UNA-USA Promotes Strong U.S.-UN Cooperation on Syria

September 10, 2013|By Ryan Kaminski, Leo Nevas Human Rights Fellow
As the crisis in Syria continues, UNA-USA has been active in supporting robust U.S.-UN engagement on this complex geopolitical issue. A key component of this effort has focused on the UNA-USA Leo Nevas Human Rights Task Force, an advisory group of distinguished citizens knowledgeable and vitally concerned about international human rights and the role of the UN and the U.S. in protecting those rights, created in 2007. While there has been significant discussion over the role of the UN Security Council, it is also important to consider the work of other UN instruments, including the UN’s premier human rights organ, the 47-member Human Rights Council (HRC). Over the last two years, for example, the Task Force—inclusive of former ambassadors, human rights scholars, and UN experts with an intimate understanding of the HRC—has:

  •  Continuously called for the U.S. to exercise bold leadership on the HRC and unequivocally endorsed the successful U.S. bid for reelection to the Council in 2012. Concerning the situation in Syria, the U.S. presence on the Council has helped lay the groundwork for three key multilateral actions:

    • First, the establishment of an Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) to assess human rights violations in Syria by both sides in the conflict, including the potential use of chemical weapons. Since its inception in August 2011, the Commission has comprehensively and systematically documented human rights abuses in the country. Commending the work of the COI, the U.S. Ambassador to the Human Rights Council Eileen Donahoe told UNA-USA’s The InterDependent, “The body of evidence that they [COI members] have preserved will play a very important part in ensuring that there is accountability and justice for the people of Syria.” 
    • Second, the overwhelmingly passage of ten HRC resolutions condemning the ongoing violence in Syria, sending a message to the Syrian regime and the rebels alike that the international community will not stand idly by in the face of rights violations. (The U.S. is also currently collaborating with allies and partners from across the world on a new resolution for the consideration by the HRC in its current session).
    • Third, the enactment of three Council special sessions and an “urgent debate” focused exclusively on the situation in Syria. Together, these meetings have not only helped keep the global spotlight on the situation in Syria, but also supported the initial launch of a Syria-focused Fact-Finding Mission.

  • Awarded the chairman of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Syria, Paulo Sergio Pinhéiro, the Task Force’s highest human rights honor, for his leadership on the Commission. Following the presentation of the award in October 2012, UNA-USA members were invited to a discussion with Pinhéiro moderated by Leo Nevas Human Rights Task Force Chair, Felice Gaer. Members in attendance asked a wide variety of questions ranging from the status of Syrian refugees across the Middle East to what UNA-USA members can do to help.
  • Sent a Task Force letter to Secretary of State Kerry in February 2013 urging the U.S. to “Actively lobby other nations to oppose efforts by those countries who are unambiguously unfit for [Human Rights] Council membership,” including Syria. With some reports suggesting Syria is seeking HRC membership in 2013, the consensus among UN experts and observers is that Damascus is headed for a colossal and embarrassing defeat within UN General Assembly, which elects Council members.
With more than 100,000 dead in Syria and the number of refugees from the conflict rising above 2 million, the situation in the country is as much a tragedy as a challenge to the international community. UNA-USA has been and will continue to be a strong voice for a UN system-wide role in alleviating the humanitarian crisis that has enveloped the nation as well as ensuring accountability for violations of universal human rights.

Labels: Advocacy

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