What's In Blue

Posted Wed 11 May 2011

Insights on Syria

The escalation of the Syrian government’s suppression of public protests over the past weeks has led to increased pressure against Syria, including from a number of Council members. The UK and France seem interested in initiating a possible Council response to the situation.

Divisions in the Council seem to be continuing to affect its ability to engage effectively on this and other emerging situations in the Middle East. The Syrian situation was raised in the 10 May open debate on Protection of Civilians by OCHA head Valerie Amos, as well as in the statements of Council members Germany, France, Portugal and the UK. Particular emphasis was placed on issues of humanitarian access and accountability.

Previously this week, it seems that the UK and France raised Syria in Council discussions on three occasions, following the briefing of the ICC prosecutor on Libya on 4 May, during the consultations on resolution 1559 (Lebanon) on 6 May and in the consultations with Amos on Libya on 9 May. Looking ahead it seems highly likely that Syria will continue to feature during the monthly briefing from DPA in consultations on 13 May and in the monthly briefing and consultations on the Middle East on 19 May. (Regarding the 13 May DPA briefing Libya and Yemen may also be items for discussion.)

Several Council members agree that the Syrian situation, at this stage, is an internal matter and not a question of international peace and security. Other Council members seem concerned about discussion of Syria in the context of protection of civilians, believing that because there is not an armed conflict in Syria the POC normative framework is not the one to apply. Instead it is a matter arising under responsibility to protect (R2P) and extreme violations of human rights law.

Most Council members seem to recognise that the Syrian situation exhibits an excessive use of force in violation of international human rights laws, particularly with respect to killing protestors, suppressing protests and arbitrary detentions. But as there is no armed conflict the concept of protection of civilians does not apply.

During yesterday’s Protection of Civilians debate the New York office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights announced that, at the request of the Human Rights Council, it would send an investigative mission to Syria with preliminary findings expected in June.

There seems also to be increased opposition to Syria’s bid for membership of the UN’s Geneva-based Human Rights Council. The election is due to be held on 20 May. As of last week the Asia slate was uncontested with Syria, India, Indonesia and the Philippines vying for the four vacancies. But on 9 May Kuwait announced its candidacy as another Arab candidate for the Asia slate.

On 6 May the EU announced unilateral sanctions against members of the Syrian ruling elite, but not against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The EU is considering further sanctions this week.