UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly denounced Syria’s crackdown on dissent Friday in a symbolic effort meant to push the deadlocked Security Council and the world at large into action on stopping the country’s civil war.
Before the vote, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon reminded the Assembly of the fresh violence in the city of Aleppo and drew comparisons between the failure to act in Syria with the international community’s failure to protect people from past genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia, and Rwanda.
“The conflict in Syria is a test of everything this organization stands for,” Ban said. “I do not want today’s United Nations to fail that test.”
The vote came after the more powerful Security Council was stopped by a series of Russian and Chinese vetoes on resolutions that would have opened the door to sanctions on Syria.
The General Assembly vote was 133 in support of the resolution and 12 against, with 31 abstaining. Syria’s ambassador angrily called the vote “a piece of theater.”
Though General Assembly resolutions are unenforceable, a strong vote can carry moral weight.
Even so, the resolution’s Arab sponsors this week weakened two key provisions — a demand that President Bashar Assad resign and a call for other nations to place sanctions on Syria.
Russia and China had objected to those provisions. Both voted “no” Friday, along with Syria, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Belarus, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Myanmar, Zimbabwe and Venezuela.
The revised resolution takes a swipe at Russia and China by “deploring the Security Council failure” to act.
Frustration over the lack of action was clear. Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan resigned Thursday as the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria after his peace proposals failed.
Friday’s session rang with accusations over why Annan’s mission failed.
The Syria uprising has left 19,000 dead since it erupted in March 2011. The U.N. estimates that 1.5 million people have been forced to abandon their homes but remain in the country.
“The acts of brutality that are being reported may constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes,” Ban said of the Aleppo fighting. “Such acts must be investigated and the perpetrators held to account.”
The resolution backs Annan’s “demand that the first step in the cessation of violence has to be made by the Syrian authorities.”
It also demands the lockdown of the regime’s chemical and biological weapons. Israel’s Ambassador Ron Prosor said, “We should not pretend that a regime that cuts the throats of children today will not be prepared to gas them tomorrow. Assad must know that he will be held accountable for using these weapons.”
The resolution denounces attacks on children as young as 9 by the Syrian government, military intelligence services and militias. It condemns the increasing Syrian military reliance on heavy weapons, including tanks and helicopters, and “failure to withdraw its troops and heavy weapons to their barracks” in line with Annan’s proposals.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari called the resolution’s main sponsors, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, “despotic oligarchies.”
“The draft resolution will have no impact whatsoever. It is a piece of theater,” he told reporters after the vote. And Iran’s deputy ambassador, Eshagh Alehabib, called the resolution “one-sided.”
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the resolution was not meant to be balanced. The intent, he said, was to issue an unequivocal condemnation of the Syrian regime.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said afterward that a reference in the resolution did amount to a demand for Assad leaving power: “Importantly, the resolution also welcomes the Arab League’s July 22nd decision, which calls for Assad to step down and for a transitional government to be formed.”
On Thursday, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he could not support the General Assembly’s “extremely unbalanced and one-sided resolution.” He said the countries pushing the resolution were providing weapons to armed opposition groups.
The vote came a day after U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the Security Council that U.N. military observers in Aleppo were seeing “a considerable buildup of military means, where we have reason to believe that the main battle is about to start.” The rebels have commandeered tanks, and are bringing them into combat as Syrian warplanes strike back.
The observer mission is in the midst of a 30-day extension of its mandate, which expires on Aug. 19. Extending it would require passage of another resolution in the Security Council.
The mission has been largely kept from its work by the violence, and it is already being cut back, from its original authorized strength of 300 to currently 115 monitors and 80 civilians.