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UN, Arabs whitewash Assad’s atrocities and instead blame … guess who?

If the Saudis are so concerned about the Palestinians, why are they rushing to embrace a dictator whose regime has killed thousands of them?

Syrian President Bashar Assad. Credit: Harold Escalona/Shutterstock.
Syrian President Bashar Assad. Credit: Harold Escalona/Shutterstock.
Bassam Tawil

The League of Arab States, which represents 22 member countries, has spent several decades issuing statements of condemnation against Israel. Each time Israel launches a counterterrorism operation in response to Palestinian terrorism, including rockets fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel and shootings, stabbings and car-rammings, it is denounced. The Israeli government is also condemned by the LAS each time it approves the construction of housing units for Jewish families in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank.

The same League of Arab States, however, has no problem embracing an Arab president whose regime has killed hundreds of thousands of Arabs, including Palestinians and Syrians, since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011.

Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria, 4,214 Palestinians have been killed; another 3,076 Palestinians are being held in prisons belonging to the Syrian regime, while another 333 others have gone missing, according to the Action Group For Palestinians Of Syria, a London-based human rights watchdog group that monitors the situation of Palestinian refugees in Syria.

About 400,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria have been displaced as a result of the war, The United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) revealed:

“The majority of the 438,000 Palestinian refugees remaining in Syria have been displaced at least once within Syria—with some having been displaced multiple times—and over 95 percent of them remain in continuous need of humanitarian aid to meet their basic needs…. Up to 280,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria are currently displaced inside Syria, with a further 120,000 displaced to neighboring countries, including Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and increasingly, to Europe.

“There are 31,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Many of them have been pushed into a precarious and marginalized existence due to their uncertain legal status and face limited social protection.”

Last year, the United Nations Human Rights Council estimated that 306,887 civilians were killed during the civil war in Syria. Syrian opposition groups estimate that a total of 613,407 people were killed. The most violent year of the conflict was 2015, when about 110,000 people were killed. Half of the war’s victims died between 2013 and 2015, according to the Council.

The League of Arab States, remembered for its rejectionist 1967 “Three No’s” resolution (no to peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with Israel), has effectively whitewashed Syrian President Bashar Assad’s atrocities against his own people and Palestinians. In May, Arab foreign ministers agreed to reinstate Syria’s membership in the LAS after its suspension more than 10 years ago. Later, Assad was invited to attend the LAS Summit in Saudi Arabia’s port city of Jeddah.

Assad, in his speech before the Arab heads of state, ironically expressed hope that the summit would mark “the beginning of a new phase of Arab action for solidarity among us, for peace in our region, development and prosperity instead of war and destruction.”

Here is an Arab leader, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Arabs and the displacement of millions more, preaching about “peace, development and prosperity.”

Saudi Arabia played a significant role in welcoming the Assad regime back to the League of Arab States. The Saudis have shown that they prefer to make peace with Assad than normalize their relations with Israel. Drastically cooling years of diplomatic efforts, the Saudis insist that until a Palestinian state has been established, the kingdom will not normalize ties with Israel. If the Saudis are so concerned about the Palestinians, why are they rushing to embrace an Arab dictator whose regime has killed thousands of Palestinians?

Days after Syria was welcomed to rejoin the LAS, the very same organization called on the international community to “intervene to end Israel’s violations against Palestinian children and ensure the protection of their rights.”

Before Syria was officially welcomed back to the LAS, Assad was invited to the United Arab Emirates, where he was received by Emirati royalty with full honors as “a group of honor guards lined up to salute his excellency.”

It is not as though Assad has expressed any contrition whatsoever or admitted an iota of responsibility—whether currently or throughout his rampage of atrocities against his own people. “I did my best to protect the people. I cannot feel guilty when you do your best. You feel sorry for the lives that have been lost. But you don’t feel guilty when you don’t kill people. So it’s not about guilty,” he claimed, astonishingly, in a Barbara Walters interview in 2011.

With no apparent preconditions for Assad, the League of Arab States is turning its back on more than 500,000 dead Syrians, nearly seven million Syrian refugees and 13 million displaced Syrians.

There had not been any significant repercussions for Assad until then U.S. President Donald Trump authorized the bombing of Syrian chemical weapons facilities in 2018 and signed the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act legislating international sanctions against Syria’s murderous regime in 2019.

The United Nations adopted “special procedures” resolutions decrying “unilateral coercive measures” in September 2014 (about three months after Assad’s farcical reelection and attempted image rehabilitation), and again in October 2020 (almost immediately following the United States’ institution of the Caesar Act sanctions). It seems odd that a human rights body such as the United Nations would need to take “special procedures” to countermand a “civilian protection act.”

Along with these procedures, the U.N. appointed Alena Douhan as Special Rapporteur for assessing the humanitarian situation in Syria.

Douhan, in her reports to the United Nations, rails against the negative impact of sanctions on Syria, but seems less specific about humanitarian issues and more concerned with defining legal terminology:

“Unilateral coercive measures have been defined by the Human Rights Council in its resolutions 27/21 and 45/5. These encompass economic and political measures imposed by one or a group of States to coerce another State into subordination of the exercise of its sovereign rights, with a view to securing some specific change in its policy.”

This would be the very definition of sanctions. According to Douhan, the sanctioning countries, including the United States, would be interfering in Syria’s right to murder its own people en masse. That would, indeed, be attempting to secure a very specific change in its policy. Wouldn’t not chemically burning entire villages of civilians to death be a better human rights policy?

Unsurprisingly, the United Nations seized upon Douhan’s policy-making prowess to tack the subject of “Unilateral Coercive Measures” (UCMs) onto Israel. Douhan requested reports from Palestinian NGOs such as “Palestinian Centre for Human Rights,” which warmed to the newly minted legal terminology and promptly submitted reports such as, “Impact of Israeli Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Right to Health of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”

According to the U.N.’s Douhan, in yet another report, it is not Assad who should be held accountable and punished with sanctions. It is not Assad who has destroyed Syria’s infrastructure with bombing, murder, and overall devastation, but rather:

“Israeli settlements… in the occupied Syrian Golan…. [have] limited the Syrian population’s access to land and water, in violation of their rights to adequate housing, food and health…. The report also contained recommendations [that]… The international community should put in place punitive measures to put an end to these crimes. All dealings with settlers, settlements and the incumbent [Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] should cease.”

The United Nations’ concern over the Syrian people’s rights to land and housing is commendable, but where was its outcry when Assad gave a quiet 30 days’ notice to the seven million refugees scattered across the Middle East and beyond to prove ownership of their homes and property or to forfeit ownership?

Assad’s “Law 10” land grab, where, Salon Syria reports, his government “…liquidate[d] their titles and seize[d] their holdings…. using the law to seize the homes of opposition supporters and give them to its own support base [including selling them to foreign investors],” was met with not a whisper of protest by the United Nations.

Diametrically opposed to its tacit approval of Assad’s land seizures is the United Nations’ obsession with the Palestinian refugees and their “right of return.” Although U.N. resolution 194 would ostensibly pertain to the right of all refugees to return to their land of birth, if they will “live at peace with their neighbors,” there seems to be little effort in pursuing this in practice for Syrian refugees.

The U.N.’s prioritizing the Palestinian refugees over the seven million Syrian refugees is incomprehensible, stinks of hypocrisy and seems yet another symptom of how corruptly the United Nations betrays its own sanctimonious determinations.

Why doesn’t the United Nations open an entirely new agency solely for Syrian refugees as it did for the Palestinians through UNRWA?

That move, though, seems highly unlikely in light of this year’s UN World Refugee Day report. Four of its six paragraphs railed about, “the Nakba—the event that shattered Palestinian lives… for generations, tracing back to 1947… As the largest and most protracted displaced population since World War II”—thereby completely negating the Syrian refugees, as well as many others.

According to Amnesty International:

“In 2019, more than two-thirds of all refugees came from just five countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar. Syria has been the main country of origin for refugees since 2014 and at the end of 2019, there were 6.6 million Syrian refugees….”

The Palestinians were not even mentioned.

The Syrians are one of many peoples taking a backseat to Palestinians. An Arab News headline from last month reads: “Sudan war uproots 2.5 million, U.N. says, as bodies line Darfur streets.” The ensuing article says: “The U.N. has spoken of possible ‘crimes against humanity’ in Darfur, where the conflict has ‘taken an ethnic dimension.'”

The Sudanese regime responsible for the ongoing massacre, for instance, sits, along with a majority of non-democratic states, on the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The United Nations freely admits that:

“The League of Arab States (LAS) shares a common mission with the United Nations (UN): promoting peace, security and stability by preventing conflict, resolving disputes and acting in a spirit of solidarity and unity…. building their engagement through capacity-building exercises and staff exchanges. The Security Council also has sought to strengthen interaction with the LAS….”

With such chummy comradery between these two organizations, including interchangeable staff, it is not a wonder that the United Nations has strategically placed despotic regimes in its councils and—as demonstrated in resolution after resolution—taken such an aggressively biased stance against Israel.

Mirroring the United Nations’ bizarre version of events and culpability, only three months before embracing the murderous Assad, the Assistant Secretary General of the LAS denounced “the international community’s silence and apathy toward… the occupied Palestinian territories…. [holding] prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu fully responsible for… an Israeli siege for more than a week…. the international community [must]… utilize all means to put an immediate end to the Israeli regime’s blatant aggression,” Iran’s Tasnim News reported.

After 12 years of what then U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013 called the “moral obscenity” of Assad’s “indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons,” the United Nations decries sanctions against the Assad regime, and the Arab League embraces Assad with great honor and not a word of censure.

The outrageous hypocrisy and double-standards of the Arab countries and the United Nations is astonishing—and unacceptable. The League of Arab States pretends to care about its fellow Arabs, while its good friend, the United Nations, purports to care about human rights.

“Why has this [U.N.] Council chosen silence?” U.N. Watch’s Hillel Neuer asked.

“Because Israel could not be blamed. Because, in truth, the despots who run this Council couldn’t care less about Palestinians, or about any human rights. They seek to demonize Israeli democracy, to delegitimize the Jewish state, to scapegoat the Jewish people. They also seek something else: To distort and pervert the very language and idea of human rights.”

Originally published by the Gatestone Institute.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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