The UN General Assembly Friday overwhelmingly agreed to a Saudi drafted resolution calling on the Assad government to take first steps to end military operations and implement an inclusive political transition to end the 17 month crisis.
The resolution received the support of 133 member states of the UN body, with 12 votes against and 31 abstentions. Permanent members of the UN Security Council Russia and China voted against the text, as did Iran, Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela. Syria’s neighbor Lebanon, as well as India and Pakistan, two non-permanent members of the Council, were among the 31 states that abstained.
General Assembly resolutions aren’t subject to vetoes but lack the legal force Security Council action.
The text condemns Syrian military indiscriminate shelling from helicopters and tanks and demands Damascus fully implement the conditions of the UN peace plan. The text also calls on the Assad government refrain from using or transferring its biological and chemical weapons and ensure its stockpiles remain secure.
In a statement after the vote, US Ambassador Susan Rice welcomed the resolution and said the US would continue working with partner at the United Nations and elsewhere to support the Syrian transition.
“Importantly, the resolution also welcomes the Arab League’s July 22nd decision, which calls for Assad to step down and for a transitional government to be formed.” she said.
Syria’s Ambassador to the United Nations slammed the resolution as a “piece of theatre” orchestrated by Qatar and Saudi Arabia to incite further violence and overthrow the Assad government. Syrian envoy Bashar Jaafari says Saudi and Qatari funding of rebel groups discredits their efforts at brokering a peaceful Syrian transition.
The resolution also encourages greater cohesion amongst the opposition and invites member states to provide support to the Syrian people and contribute to the international humanitarian response.
The General Assembly vote comes two weeks after Russia and China used their veto at the Security Council to block a resolution threatening the Assad government with sanctions if it failed to withdraw troops and heavy artillery from civilian areas. It was the third time China and Russia used their vetoes to block Security Council action in the past 10 months.
In February, after the second Russian-Chinese veto at the Council, the General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning Syrian government violence and calling on Ban Ki Moon to appoint a special envoy to mediate the crisis.
The eventual choice, former Secretary General Kofi Annan, resigned from the position Thursday, increasingly frustrated by the Security Council’s inability to support the peace plan and ongoing fighting by both parties to the conflict. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is set to appoint Annan’s replacement as Syria envoy shortly.
On Friday, Ban said he was disappointed the Security Council had so far be unable to act and urged members states to find some sort of common ground.
“I regret the divisions that have paralyzed action in the Security Council.” he told the General Assembly. “The conflict in Syria is a test of everything this organization stands for. I do not want today’s United Nations to fail that test.”
Activists say more than 18 000 people have been killed and tens of thousands more detained since the crisis first began in March 2011. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has suggested the Syrian government military operations might amount to crimes against humanity.
Meanwhile Friday, Syrian Ambassador Bashar Jaafari also claimed he had received threats originating from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and within the U.S., but didn’t elaborate on how or when they were received.
“I have received myself, members of my family other Syrian diplomats, direct threats.” he said, adding that U.S. officials are aware of the situation.
“We are guests in this country and our protection is up to the American authorities. So I leave it up to American authorities to investigate the sources of these threats.” he told reporters outside the General Assembly.