By José Luis Díaz, Special to CNN
Editor's note: José Luis Díaz is Amnesty International’s representative at the United Nations. The views expressed are his own.
If there were still any doubts about just how massive the U.N. Security Council’s failure on Syria has been, today’s news out of Geneva surely put paid to them. Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan surprised most observers this morning with his resignation as joint U.N.-Arab League envoy on Syria. The surprise is likely as much about the timing as anything else. No one at the United Nations would say it publicly, but all the players knew the “six-point plan” Annan crafted, and which the Security Council later endorsed, was moribund, if not dead. Annan’s resignation will also make it that much more difficult to renew the U.N. observation mission in Syria, an operation some Council members want shut down in two weeks’ time as there’s no ceasefire to observe. So the question really wasn’t whether Annan would throw in the towel, but when.
Annan had been seen as the one figure that could bring Security Council members together to address the crisis in Syria after months of agonizing paralysis. Russia and China had blocked meaningful action on Syria for nearly a year before the Council was able to adopt even watered down measures on Syria. But the United States, Britain and France also stand accused of not sufficiently pressing the opposition to negotiate a political solution. As Annan said today, when the Syrian people desperately need action, there continues to be finger pointing and name calling in the Security Council. In the meantime, the killing and crimes under international law have continued, and go on to this day.
To be fair, Annan was given an impossible job. He was sent in to make up for the failure of political will within the international community, and in particular of the Security Council. In 2011, that body took relatively quick action, ostensibly to protect civilians in Ivory Coast and, most spectacularly, in Libya. There was some talk at the time of those interventions that the Security Council was finally putting people before politics.
Such a suggestion was optimistic even then, but after 17 months of executions, torture, repression and all manner of human rights violations in Syria, it seems almost criminally naïve now. For one thing, the ongoing crisis in Syria proves that Security Council members, and particularly the permanent ones, are still guided primarily by political and strategic considerations, despite the lofty talk out of some capitals. This isn’t necessarily sinister, but it need not, by the same token, relegate concern and action to protect civilians and their human rights to a secondary plane.
The Security Council’s failure has been collective, yet this doesn’t mean that all members share responsibility equally. Russia and China, in particular, have doggedly shielded the Bashar al-Assad government from the beginning of the crisis. They parroted the regime’s line from very early on that the opposition – overwhelmingly peaceful at the beginning – was no more than a terrorist conspiracy guided from abroad.
The increasing repression from the government has been met with armed resistance, and some elements fighting the security forces are now reported to be committing war crimes, as the recent alleged unlawful killings of more than a dozen members of the al-Berri clan demonstrate.
Sadly, there will be no shortage of violations and crimes to account for in Syria – and this is one area on which the members of the Security Council could come to some agreement. Amnesty International has been calling on the Council to bring the situation in Syria before the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, who would be able to look at allegations of crimes committed by all sides. This would be at least some tangible evidence that political calculation won’t always be allowed to trump human rights, even when they are those of people very far away from most of us.