Lara Yeo

Research Associate

Response to Violence in Syria: Why the UN Security Council Presidential Statement Matters

UN Security Council

On Wednesday the Security Council released a presidential statement concerning Syria  by Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri of India, who is the acting President of the Council this month. The statement calls upon Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to implement democratic reforms, demanding a peaceful Syrian-led transformation of government from one that perpetrates crimes against humanity to one that respects and protects fundamental rights and freedoms, such as the freedoms of expression and assembly.

The statement is the first formal UN document to condemn the violence and gross human rights violations that have occurred in Syria since March. The statement calls for:

  1. The full respect and protection of fundamental rights and freedoms;
  2. Humanitarian workers to have access to the Syrian people;
  3. The full cooperation of the Assad regime with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights;
  4. Calls upon the UN Secretary General to provide a report to the Council in seven days with an update on government actions in Syria.

This is an important first step towards substantive UN action in Syria and comes after months of pressure from the international community.

On-going Violence in Syria: Time for UN Action

Anticipating more protest activity, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government forces engaged in its most violent assault against civilians before the dawn of the holy month of Ramadan on Sunday July 31st. Remarks from UN representatives and renewed media attention have followed since the resurgence of government-directed violence in Syria has led to the deaths of many civilians during one of the holiest times on the Islamic calendar.

The crackdown led to an unknown number of dead and wounded civilians, adding to the ever increasing death-toll since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in mid-March. International journalists, independent human rights organizations and representatives connected to the mandated UN fact-finding mission in Syria are all banned from entering the country. In light of these restrictions, the number of dead and wounded in Syria since March is estimated to be just under 2,000 people, but cannot be confirmed.

Al-Assad's public support and defense of his government's most recent acts of violence illustrate the mounting threat against his regime, as well as the brutal and unquenchable violence he is willing to support against the Syrian people.  

The United Nations' inaction continues to be questioned.

The Return of the Global Gag Rule in the House

As Melissa Kaplan wrote in her most recent blog post, “the madness continues…,” as UN funding was slashed in the House Appropriations subcommittee yesterday during the mark up of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill.  The Foreign Relations Authorization Act (H.R. 2583) and State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill detract from U.S. diplomacy and development efforts by cutting UN funding and State Department funds for foreign assistance programs, as well as by strengthening the slew of restrictions that are attached to foreign aid and UN-designated dollars.

The Global Gag Rule, also called the “Mexico City Policy,” or “Mexico City Gag Rule” is one such example of a partisan restriction on international aid funds inserted in the Act and bill. The policy prohibits international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive US funds to advocate for, assist in, or perform abortions. In sum, international NGOs that receive U.S. funds are not able to offer any services—even if they are funded by non-U.S. dollars—that relate to abortion as a method of family planning. This policy is criticized for restricting the freedoms of international health practitioners, social workers and counselors from providing comprehensive family planning services, and enforcing partisan American values overseas upon those desperately in need of health care.

The Global Gag Rule is highly charged partisan policy that has been introduced and rescinded over the last thirty years based on the party affiliation of the President. Reagan first introduced it in 1984; Clinton rescinded it in 1993; George W. Bush reinitiated the policy as an executive order when he first took office in 2001; and Obama most recently rescinded the policy in January 2009.