Expected Council Action
In early November, Council members will be briefed in consultations on the first monthly report on the implementation of resolution 2118, which required the verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. This work is being undertaken by a joint mission of the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Sigrid Kaag, the Special Coordinator of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission, is likely to brief.
Council members will also be closely following developments related to humanitarian access and to the Geneva II peace talks. Media reports have indicated the talks are scheduled for 23-24 November, however, at press time, this had not been confirmed.
Key Recent Developments
On 9 September, in the lead-up to possible unilateral military strikes on Syria by the US over the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons, Russia proposed that Syrian chemical weapons stocks be put under international control. On 14 September, Russia and the US agreed to a framework for the elimination of such weapons. On 27 September, the Security Council met at ministerial-level and adopted resolution 2118, which requires the verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, calls for the convening of the Geneva II peace talks and endorses the establishment of a transitional governing body in Syria with full executive powers.
On 2 October, the Council adopted a presidential statement on humanitarian access in Syria. Members were briefed on its implementation on 25 October by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos. Amos expressed deep disappointment that, despite the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, access had not improved and there had been no major breakthrough in getting the Syrian government to lift bureaucratic impediments and other obstacles.
On 10 October, Council members were briefed in consultations on the recommendations for the establishment of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission. The Council authorised the mission on 11 October to:
- conduct initial verification activities;
- complete initial inspections of all chemical weapons production and storage facilities by 1 November; and
- support, monitor and verify the destruction of the chemical weapons programme by 30 June 2014.
On 21 October, Special Coordinator Kaag arrived in Damascus and reported that Syria had fully cooperated with the mission. At press time, 21 of 23 declared sites had been inspected with activities carried out at 14 sites to make such facilities inoperable. On 24 October, Syria submitted, on-time, its formal declaration of its chemical weapons programme and its plans for destroying its stockpile. The OPCW said it would review this plan by 15 November.
On 22 October, 11 foreign ministers met in London with the Syrian Opposition Council—of which the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) is the largest bloc. (The “London 11” comprises Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE, the UK and the US.) They issued a statement to forge a united approach to Geneva II underscoring the view that talks must lead to a political transition “by mutual consent” away from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad—in line with the communiqué agreed at the 30 June 2012 Geneva conference.
However, Syria has said conditions were not right for the talks, that the fate of Assad would not be discussed and that the government would not negotiate with the SNC as the sole representative of the Syrian opposition since it had “no representation within Syria”. On 21 October, Assad indicated he saw no obstacles to running for re-election next year. (Elections, in the absence of any transitional agreement, are expected in May 2014.) These comments essentially dismiss the original Geneva communiqué as a basis for an agreement.
Meanwhile, almost 70 armed rebel groups within Syria have disassociated themselves from the SNC, leaving the now significantly less robust Free Syrian Army fighting dual fronts against the Assad regime and extremist armed Islamic groups, such as the Al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq/al-Sham. Given its weak position, the SNC has indicated its participation is unlikely if there was any chance Assad would remain in power.
The SNC will meet in Istanbul on 1-2 November to vote on whether or not to attend the Geneva II talks. Meanwhile, UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi was in the region visiting Cairo, Damascus and Tehran in preparation for the talks, yet still unable to visit Riyadh. On 5 November, Brahimi is expected to convene a trilateral meeting with Russia and the US in Geneva.
Human Rights-Related Developments
The situation of human rights in Syria has been a top priority for the Human Rights Council (HRC). At its 23rd session, a three-hour urgent debate was held on 29 May at the request of Qatar, Turkey and the US. The HRC adopted resolution 23/1 on 29 May asking the Commission of Inquiry on Syria to investigate the events in Al Qusayr. Resolution 23/26 of 14 June demanded that Syria cooperate fully with the Commission and also asked for a report on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs).
During the 24th session, on 16 September, the HRC heard a briefing on IDPs and another from Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, the chair of the Commission. The HRC also received a thematic paper by the Commission on the assault on medical care in Syria, which noted the deliberate targeting of hospitals, medical personnel and transports and the denial of access to medical care. On 27 September, the HRC adopted resolution 24/22, which condemned the continued gross, systematic and widespread violations of human rights and the use of chemical weapons. The resolution also demanded that Syria facilitate, and all other parties allow, humanitarian access.
The issue of possible measures under Chapter VII in the event of non-compliance with resolution 2118 is unlikely to come up in the near term since Kaag has publicly stated that Syria has thus far cooperated fully with the OPCW-UN Joint Mission. However, government compliance with making a full declaration of its arsenal and subsequent destruction activities will need to be tracked carefully. (The OPCW and the UN are mandated to verify but not to conduct destruction activities.)
The key issue for the Council is how to take the unprecedented cooperation at the international, regional and national levels on the chemical weapons track and translate that momentum into tangible benefits for civilians on the ground in terms of significantly lowering levels of violence and achieving greater humanitarian access.
The progress on the chemical weapons track has not altered the course of the civil war in Syria toward a political solution. The level of violence continues unabated with more than 100,000 killed by conventional weapons. The devastating humanitarian situation continues, with a growing refugee population of 2.2 million and over 4.2 million IDPs, coupled with alarming predictions of starvation in towns under siege and a collapsing health infrastructure as a result of deliberate and systematic attacks on medical facilities.
Options for the Council in November include receiving briefings from:
- Kaag on the chemical weapons track;
- Amos on the humanitarian situation, particularly access; and
- Brahimi on Geneva II.
If Geneva II slides toward further delay, the Council could issue a statement urging a quick convening of the talks and recalling its endorsement in resolution 2118 of the establishment of a transitional governing body exercising full executive powers.
If Geneva II is convened, the Council could issue a statement supporting the peace talks and urging swift agreement that could be endorsed by a resolution.
Council and Wider Dynamics
The Council views resolution 2118 as an example of unanticipated strategic gains that can be achieved if there is political will for substantive action.
On the other hand, some Council members have also expressed concern that the chemical weapons issue, which is only a marginal aspect of the crisis, has overshadowed the larger conflict, which continues to be characterised by unrelenting levels of violence. It is also unclear to many Council members whether the agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons will be able to deliver further positive peace dividends on the political and humanitarian tracks. Council members have noted the stark contrast between Syria’s cooperation on the chemical weapons issue and the lack thereof on the humanitarian track.
Saudi Arabia’s announcement on 18 October that it would not accept its term on the Security Council, set to begin on 1 January 2014, signalled a rupture with the US approach towards Syria and a lack of confidence in the Security Council to deal with the crisis. Despite the “London 11” talks, that same day Saudi Arabia stated at the Middle East open debate that “the Syrian regime’s continued extermination of its own people” had forfeited its “place in determining its [Syria’s] future”. This may be an indication that Saudi Arabia may now be less willing to use its considerable leverage in the region to support the US position and convince the Syrian opposition to attend the Geneva II peace talks.
France is the penholder on Syria. However, most texts are thoroughly negotiated between Russia and the US prior to agreement by the broader Council. Resolution 2118 was almost entirely negotiated by Russia and the US. Furthermore, given the P5 divisions in the Council around Syria, elected members Australia and Luxembourg have taken the lead on the humanitarian track.
|Security Council Resolution|
|27 September 2013 S/RES/2118||This resolution was adopted unanimously by the Council and requires the verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, calls for the convening of the Geneva II peace talks and endorses the establishment of a transitional governing body in Syria with full executive powers.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|2 October 2013 S/PRST/2013/15||This statement was on humanitarian access in Syria and urged the government to take immediate steps to allow for expanded relief operations and lift bureaucratic obstacles.|
|28 October 2013 S/2013/629||This was the first monthly progress report by the OPCW-UN Joint Mission regarding Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.|
|16 September 2013 S/2013/553||This was the report with the results of the UN investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August.|
|Security Council Letters|
|16 October 2013 S/2013/609||This letter noted the appointment of Sigrid Kaag as the Special Coordinator of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission.|
|11 October 2013 S/2013/603||In this letter, the Council authorised the establishment of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission.|
|7 October 2013 S/2013/591||This was the Secretary-General’s recommendations for establishing the OPCW-UN Joint Mission.|
|27 September 2013 S/2013/580||This was the OPCW decision on the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons.|
|19 September 2013 S/2013/565||The Russian and US framework for the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons agreed in Geneva on 14 September.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|25 October 2013 S/PV.7049||The head of OCHA, Valerie Amos, briefed on implementation of presidential statement 2013/15. Amos expressed deep disappointment that access had not improved and there had been no major breakthrough in getting the Syrian government to lift bureaucratic impediments and other obstacles.|
|22 October 2013 S/PV.7047||This was a quarterly open debate on the Middle East.|
|Human Rights Council Documents|
|27 September 2013 A/HRC/RES/24/22||This resolution condemned the continued gross, systematic and widespread violations of human rights and the use of chemical weapons and demanded humanitarian access.|
|13 September 2013 A/HRC/24/CRP.2||This was a special report by the Commission of Inquiry on the assault on medical care in Syria.|
|14 June 2013 A/HRC/RES/23/26||This resolution demanded that Syria cooperate fully with the Commission of Inquiry and also asked for a report on the human rights of IDPs.|
|29 May 2013 A/HRC/RES/23/1||This resolution requested the Commission of Inquiry to investigate the events in Al Qusayr, it was adopted following a three-hour urgent debate held at the request of Qatar, Turkey and the US.|