. Extending it would require passage of another resolution in the Security Council.
The mission has been largely kept from its work by the violence, and it is already being cut back, from its original authorized strength of 300 to 115 monitors and 80 civilians currently.