Syria is in the cross-hairs of the Human Rights Council today after members agreed to an American request for an emergency session on the violent suppression of protests in several Syrian cities. The Council is poised to approve a western sponsored resolution which condemns the Syrian government and calls for an investigation into the violence. At this point, it looks like the resolution will have the majority support of the 47 member council, but not pass unanimously. Earlier this week, the Security Council failed to approve a consensus statement condemning the violence in Syria.
This is in stark contrast to how the international community approached the Libya situation about six weeks ago. So broad was the support for the Libya resolution at the Human Rights Counci, the Palestinians and Israelis even counted themselves among the co-sponsors. The resolution passed unanimously, and was affirmed a few days later in a consensus resolution at the General Assembly. One week later, the Security Council passed two Chapter VII resolutions.
So what is to account for the difference? Given the circumstances, comparisons are obvious. Here’s why I think Libya provoked a much more robust response from the international community than we can expect on Syria.
1) Defections by the Libyan diplomatic corps in New York and Geneva were catalysts for the international community. The Libyan representatives to the Human Rights Council and the Security Council practically begged those forums to take action. Those pleas gave cover to countries that are generally hesitant to interfere in the internal affairs of a member state.
2) The use of air power to suppress the rebellion dramatized the violence in way that the traditional mix of live and rubber bullets and dissapearences could not. Images of protesters being bombed strikes a different chord than protesters being shot in a cloud of tear gas. The result may be the same, but the optics (sitting ducks defenseless against a more powerful adversary and with no ability to fight back) are totally different.
3) Russia and China seem to be putting up roadblocks to any Syrian action at the Security Council. They believe that the NATO-led coalition on Libya has over-stepped its mandate and giving the western alliance a foothold in the Security Council. They are wary of repeating the Libya precedent.
In the meantime, it is Friday afternoon in Syria. That means, of course, a big day of protests are ahead.