The one-hour “informal plenary” was carved out of a day whose agenda was focused on the Israel-Arab issue, and a total of six resolutions were passed – all directly or implicitly critical of Israel.
The one-hour Syria meeting was an opportunity for delegates to hear from and question U.N. special representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi.
At the outset, General Assembly (UNGA) president Vuk Jeremic advised delegates of the time constraints.
“In order to effectively use the presence of the joint special representative may I request delegates to make their statements as concise as possible and not longer than three minutes,” he said. “I thank you for your cooperation.”
Brahimi’s 20-minute briefing, and comments by U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon – who spoke for a little under five minutes of a conflict “reaching new and appalling heights of brutality and violence” – left a little more than 35 minutes remaining of the time available.
Jeremic then gave the floor to Syrian ambassador Bashar Ja’afari, who spoke for 22 minutes. The presiding officer made no effort to interrupt him after he exceeded the three-minute time limit.
The 193-member UNGA moved onto the two agenda items which occupied it for the rest of the day – “the question of Palestine” and “the situation in the Middle East.”
The “question of Palestine” produced four resolutions targeting Israel. All four passed with large majorities – 106-7, 103-7, 160-7, 163-6 – with the “no” votes coming from the U.S., Israel, Canada, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau and (except in one case, where it abstained) Australia.
The meeting then held a debate on the “situation in the Middle East.” It did not touch on instability in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya or elsewhere, and the crisis in Syria was scarcely mentioned.
When the debate began Syrian envoy Ja’afari made a special appeal for countries not to discuss the situation in his country, since that would “distract attention from the central issue.”
Several delegates, including those from Japan and Turkey, did bring up the Syrian crisis in their comments, but most complied with Ja’afari’s request. About 30 delegates spoke during that debate, including those from North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Laos, Vietnam, Pakistan, China, and “the observer for Palestine.”
That debate ended with two resolutions, both critical of Israel. They passed 162-7 and 110-6.
‘The real face of the U.N.’
The most recent previous UNGA meeting focusing on Syria was on September 4.
Asked whether Ban was happy with the attention given to Syria by the UNGA last Friday, his spokesman Martin Nesirky pointed out that the secretary-general “does not determine the agenda and procedures in the GA,” and referred queries to Jeremic’s office. Neither Jeremic’s spokesman nor four other officials contacted in his office responded to queries.
The U.N. missions of the United States, Britain and France also did not respond to queries about whether they thought the one-hour meeting on Syria had sufficiently dealt with the crisis.
The Hudson Institute’s Eye on the U.N. project posted a video clip online drawing attention to the Syria meeting and including excerpts from the U.N. webcast.
“Not a single U.N. member objected to the process,” it observed. “So the Syrian ambassador was the only U.N. member who spoke. And no response to the Syrian claims was made by any state at the General Assembly.”
Eye on the U.N. noted that the UNGA had spent the rest of the day’s program – five hours – “condemning Israel.”
“This is the real face of the U.N. of the 21st century.”
Three days after the General Assembly meeting, President Obama during an event at the National War College in Washington said, “Today I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command: The world is watching.”