India’s explanation of vote delivered by Ambassador Asoke Kumar Mukerji, Permanent Representative of India to UN at the General Assembly Resolution on Syria
India remains deeply connected at the unabated violence in Syria and the suffering it continue to cause to the Syrian people. The military approach pursued by various sides to the conflict has undermined the efforts for a political solution to the crisis. Violence has assumed a serious sectarian nature, and terrorist groups, including al Qaida, have entrenched themselves. All these developments will have long-term repercussions for national, regional and international peace and security. Reports on the alleged use of chemical weapons are also deeply worrying.
2. We strongly condemn all violence in Syria as well as all violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, irrespective of who their perpetrators are. We condemn all attacks directed at women and children, civilians, UN peacekeepers and public institutions and infrastructure. We also condemn in the strongest terms possible all terrorist acts that have been and continue to be committed in Syria.
3. We are particularly concerned that UN peacekeepers have been repeatedly targeted by rebel groups and taken hostage, including on two occasions in the recent past. This is completely unacceptable. It is imperative that the sanctity of United Nations peacekeepers be respected by all sides. A clear signal must sent by the United Nations that such acts will not be tolerated and will attract the full weight of the international community against the perpetrators.
4. Since the beginning of he crisis in Syria, India has consistently called on all parties to abjure violence, dissociate themselves from terrorist groups, and pursue a peaceful and inclusive political process to address the grievances of all sections of Syrian society. We have also contributed to mitigate the humanitarian impact of the crisis by providing assistance worth US$ 2.5 million.
5. We believe that the Joint Communique of the Geneva Group adopted in June 2012 provides a good basis for resolution of the Syrian crisis through a Syrian-led political process that respects Syria’s independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty, involves all sections of Syrian society and meets their legitimate aspirations. The task of the international community, anchored in the United Nations, is to assist the Syrian parties in this process, without pre-judging its outcome. Also, it is important that further militarization of the conflict, including support for terrorist and armed groups, ceases forthwith.
6. These are the principles that have guided our consideration of the draft that the Assembly has just voted upon. Whether a group, any group, is the legitimate representative of the Syrian people or not can only be determined by the Syrian people, not this Assembly. Therefore certain provisions of this resolution can be interpreted as effecting regime change by sleight of hand. This is a dangerous precedent which we cannot acquiesce in. We would once again reiterate our position that the leadership of Syria is a matter for Syrians to decide themselves.
7. As we have said earlier, unilateral action of any kind will not resolve the crisis. It will only exacerbate the problem and cause greater instability and violence even beyond Syria’s borders. We think that following the settlement of the conflict, Syrians themselves should establish accountability for crimes committed by Syria. This cannot be done by outsiders. We also believe that promotion of political dialogue requires engagement with all parties concerned, and calls for boycott of the government and support of the opposition will not help. Due to these shortcomings, Mr. President, we have abstained on the resolution.
8. India remains committed to support the efforts of the United Nations, including Joint Special Representative Lakdhar Brahimi, to resolve the Syrian crisis expeditiously through inclusive political dialogue among Syrian parties. We also welcome the recent decision by the Russian Federation and the United States to convene a meeting of the Action Group with the Syrian parties, and hope that all sides will engage seriously, realistically and unconditionally to resolve the crisis in the interests of the Syrian people, the region and the larger international community.
The UN’s Webcast of GA proceedings is here. India’s EoV, offered by Hardeep Puri begins at 1:00:41. The resolution adopted by the Arab League on 22 July 2012 - the UNGA draft’s reference to which is cited by India as the primary reason for abstaining - is here.
This is essentially a throwback to India’s position circa February 2012, when the first draft on Syria this year was presented at the UN Security Council. Props to our Mission for negotiating a watered down draft - going by reports, the initial text explicitly endorsed regime change and sanctions, which invariably would have led to Ch. VII measures under Art. 42 at the Council.
That said, the Indian position now has become quite fuzzy, to put it mildly. I’m not sure what we were gunning for when endorsing the last UNSC draft; that resolution backed Article 41 measures which may include the severance of diplomatic relations. Yet, in the GA India claimed today that “unilateral” actions which call for cutting off such ties are not warranted.
Rather than restating its known position at the GA, India should have invested its time in explaining this abstention specifically.
I’m on the fly now, more on this in detail later.
EoV of the Day goes to Guyana (A) - ”primary responsibility falls on Syrian authorities for cessation of violence and attacks against civilians […] but the international community cannot turn a blind eye to armed attacks by opposition groups and terrorist elements […]” this resolution raises the concern of “undue partiality to an amorphous and unknown opposition.”
My confreres at Opinio Juris tell me that Harold Koh, Legal Adviser to the State Department, has given OJ the text of his address on Syria at the on-going annual meetings of the American Society of International Law (ASIL) with a request to post it. The speech was (updated) on-the record event; the text is [now] up at OJ, and here is the opening:
Statement Regarding Syria
Harold Hongju Koh
Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State
American Society of International Law Annual Meeting
March 30, 2012
It is my honor to speak here again at the annual meeting of the American Society of International Law. A year ago, I spoke before this audience about the international legal basis for the United States’ military operations in Libya. In that same spirit of openness and dialogue, I am grateful for the opportunity to engage so many distinguished international lawyers in this room about the very serious challenges we face in Syria today.
Let me divide my comments this morning into three: First, what, precisely, is happening in Syria? Second, what are the U.S. government and the international lawyers within it doing to address the crisis? And third, by what legal principles should this crisis be assessed and lawfully and effectively addressed?
Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, the PM’s former MidEast Envoy, and I debated the Indian response to the Syrian crisis in the op-ed pages of The Hindu today. I thank Amb. Gharekhan for taking the time and effort to respond to my assertions. Here are my thoughts on his rejoinder and queries posed therein.
Both Arun Mohan Sukumar and I agree that India’s vote was correct, but we seem to disagree on the rationale for the vote.
True. More importantly, our differing interpretations lead us to vastly divergent policy prescriptions. Amb. Gharekhan espoused a policy of non/dual alignment with Iran and Saudi Arabia, which at the end of the day, is no different from India’s traditional posture. I suggested India take a more active role to steer the crisis back to where it should be resolved, the UN.
He believes that in voting for the resolution, India set aside its geopolitical interests; I believe it is precisely these interests which dictated India’s vote, though it feels good to justify a vote as support for some principles.
Amb. Gharekhan is correct. Perhaps I should’ve rephrased to say “India set aside its established position”. That said, negotiating with BRICS to get a mandate for Syria at the UN is only going to strengthen India’s claim to a permanent seat. It reflects India’s commitment towards making the UN work, on which aspersions have been cast lately. Voting with the West may satisfy the sponsors of this Resolution, but other nations should be convinced as well that India has the temerity (if you will) to engage a crisis of this magnitude. I think Amb. Gharekhan is too quick to dismiss my argument as based solely on a moral or principled standpoint. It is not true to say that acting on the basis of moral conviction, as in the case of Syria, will yield little in terms of India’s national interest.
He talks of a Syrian-led transition. Is there such a thing? Is the negotiating process with the Taliban an Afghan-led process? Was the Libyan transition?
Both examples cited by Amb. Gharekhan are ones where military intervention was the first choice. Naturally, Afghanistan and Libya neither have the capability nor political will to broker a solution among internal stakeholders. This is exactly where Syria is headed. Supply of arms spills over to military intervention and there will be little scope for an organic transition.
The UN resolution - endorsing the Arab League proposal - tried to prevent this. As I’ve written, the backdoor for regime change was left open, and while that is no panacea to Syria’s crisis, it would’ve set the stage for what Nasr has called “Assadism without Assad”.
Sukumar does not seem to approve of the “Friends of Syria” forum. Does this mean that if India decides to join it, he would disapprove?
Yes, of course. In fact, reports from the Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis seem to suggest India has a representative in attendance. This is disappointing news. Having many nations in its corner may make Friends of Syria multilateral in letter, but not in spirit. The concept is no different from Bush’s invocation of a “coalition of the willing.” India’s acquiescence sends out the signal that it is willing to let other nations undercut the UN for crisis resolution when there is no consensus at the Security Council. If New Delhi had the muscle to pull it off, sure, this could be attractive. But not for a nation that aspires to permanence in the same entity it is sidestepping now.
I am not at all persuaded that if the Security Council resolution had been allowed to pass with abstentions by Russia and China, it would have acted like a magic wand and prevented sectarian violence.
Suppose that the Resolution had been passed. Given that Russia and China - two of Syria’s primary arms exporters - were on board (or atleast not standing in the way) Assad would have had to eschew violence or step down. The violence in Syria is reactionary - the Free Syrian Army is not on the offensive, but trying to consolidate its strength. Sectarian discontent would likely be prevalent even if Assad steps down, but it is difficult to foresee the present scale of violence had the Resolution come through.