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As Situation in Syria Worsens, U.S. Embassy in Damascus Closes

In a shocking display of support for President Assad’s useof violence against civilians, Russia and China vetoed a Security Councilresolution designed to end the atrocities in Syria. Russia and China were theonly Security Council members who did not vote for the resolution, which had supportfrom a variety of countries including India, Morocco, Pakistan, and SouthAfrica. The defeat of the resolution against Syria is a dark moment for thepeople of Syria, as the vetoes from Russia and China may embolden the Syriangovernment to continue its ongoing attacks on civilians. PHR has documented violations of medical neutrality [pdf] in Syria –attacks which represent a sliver of Assad’s assault on Syria’s civilianpopulation.

The veto does not preclude the Security Council from passinga new resolution against Syria in the future, which must include not only supportfor the Arab League’s plan to end the violence but also a referral of thesituation to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The report of theIndependent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, a Commission set upby the Human Rights Council, indicated that human rights violations includingtorture, killings, sexual violence, and unlawful detention were widespread andsystematic. The results of this investigation, coupled with reports from myriadhuman rights organizations, indicate that the Syrian government is committingcrimes against humanity – offenses that fall under the mandate of the ICC. Sincethe Commission’s report was released in November, there has been no effort onthe part of the Syrian government to cooperate with Arab League observers toend the violence nor to abide by its international legal obligations to endhuman rights violations, punish perpetrators, and provide reparation tovictims. Instead, the Assad regime has chosen to continue its campaign ofkillings, torture, detention, and other acts of violence geared towardpolitical opposition and other civilians.

The worsening situation in Syria is reflected in today’sdecision by the U.S. government to close its Embassy in Damascus. Although thismove does not signal the severing of relations between the U.S. and Syria, sucha decision reflects the gravity of the ongoing situation.

As the situation in Syria devolves, Russia and China shouldsee that they have chosen the wrong side of history. When the Security Councilattempts to pass another resolution on Syria, Russia and China will haveanother chance to get it right. They can recover some of their own legitimacyby taking a stand against Assad’s criminality and joining others in the pursuitof peace and accountability.