UN Secretary-General recommends observer mission as fighting continues
Despite an initial decrease in violence following the 12 April ceasefire deadline put in place by UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon reported Syria had failed to adhere to the ceasefire, and on 18 April called for the UN observer mission in Syria to be expanded to 300 - backed by air transport – to be deployed for a period of at least three months. An advance mission of unarmed military observers, which will reach up to 30 observers in coming days, was deployed following the 14 April unanimous adoption of Security Council Resolution 2042 the first resolution not vetoed since the conflict began. Resolution 2042 calls on both sides to respect the ceasefire, outlines plans for an advance monitoring mission, and expresses its intention to deploy a larger observer mission pending a report by the UN Secretary-General.
Meanwhile, gunfire and explosions were reported in the cities of Deraa, Homs and Qusayr on 18 and 19 April, including in areas where the UN monitors are based, killing 22 civilians, according to the London-based group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. More than 9,000 people have been killed since the fighting began 13 months ago and as UNSG Ban Ki-moon stated on 19 April, over 230,000 civilians have been displaced and an estimated one million people are in need of aid.
The Syrian government and Kofi Annan reportedly reached a deal on 19 April on the terms for the advance observer team’s operations, which included the withdrawal of Syrian troops to a minimum of 2-3 kilometers outside of towns and cities and for Syria too grant unhindered access to UN personnel. Annan, in turn, would need to confirm that opposition fighters stop all violent attacks on Syrian armed forces. Despite negotiations, divisions remain over the nationality of observers in the mission, the number of those deployed, and their freedom of movement and accessibility throughout the country.
International community calls for unified response
Following this surge of violence just days after the Security Council Resolution, international leaders spoke out in the face of continued attacks. The Arab League ministerial committee, meeting in Doha on 17 April, urged the Syrian government to abide by the rules of the ceasefire. On the same day, European Commission Vice President Catherine Ashton addressed members of the European Parliament, noting European Union support for a unified international response and commitment to Annan’s six-point plan. At a meeting of NATO ministers in Brussels on 18 April, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton s uggested the United States would consider placing more pressure on the Syrian government if the ceasefire is not respected. The following day at a meeting of the Friends of Syria in Paris, Clinton called for the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo. The Friends group announced that if the UN mission failed to manage the conflict in Syria, they would look to “other options”. Though not in attendance in Paris, China announced on 20 April that it would be willing to contribute personnel to the UN mission. Syrian Foreign Minister Wallid al-Muallem, speaking from China on 17 April, pledged to respect the six-point plan and assured the i nternational community of the government’s willingness to co-operate with the UN team sent to monitor the ceasefire.
1. Bashar al-Assad may be beating Annan plan in Syria for now, but he won't for long
George A. Lopez
Christian Science Monitor
18 April 2012
The unanimous Security Council resolution that puts UN monitors on the ground in Syria as part of Kofi Annan’s wider peace plan is a constructive step forward. The arrival Monday of the first half dozen monitors demonstrates the seriousness of many nations to end the killing in Syria.
But not surprisingly, to create this possibility the council has been forced to engage in a new diplomatic dance with Bashar al-Assad where he continues to set most of the terms, at least in the short run.
Any move to limit or end the killing of Syrians is welcome. But no one should be naive in thinking that the monitors – even if allowed at some future date to enter Syria in full force at their projected 250 – are a victory for outsiders trying to constrain or oust Mr. Assad.
By permitting UN monitors, Assad accepts what at first appears to be a concession or even a political setback. But Assad believes this action makes him more indispensable to the Syrian future and increases his chances of survival, personally and politically. The Syrian leader is already manipulating this development to make himself more central to the future Syrian political process. And the more time and options Assad accumulates, the greater his chances of survival, personally and politically. (…)
But the monitoring presence is not futile. Rather, the monitors’ documentation and related work, especially in making consistent demands of all fighting parties to end particular actions, can decrease the killing. The monitors provide a first, small crack in the previously closed door of Syrian repression.
The challenge now is how Mr. Annan and his allies can leverage this opening to increase options for violence reduction, for condemning cease-fire violations, and for increasing the constraints on Assad’s forces.
To assist this, the United Nations and its individual member states must push Assad to respond to every request and pressure him to cooperate with each provision of the Annan plan. (…)
Other proactive initiatives will need to take advantage of the emerging realities that already exist to undermine Assad’s tactics. For example, the presence of UN observers might reawaken the Arab League and embolden them anew to narrow the military and political space available to Assad.
Even a part-time cease-fire might well permit more Syrian armed forces personnel to desert or defect than have been able to under conditions of continued fighting. (…)
And Annan, the US, and others must continue to dialogue with the Russians. Despite verbal support for Assad, there are some signs that Russian patience with him is wearing thin. Chaos is a condition Assad believes will favor his claim that he is fighting terrorists and that only his survival provides hope for the future. But Russia fears such chaos and its regional implications, and this may make it open to different strategies with Syria. (…)
(…) For now, he may be able to sidestep the constraint of UN peace monitors. But with more concentrated and creative international action to bolster the monitors and the Annan plan, Assad will not be able to do so in the medium to long term.
2. UN Security Council’s Resolution on Syria “Underwhelming”
14 April 2012
The resolution voted today by the UN Security Council endorsing the implementation of Kofi Annan’s plan to end the violence in Syria is a positive but belated development that must be followed up with vigorous monitoring in order to ensure the human rights of Syrians are protected, Amnesty International said.
The resolution calls for the full implementation of a six-point plan by Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan – which calls for a cessation of violence, the initiation of a political process and the respect for a range of human rights.
“The adoption of Kofi Annan’s plan could lead to a marked improvement in the human rights situation in Syria. However, the Syrian government has shown it cannot be trusted to respect its commitments so a credible, vigorous monitoring operation will be essential to keep all parties to their obligations,” said José Luis Díaz, Amnesty International’s Representative at the United Nations. (…)
Amnesty International also said that if there was a sustained cessation of armed violence in Syria, the Security Council should establish a larger observer mission with the expertise and resources needed to effectively monitor all parts of the plan. (…)
“It is positive to see the Security Council finally condemning the violence in Syria and calling for those responsible for widespread human rights violations to be held accountable. However, after a year in which over 8,000 people were killed and thousands arbitrarily detained and tortured mostly at the hands of the Syrian forces, today's compromise resolution appears underwhelming,” said José Luis Díaz.
To read the full press release, see here.