After 11 years, Syrians deserve ‘Uniting for Peace’ resolution
Enab Baladi – Saleh Malas
In a scene that Syrians have not lived up to their cause so far, a resolution in an emergency special session met with applause from representatives of the world’s countries at the headquarters of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City, adopts a binding international demand for an issue that threatens international peace and security, while Western countries interact in solidarity with it and mobilize to support it whenever possible.
Under the principle of “Uniting for Peace,” dated 3 November 1950 and carried No. 377, the General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution demanding that Russia immediately end its military operations in Ukraine.
The resolution demands that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”
The American historian Will Durant once said, “logic is an invention of man and may be ignored by the universe,” and this can often drive Syrians crazy if they expect the world to act in rational ways toward their cause, as countries dealt with almost unanimously with the issue of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
As long as both cases have the same humanitarian and moral arguments, it is difficult to distinguish between what core international crimes actually take place during their events.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has revived the opportunity for the complex Syrian political scene to get out of the darkness of the conflict to achieve a kind of international justice for thousands of Syrian victims. The opportunity lies in obtaining a resolution from the General Assembly in an extraordinary session that supports the Syrian cause and obliges the master power countries to implement its provisions without delay or deception.
However, the process of referring the Syrian file to the General Assembly with binding powers under the “Uniting for Peace” during the past 11 years has been stymied by lack of international consensus and opposition political efforts that are full of loopholes and lack of resourcefulness.
General Assembly rehabilitation
The main objective of maintaining international peace and security is at the forefront of the purposes that the UN seeks to achieve, and this task has been entrusted to the Security Council, and it has been granted binding powers that enable it to act quickly and effectively in the face of events that threaten international peace and security.
But due to the lack of consensus among the permanent members of the Security Council, for political or economic factors, the Council was paralyzed from exercising its authority due to the wasteful use of the veto to stop any draft resolution that the veto holder deems incompatible with his policy. The Council failed to do its job in many different circumstances despite the consent of the majority of its members.
The issue increased the strife between East and West, and for this reason, the principle of “Uniting for Peace” arose to strengthen the powers and functions of the General Assembly to perform all the functions entrusted to the United Nations after the Security Council was unable to do so because it is the only main branch of the UN that can do this.
In this exceptional case, the powers of the General Assembly, as one of the pillars of the collective security system of the world, are the same as those of the Security Council, and therefore the General Assembly can take procedural decisions away from making usual recommendations or international studies for discussion, without the Charter of the United Nations conferring on it the necessary authority to impose these recommendations.
The importance of this principle lies in the fact that it gives the countries that do not have a “veto” in the Security Council the opportunity to obtain decisions from the General Assembly of a mandatory nature, with a legal value based on Article No. 24 of the Charter, which stipulates in its first paragraph that the action The United Nations is doing must be “prompt and effective.”
Nothing happens without consensus will
In 2016, after the paralysis of the Security Council and its inability to protect international peace and security in Syria, due to the repeated Russian “veto,” the Syrian opposition, represented by the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), decided to invite the General Assembly to an extraordinary session, based on the decision of “Uniting for Peace.”
In order to use this resolution successfully, it is necessary to agree on a formula for a resolution among the major countries that is accepted by two-thirds of the General Assembly members, which requires high coordination and political pressure to achieve.
At the time, Saudi Arabia tried to push this direction regarding what was happening in the city of Aleppo of international crimes, calling for “immediate intervention to stop the historical massacre instead of condemning and decrying,” but these efforts were in vain.
“All international decisions need political will,” according to what the former Syrian diplomat Danny al-Baaj told Enab Baladi.
“It is not easy to implement the “Uniting for Peace” resolution.” In the historical context of the emergence of this resolution, it was made by countries that have great influence in the General Assembly, most notably the United States.
Referring any issue to an extraordinary session of the General Assembly is considered a procedural decision. In this case, a “veto” does not count, as it is a procedural rather than a political vote, according to al-Baaj.
The International Community’s handling of the “Union for Peace” does not differ according to the issue it is working on under this principle, al-Baaj said.
That is, if the issue is a non-international armed conflict, such as in Syria, or an aggressive attack in the context of the invasion of a state against a second country, such as the Russian intervention in Ukraine, as long as the body in charge of this issue is the Security Council and it fails to address it, states can refer the issue to the General Assembly in an emergency session. The latter bears the responsibility to solve this problem by a mandatory and immediate decision.
The referral comes either through the Security Council or by a vote of two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly requesting an emergency session, but in all cases, “the political will of states must be present.”
Russia, the Syrian regime’s key political and military ally, uses its “veto” right in decisions related to holding the regime accountable or imposing UN economic sanctions, or against international investigations of crimes committed by regime forces, amid inability by the Security Council to pass resolutions aimed to bring humanitarian aid to Syria.
Russia and China used the veto for the fourth time in 2014 (later it was used for 12 times), in objection to a Security Council resolution that would have given the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court the mandate to look into the crimes committed in Syria, which prevented any steps from being taken. On the way to ensuring the real accountability of the regime’s government, which contributed to the committing of more violations.
On 30 September 2015, the Russian Air Force began carrying out airstrikes against the Syrian people, after Bashar al-Assad, the head of the Syrian regime, formally requested military support from Moscow to confront the armed opposition forces during the conflict, and the Russian Federation Council approved the authorization of President Vladimir Putin to send the Russian armed forces outside the country.
With this decision, Russia has become militarily present in Syria, and the decision-maker in it, and thus referring the Syrian file to the International Criminal Court means a direct investigation of crimes Russia has also committed inside the country.
Well, Why was the decision not passed?
The political path in Syria took on a negotiating character between the al-Assad regime and the opposition. The first round of negotiations was in the Geneva peace talks, from which UN Resolution No. 2254 emerged. The US-submitted resolution, which included 16 articles, was issued by the Security Council without veto.
This resolution provided for a permanent ceasefire through the efforts of the countries that influence the Syrian regime and the opposition, as part of an implementation plan for a peace process according to political foundations that include the formation of an inclusive transitional governing body within six months, and the holding of elections within 18 months after a new constitution is drawn up. The constitution should not be based on sectarian foundations under the supervision and control of the UN.
But due to the lack of any progress in the Geneva negotiations, in 2017, Turkey, Iran, and Russia sponsored a series of parallel peace talks in the Astana peace rounds.
Since the start of the political process in the first round of the Syrian Constitutional Committee meetings in Geneva, and through all the rounds that are supposed to be indirect negotiations with the regime, these efforts have not produced any real political results that could move the Syrian issue to a new stage to stop human rights violations in the country or match one of the provisions of Resolution 2254.
As soon as one of the parties to the conflict in Syria requests that the situation in the country be referred to under the “Uniting for Peace” resolution, this negotiating character is nullified since General Assembly resolutions may carry a military attack within Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.
However, there is no desire by the superpowers, especially the United States, for a military operation to resolve the armed conflict in Syria, which may lead to an international conflict, the dimensions, and consequences of which cannot be predicted on the interests of the active countries.
One of the important reasons for not passing this resolution, according to the former Syrian diplomat Danny al-Baaj, is the “technical and political weakness” of the opposition and its representatives working in the corridors of the United Nations, as they “do not have the appropriate responses from precedent and procedural rules that respond to the American arguments rejecting such a move.”
“The Syrian opposition has not succeeded in building an alternative to the regime to be a legitimate representative of Syria as a state and society in Arab and international bodies with which countries, especially the United States, can be persuaded to refer the situation to the “Uniting for Peace” and successfully market the Syrians’ cause,” al-Baaj said.
What is needed now?
“As long as the referral of the situation in Ukraine to the General Assembly succeeds according to this principle, and with the political will of the countries not to allow Russia to extend further beyond its borders, we Syrians must use this precedent and the international situation to retry by referring the situation in Syria to the General Assembly within the same principle,” al-Baaj recommend.
There are two possibilities for referring the Syrian file to the General Assembly. The first is pressure by all Syrian opposition forces so that the resolution to be adopted includes a binding text that does not delegitimize the regime or impose a military operation on it, as it disrupts the course of political negotiation, but rather refers to the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.
Since the Security Council is competent to refer any situation in any country to the International Criminal Court, in the event of major international crimes occurring in it, and the fact that the General Assembly takes the mandatory powers of the Council under the resolution, “the Syrian opposition can mobilize support now to refer all parties to the conflict without exception or discrimination, as they all committed crimes, to the International Criminal Court, and this does not prejudice the negotiating nature of the political process because it included all parties without discrimination, according to the former diplomat.
Here, it is necessary to survey whether the International Criminal Court will agree to such a proposal and to communicate with it by the opposition to discuss and support this move, because this court, under its “Rome Statute” (Syria is not a party), does not accept the referral of any case to the Prosecutor within it, only by the Security Council and not by the General Assembly, in order to exercise its jurisdiction, in accordance with the second paragraph of Article No.13 of the Rome Statute.
The second possibility, which requires high political competence, which the opposition did not reach, according to al-Baaj, is to go to the General Assembly to issue a binding resolution to form an international court for Syria, and to finance it, “which the General Assembly can do without any doubt, to start an investigation into the crimes committed in Syria, without exception.”
Special international tribunals exist for the purpose of settling disputes between states and sometimes between other international actors. They are established by a decision of the UN Security Council, and they try a limited number of people involved in international crimes, as they are costly and require their own statute.
This allowed the establishment of the International Criminal Court for Lebanon under Resolution No. 1757 to try persons accused of carrying out the 14 February 2005 bombing, which killed 22 people, including the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri.
The same applies to the International Tribunal for Darfur within the UN Resolution No.1593, to try war criminals in Sudan.
The Syrian political opposition does not possess the qualifications or the necessary elements to go through this experiment and refer Syria’s agony to the General Assembly under the “Uniting for Peace,” according to what al-Baaj believes, as it lacks the elements of political action, and has not settled on a stable opinion regarding any event or political incident.
Such real opportunities within international bodies need a minimum of political understanding, coalition action, clarity of work mechanisms, good management, and organization, “I do not trust that anyone in the Syrian opposition, especially the National Coalition, the Interim Government, or the Negotiations Committee is currently capable of working on this project,” according to al-Baaj.
The Syrian opposition, with its various components, does not have the experience to address any international obstruction that may occur in such projects within the United Nations, despite having UN evidence of violations of international humanitarian law in Syria and the existence of a mechanism tasked with analyzing and collecting evidence of serious crimes committed in the country, suitable for use in any international judicial proceedings.
“Unfortunately, in the Security Council resolutions, there was no real seriousness for the implementation of the international resolutions that were issued regarding the Syrian cause, and there was no real intention to remove this regime,” according to what the spokesman for the Negotiation Committee, Yahya al-Aridi told Enab Baladi.
The Syrian Negotiation Committee hopes that the situation in Ukraine will contribute to limiting the Russian expansion in Syria, and as long as there is an international tendency to do so, “the Syrian cause will benefit,” according to al-Aridi.
Al-Aridi refused the idea of the opposition’s lessening of investing in the “Uniting for Peace” principle to serve the Syrian cause, saying that “the efforts could have been greater, and on the other hand, the countries’ response to the issue would have been better.”
“There must be a conscience; there must be an interest; there must be strength, in the party who wants to take this decision in the General Assembly … We (the opposition) are not in a position to decide whether the General Assembly will accept or reject such a decision,” according to al-Aridi.
During an interview with the Negotiation Committee’s spokesperson, he attributed the countries’ lack of interaction with the Syrian case to the role that Israel plays in influencing the countries, “You know the Israeli influence on many countries, because Israel in particular, this colony in the heart of the region, has a gigantic global influence on many countries, including the US and what goes on in its orbit, It (Israel) has a benefit in the survival of the authoritarian regime.”
Al-Aridi also shifted the responsibility of mobilizing advocacy for the Syrian cause in international organizations and active institutions from the opposition bodies to a public responsibility including all Syrians, “let it be a public advocacy,” outside the borders of the opposition institutions, which millions demand.
The Syrian opposition institutions must be developed to be able to achieve its demands through the formation of real alliances and the pursuit of a clear road map with a shared political vision that achieves clear and understandable gains, with a comprehensive intellectual ground and the implementation of policies that serve the Syrian people, and through a continuous process with cumulative maneuvers and a productive, leading body to gain international acceptance rather than relying on subordination factors.
There is still a lot to be done.
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