India abstained from an Arab League-backed resolution against Syria in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Wednesday, arguing that the language smacked of regime change by “sleight of hand”.
The resolution, mainly piloted by Qatar, was passed by 107 votes in favour and 12 against. Significantly, 59 countries abstained from voting. A similar Arab League-backed resolution last year had got 133 votes in favour. India had abstained from that voting as well.
India abstained along with its IBSA partners Brazil and South Africa, and several Latin American and African countries. The negative votes came from two UNSC permanent members Russia and China as well as Syria’s closest regional ally Iran.
The positive votes came from almost all western countries and almost the entire Muslim world, including Afghanistan and Pakistan in the neighbourhood.
In the explanation of vote, India’s permanent representative to UN Asoke Kumar Mukerji said “certain provisions of this resolution can be interpreted as effecting regime change by sleight of hand”.
“This is a dangerous precedent, which we cannot acquiesce to. We would once again reiterate our position that the leadership of Syria is a matter for Syrians to decide upon,” he added.
Mukerji further said “unilateral” action of any kind would not resolve the crisis. “We also believe that promotion of political dialogue requires engagement with all parties concerned and calls for boycott of the government and support of the Opposition will not help,” he said.
The UNGA resolution described the Opposition, Syrian National Coalition, as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and termed them as “effective interlocutors needed for a political transition”.
India expressed particular concern about the targeting of UN peacekeepers by rebel groups, with two recent incidents of hostage taking.
“This is completely unacceptable. It is imperative that the sanctity of United Nations peacekeepers be respected by all sides,” he said.