Over the past week, the United Nations witnessed a remarkable four days. First, there was Malala's historical appearance, with the 16 year old celebrating her birthday, and the mere fact of having survived, from the podium of the UN General Assembly. Malala said of the Taliban, who tried to kill her in order to silence her ambitions on education, that they were the ones who were afraid, "afraid of books and pens," as she put it. "The power of education frightens them," Malala continued; "they are afraid of women, and the power of the voice of women frightens them. They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed. Nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power, and courage was born".
Meanwhile, 6,561 Syrian children would have wished they too had survived, instead of falling victim to air raids and ballistic missiles rained down on them by the Syrian regime, according to the UN. Some were also the victims of war crimes committed by both the extremists in the armed opposition and the government in horrendous massacres. UN agencies this week presented harrowing reports about the humanitarian situation in Syria, as well as about the refugees' conditions and the impact of their displacement on neighboring countries, in a session called by Australia and Luxemburg to address the Syrian issue from a humanitarian perspective. This comes after Russia and China prevented the Security Council from dealing with the political and security facets of the Syrian crisis, despite the fact that it poses a grave threat to regional peace and security.
The third remarkable event of the week was the celebration, at the UN, of an exceptional man who inspired the whole world, and who continues to do so while clinging to life on his deathbed. His friends, such as former President Bill Clinton, celebrated the man and his life, as an inspirational symbol everywhere. The fourth notable event of the week was the move by the Security Council to convene a public session to discuss the international community's responsibility to protect journalists and hold accountable those who would suppress their freedom, threaten their lives, and murder them with impunity. But perhaps an important issue that the Security Council should have paused to consider thoroughly, instead of cursorily out of fear of a confrontation with Russia and China, involves Iran's actions including launching missiles and supplementing weapons and fighters to Syria, both directly and through its proxy Hezbollah. Tehran has once again been left without monitoring or accountability, while it violates a binding Security Council resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
Another significant development at the UN will be the arrival of the new US Ambassador replacing Susan Rice, who was appointed as National Security Adviser. Samantha Power, who has yet to receive confirmation from Congress, has been a very close adviser to President Barack Obama for many years. She crossed into the world of politics and decision-making because of her powerful stances against genocide in former Yugoslavia, and has put herself forward as the prime defender of human rights and a staunch advocate of prosecuting those who commit such crimes. She was once accused of not siding with Israel, and has thus made sure this time, before she takes her post at the UN, to present herself not just as a defender of Israel, but as one who is angry at the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council for issuing resolutions criticizing Israel.
While appearing before Congress this week, Samantha Power pledged to exert her utmost efforts to lobby for granting Israel a seat at the Security Council. At the same time, she promised that she would strongly oppose any attempt made by the Palestinian Authority to seek recognition for Palestine statehood in UN organs and agencies. This comes after Samantha Power apologized, and reportedly wept as well, to Jewish American leaders for her past criticism of Israel and its "major human rights violations," and for previously calling for decisive actions against Israel, even if this were to anger the Jewish community. This time, warmly welcomed by members of the US Senate, Power has proved that she has renounced her past and now views her new position at the United Nations from the perspective of defending her country's ally Israel and opposing any attempt by the Palestinians to seek recognition for the State of Palestine. "We need to deter the Palestinians in any way we can - and we need to get their attention," Power asserted. And when asked about whether she would support Israel's efforts to be admitted as a representative of the Western European group of countries, which would allow it for the first time in the history of the UN to be nominated for a seat at the Security Council, Power replied "absolutely," adding that "I commit to you wholeheartedly to go on offense, as well as playing defense on the legitimation of Israel."
The ambassadors of UN member-states will thus become divided into two camps. The first will view Samantha Power as fickle and unreliable, having turned on her own principles and caring most about her personal interests and political ambitions. The other camp will say that she was forced to take stances that would satisfy US Senate members and Jewish leaders, and that she will adapt once again to the new facts she will face as the representative of the United States at the United Nations. Regardless of the views of this or that camp, Samantha Power coming to the UN will represent a noteworthy event, because she is the mysterious woman who has raised human rights and fighting genocide as an ethical slogan, and yet did not raise this weapon in the face of everything that is happening in Syria and remained silent on this issue.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, stated before the Security Council last week, "We have not seen a refugee outflow escalate at such a frightening rate since the Rwandan genocide almost 20 years ago". The mere thought of such a comparison is horrifying. He said that displacement in Syria since the beginning of the year had reached an average rate of 6,000 people a day. This means that two-thirds of refugees from Syria, numbering around 1.8 million people, were displaced since the beginning of the year. This is horrifying not just because of the deterioration it reflects at the military level, but also because of what it implies, in terms of a humanitarian disaster for refugees and of serious threats for the neighboring countries that are hosting those refugees, led by Lebanon and Jordan. UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos stated that "this is a regional crisis not a crisis in Syria with regional consequences, requiring sustained and comprehensive engagement from the international community," because "the security, economic, political, social, development and humanitarian consequences of this crisis are extremely grave." There are 6.8 million Syrians in need of urgent help, in addition to 1.8 million of refugees in neighboring countries. Yet in spite of this, Russia and China are preventing the Security Council from issuing even a mere statement on these horrifying facts.
Five thousand people are killed every month in Syria. This is what UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said. More than 93 thousand is the official total death toll that could be ascertained by the agency - but it is most likely much higher. However, among the 6,561 children who have been killed, 1,729 were under ten years of age - again, horrifying. Equally horrifying is the fact that massacres are being perpetrated against entire families- mothers and children included. It is horrifying that such massacres are being perpetrated at the hands of the Syrian government and of the extremist armed opposition for confessional reasons. It is horrifying that Pillay's report would state that "government forces carry on with indiscriminate and disproportionate shelling and aerial bombardments, using among other weapons tactical ballistic missiles, cluster and thermobaric bombs." It is horrifying that the Security Council would yield to the Russian-Chinese threat of a fourth veto, and would not even dare to move to embarrass them in the policy of "shaming" the Council had previously adopted. It now submits to its own powerlessness and listens to horrifying reports, after which the ambassadors gather their papers and immediately forget the repeated calls by Navi Pillay "to refer the Syrian crisis to the International Criminal Court" because "war crimes, crimes against humanity, and gross human rights violations must not go unpunished".
Australia's Ambassador Gary Quinlan and Luxemburg's Ambassador Sylvie Lucas deserve credit for their successful efforts to hold an exceptional session to listen to those horrifying reports. They were thus able to leap over the wall of forbiddance and obstruction which Moscow and Beijing have made their permanent policy, no matter how much the horrifying numbers continue to rise and multiply. They both refused to allow the Iran sanctions committee headed by the Australian Ambassador to mention in its report the information confirmed by its team of experts that Iran had launched a Shahab-3 missile "in violation" of Security Council resolutions. They refused to allow the role played by Iran in Syria, directly or through Hezbollah, to be addressed, although the public statements of Hezbollah's leadership and Iranian officials confirm that Iran is indeed playing such a role and supplying military equipment beyond its borders - which represents a violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
Acting US Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo, who chairs the Security Council for the current month, and British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant spoke in strong terms and presented the kinds of violations of UN Security Council resolutions Iran had committed. Yet they did not put forward any measures, draft resolutions, or additional steps regarding such serious violations of resolutions issued under Chapter VII of the UN Charter -out of fear of the dual veto, according to Washington and London. This is in itself horrifying because it means that Moscow, Tehran, Beijing, Damascus, and Hezbollah have succeeded at subjecting the United States and Britain and frightening them through the Russian-Chinese veto. To be sure, it is unconvincing for the Obama administration to suffice itself with mere rhetoric, stating, as did DiCarlo, that there was a "steady of flow of Iranian arms, military support, advisors, and training to groups in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen, Iraq and beyond" and that "[the Security] Council must tackle with renewed urgency [the issue of such] Iranian military assistance". Thus, without practical steps to follow such an important discourse, the implicit American decision seems to be to submit to the de facto situation, in order to avoid confrontation with Iran, or with Russia and China.
Nothing about the stances taken by Russia and China will change. Indeed, China has resolved to form a strategic alliance with Russia on the issues of Iran and Syria, and in fact to simply approve of whatever Russia finds appropriate. This is China's policy at this stage. This is how it has been at varying degrees of superficial shades, while the core of its policy has been this alliance. And this is how Russia and China's policy will remain, regardless of the accelerating growth of the horrifying numbers coming out of Syria, and regardless of Tehran continuing to blatantly violate UN resolutions. Meanwhile, there is no indication from the United States that it is resolved to stop avoiding confrontation no matter how horrifying and dangerous the violations might be.
So congratulations to the courageous young girl who escaped death miraculously. Congratulations to Malala, who told the world from the podium of the United Nations: "So here I stand, one girl among many. I speak not for myself, but so those without a voice can be heard". Unfortunately, the children of Syria, faced with their horrifying tragedy, remain without a voice.