Expected Council Action
In May, Council members are expected to follow closely the implementation of resolution 2043, which established the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) and requested the Secretary-General to report to the Council within 15 days and every 15 days thereafter.
The UNSMIS mandate expires on 20 July.
Key Recent Developments
Kofi Annan was appointed as the UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy for Syria on 29 February, shortly after the 16 February General Assembly request for such an appointment.
In a 21 March presidential statement, the Security Council expressed support for Annan’s six-point plan to mediate the Syrian crisis. The six points are: an inclusive political process, cessation of all violence monitored by a UN-mechanism, humanitarian access, release of those arbitrarily detained, access for journalists and the right to demonstrate peacefully.
The Council signalled the urgency for the Syrian government to adhere to its committed timeline to cease violence in a 5 April presidential statement. (On 1 April the Syrian government had communicated to Annan that it would cease the use of heavy weapons and withdraw troops and military concentrations from population centres by 10 April, the deadline was later shifted to 12 April.)
On 14 April the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2042 authorising the deployment of 30 unarmed military observers to Syria and requesting the Secretary-General to provide proposals for a UN supervision mechanism.
Resolution 2043 was unanimously adopted on 21 April, establishing UNSMIS for a period of 90 days and comprised of up to 300 unarmed military observers and an appropriate civilian component to be deployed throughout the country. (Major General Robert Mood (Norway) was appointed as head of mission on 27 April.)
Annan briefed Council members on 24 April urging quick deployment of UNSMIS to consolidate the cessation of violence and create conditions for political transition. On 21 April, Syria informed Annan that it had withdrawn its military concentrations from population centres. It seems Annan said the letter was encouraging but sought clarification of Syria’s view that it had fully implemented this aspect of the six-point plan noting that promises made were not promises kept. He expressed concern over reports of activity by Syrian troops before and after visits by members of the advance team. He also said that despite positive gestures action on the six-point plan remained partial.
Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Hervé Ladsous, also briefed on the deployment of the advance team and UNSMIS. (At press time, 11 observers from the advance team were on the ground with the remainder and Major-General Mood expected in Damascus by the end of April. The UNSMIS deployment was being planned in three approximately equal phases with full staffing expected in three months.)
On 26 April the Arab League decided to request that Morocco (as the Arab voice on the Council) propose that the Council should respond more effectively to the need to protect civilians in Syria if the government does not implement its commitments to cease violence. The same day, the Arab League sent a letter to the Secretary-General underlining the need for rapid deployment of monitors and suggesting that assets from UN missions in the region could be used on a temporary basis until the UNSMIS formation was complete.
The key issue for the Council is whether outstanding commitments by the Syrian government—outlined in resolutions 2042 and 2043—to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from population centres are fulfilled in order to create conditions conducive for an effective mission.
Other UNSMIS-related issues include:
- the need for rapid deployment;
- the need to determine the requisite civilian component for UNSMIS to monitor and support the full implementation of the six-point plan; and
- the outstanding issue of appropriate air support for UNSMIS and the related issue of freedom of access and movement for mission personnel.
While there were some media reports of a lull in the crisis after the 12 April cessation of violence, there have been other reports indicating that shelling and use of heavy weapons has continued in Homs, Hama, Idlib and Douma—a suburb of Damascus. There have also been reports of terrorist attacks in Damascus over the past several months. A massive explosion in Hama on 26 April, with the opposition and the government reporting widely divergent causes and casualties, in addition to an apparent suicide bombing in Damascus on 27 April underscores that the level of violence after 12 April is on the uptick.
Options for the Council in May will very much depend on developments on the ground. In that regard, resolution 2043 asks the Secretary-General to immediately report any obstruction to the effective operation of UNSMIS and to submit necessary proposals to adjust the mandate.
An unlikely option, but one which may emerge more forcefully if the Syrian government does not comply with its commitments, might be consideration of sanctions.
Council members broadly agree that Annan’s mediation efforts and implementation of the six-point plan are the last and best chance of a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis. Members are also unanimous in their concern about reports of continuing violence and how this could negatively impact the potential for UNSMIS to be effective. Many Council members hope that by quickly deploying observers there will be a decrease in the level of violence—there is a strong desire by many Council members that UNSMIS is fully staffed sooner rather than later.
However, some Council members—while fully supportive of Annan and UNSMIS—remain sceptical about the Syrian government’s willingness to adhere to its own stated commitments to cease violence, let alone to implement the six-point plan. The P3 have indicated that it would like the Council to consider sanctions in the case of non-compliance by the Syrian government. The US has said its position on the renewal of UNSMIS in 90 days’ time should not be taken for granted if there is not progress on the ground.
Russia has been consistently hesitant to define too clearly Syria’s commitments in a binding resolution or to signal any consequential action in the case of non-compliance. In that regard, a red line for Russia will likely continue to be any inference by the Council that it may consider sanctions.
There also seems to be varying views among Council members on how robust a role UNSMIS should play in the event that any political transition process gets underway.
Security Council Resolutions
Security Council Presidential Statements
Security Council Letters