- By Colum LynchColum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. He previously wrote FP’s Turtle Bay blog, for which he was awarded the 2011 National Magazine Award for best reporting in digital media. He was also the silver medal recipient of the 2013 Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Prize for a three-part series documenting the U.N.’s systemic failure to protect civilians in Darfur, Sudan. Colum’s investigations have uncovered an American spy operation in Iraq, Russia’s monopoly of the $1 billion-a-year U.N. aircraft leasing market, and a Chinese diplomatic campaign to silence U.N. investigators scrutinizing Chinese arms deals in Africa. His deep digs into the U.N. bureaucracy have exposed sexual misconduct by U.N. blue helmets from Bosnia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and documented monumental dysfunction in the U.N. office charged with rooting out misconduct and corruption. He now devotes his reporting chops to documenting President Donald Trump’s efforts to reorder the international system. Born in Los Angeles, Colum received a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985 and a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 1987. Before moving to FP, Colum reported on diplomacy and national security for the Washington Post for more than a decade. He has appeared frequently on national news programs, including the Lehrer NewsHour, as well as on MSNBC, NPR, and the BBC.
For Syria’s U.N. envoy, Bashar al-Jafaari, the international conspiracy against his country has just entered a new stage.
Defending his government against charges of committing crimes against humanity, the Syrian envoy opened fire on Google, accusing the Internet powerhouse of brazenly changing Syrian street names on its online maps in the restive towns of Homs and Idlib. "This is a flagrant violation of United Nations General Assembly, the resolution of the Arab League pertaining to the standardization of the geographic nomenclature," he said.
"What does Google have to do with the names of streets in Syrian cities?" he asked. "What is this web site doing changing the names of streets in small Syrian cities and villages? Is this also an attempt to stem the shedding of Syrian blood or is this not part of the war [that foreign powers have been waging against Syria]?" asked Jaafari.
It was unclear precisely what the Syrian envoy was talking about. Google did not respond to an emailed request to its press office for comment.
The remarks came during a U.N. General Assembly meeting on Syria’s human rights record, where the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, issued a thinly veiled swipe against China and Russia for vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing a political transition in Syria.
"The failure of the Security Council to agree on firm collective action appears to have emboldened the Syrian Government to launch an all-out assault in an effort to crush dissent with overwhelming force," she said.
Pillay urged the U.N. body to take some action to stem the violence in Syria, saying that the government in Syria has committed crimes against humanity. Pillay said that Damascus bore the primary responsibility for unleashing the political repression that has plunged the country into chaos, and threatened to pitch Syria into civil war. The Syrian government, she claimed, was responsible for the deaths of more than 300 people in Homs in the past 10 days,
Jafaari, who failed to block the U.N. meeting through the invocation of a procedural motion, said that his government is the victim of a wide-ranging political, diplomatic, military, and media conspiracy aimed at destabilizing President Bashar al-Assad‘s government.
He accused the U.N. General Assembly president, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser of Qatar, of abusing his position to promote a hard-line anti-Syria stance favored by his government, which has led the Arab League response to the crisis. He also blamed foreign governments and the media, particulary Al Jazeera, for trying to impose "You Tube Justice."
"Yes, we have shortcoming, yes we have problems in Syria," Jafaari said in a lengthy address to the U.N. General Assembly in which he also invoked one of Jesus Christ’s most famous sayings: "Is there one among you whose country does not have shortcoming or problems?" he asked. "Would anyone of you be the first to cast the first stone? We need the help of the international community to go forward on reform to put Syria on the right path."
The Arab League decided on Sunday to call on the U.N. Security Council to establish a joint United Nations/Arab League peacekeeping mission to monitor a ceasefire in Syria. But there is no ceasefire to enforce, let alone a peace process, and Russia’s U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, made clear that Russia would not send U.N. blue helmets into a conflict where there was no peace to keep. He also said that Syria’s government must offer its consent before a peacekeeping mission could be established.
Rosemary Di Carlo, the U.S. deputy representative to the United Nations, told the U.N. General Assembly gathering that the United States "applauds the initiatives and leadership of the Arab League" but did not comment on its call for a new peacekeeping force. The White House agreed with Russia that a new peacekeeping mission could not be deployed before a peace process was in place.
"We are discussing with the Arab League, the U.N. and our international partners, the circumstances in which a peacekeeping force, whether under Arab League, U.N. or other auspices, could help maintain peace in Syria," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. But he said the deployment of blue helmets required "a peace to keep: unfortunately as we know, there is not one."
Carney also said that Washington supported a plan for an expanded and enhanced Arab League mission in Syria, which Assad’s government has ignored. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also expressed caution about the idea of a peacekeeping force.
"There are a number of challenges with it. But first and foremost you would need a new U.N. Security Council resolution. It has proven difficult to get any U.N. Security Council resolution," Nuland said.
Egypt, meanwhile, acting on behalf of the Arab League, told the U.N. General Assembly that the government is prepared to introduce a draft U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning Syria’s human rights abuses, calling for restraint by the armed opposition, and endorsing an Arab League plan for a political transition. A similar resolution was vetoed by Russia and China more than a week ago.
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch