United Over Syria? Not Exactly.

The violence in Syria continues, with countries are reacting to Friday’s Houla massacre. Blamed on terrorists by the government, activist and eyewitness sources are reporting that army shelling and attacks by militia loyal to the regime were responsible for the death toll of at least 108.

The situation in Syria, a result of last year’s Arab Spring, is deteriorating day by day. Journalists are essentially banned from the country, and humanitarian aid is restricted. In the wake of the Houla massacre 13 countries have now asked Syrian diplomats to leave in what appears to have been a coordinated effort. But what is the UN doing? Surely this is the situation where an organisation of ‘United Nations’ would be very helpful indeed?

Maj Gen Robert Mood, the head of the observer mission the UN sent into Syria, commented on the discovery of bodies with their hands tied behind their backs, saying that he is “deeply disturbed by this appalling and inexcusable act”.

While the situations are by no means the same, there are parallels between what is happening in Syria and what was happening in Libya before the NATO intervention. However, then, like now, the members of the UN Security Council, whose unanimous vote would be required for any UN-backed intervention in Syria, are not agreed on any future action. Russia have confirmed that they oppose any intervention in Syria. This, however, is not surprising. China and Russia, who both have the power to veto UN resolutions, have both rejected previous proposed sanctions against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Both countries also abstained from the vote on intervention in Libya in March 2011. It looks like, then, if intervention is to be carried out, it would require the consent of Russia and China. Given their history of criticising the infringement of the sovereign soil of another country, a vote for intervention is unlikely; the only other option is abstention, which remains a possibility.

Russia have confirmed that they oppose any intervention in Syria.

It is still technically possible for a diplomatic solution to be agreed between the UN and Syria. Kofi Annan, UN Envoy to the Arab League, has said that discussions have reached a “tipping point”. However in his talks with Syrian President Assad the President restated his belief that the majority of the deaths should be blamed on the rebels. With the leader of the regime responsible for the violence still denying culpability, a solution of words seems, regrettably, unlikely for the present.

With the UN failing to unite over Syria, onlookers are puzzled. How far the violence will progress before the killing is halted one way or another remains to be seen. As always, keep an eye on the news.

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