June 2012 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 June 2012
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UNSMIS (Syria)

Expected Council Action
In June, Council members will continue to follow closely the Syrian situation as the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) reaches full deployment.

Council members will be briefed at least twice this month on UNSMIS in informal consultations. The first briefing in June is expected on the 7th from Special Envoy Kofi Annan.

The UNSMIS mandate expires on 20 July.

Key Recent Developments
Syria held elections on 7 May for 250 parliamentary seats as a result of a set of reforms passed last year allowing parties to compete with the ruling Baath Party.  Media reports indicate the elections were widely boycotted. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that a democratic process cannot be successful while violence is ongoing and that the elections were not taking place within the framework of inclusive political dialogue.

Council members were briefed by Annan and DPKO head Hervé Ladsous on 8 May.  In comments to the press the same day, Annan said levels of violence in Syria were unacceptable and UNSMIS, which had had a calming effect in some situations, was the last chance to stabilise the situation or face the prospect of civil war.  (Also on 8 May, the ICRC said fighting in Homs and Idlib had met its criteria for non-international armed conflict, i.e. civil war.)  

Annan has also expressed concern over the spate of deadly bombings. (There were media reports of a bomb in Damascus on 27 April, twin explosions in Idlib on 30 April, a major attack in Damascus on 10 May, a car bomb in Deir al-Zour on 19 May and an explosion in Damascus on 22 May.)

The Council issued a press statement condemning the 10 May terrorist attack in Damascus, which killed 55 people.  The statement also called for an immediate end to all violence and for all parties to immediately and comprehensively implement Annan’s six-point plan.

There were also several incidents in May affecting UN positions in Syria but with no injuries to UN personnel. On 15 May an explosion damaged three UN vehicles in Khan Cheikhoun near Hama during clashes between protestors and government forces, causing some observers to stay in the area overnight and return to their base the next day. On 20 May there was an explosion in Douma near Damascus, very close to UN observers being led by UNSMIS head Robert Mood and Ladsous.  (Ladsous visited Syria with Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Annan’s deputy, between 18 and 22 May.)  On several other occasions there were reports of UNSMIS convoys being affected by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), small arms fire or stoning.

On 25 May the Council received its first UNSMIS report which stated that the mission had been able to de-escalate certain situations. However, the overall level of violence remained unacceptable and posed serious challenges for the implementation of the UNSMIS mandate.

After a briefing from Mood and Ladsous on 27 May, the Council issued a press statement condemning the killing in el-Houleh, a residential neighborhood near Homs, in particular the shelling by the Syrian government in violation of resolutions 2042 and 2043 to cease the use of heavy weapons and withdraw from population centres. The statement also called for those responsible to be held accountable, expressed full support of Annan and his six-point plan and for Annan to convey the demands of the Security Council to all parties, in particular to the Syrian government. (At press time, Annan was in Damascus and had met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on 29 May urging the cessation of all military operations by the army and allied militia, i.e. the Shabihah. Annan also met with UNSMIS, opposition figures and civil society during his 28-29 May visit to Syria.  At press time, Annan was expected to visit Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia in the coming days and to attend a 2 June meeting of the Arab League in Doha on the Syrian situation.)

On 28 May, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict also condemned the el-Houleh attack saying that 49 children were among the dead, all under 10 years of age.

On 29 May, the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that 108 civilians were killed in the el-Houleh attack, estimating that under 20 deaths were caused by shelling and tank fire with the most of the remaining deaths due to summary executions which local residents reported were primarily carried out by a paramilitary group that supports government forces, i.e. the Shabihah.

Guéhenno and Ladsous briefed Council members on 30 May regarding ongoing mediation efforts and UNSMIS activities.

The Arab League postponed a 16 May conference in Cairo intended to unify the Syrian opposition.  The Syrian National Council refused to attend because it was not invited as an official body but rather as individual members.  Meanwhile, the domestic Syrian opposition network, the Local Coordination Committees, threatened to withdraw from the Syrian National Council over the re-election of Burhan Ghalioun as its head.  Ghalioun resigned on 23 May, and the Syrian National Council called for new elections on 9 June.  The next meeting of the Friends of Syria is expected in Paris in early July.

Media reports in May, citing unpublished sanctions panels of experts’ reports awaiting submission to the Council, indicated that both Iran and the DPRK may be violating their respective sanctions regimes and supplying weapons to Syria.  Meanwhile, on 28 April the Lebanese navy seized weapons from a ship, allegedly bound for rebel groups in Syria.

Human Rights-Related Developments
During an 8 May press conference, Annan stressed all aspects of the six-point plan needed to be implemented to create an environment conducive for political dialogue and that progress would be extremely difficult if human rights abuses persist.

On 16 May the UN Committee against Torture considered the situation in Syria, in particular widespread killings, torture in hospitals and detention centres, torture of children and sexual torture.  The Committee had requested a special report from Syria describing the measures it was taking to effectively implement its obligations under the Convention against Torture.  Syria did not provide the report nor did it attend the session. The Committee also discussed alleged violations by armed opposition groups.

On 23 March the Human Rights Council extended the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria and requested continued reporting on gross human rights violations in Syria (A/HRC/RES/19/22). On 24 May the Commission issued an update reporting that most of the human rights violations were committed by the Syrian army and security services during military operations conducted in areas regarded as supportive of anti-government armed groups. The Commission received several accounts that anti-government armed groups are also committing human rights abuses.

At press time, it was expected that the Human Rights Council would hold a special session on the el-Houleh attack on Friday, 1 June.

Key Issues
The key issue for the Council is the outstanding commitment by the Syrian government—outlined in resolutions 2042 and 2043 and highlighted in the 27 May press statement—to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from population centres so that the subsequent obligation of the opposition to cease violence can occur and create an environment conducive for an effective mission and political dialogue.

Another issue of concern will be the devastating level of violence as demonstrated by the el-Houleh attack, the significant uptick in terrorist attacks, use of IEDs and allegations of possible illegal arms transfers to Syria.  The implications of these trends if they continue, especially in light of Annan’s concerns about civil war, are that the situation in Syria will become increasingly difficult to stabilise.

Another issue is the lack of a unified opposition that can serve as a point of contact for the international community and the Syrian government so that the political dialogue envisioned in Annan’s six-point plan can get underway.

UNSMIS-related issues include:

  • the safety of UN personnel;
  • reports of reprisal violence by Syrian authorities in areas visited by UN observers;
  • the need to fulfil the requisite civilian component of 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.

Underlying Problem
The overall level of violence and increasing reports of terrorist attacks remain severe despite reports that the presence of UNSMIS is having a calming effect in some situations. Daily open source reports indicate that casualties are still high and that shelling and the use of heavy weapons by the government continue.  Analysts also report that the Syrian government has changed its tactics subsequent to the 12 April deadline for a cessation of violence, including the use of smaller military formations in population centres and an increased use of detentions, torture and allegations regarding paramilitary support by the Shabihah.

Looking forward to the possible renewal of UNSMIS in July, the Council could request the Secretary-General to provide recommendations in his June report for:

  • enhancing the mission by including more military and civilian observers and options for force protection;
  •  task the mission more specifically with documenting incidents of reprisal and other violence; and
  • mapping out the way forward, including options to:
    o increase pressure on the Syrian government to meet its commitments;
    o galvanise the opposition into a credible partner for political dialogue;
    o focus on ways to slow the proliferation of both legal and illegal arms transfers to Syria; and
    o deal with the “third element” of terrorism in Syria by using existing tools such as the Counterterrorism Committee framework or targeted sanctions.

Council Dynamics
Council members are unanimous in their concern about reports of continuing violence by the government, armed opposition groups and terrorist attacks occurring with devastating regularity and about how these developments could impact the potential for UNSMIS to be effective.

Council members also seem to be uniformly impressed with the rapid deployment of UNSMIS and appreciate that the mission has begun to have positive, albeit limited, impact on the ground.

Council members are frustrated by the lack of a cohesive political opposition to engage with the Syrian government if a political dialogue were brokered by Annan.  They would like to see significant progress in this regard before the 20 July expiry of UNSMIS. Such a shift in the political dynamic would allow Annan to request that the Syrian government name its interlocutor and start serious political dialogue.

Some members are viewing the el-Houleh attack as a possible critical turning point, underscoring the importance of the press statement which clearly stated that the Government of Syria violated its commitments and reiterated the need for the government to cease violence in the first instance as required by the six-point plan.  It seems many Council members believe that it is now vital to think strategically about the Council’s ongoing approach to the Syrian situation so as to ensure the success of the UNSMIS mission and avoid full-scale civil war.  However, it remains unclear if all members would advocate a more proactive Council approach despite the broad agreement that the el-Houleh attack demonstrates how quickly the situation can spiral out of control.

The P3 have indicated that they would like the Council to consider sanctions in the case of non-compliance by the Syrian government with resolutions 2042 and 2043. However, sanctions are likely to still be a red line for Russia and China. They—along with several other Council members—are concerned that sanctions would undermine the already fragile progress on the six-point plan. These Council members also feel it is important to give UNSMIS the time and opportunity to do its job and create confidence on the ground between the parties.

In the past the Council has tended to follow Annan’s lead on the situation and will likely continue to do so in the medium-term. However, the Council’s unity on Syria is strained over the increasing violence and the pace at which the six-point plan is being implemented. While all Council members support Annan’s six-point plan as the best and last option to avoid civil war, many remain skeptical about the Syrian government’s intentions vis-à-vis ceasing violence and implementing the plan’s provisions.

UN Documents

Security Council Resolution

Secretary-General’s Report

  • S/2012/363 (25 May 2012) was the first UNSMIS report.

Security Council Press Statements

  • SC/10643 (10 May 2012) condemned the 10 May terrorist attack in Damascus.
  • SC/10658 (27 May 2012) condemned the 25 and 26 May attacks in el-Houleh.

Security Council Letters

  • S/2012/368 (27 May 2012) was from the Secretary-General on the el-Houleh attacks.

Other Relevant Facts

UNSMIS Force Commander

Maj. Gen. Robert Mood (Norway)

Size and Composition of Mission (as of 29 May 2012)

  • 286 military observers assisted by 85 civilian staff
  • Military Personnel Contributors: Argentina, Bangladesh, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Chad, China, Croatia, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Malawi, Mauritania, Morocco, Nepal, Niger, Norway, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Paraguay, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Senegal, South Africa, Switzerland, Yemen, Uruguay

Approved Budget

21 April to 20 July 2012: $16.8 million

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