Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government at last appeared to show signs of mercy to the tens of thousands of protesters demanding reforms since March: In a phone call with UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon Wednesday, Assad implied that violence against activists had stopped and a battery of reforms were forthcoming.
Too little, too late?
The next morning, President Obama broke a long-awaited silence and publicly demanded Assad’s resignation. President Sarkozy, Prime Minister Cameron and Chancellor Merkel, along with EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton, followed suit exhorting a shakeup in Syrian leadership. Steepening sanctions accompanied the calls.
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council (UNSC) was busy preparing for a heavy afternoon schedule devoted to Damascus. In a closed meeting, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, Under-Secretary-General of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, and Under-Secretary-General of the UN for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe briefed the 15-member UNSC on the grave and deteriorating situation in which nearly 2,000 are believed to have been killed and thousands more forcibly disappeared.
Following the meeting, Ms. Amos announced Damascus had granted four days of “full access” to a UN human rights team starting Saturday. Pillay, when questioned on the prospect of referring Assad to the International Criminal Court, suggested it was on the table.
European Ambassadors from the UK, Germany, France, and Portugal, alongside US Ambassador Rosemary A. DiCarlo, then announced their request for an emergency meeting of the UN Human Rights Council to take place Monday. The US-European allies also reported intentions to circulate a draft UNSC resolution on Syrian sanctions.
For the second time in as many weeks, Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari took the microphone outside Security Council chambers to debunk his colleagues’ condemnation, calling the accusations “lies” of “illegitimate” Security Council powers attacking his country’s sovereignty. And for the second time in as many weeks, UK Ambassador Philip Parham took the mic to call Ja’afari’s words “absurd.”