UNITED NATIONS, Aug 1, 2011 (IPS)- The U.N. Security Council has continued to remain politically paralysed on the indiscriminate killings of civilians in Syria, and that paralysis, according to U.N. diplomats, has been triggered ironically by the ongoing turmoil in another Arab nation - Libya. The devastation caused by Western military forces in Libya - justified under the guise of protecting civilian lives - is deterring at least two veto-wielding permanent members of the Council, namely Russia and China, from supporting any strong action against Syria.
The Chinese and the Russians believe, one U.N. diplomat told IPS, that "Western countries are likely to misinterpret any resolution against Syria and then unleash military attacks on Damascus - as they did with Libya."
Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, told IPS the reluctance by some member states, particularly the global south leaders, seems motivated by concern over Libya.
But it is high time for those issues to be overcome by the urgent need for the Security Council to speak out about Syria, she added.
"The people of Syria should not be forced to pay the price by those concerned that the Security Council overstepped on Libya," Hicks noted.
The resolution on Libya, adopted last May by a vote of 10:0, authorised member states to "take all necessary measures" - a code word for military intervention - to protect civilians and civilian- populated areas under threat of attack from Gaddafi's forces.
The result: continued bombing of Libya by military forces from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) on the pretext of "protecting civilians".
But five countries in the 15-member Security Council decided to abstain on that resolution: China, Russia, India, Brazil and Germany.
At least four of those five countries are now resisting any condemnation of Syria.
Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and author of several publications on Middle East politics, told IPS the escalation of the civil war in Libya as a result of the U.N.-endorsed U.S.-NATO intervention has led to military stalemate and rising casualties on all sides - not the end of dictatorship.
While the Security Council resolution ostensibly aimed at "protecting civilians" did not explicitly authorise the airstrikes and attacks on media outlets and other civilian targets that have characterised the Western involvement, it is U.S.-drafted language approving "all necessary measures" guaranteed that the military intervention would never stop at creating a no-fly zone, she pointed out.
"Now, it is almost certain that the failure of the Security Council resolution to either protect civilians or encourage diplomacy or negotiated end to the fighting in Libya is a major part of why the Council is so reluctant to respond to the carnage in Syria," said Bennis, author of the best-selling 'Understanding the Palestinian- Israeli Conflict: A Primer.'
Meanwhile, both Russia and China have strong political, economic and military interests in Syria, which they also want protected from any U.N. sanctions.
At the time of going to press, the Security Council was holding consultations on Syria.
But judging by the unrelenting stand taken by the two veto-wielding members, the 15-member Council could come up with a "presidential statement" on Syria - or a politically mild resolution later this week.
At the same time, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) are also reluctant to act because they feel that a politically destablised Syria, unlike Libya, will have an impact on three countries in the region: Israel, Lebanon and Iran.
Hicks told IPS that the horrendous attacks on peaceful protestors in Syria last weekend seem to have given new life to efforts at the Security Council.
"And we hope that the council will now take action belatedly to condemn Syria's actions and call for immediate access to Syria for the human rights mission mandated by the Human Rights Council," she added.
In a statement released Sunday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he is "deeply concerned" over reports that hundreds of protesters have been killed and injured in Hama and other Syrian towns and cities throughout the country.
He "strongly condemned" the use of force against the civilian population calling on the government of Syria to halt the violent offensive "at once".
Ban also reiterated to the Syrian authorities their obligation to respect the human rights of the Syrian people, including their freedom of expression and right to peaceful assembly, and urged them to listen to the legitimate aspirations of the population.
"The secretary general reminds the Syrian authorities that they are accountable under international human rights law for all acts of violence perpetrated by them against the civilian population".
Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies told IPS it's certainly a good thing to avoid a repeat of NATO's disastrous involvement in Libya.
"But the reluctance to engage at all means that the United Nations is ignoring its obligations to respond in other ways to this crisis".
She said the call for referral to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is one possibility, but any such call should go beyond the Syrian president to key military decision-makers.
That is, the possibility of prosecution of military leaders in The Hague might well give new impetus to the apparently rising split within the military, she added.
Bennis also said the Security Council has obviously divided over Libya - with the enthusiastic supporters of the NATO intervention wary of repeating that failure in Syria, and the opponents and reluctant supporters angry at how Libya spun out of control. But other realities are at play as well.
She pointed out that influential Council members have decades-long political and economic ties to the Assad regime.
And despite longstanding Syrian support for Hamas and Hezbollah, it is clear Israel would prefer that (Syrian President Bashar) al-Assad remain in power -- after all, he has kept the Israel-Syrian border largely calm for 44 years despite Israel's occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights, noted Bennis.
The United States, has followed, still hoping to win Syria away from its longstanding ties with Iran.
"So beyond economic sanctions (assets freeze, perhaps travel restrictions) there is little appetite in the Council for serious pressure on Damascus," she declared.
The challenge of course, is how to force the Council to make good on its obligations to protect an imperiled population -- without resorting to the inevitable failure of military escalation, Bennis said.