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The United Nations and Israel

Syria as World Leader

June 24, 2002

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shara's latest visit to New York could not have been better timed. In the Big Apple, Shara was ready to fulfill any diplomat's sweetest dream as he prepared to chair the United Nations Security Council meeting in his capacity as representative of that prestigious forum's rotating presidency.

Back in the Middle East, Palestinian terror was waging some of its deadliest attacks ever, and Shara lost no time in applauding those murders of innocent Israelis. Back home in Damascus, Shara's boss, President Bashar Assad, was jailing yet more dissidents.

Recent reports indicate that the list has grown impressively since Assad the son's release, soon after his rise to power two years ago, of dissidents who had spent years and decades rotting in his father's dungeons.

The newly arrested include Riad al-Turk, a communist who has already spent 17 years in jail and is now being accused of describing Hafez Assad's as an era of stagnation and corruption.

It is emblematic of juridical standards in Syria that al-Turk's judge, Justice Faiz al-Nuri, had no compunction in telling the Al-Hayat newspaper that in handing down the 72-year-old defendant's verdict due this week he will ignore al-Turk's past years in jail and sentence him to at least another two, and possibly even a full life sentence.

Also recently arrested were legislators Riad al-Sayef and Mohammed Mamun Homsi, who have already been handed five-year-sentences each. The former's main crime is having led unauthorized political discussion forums in private houses, the latter's is an effort to set up a human rights committee in the Syrian parliament.

Also facing trial are 64-year-old Damascus University economist Dr. Araf Delila, Dr. Walid al-Boni of the Syrian Association for the Advancement of Civic Society, and entrepreneur Habib Salah, who participated in some independent political activity.

This kind of totalitarianism is harsh even by some Arab countries' standards. Now, in the brave new world of the post-Cold War era, with democracy sinking roots across the former East Bloc, Latin America, and large parts of Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, the UN could be expected to help lead the rest of the world's embrace of freedom.

Conversely, if it chose to "not provoke" despots by siding with their victims, the UN could at least be expected not to stand in freedom's way by actively awarding dictatorship.

Sadly, not only the UN itself but the governments of the free world have chosen to turn a blind eye to the farce on the East River. And so the theater of the absurd goes on, as a country that unabashedly violates the UN Charter by occupying fellow UN member Lebanon and ignoring UN sanctions on Iraq by buying its oil, not to mention harboring terror organizations like Islamic Jihad, whose role in masterminding, manufacturing and micromanaging suicide bombings is famous worldwide and lauded by Damascus is being allowed to play arbiter in global conflicts.

On September 28, 2001, the UN Security Council passed a resolution reaffirming that terrorism is a threat to "international peace and security" and decided that all states must "deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support, or commit terrorist acts." The Security Council was acting explicitly under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which is binding on all member states and enforceable by binding sanctions, such as those imposed on Iraq following the Gulf War. A committee was even formed to monitor implementation, and every member state submitted a report to the committee describing its own actions taken to stamp out terrorism.

The Syrian report to the Security Council is available at www.un.org and is worth reading. In it, Syria helpfully explains that it follows the definition of terrorism in the 1998 Arab Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism, "which distinguishes between terrorism and legitimate struggle against foreign occupation." Under this definition, sending people to blow themselves up in restaurants and buses is not terrorism but a laudable endeavor that can be openly organized from the Syrian capital.

Last week, when the US ambassador blasted Syria for its support for terrorism, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan came to Syria's defense, claiming that Shara was "obviously... against the killing of innocent civilians, but raised the question of the helplessness of the Palestinians, and indicated that they are not the only ones guilty of harming civilians."

This celebration of cynicism should be considered intolerable even by UN standards.

Syria, rather than sitting in judgment of the world from the high perch of the presidency of the Security Council, should be standing in the dock of the accused and treated as an outlaw state.

©2002 - Jerusalem Post

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