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As Situation in Syria Worsens, U.S. Embassy in Damascus Closes

Andrea Gittleman, JD on February 7, 2012

In a shocking display of support for President Assad’s use of violence against civilians, Russia and China vetoed a Security Council resolution designed to end the atrocities in Syria. Russia and China were the only Security Council members who did not vote for the resolution, which had support from a variety of countries including India, Morocco, Pakistan, and South Africa. The defeat of the resolution against Syria is a dark moment for the people of Syria, as the vetoes from Russia and China may embolden the Syrian government to continue its ongoing attacks on civilians. PHR has documented violations of medical neutrality [pdf] in Syria – attacks which represent a sliver of Assad’s assault on Syria’s civilian population.

The veto does not preclude the Security Council from passing a new resolution against Syria in the future, which must include not only support for the Arab League’s plan to end the violence but also a referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, a Commission set up by the Human Rights Council, indicated that human rights violations including torture, killings, sexual violence, and unlawful detention were widespread and systematic. The results of this investigation, coupled with reports from myriad human rights organizations, indicate that the Syrian government is committing crimes against humanity – offenses that fall under the mandate of the ICC. Since the Commission’s report was released in November, there has been no effort on the part of the Syrian government to cooperate with Arab League observers to end the violence nor to abide by its international legal obligations to end human rights violations, punish perpetrators, and provide reparation to victims. Instead, the Assad regime has chosen to continue its campaign of killings, torture, detention, and other acts of violence geared toward political opposition and other civilians.

The worsening situation in Syria is reflected in today’s decision by the U.S. government to close its Embassy in Damascus. Although this move does not signal the severing of relations between the U.S. and Syria, such a decision reflects the gravity of the ongoing situation.

As the situation in Syria devolves, Russia and China should see that they have chosen the wrong side of history. When the Security Council attempts to pass another resolution on Syria, Russia and China will have another chance to get it right. They can recover some of their own legitimacy by taking a stand against Assad’s criminality and joining others in the pursuit of peace and accountability.

Places: Syria