U.N. ‘strongly’ condemns Syrian government attacks on civilians

May 15, 2013

The U.N. General Assembly “strongly” condemned the Syrian government Wednesday for its “indiscriminate” shelling and bombing of civilians and “widespread and systematic” human rights violations in a conflict that has dragged on for more than two years and left more than 70,000 people dead.

The resolution, co-sponsored by most Arab and Western governments, was adopted by a vote of 107 to 12, with 59 abstentions. The United States backed the resolution and Russia opposed it, putting them on opposite sides as they struggle to start talks between the Syrian government and opposition on a political transition.

The General Assembly measure is not legally binding, but it reflects Syria’s growing isolation. Still, the large number of abstentions, particularly from African countries, shows that there are concerns over the resolution’s promotion of the Syrian opposition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

The resolution’s drafting was led by Qatar, the Persian Gulf sheikdom that has been arming the Syrian opposition. The final text stopped short of formally recognizing the Syrian opposition, though it included a provision that notes the “wide international acknowledgment” of the Syrian coalition “as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”

Syria and its political allies, including China, Iran and Russia, denounced the measure as one-sided, saying any decision about the legitimacy of Syria’s leadership should be made by Syrians. They also said the measure unfairly criticized the government and made no mention of the opposition’s atrocities. Although the resolution condemns violence, it largely ignores specific allegations of wrongdoing by the armed opposition and anti-government extremists.

“This draft resolution seeks to escalate the crisis and fuel violence in Syria” by undermining the Syrian government through the recognition of a “fake representative” of the Syrian people, said Syria’s U.N. ambassador, Bashar al-Ja’afari.

Najib Chadban, the Syrian opposition’s representative to the United States and the United Nations, welcomed the vote. But he acknowledged that “a lot of Syrians are not very happy with the inability of this organization to do something to end the killing.”

In Washington, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.), the ranking Republican, introduced a bill authorizing U.S. arms shipments to the opposition and said the measure would be considered and possibly voted on as soon as Tuesday.

Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.

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