x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

'Security Council out of resources for Syria, Yemen'

This follows a period of decisiveness, including armed interventions in Ivory Coast and Libya, with analysts saying the body is unable to intervene in other crises.

NEW YORK // After a period of intense activity in which the UN Security Council has authorised the use of military force in two African crises, the 15-nation body has exhausted its capacity to tackle atrocities in Syria and Yemen, analysts said.

Western council members failed late on Wednesday to persuade their colleagues in the UN's top body to agree on statements condemning brutal state crackdowns that have claimed the lives of hundreds of protesters in Syria and Yemen.

This follows a period of decisiveness from the Security Council, which allowed armed interventions in Ivory Coast and Libya, and reflects concern that Western-led air raids on the Libyan leader Col Muammar Qaddafi's forces are overstepping their UN mandate, analysts said.

Jeffrey Laurenti, a UN expert for The Century Foundation, a New York-based think tank, said recent Security Council activity has "exhausted the resources" of the mainly Western nations that are pushing for action in the Middle East.

"Security Council members are making political decisions, not judicial decisions based on legal standards. Libya had a leader who was reviled in the Arab world and beyond. In Syria, everyone sees a fragile mosaic of many pieces that could come flying apart," he said.

"Even those who have chafed at the Baathist government's obduracy on international issues would nonetheless be fearful of a worse order emerging, or, worse still, complete disorder."

On Wednesday, a draft statement from France, Germany, Portugal and Britain that condemned civilian deaths in Syria and urged President Bashar al Assad to exercise restraint was abandoned through lack of support.

The likelihood of Security Council action on Syria was already doubtful, following opposition last week from two veto-wielding council members, Russia and China, to issuing a statement condemning attacks on Yemeni protesters.

British and French diplomats argued that a unified council demand that Yemen's embattled president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, should exercise restraint would boost efforts by the Gulf Co-operation Council to mediate a way out of the crisis.

But the Security Council remains deadlocked on the issue, while the death toll in Yemen has climbed to an estimated 130 and a GCC-brokered deal in which Mr Saleh cedes power within a month has failed to end protests in Yemeni ports and cities.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a UN official told Reuters news agency that Russia and China had allowed some western efforts but that "their tolerance of US and European attempts to protect civilians in the Middle East appears to have dissipated".

The Security Council tackles threats to international peace and security and typically avoids internal conflicts. Western diplomats argue that Yemen is a haven for al Qa'eda and linked to Somali piracy, and that Syria influences Lebanon and the Palestinians.

The Security Council was slow to address the political unrest sweeping the Arab world, remaining largely silent on the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia in January and only responding forcefully in Libya when faced with an imminent massacre in Benghazi.

After securing support from the Arab League - notably from Qatar and the UAE - council members adopted two resolutions slapping sanctions against Col Qaddafi and his cohorts and setting up a no-fly zone over the country.

Another council resolution authorising "all necessary" means to protect civilians in Ivory Coast saw UN and French attacks on the forces of Laurent Gbagbo earlier this month, helping to oust a president who had clung to power despite losing last year's election.

While Ivory Coast is edging towards stability, the Western-led air assault on Libya has failed to give rebels a much-needed advantage and the stalemate with Col Qaddafi's troops is being played out in the siege of Misurata.

The council's traditional non-interventionists, Russia and China, have grown increasingly critical of the western-led coalition that is bombing Libya, saying it exceeds the UN mandate of civilian protection by seeking to oust Col Qaddafi.

Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin, has criticised Nato for trying to "kill Qaddafi" without a trial or UN approval. China expressed concern about Britain sending military "advisers" to assist rebels, claiming this also goes beyond the rules of resolution 1973.

Human Rights groups have long argued that the Security Council should be more consistent in using pressure, sanctions and even military force to deter governments from brutalising dissenters among their own populations.

Philippe Bolopion, a UN analyst for Human Rights Watch, said abuses should prompt action "regardless of political considerations". "The large numbers of Syrians and Yemenis killed, arbitrarily arrested or tortured deserve no less attention than Libyans or Ivoirians."

Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's head, said the council should refer Syrian abuses to the International Criminal Court, like it did in Libya. "A consistent policy of zero-tolerance ... will send a signal to all governments that impunity for crimes under international law is no longer acceptable."

UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and Washington's envoy to the UN, Susan Rice, have both fielded questions from journalists in recent days over a double-standard in the council over protecting civilians in some countries but not others.

Mr Ban said the "same standards should be applied" in all states, but that political contexts vary. Ms Rice said Libya and Syria "are different in terms of their origins, of their consequences, and they will be different in terms of the action that is feasible and indeed desirable here from the Security Council".

jreinl@thenational.ae