UNITED NATIONS - The UN General Assembly on Thursday adopted a resolution condemning Syrian authorities for human rights violations, and backing the Arab League plan calling on President Bashar al-Assad to step down in a move to end the ongoing violence.
In the 193-member Assembly, 137 countries, including Pakistan, voted for the Arab-backed resolution, with 12 against. Seventeen countries abstained.
Russia and China voted against the resolution, which was identical to one the two permanent members of the UN Security Council vetoed on February 4 in the 15-member body triggering angry reaction from the West. Belarus, Zimbabwe, Cuba, North Korea, Iran were among those states, saying “no” to the resolution on Thursday.
There are no vetoes in the General Assembly and while their resolutions are not legally binding, they do reflect world opinion on major issues.
Pakistan and China, the two staunch Asian allies, found themselves inn opposite camps in the voting process.
"We have acquiesced to the collective wisdom of our brothers in the Arab world and voted in favour of their resolution," Pakistan's U.N. Ambassador Abdullah Hussain Haroon told the Assembly while explaining his vote on the resolution.
Ambassador Haroon reiterated his country's call for the Syrian people to be respected, and said they must be allowed to resolve their crisis. "We continue to believe that the objectives of peace and security can best be served by pursuing a cooperative approach with the country concerned. We therefore reiterate our earlier calls to respect the will of the Syrian people, and for a Syrian-led solution to the ongoing unrest," the Pakistani envoy said.
"We call on both sides (to the conflict in Syria) to shun violence, pursue the path of dialogue and reconciliation, and engage in result-oriented and inclusive political process, leading to a peaceful resolution of the problem.
"We have always urged that any discussion on Syria at the UN should be with full cognizance of and respect for the principles of independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Syria," Ambassador Haroon added.
The symbolic resolution that condemns Syria's crackdown on protesters was introduced into the General Assembly on Monday. The vote followed news that President Bashar al-Assad has moved up a vote on a constitutional referendum portrayed by his government as an important reform initiative.
Thursday's resolution endorsed the Arab League plan while strongly condemning human rights violations by President Assad's regime. Damascus has already rejected the Arab League plan.
In his remarks, Ambassador Haroon said Pakistan had been stressing the need for consensus on the Syrian situation, noting that there could have been better efforts in the Assembly and the Security Council to reach consensus and to fully assure delegations that there was no intention to carry out a hostile intervention.
"All remonstrations aside, there is a growing apprehension and anxiety in the Islamic world as another Muslim country faces ingress at the United Nations," the Pakistani envoy pointed out. "We must allow not this to become a belief. This growing trend must cease".
Speaking before the vote, Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari called the draft a “biased” text that has nothing to do with the situation in his country. He cited several developments that respond to popular demands, including the referendum set for 26 February on a new constitution and the intention to hold a national dialogue.
No country can allow the presence of armed terrorist groups on its territory, he stated, adding that he had “deep concerns” vis-a-vis the real intentions of the countries that have co-sponsored the text. He called on these countries to stop interfering in internal Syrian affairs and stop adding fuel to the fire of the tensions in his country.
Saudi Arabia's U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi called it "a victory for the Syria people," the U.N. and the Arab League.
"It is a message that the international community is sending loud and clear that the struggle of the Syrian people is not unheard and is not unresponded to," he said, and it reaffirms that the Security Council's failure to adopt a resolution on Syria earlier this month "does not reflect the will and the desire of the international community."
U.S. Ambassador to UN Susan Rice, the driving force behind the Arab move, was pleased over the outcome. "Today, the U.N. General Assembly sent a clear message to the people of Syria: the world is with you." President Assad "has never been more isolated. A rapid transition to democracy in Syria has garnered the resounding support of the international community. Change must now come."
But Russia called the resolution "unbalanced." "To a large extent it reflects the worrying trend that causes us concern: the attempt to isolate the Syrian leadership, to reject any contact with it, and to impose an external formula for a political settlement," said Vitaly Churkin, Russia's UN ambassador.
"In order to resolve the Syrian crisis there is a need to uphold two principles to which no one seems to object, namely, that the violence must be stopped by all sides and that necessary solutions can only be found through an inclusive political process led by the Syrian themselves."
Churkin said the draft resolution did not meet that criteria.
Thursday's vote followed a debate in the Assembly on Monday during which the UN human rights chief appealed to Member States to act now to protect the Syrian people as the Government’s crackdown on peaceful protests continues unabated and the number of dead and injured continues to rise.
“The longer the international community fails to take action, the more the civilian population will suffer from countless atrocities committed against them,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told the Assembly.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Thursday called again on the Syrian Government to comply with international humanitarian law and put an end to the “mounting loss of life” the country has experienced over the past year.
Speaking to reporters in Vienna, Ban stressed that the lack of agreement in the Security Council does not give the Syrian Government a licence to continue to attack its own citizens. “The longer we debate, the more people will die.”
“I commend the continued efforts of the League of Arab States to stop the violence and to seek a peaceful resolution of the crisis that meets the democratic and legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” Ban said.