The Syrian revolution is now an urban war. Following similar demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, Syrians took to the streets last year to demand democratic rights and a regime change. However, the Syrian situation bears little resemblance to the relatively peaceful transitions in Egypt and Tunisia, as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continues to repress the people in attempts to maintain political control.
Government officials have been going house to house to arrest the regime’s potential opponents; areas housing members of the opposition have had their electricity cut off; and bodies are left in the street after physical confrontations between the regime and rebels.
Despite decrying Muammar al-Qaddafi’s repression in Libya, the international community has largely lacked a voice regarding Assad’s repressive policies. Yet, it appears now that international pressure is finally mobilising against Syria’s current regime.
In January, the Syrian government agreed to allow Arab League observers to stay on for a second month. The Arab League called on Assad to delegate power to a vice president and for elections to be held under a "national unity government”. Assad subsequently rejected this advice.
Soon after, the Arab League suspended its monitoring mission due to "the critical deterioration of the situation"; Syria had become too violent for the mission to continue effectively.
The Syrian government responded in statement which linked the removal of the observers with an attempt by the Arab League to pressure Assad into resignation. However, the Arab League denied these allegations.
In February, a UN resolution condemning the Syrian government’s use of force was presented to the Security Council. In a subsequent speech to the security council, United States’ Secretary of State Hilary Clinton called for “a clear message of support to the people of Syria.”
The draft resolution, although supported by all 13 other members of the Security Council, was vetoed by Russia and China based on fact that it followed the Arab League call for a "Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system."
Russia’s U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin accused the resolution’s backers of "calling for regime change, pushing the opposition towards power and not stopping their provocations and feeding armed struggle." Thus, Russia and China’s opposition lay in the fact that the resolution condemned the Syrian government but not the rebels. Thus, Churkin stated that since the resolution "sent an unbalanced signal to the Syrian parties," vetoing it was a necessary strategy.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pilay stated that the failure of the Security Council to take action is a travesty and only works to empower the Syrian regime in continuing its violence. Though it is difficult to gauge the number of deaths, Pilay has speculated that the death toll may rise above 7,000. He has also stated his belief that widespread killings and torture in the country constitute “crimes against humanity."
A week after the failed UN resolution, Syria "categorically rejected" an Arab League resolution calling for a joint Arab-UN peacekeeping mission to end the country’s 11 month conflict.
Following Syria’s rejection, the Arab League announced its intention to end all diplomatic cooperation with Syria, and its plan to give "political and material support" to the opposition.
To date, this is arguably the harshest language directed at Syria by the international community, and it highlights the country’s international isolation. The EU backed the Arab League’s cooperative effort but following Russia’s assertion, there is a general consensus that violence within the country must come to an end before any subsequent peacekeepers are sent in.
More recently, the UN General Assembly passed a non-binding resolution condemning the violence in Syria. For Arab LeagueSecretary General Nabil al-Arabi, this resolution is not sufficient in itself, and the failure of the UN to act increased the significance of the League’s subsequent actions: the Arab League must unite to stop the violence, and discussion must become action before it is too late.