At the recent Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians, Susan Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said “protecting civilians is a fundamental responsibility of the international community and a priority for the United States.”
Ms. Rice said that the Security Council has proven it can act to protect civilians under threat. In Libya last year, she noted, “The Security Council and the broader international community took a principled stand, saving untold lives.” After decades of defiance of international concern about abuses committed by the Qadhafi regime, the Security Council adopted without opposition, Resolution 1973, which, Ms. Rice said, “contained a strong civilian protection mandate well understood by all members of [the] Council to authorize the use of force to prevent brutal actions by the Qadhafi regime against the Libyan people.”
These actions,” said Ambassador Rice, “have given Libyans a well-deserved chance to chart a future where their sovereignty, dignity and human rights are respected.”
“By contrast,” she said, “the situation in Syria represents a colossal failure by the Security Council to protect civilians.” In the last year, at least 10,000 Syrians have been killed in the relentless campaign the Assad regime has unleashed against its own people, presenting a situation which she called “ever more dangerous to international peace and security.”
Since March 2011, when the Assad regime responded to peaceful antigovernment protests with bullets and tanks, the UN Security Council has failed to adopt sanctions against the regime because two of its members, China and Russia, opposed them. A UN monitoring mission to Syria, which China and Russia did support, was suspended in June because of the violence.
Ambassador Rice said the suspension of that mission testifies to the gravity of the situation in Syria. “It is a shame that this Council continues to stand by rather than to stand up,” she said. “We must take meaningful steps, including by imposing binding sanctions under Chapter VII, to pressure the Syrian regime to comply” with Special UN Envoy Kofi Annan’s six point peace plan, “and work towards a political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.”
“The United States,” said Ambassador Rice, “remains committed to the protection of civilians and will continue working with this Council and our international partners towards that end.”