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. The OPCW-UN Joint Mission will come to a close on 30 September.
US President Barack Obama will preside over a summit-level Council meeting on the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters. While this issue is not specific to Syria, activities by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria are expected to be a prominent feature of the meeting. (For more details, please see the August 2014 brief on Counter-Terrorism.)
Finally, 1 September is the first day of Staffan de Mistura’s term as Special Envoy for Syria. No meeting on the Syria political track was planned at press time.
Key Recent Developments
Kaag last briefed on 5 August, reporting that on 24 July, the OPCW had agreed to a destruction plan for the 12 production facilities in Syria—the facilities were to have been destroyed by 15 March. On 18 August, the US announced that the destruction of declared priority chemicals on its ship, the Cape Ray, had been completed. On 25 August, the Secretary-General said that successor arrangements to the OPCW-UN Joint Mission were being established to carry out the remaining verification and inspection activities under resolution 2118 and that reporting to the Security Council would continue.
Meanwhile, the civil war in Syria continues unabated on its devastating course, with a death toll now conservatively estimated at over 191,000. There are 2.99 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 in besieged areas.
Amos visited Tehran on 17 August to discuss the humanitarian crises in Syria with government officials saying that Iran had a very important role to help the UN and its partners gain access in Syria.
On 28 August, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kyung-wha Kang briefed the Council on humanitarian access. She reported that since the adoption of resolution 2165, there had been five cross-border aid deliveries, some improvement in access to Aleppo, Dar’a and rural Damascus and that medical supplies had reached a number of opposition held areas. However, access continued to decline in government and ISIS controlled areas and that key elements of resolution 2139 remained unimplemented, such as medical neutrality, ceasing aerial bombardments and easing administrative hurdles.
Clashes between the Syrian government and ISIS have significantly increased after ISIS expanded into north-western Iraq in early June. The ISIS assault that began in July around its self-proclaimed capital, Raqqa, culminated in their capture of the Tabqa air base on 24 August, depriving Syria of control of its last military bastion in Raqqa province.
US airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq began on 8 August. While no such airstrikes have occurred in Syria, on 25 August the US did authorise surveillance flights over Syria, focused on the border with Iraq. Some analysts see this as a step towards US military action against ISIS targets in Syria. Syria has said that any airstrike not coordinated with Damascus would be considered aggression.
On 15 August, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2170, which condemned ISIS and al-Nusrah Front for the recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters. It also listed six individuals affiliated with these groups under the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida sanctions regime and expressed the Council’s readiness to list others involved in financing or facilitating the travel of foreign terrorist fighters.
On 22 August, Council members issued a press statement condemning the 19 August beheading of US journalist James Foley by ISIS.
Human Rights-Related Developments
A paper published by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 12 August, sheds light on the “indescribable suffering” of inmates at Aleppo Central Prison. Serious human rights violations and abuses by government officials, including prison guards, as well as by armed opposition groups during their year-long siege of the facility that ended in May, were documented, including extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearance and starvation—constituting violations of international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes.
On 4 July, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women considered the second periodic report of Syria (CEDAW/SYR/2). The Committee’s principal areas of concern included the exacerbation of violence against women since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011, consistent reports indicating that women activists have been subjected to arbitrary detention, physical abuse and sexual violence by government forces and affiliated militias and the high incidence of sexual violence, trafficking, child and forced marriages, torture, arbitrary detentions and kidnappings against women and girls by all parties to the conflict.
During its 27th session in September, the Human Rights Council will consider the latest report of its Commission of Inquiry on Syria (A/HRC/27/60) that accused government forces and ISIS of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The key issue for the Council is 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, and not exclusively through the lens of counter-terrorism, 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.
An ongoing issue for the Council will be what further steps it might take if meaningful implementation of resolutions 2139 and 2165 on humanitarian access, particularly by the Syrian government, continues to lag.
With the accountability track blocked after the 22 May veto by China and Russia of the ICC referral, the chemical weapons track winding down and the humanitarian track shifting to monitoring mode, September seems to offer, during the high-level week of the General Assembly, an opportunity to galvanize Council energy toward progress on the political track.
Council members could invite de Mistura to meet and discuss ways to revive the political process. Although largely superseded by political realities on the ground, 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 UN mandate (no longer a joint post with the Arab League) will provide any latitude to move talks forward and how he plans to implement the Secretary-General’s call to fully involve countries in the region, a veiled reference to Iran.
There has been no serious discussion among Council members about acting on the threat in resolutions 2139 and 2165 to impose measures for non-compliance. In fact, the massive effort that went into agreeing on resolution 2165 on cross-border access has shifted down into monitoring mode. Similarly on the chemical weapons track, Council members are likely to concentrate on monitoring the remaining activities of the OPCW-UN joint mission, such as verification work, the destruction of production facilities and clarifying discrepancies of the chemical weapons stockpile declared by Syria.
Overall, crises in Gaza, Iraq and Libya have drawn attention away from Syria in recent months. Council members seem generally despondent over how to have any meaningful role in ceasing the civil war in Syria. Recent activity by the Council has been limited to counter-terrorism efforts, and the emergence of ISIS as a wider regional threat is likely to exacerbate that trend.
Council members have only recently approached the cross-pollination of ISIS in the crises in Iraq and Syria with the adoption of a 28 July presidential statement prohibiting illicit oil trade as a source of revenue for terrorists and the 15 August adoption of resolution 2170 on ISIS and the al-Nusra Front. While Russia has from the beginning of the conflict taken the position that terrorism was the greatest threat to international peace and security, the P3 in particular had held firmly to the view that the real threat was the Bashar al-Assad regime. In recent months, with the proliferation of ISIS fighters from Syria into Iraq and its expanding control of territory, strategic infrastructure, military hardware and natural resources, it appears that the P3’s calculations have shifted toward viewing ISIS as another primary threat on par with the Assad regime, bringing them closer to the Russian position on terrorism in Syria. As a result, it seems that the counter-terrorism aspect of the conflict, because it is easier to garner consensus in the Council, has overwhelmingly overshadowed any serious thinking about how to revive the stalled political track.
The Secretary-General has reminded the Council that the conflict cannot be reduced to the problem of terrorism and foreign fighters and that all concerned should not lose sight that the best way to stop terror is a political solution. On the political track, Council members will be interested in De Mistura’s preliminary plans for reviving the political process, but few have expectations that any bold plans that could positively impact the situation in Syria will be forthcoming in the near term.
France is the penholder on Syria overall, while Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg are the penholders on the humanitarian track. In practice, however, most texts need to be agreed between Russia and the US prior to agreement by the broader Council.
|Security Council Resolutions|
|15 August 2014 S/RES/2170||Condemned the recruitment by ISIS and al-Nusra of foreign fighters and listed six individuals affiliated with those groups under the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida sanctions regime.|
|14 July 2014 S/RES/2165||This resolution 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.|
|27 September 2013 S/RES/2118||This resolution was adopted unanimously by the Council and required the verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, called for the convening of the Geneva II peace talks and endorsed the establishment of a transitional governing body in Syria with full executive powers.|
|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|
|28 August 2014 S/PV.7252||This was a briefing on humanitarian access in Syria.|
|25 August 2014 S/2014/622||This was the eleventh OPCW-UN Joint Mission monthly progress report regarding Syrian chemical weapons.|
|21 August 2014 S/2014/611||This was a report on humanitarian access in Syria.|
|Human Rights Council Documents|
|13 August 2014 A/HRC/27/60||This was the eigth report of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria.|