Arab League May Seek UN Vote on Syria That Russia Can’t Veto

The Arab League may seek approval in the United Nations’ 193-member General Assembly of its plan for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside, after Russia vetoed the initiative in the Security Council, UN diplomats said.

The 22-member League, which has suspended Syria and imposed economic sanctions on the country, is looking for fresh ways to intensify pressure on Assad and may seek a vote in the General Assembly by Feb. 17, according to two senior UN diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because plans haven’t been made final.

Failure by the UN’s decision-making body to deliver international condemnation of Assad’s deadly crackdown on protesters has left his neighbors and their Western allies with dwindling options on how to end a conflict that the UN estimates has killed more than 5,400 people since it began in March last year.

The Arab League plans to meet on Feb. 12 in Cairo to discuss next steps. No official was made available in the Arab League office in New York to respond to questions about plans at the UN.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, the official estimating the growing number of deaths in Syria, will brief the General Assembly on Feb. 13 on developments in the country. She is advocating that the Security Council authorize an investigation of whether Assad and other Syria leaders should face war crimes prosecution for using military forces to thwart the popular uprising against the regime.

‘Very Strong Message’

“We believe, and we’ve said it and we’ll keep repeating it, that the case of Syria belongs in the International Criminal Court,” her spokesman, Rupert Colville, said today in Geneva. “This would give a very, very strong message to those running the show.”

Syria government forces have killed more than 300 people in the city of Homs since Feb. 3, Human Rights Watch said yesterday, calling for the regime to stop shelling residential areas.

“No adequate medical assistance is available to the victims due to a blockade of the city by government forces and fear of arrest if treated at government-controlled hospitals,” Human Rights Watch said on its website, citing eyewitnesses.

Resolutions passed in the General Assembly, where every member state has one vote and no vetoes apply, have less standing because they are non-binding. Only the 15-member Security Council can authorize sanctions and even military action, as happened with Libya.

Human Rights Violations

On Dec. 19, the General Assembly passed, with 133 votes in favor, a condemnation of human rights violations by Assad’s security forces. Among the 11 votes in opposition was Iran, Syria’s last steadfast ally in the Middle East. Russia was among 43 nations abstaining.

A similar show of support for the Arab League peace plan -- more than a two-thirds majority -- would highlight Russia’s isolation in the international community, according to the diplomats who are involved in the discussions. It also would lay the groundwork for a new resolution at the Security Council to approve a joint UN and Arab League monitoring mission tied to political benchmarks set out by the regional body, they said.

A Jan. 22 Arab League plan called for Assad to hand power to a deputy within two months. For Russia, which sells weapons to Syria and has a naval base there, that was an endorsement of regime change and formed the basis of its veto of a Feb. 4 draft resolution that “fully supports” political transition in Syria.

Civil War

With the collapse of efforts at the UN to end the bloodshed in Syria, Assad’s security forces have continued killing civilians, raising the prospect of civil war as the opposition arms itself in the effort to forcibly end his rule.

In the city of Aleppo, at least 28 people have been killed and 175 wounded in bombs targeting a military security branch and police headquarters, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported today.

Efforts are under way outside of the UN for ways to tackle the spiraling violence the Syria. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is in Washington to consult Feb. 13 with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on efforts to organize a ‘Friends of Syria’’ group, a coalition of countries that support the idea of a democratic Syria.

To contact the reporters on this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson in United Nations at fjackson@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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