December 2011 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 December 2011
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UNDOF (Golan)

Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to extend for six months the mandate of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), established in May 1974 to monitor the ceasefire between Israel and Syria.

Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Edmond Mulet is expected to brief Council members in consultations on the Secretary-General’s UNDOF report. UNDOF’s mandate expires on 31 December.

It is unclear whether the current situation in Syria might lead the Council to strengthen language in the resolution or whether its consideration of the observer force will be essentially technical.

Key Recent Developments
The forthcoming report is expected to state that the ceasefire was maintained and the situation was generally quiet. It is also anticipated to highlight continuing Syrian restrictions on UNDOF’s access to carry out its monitoring tasks in the area of limitation on the Syrian side. It seems these restrictions are related to the current unrest in Syria and have been on-going since April. In the previous reporting period restrictions occurred in the southern sector. However, the restrictions now seem to have spread, affecting the southern and central sectors. (In a 20 June letter to the Council, Syria expressed concern that the June UNDOF report referenced the internal Syrian situation.)

The report is also expected to inform the Council that UNDOF’s investigation into the 15 May events—when Israeli forces killed four civilians on the border between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights—has been concluded, confirming information included in the previous UNDOF report. UNDOF also completed an operational assessment as requested in resolution 1994 and is expected to report that it is appropriately configured in terms of structure and troop levels. However, improvements to infrastructure and equipment would be beneficial.

The continued escalation of the Syrian government’s suppression of public protests since mid-March—with an estimated death toll that now exceeds 3,500—has led to mounting international and regional pressure on Syria. 

On 3 August, the Council held a debate on Syria and adopted a presidential statement expressing concern over the deteriorating situation there. In a rare procedural move, Lebanon disassociated itself from the statement after its adoption. 

On 4 October, China and Russia vetoed a draft resolution—sponsored by France, Germany, Portugal and the UK—that condemned the Syrian crackdown on protestors. Brazil, India, Lebanon and South Africa abstained. 

On 9 November, during the Council’s open debate on protection of civilians, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that military defections seem to be increasing and could raise the risk of civil war in Syria. Media reports indicate that the rebel Syrian Free Army, based in Turkey, established a military council on 16 November with the stated aim of ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. There have been recent media reports of clashes between Syrian security forces and defectors from the Syrian military.

On 12 November, the Arab League decided to suspend Syria after it failed to implement its commitments under the Arab League initiative, in particular allowing an observer mission in key cities across Syria. On 19 November, the Arab League rejected a Syrian proposal to substantially reduce the number of observers from 500 to approximately 40. On 27 November, the Arab League imposed economic sanctions on Syria and a travel ban on senior Syrian officials to compel the country to comply with the initiative it had agreed to on 2 November.    

The Arab League’s decision to suspend Syria sparked attacks by regime supporters on several embassies in Syria. The Council condemned the attacks in a press statement on 15 November. On 12 July the Council condemned similar attacks carried out against the French and US embassies, also in a press statement.

On 21 November, UN Special Coordinator Robert Serry told the Council that, given the challenging context, there was no progress on the Israel-Syria peace track. (The last attempt at talks was mediated by Turkey, which suspended its efforts after Israeli incursions into Gaza in December 2008. Previously, the last attempt was in 2000.)

Human Rights-Related Developments
On 22 November the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee adopted a resolution condemning human rights violations in Syria and drawing attention to the Arab League initiative on Syria. The resolution had 61 co-sponsors and was adopted with 122 votes. There were 41 abstentions (including Russia and China) and 13 negative votes. No Arab country, other than Syria, voted against the resolution, three Arab countries abstained (Algeria, Lebanon and Yemen) and one was not present for the vote (Iraq).

On 23 November, the Commission of Inquiry released its  report on allegations of international human rights violations in Syria as requested by the Human Rights Council in August. The report documents patterns of summary execution, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, torture including sexual violence, and violations of children’s rights. The Syrian government did not respond to the Commission’s request for access.

At press time, the Human Rights Council was expected to hold another special session on Syria on Friday, 2 December, to consider a draft resolution supporting the Arab League’s efforts, condemning the continued and systemic gross violations of human rights in Syria which may amount to crimes against humanity and warrant the attention of the ICC, and recommending the General Assembly consider the Commission of Inquiry’s report and submit it to the Security Council.

Key Issues
A key issue is whether the crisis in Syria is excessively affecting UNDOF’s ability to operate.

A related issue is whether and how to reflect on the wider political context in the Council’s consideration of the UNDOF renewal.

The issue from previous years of whether to adjust the mandate renewal cycle from six to 12 months is unlikely to foster attention in December.

One option is a simple rollover of UNDOF’s mandate for six months. 

A second, more proactive option, is for stronger language in the renewal resolution reflecting:

  • the deteriorating situation in Syria which is affecting UNDOF’s ability to operate; and
  • underscoring the changing regional dynamic’s impact on the Israel-Syria peace track.

Another option is to request the Secretary-General to provide more regular and in-depth reporting.

Council Dynamics
There is consensus that UNDOF remains useful in the absence of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. What is less clear to Council members is whether they should recalibrate their thinking about UNDOF and the stalemated peace track, given the current political upheaval in Syria in particular and the region in general. 

Divisions in the Council over the wider Syrian situation may make any change in the Council’s approach to UNDOF difficult. Lebanon, for its own domestic political reasons, is likely to be uneasy about any innovations on Syria in the Council or any deviation from past practices vis-à-vis the UNDOF renewal.

The US has the lead on UNDOF in the Council. However, the concern about introducing the larger Syrian political situation into UNDOF discussions remains and it is possible that Russia may table its own, more technical draft as it did in June.

During the June UNDOF renewal, two draft resolutions were circulated—the first by the US and a later one by Russia. The US draft included extensive references to the political situation in Syria, while the Russian draft contained the simple technical language used in past resolutions renewing UNDOF. After negotiation, there was agreement to combine the texts and reference the events that occurred in UNDOF’s area of operations but not mention the anti-government demonstrations. Additionally, the Council dispensed with the traditional accompanying presidential statement and incorporated the statement’s usual language about the wider tensions in the region into the resolution. (At press time, no presidential statement was envisioned for December either.)

It is unlikely that the Council members who in the past seemed interested in a one-year mandate period will renew that push. There seems to be greater impetus to keep the Israel-Syria track under more regular review in light of the Syrian crisis and its potential for regional impact. 

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UN Documents

Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1994 (30 June 2011) renewed UNDOF until 31 December 2011. 
  • S/RES/350 (31 May 1974) established UNDOF.
  • S/RES/338 (22 October 1973) called for a ceasefire and comprehensive peace.
  • S/RES/242 (22 November 1967) called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories.

Security Council Presidential Statements

  • S/PRST/2011/16 (3 August 2011) expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in Syria.
  • S/PRST/2010/30 (22 December 2010) was the last statement following a renewal of UNDOF. No presidential statement was adopted following the June 2011 renewal for the first time since 1976.

Security Council Press Statement

  • SC/10448 (15 November 2011) and SC/10321 (12 July 2011) condemned attacks against diplomatic premises in Syria.

Security Council Letter

  • S/2011/375 (20 June 2011) was from Syria expressing concern that the June 2011 UNDOF report referenced the internal Syrian situation.

Security Council Meeting Records

  • S/PV.6662 (21 November 2011) was the regular monthly briefing on the Middle East.
  • S/PV.6650 and res. 1 (9 November 2011) was an open debate on protection of civilians.
  • S/PV.6627 (4 October 2011) was the veto of the draft resolution on Syria (S/2011/612) by Russia and China.
  • S/PV.6598 (3 August 2011) was a debate on the Syrian situation.
  • S/PV.6572 (30 June 2011) was the most recent UNDOF renewal.

Secretary-General’s Report

  • S/2011/748 (30 November 2011) was the most recent UNDOF report.

General Assembly

  • GA/SHC/4033 (22 November 2011) was a press release on the adoption of a resolution by the General Assembly’s Third Committee condemning human rights violations in Syria.

Human Rights Council

  • A/HRC/S-17/2/Add.1 (23 November 2011) was the report of the commission of inquiry as requested in August.
  • A/HRC/RES/S-17/1 (23 August 2011) requested an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March 2011.
  • A/HRC/18/53 (15 September 2011) was the follow-up report of the fact-finding mission requested in April.
  • A/HRC/RES/S-16/1 (29 April 2011) requested a fact-finding mission to Syria.

Other Relevant Facts

UNDOF Force Commander

Maj. Gen. Natalio C. Ecarma (Philippines)

Size and Composition of Mission (31 October 2011)

  • 1,040 troops assisted by 76 military observers of the UN Truce Supervision Organisation’s Observer Group Golan
  • Troop contributors: Austria, Canada, Croatia, India, Japan and the Philippines

Approved Budget

1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012: $50.5 million (A/C.5/65/19)

Full Forecast

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