This Friday marks the sixth week of widespread political protests across Syria, where hundreds have been killed on the streets and thousands more are still missing. Shockingly, however, the United Nations Security Council was not able to release even a press statement criticizing the violence in Syria. This stands in stark contrast to the firm international stance taken against Libya, and clearly demonstrates the corruption and inefficiency of the United Nations. Nothing but hypocrisy can explain the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya for humanitarian purposes, and yet not demand a mere utterance against the ongoing slaughter in Syria.
The current president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, is determined to remain in power despite the raging protests within his borders calling for his removal. The unrest, which has only grown in recent weeks, has been met with brutal violence in a desperate attempt to quash dissent. In recent days the epicenter of killing has shifted to the southern town of Dara’a, which has subsequently been besieged, infiltrated with snipers, and disconnected from electricity and water. The situation in Dara’a has deteriorated to the point where civilians cannot leave their homes without fear of coming under gunfire, and rampant supply shortages leave the vast majority in want.
Repressive government rule, though not to the current extremes, is not new in Syria. The last Syrian president, Hafez al-Assad, remained in power for nearly three decades and was responsible for the Hama massacre of 1982, in which he ordered the murder of 10,000 Syrian citizens to quell a Sunni revolt. Now his son is the current president and is only continuing to rule by his father’s authoritarian methodology. For instance, in a 1996 Freedom House report evaluating democratic freedoms, Syria received a seven, the lowest possible mark. The trend of subjugation continues to this day, and in Syria no laws discourage honor killings, fair elections are non-existent, and homosexuality is punishable with three years imprisonment. Freedom of ideas is minimal, and prohibitions against free media, artistic expression, and foreign press are enforced.
Nonetheless, the United Nations Security Council was unable to get the unanimous vote it needed from its members to issue a simple criticism of the Syrian government. This is remarkable, considering the level of violence being used against protesters in Syria and in light of the swift action taken against Libya for seemingly the same injustices. When NATO was debating whether or not to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, one of the primary horrors brought as justification for intervention was the use of snipers against civilians. In Syria, the same reports are being circulated, yet the same outcry has not been heard.
In truth, there is no major humanitarian justification that would warrant intervention in Libya but not in Syria. The reason for the discrepancy is because the U.N. Security Council is an ineffective and corrupt body that presents itself merely as a forum for political factions to align, and to prevent meaningful progress from actually occurring. For one, Lebanon — one of the Council’s current non-permanent members — led the way in blocking a resolution on Syria. Lebanon, which has strong ties to Syria, refused to openly admonish Syria and managed to prevent any resolution from passing. Such a stalemate seems overly bureaucratic and self-defeating for a council given the grave responsibility of maintaining international peace and security.
The U.N. Security Council’s failure is only one of its many recent shortcomings, like last month’s Goldstone Report retraction. Hopefully, the United States and other major international players will decide that real reform is needed in the United Nations so that it can serve its purpose: to protect and ensure world security, prosperity, and human rights. Perhaps recent documentaries exposing the corruption of the U.N., such as Ami Horowitz’s film U.N. Me, can promote real reform. Regardless, the killing of civilians and repression of democracy in Syria deserves harsh criticism, and it is unjust for selfish state diplomacy to block disparagement of brutality.