November 2005 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 October 2005
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon/Syria

Expected Council Action
At press time, Council members are deep in private discussion of possible action on the report into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri from the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC). An open briefing by UNIIIC Commissioner Detlev Mehlis, followed by consultations, took place on 25 October and provided a first opportunity to hear directly from various parties and consider the follow-up of the UNIIIC report.

The Council is also scheduled to meet on 31 October to address the second report on the implementation of resolution 1559 (withdrawal of Syrian presence from Lebanon), presented by the Special Envoy Terje Roed-Larsen. There is discussion of the possibility that this meeting may be held at ministerial level and that it will provide the occasion for initial Council action on the UNIIIC report.

It is expected that, at a minimum, the Council will adopt a resolution demanding Syria’s full cooperation with UNIIIC. Perhaps it will also set various benchmarks as to what constitutes real cooperation and call for regular reports.

As November progresses, it is expected that the Council will be monitoring the level of Syrian cooperation with UNIIIC. This will give rise to further discussion in consultations during the month. And additional formal meetings and Council action are also possible, depending on the evolving situation.

Key Facts
The report of the UNIIIC, made public on 20 October 2005, concluded that the assassination of Hariri could not have taken place without involvement of Syrian security officials. The Secretary-General has agreed to extend the mandate of UNIIIC to 15 December so that further investigation can be undertaken. Mehlis has publicly indicated that the full investigation is unlikely to be completed by December.

Bashar Al-Assad, the Syrian President, has declared that he would be ready to hand over any Syrian involved in the assassination to an international court. However, Syria has also strongly rejected the UNIIIC report claiming there is no evidence of Syrian participation in the killing. Syria also challenged the report’s credibility, on the grounds that the investigation had been politicised by the US, but undertook to cooperate with UNIIIC in the future.

The US has accused Syria of harbouring terrorists conducting activities in Iraq and has named Syria a state sponsor of terror as a result of its support for Palestinian militant groups and Hezbollah. The US also seems keen to keep the possibility of sanctions near the top of the agenda.

With respect to the implementation of resolution 1559, following a meeting in Paris between the French and Lebanese Prime Ministers, UN Envoy Roed-Larsen and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, the Lebanese government has begun to put pressure on Palestinian militias in Lebanon to stop activities directed against Israel.

Key Issues
Securing a full criminal investigation and fair trial of all suspects in the Hariri assassination, is the critical issue. At the same time Council members want to avoid, as far as possible, further stimulating the current tensions in the region.

In the short term a critical issue which has emerged is what constitutes satisfactory cooperation with UNIIIC. Cooperation with a criminal inquiry is different from more fluid definitions of cooperation used in international politics.

Syria faces several very serious allegations, including not only direct implication in the assassination but also a lack of cooperation with the UNIIIC. Mehlis has called for the conduct of a “transparent” investigation by Syria in conjunction with UNIIIC. The format of future interrogation of Syrian suspects and delivery of documents will therefore be key issues as the investigation evolves in November.

A related issue is the format of future trials. Mehlis has indicated that in his personal view the Lebanese judicial system, while performing surprisingly well, will continue to need support from the UN. The Lebanese Prime Minister, as well as the Hariri parliamentary block, have proposed that international judicial machinery be set up. However, as with the Lockerbie case, it is unlikely that the US, France and the UK would be comfortable with a completely international tribunal.

Council Dynamics
Although resolution 1595 establishing UNIIIC was adopted unanimously there is a history of division in the Council on matters relating to Syria. Certainly there will be echoes in the Council of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference General Secretariat (OIC) position that the Council should act with caution and restraint at this stage.

The US, France and the UK seem very determined to secure a strong and early initial response from the Council to the UNIIIC conclusions regarding the assassination of Hariri. France has expressed concern over imposing sanctions too soon and is inclined instead to set some initial firm demands on Syria to cooperate with and facilitate the ongoing investigation. Russia, Algeria and China are likely to agree but also to argue that Syria should have the benefit of the doubt until the investigation is complete. 

Options
Assuming, as seems likely, that the Council will adopt a resolution on 31 October insisting on full cooperation with UNIIIC, the options facing the Council in November are:

  • Adopting an active approach to monitoring developments in the progress of the investigation, including seeking updates in informal consultations
  • Responding quickly if there are indications of problems in cooperation with UNIIIC
  • Waiting until December before reviewing the levels of cooperation of Syria

Underlying Problems
Syria is a major link in the political dynamics of the region as a whole. Some, like the OIC, have expressed fears about serious regional impacts if Syria becomes unstable. Others have raised concerns about a possible radical Islamist successor to Assad’s regime, should it collapse as a result of intense external pressure.

With respect to resolution 1559, despite the changes in Lebanon, the situation internally remains volatile. The pro-Syrian Lebanese President, Emile Lahoud, is currently facing pressure and isolation from the international community. Hezbollah remains an important component of Lebanese political life and holds legitimacy in the eyes of many Lebanese.

UN Documents

 Security Council Resolutions
 S/RES/1618 (04 August 2005) on terrorism
 S/RES/1595 (07 April 2005) established UNIIIC.
 S/RES/1559 (02 September 2004) on the Syrian withdrawal
 Presidential Statements
 S/PRST/2005/26 (22 June 2005)
 S/PRST/2005/22 (07 June 2005)
 S/PRST/2005/17 (04 May 2005)
 S/PRST/2005/4 (15 February 2005)
 Secretary-General’s Reports / Letters
 S/2005/662 (20 October 2005) transmission of the UNIIIC report
 S/2005/393 (16 June 2005)
 S/2005/272 (29 April 2005)
 S/2004/777 (01 October 2004)
 Other
 A/60/409-S/2005/627 (04 October 2005) letter from Syria
 S/2005/203 (24 March 2005) Report of the Mission of Inquiry into the Circumstances, Causes and Consequences of the 14 February Beirut Bombing
 A/58/883-S/2004/706 (01 September 2004) letter from Syria
 A/58/879-S/2004/699 (31 August 2004) letter from Lebanon

Historical Background

 20 October 2005 The initial report of UNIIIC was published and its mandate was extended.
 12 September 2005 The Secretary-General agreed to extend the Commission’s mandate by forty days.
 25 August 2005

Informal consultations were held. During his presentation, Ibrahim Gambari, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that Syria had not been fully cooperative with the UNIIIC. In a statement to the press, the Syrian Permanent Representative to the UN declared that Syria was ready to cooperate.

 29 April 2005 

The Secretary-General, in his first semi-annual report on the implementation of resolution 1559, advised that the withdrawal of troops, military assets and intelligence apparatus was underway. However, there was no progress on the implementation of the other provisions of the resolution.

 26 April 2005

Syria announced the withdrawal of Syrian troops, apparatus and assets from Lebanon. The Secretary-General dispatched a UN mission to verify the withdrawal of Syrian forces.

 07 April 2005

Resolution 1595, passed unanimously, established UNIIIC, based in Lebanon, to assist the Lebanese authorities in their investigation of the assassination.

 29 March 2005

Lebanon confirmed its full cooperation with the investigation commission in a letter to the Council.

 24 March 2005

The report of the Fitzgerald Mission of Inquiry into the 14 February Beirut bombing concluded that an international investigation was needed.

 15 February 2005

The Council requested the Secretary-General to report urgently on the circumstances, causes and consequences of the bombing.

 14 February 2005  Rafik Hariri and twenty others were killed by truck bomb in Beirut.
 20 October 2004  Rafik Hariri, Prime Minister, resigned under pressure from Syria.
 03 September 2004

President Lahoud’s term was extended by three years, thereby aborting the presidential electoral process.

 02 September 2004

Following allegations of Syrian manipulation of the Lebanese electoral process, the Council passed resolution 1559 with 6 abstentions (Algeria, Brazil, China, Pakistan, Philippines and the Russian Federation).

Other Relevant Facts

UN Special Envoy for Verification of the Implementation of Resolution 1559
Terje Roed-Larsen (Norway)
UNIIIC Commissioner
Detlev Mehlis (Germany)
Size and Composition of Commission
129 members, including active investigators, translators, security guards, drivers and administrators of 14 different nationalities. The staff are UN employees.
Funding
The funding comes from the regular budget and was approved by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (GA).
Appointment Process
The task of recruiting the members was entrusted to DPA, in cooperation with DPKO (Office of Mission Support).  UNIFIL and ESCWA in Beirut also provided technical assistance and logistical support.
Activities
The modalities of cooperation with the Lebanese government are defined in a Memorandum of Understanding between Lebanon and the UN.

Useful Additional Sources
Syria After Lebanon, Lebanon After Syria, International Crisis Group, Middle East Report No. 39, 12 April 2005.


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