On Tuesday, the third committee of the UN General Assembly passed three non-binding resolutions condemning alleged human rights violations and free speech restrictions in specific countries – Iran, Syria and North Korea. Though non-binding resolutions cannot become law and technically carry no legal weight, they are seen as expressing the UN’s approval or disapproval regarding a specific situation. A similar resolution condemning the human rights situations in all three countries had previously been passed by the General Assembly in 2013.
The passage of the resolution regarding North Korea was unusual in that, in a departure from normal procedure, the committee adopted the resolution without a vote. The resolution specifically condemned the North Korean government for diverting resources to its military — namely its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs — instead of providing aid to its population. The representative of the North Korean government at the United Nations called the resolution “a product of the political and military confrontation and plot conspiracy of the United Nations and other hostile forces.”
The most heavily debated of the UN resolutions was that targeting Syria, as it placed the blame for the deaths of 400,000 Syrian civilians squarely on the shoulders of the Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad. It further accused the Syrian government of being the sole party responsible for weaponized hunger, use of chemical weapons, and escalated ethno-religious tensions in the country. The resolution was drafted by Canada and co-sponsored by Israel and Saudi Arabia, making it the first time the two former enemies had jointly sponsored a bill.
The resolution also condemned Iranian militias active in Syria, as well as Lebanese Hezbollah — calling on them to leave the country at once, despite the fact that the Syrian government invited these parties to participate in the conflict.
The Syrian delegation asserted that the resolution reflected the “hysteria” of the Saudi government, which had long colluded with Qatar and other nations to destabilize the country and oust Assad from power. Syria further asserted that Saudi Wahabism — the official religion practiced by the country, as well as by religious terrorist groups including Daesh (ISIS) — was a “weapon of mass destruction.”
The Syrian delegation’s concerns that the resolution was politically motivated were supported by the fact that the resolution made no mention of the foreign and foreign-funded extremists who have been documented committing numerous atrocities in Syria throughout the conflict, nor the role foreign governments – such as the U.S., U.K., Israel, Saudi Arabia and others – have played in creating and fostering the current conflict. Despite this and the Syrian delegation’s strong condemnation of the measure, it was ultimately approved by 108 votes in favor to 17 opposed, with 58 abstentions.
Iran’s government was also called out separately in the resolution, which condemned the Islamic Republic for alleged acts of discrimination against women, ethnic and religious minorities, as well as the arbitrary detention of activists, journalists and government critics. The resolution targeting Iran received significantly less support than that aimed at Syria, with 83 votes in favor, 30 opposed, and 68 abstentions.
Iran, for its part, responded fiercely to the resolution’s passage, rejecting it outright and asserting that it not only lacked credibility but was politically motivated. Indeed, the resolution’s approval by the UN body comes amid an increased push by Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Israel’s Western allies to curb “Iranian expansion” and influence in the Middle East. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi also pointed out that the resolution itself had been backed by some of the world’s most notorious human-rights abusers, war criminals, and sponsors of terrorism and violent extremism.
Indeed, Saudi Arabia and Israel — vocal proponents of the resolutions as well as co-sponsors of the resolution targeting Syria — have been instrumental in the war crimes committed within Syria and are notorious human rights violators within their own countries. Despite the clear, documented evidence of their support for terrorist organizations abroad and their repression of minorities domestically, the United Nations condemnation of these two nations has been decidedly muted in comparison to that received by nations that find themselves targeted by the U.S. and its allied states. Ultimately, these latest resolutions provide further evidence that the UN, especially when approaching issues such as human rights, does not scrutinize nations under the same lens.
Top photo | Saudi Arabia’s United Nations Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, left, and Yemen U.N. Ambassador Khaled Hussein Al-Yamani, right, hold a press conference, Nov. 13, 2017 at U.N. headquarters. (AP/Bebeto Matthews)
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