August 2014 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 August 2014
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MIDDLE EAST

Syria

Expected Council Action

Early in the month, Sigrid Kaag, Special Coordinator of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-UN Joint Mission, will brief Council members on the implementation of resolution 2118 regarding the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. Council members are also planning to visit the OPCW in August during The Hague leg of the upcoming Council visiting mission.

Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kyung-wha Kang will brief the Council later in the month on progress made in delivering aid across borders and conflict lines following the adoption of resolution 2165. Her public briefing will be followed by consultations.

Key Recent Developments

Kaag last briefed Council members on 7 July, reporting that the final 7.2 percent of declared chemical weapons was removed from Syria on 23 June. On 24 July, the OPCW decided on the destruction plan for the 12 production facilities in Syria that will begin within 60 days—seven will be razed and five will be sealed permanently. The facilities were to have been destroyed by 15 March.

The Council adopted resolution 2165 on 14 July, authorising cross-border and cross-line access for the UN and its partners to deliver humanitarian aid in Syria without state consent, creating the potential to help 2.9 million people in need. The resolution authorised access through four border crossings and a mechanism to monitor aid convoys and to notify Syrian authorities. The first such convoy traversed the Bab al-Salam crossing from Turkey on 24 July. Under Secretary-General Valerie Amos briefed Council members on humanitarian access for the first time under resolution 2165 on 30 July.

Meanwhile, crises in Gaza, Iraq and Libya have drawn attention away from Syria, but the civil war there continues unabated on its devastating course, with a death toll estimated at 170,000. There are 2.93 million refugees and 6.4 million internally displaced persons. Almost half of the population, 10.8 million, require humanitarian assistance, and of those 4.7 million are in hard-to-reach areas and 241,000 are in besieged areas.

On 16 July, President Bashar al-Assad was sworn in for a new seven-year term after winning a 3 June poll that was only held in government-controlled areas. The elections were widely viewed as a sham in the midst of a violent civil war. In his inaugural speech, Assad called for national reconciliation but ruled out talks with the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC).

On 9 July, Hadi al-Bahra was elected as the new SNC president, only to see his cabinet dissolved two weeks later on 22 July due to infighting. Since the failure in February of Geneva II, the second round of UN-mediated peace talks between the government and the opposition, the SNC has struggled for relevance and to establish itself as an authority on the ground in rebel-held areas of Syria. The SNC has consistently called on the US and other western backers to provide heavy weapons to fight the Assad regime but has now ramped up that plea, arguing that armed rebel groups are now confronting both government forces and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)—particularly around Aleppo, Damascus and in the eastern provinces.

On 26 June, two weeks after the surprise takeover of Mosul in Iraq by ISIS, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Syrian rebel forces could play a role in pushing ISIS back in Syria and Iraq, and US President Barack Obama asked congress for $500 million to train and equip such forces. It is unclear when or if such funds will be approved, and the earliest possible disbursement would be in early 2015 with implementation sometime in mid-2015. Separately, the US has accelerated its supply of arms and ammunition to a small number of vetted opposition groups in northern Syria. These efforts are perhaps too late to staunch the proliferation of ISIS.

Assad has portrayed himself as a bulwark against the rise of terrorism. However, in reality confrontations between government forces and ISIS are rare, with various opposition armed groups in Syria largely fighting ISIS for territorial control—particularly in the gas- and oil-rich eastern provinces where ISIS has its stronghold. However, clashes between the government and ISIS have increased after its surprise advance into north-western Iraq—Syrian forces recently took heavy losses in the struggle with ISIS for control of an army base near Raqqa.

On 28 July, the Council adopted a presidential statement addressing the seizure of the oilfields and pipelines in Syria and Iraq by ISIS and al-Nusra to finance terrorism. The statement stressed that all states are required to ensure that their nationals and any persons within their territory do not trade in oil with these entities.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 27 June, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on Syria condemning indiscriminate methods of warfare and violations and abuses committed against the civilian population. It condemned enforced disappearances by the regime and the use by the authorities of starvation of civilians as a method of combat. It demanded that the Syrian government cooperate fully with its Commission of Inquiry and emphasised accountability and the role of the ICC in this regard. Of the 47 HRC members, five voted against (Algeria, China, Cuba, Russia and Venezuela), nine abstained and one did not take part in the vote.

On 25 July, Security Council members met with the Commission of Inquiry in a closed Arria-formula format in New York. In the last three years, the Commission has collated testimonies that indicate a massive number of war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed. Such crimes include the deliberate targeting of civilians, indiscriminate attacks, attacks on protected objects—such as schools, hospitals and mosques—and the punitive imposition of sieges and blockades. The scale of government violations continues to outpace that of the opposition, with aerial bombardment, targeting highly populated areas, systematic and widespread reports of deaths and torture in government detention centres. Extra-judicial killings, sexual assaults, beatings and arbitrary arrests have become commonplace occurrences at government checkpoints. Indiscriminate attacks by armed opposition groups, including mortars, rockets and car bombs, are increasing.

 Key Issues

With the accountability track blocked after the 22 May veto by China and Russia of the ICC referral and the chemical weapons track winding down, the Council will need to refocus its attention in the fourth year of the conflict back to the original and overarching issue—finding ways to support a cessation of violence and resuscitate efforts for a political solution.

Another immediate issue is how to address the mutually destabilising impact of the crises in Iraq and Syria and the realignment of priorities and allegiances by the parties on the ground as a result of the gains accumulated by ISIS.

While resolution 2165 was only adopted in mid-July, an ongoing issue for the Council will be what further steps it might take if meaningful and substantive implementation of resolutions 2139 and 2165 on humanitarian access, particularly by the Syrian government, continues to lag.

Options

On the political track, Council members could invite the newly appointed Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura to meet and discuss ways to revive the political process. While the 30 June 2012 Geneva Communiqué remains the guiding document for a political solution, Council members could discuss with De Mistura how his approach will differ from those of his predecessors, Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi. They could also discuss whether his mandate under the UN, no longer a joint post with the Arab League, will provide any latitude to move talks forward.

Another option for the Council is to begin brainstorming how to approach the cross-pollination of the crises in Iraq and Syria—particularly the dimension of competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia for regional primacy as well as ISIS and Hezbollah fighters in both countries. In this regard, it will be important in the Syria prong of any such approach that the counter-terrorism aspect of the conflict does not overshadow the humanitarian, political and accountability tracks.

Council and Wider Dynamics

With the 30 June 2012 Geneva Communiqué superseded by events on the ground—including the re-election of Assad—there has been negligible Council activity on the political track. This may change in the coming months following De Mistura’s appointment on 10 July and as the massive effort that went into agreeing on resolution 2165 on cross-border access shifts down into monitoring mode.

On chemical weapons, with the final tranche of declared chemicals having left Syria, Council members are likely to concentrate on monitoring the remaining activities of the OPCW-UN joint mission, such as remaining verification work, the destruction of production facilities and clarifying discrepancies of the declared chemical weapons stockpile.

France is the penholder on Syria while Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg are the penholders on the humanitarian track. However, most texts need to be agreed between Russia and the US prior to agreement by the broader Council.

UN Documents

Security Council Resolutions
14 July 2014 S/RES/2165 Authorised cross-border and cross-line access for the UN and its partners to deliver humanitarian aid in Syria without state consent and established a monitoring mechanism for 180 days.
22 February 2014 S/RES/2139 This resolution demanded that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, allow humanitarian access in Syria across conflict lines, in besieged areas and across borders and expressed the intent to take further steps in the case of non-compliance.
Security Council Presidential Statements
28 July 2014 S/PRST/2014/14 This presidential statement prohibited illicit oil trade as a source of revenue for terrorists in Iraq and Syria.
Security Council Meeting Records
14 July 2014 S/PV.7216 The adoption of resolution 2165 on cross-border and cross-line humanitarian access, including explanation of votes.
Secretary-General’s Reports
25 July 2014 S/2014/533 This was the tenth OPCW-UN Joint Mission monthly progress report.
23 July 2014 S/2014/525 This was a report on humanitarian access, the first after the adoption of resolution 2165 on cross-border access.
26 June 2014 S/2014/444 This was the ninth OPCW-UN Joint Mission monthly progress report.
Human Rights Council Documents
27 June 2014 A/HRC/RES/26/23 Condemned all violations and abuses committed against the Syrian civilian population and demanded Syria’s cooperation with the Commission of Inquiry.
16 June 2014 A/HRC/26/CRP.2 This was an oral update of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria covering the period 15 March to 15 June 2014.