'Paralysis' over Syria sanctions tainting UN credibility

Wed, Oct 3, 2012, 01:00

The escalating situation has been described as a disaster that is having an impact beyond Syrian borders

THE SYRIA crisis is one of the biggest challenges ever faced by the United Nations Security Council, and “paralysis” within the body over how to respond has tainted the UN as a whole, the UN’s Irish under-secretary general for legal affairs has said.

Speaking at the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin yesterday, Patricia O’Brien described the escalating situation in Syria as a “disaster” that has had an impact beyond the country’s borders.

“The real worry is the regional impact and the question of where and what effect it is going to have when you think of 300,000 refugees now going over [Syria’s] borders with Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey – that’s only the registered refugees, and the number keeps rising,” she said.

“The humanitarian crisis overall is hitting 2.5 million people but this is not just in Syria, it’s in the region more broadly, and that’s separate, of course, from the 30,000 that have died inside Syria.”

Russia and China have repeatedly used their vetoes at the UN Security Council to prevent tougher measures against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“It is tainting the credibility of the UN and that is most unfortunate,” said O’Brien, who is the UN legal counsel. “At the same time we have to bear in mind what the security council is also doing in a wide range of other areas, [which] doesn’t for one moment diminish the negative aspects of the exercise of the vetoes and the paralysis that has taken place, but I think we need to affirm our confidence in the UN as a whole and not allow the fact of what is happening in the security council to diminish that confidence.”

O’Brien noted that UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon had called on a “regular, consistent” basis for the security council to take responsibility on the issue and take the appropriate action, without specifying what that action might be.

She said the security council was “utterly supportive” of the UN’s new envoy to Syria, the veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi.

“There is no fragmentation on that issue but obviously all states within the security council, apart from Russia and China, feel that much, much more can be done,” she added.

O’Brien argued that Brahimi’s predecessor Kofi Annan, who resigned in August, had “done the best he could do” in the circumstances.

“Annan was frustrated and it wasn’t possible for him to proceed any further,” she said.

“Now we just hope that there will be a different approach taken by Assad but there is no evidence of that so far.

“All we can do is believe in and be committed to the [idea] that a day of reckoning will come for those who perpetrate these crimes in Syria at this level of egregiousness, and they will not go unpunished.”

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