Monthly DPA Briefing on Emerging Issues: March
Tomorrow morning (6 March) Council members will receive their monthly briefing on emerging issues by the head of the Department of Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe. It seems Pascoe is likely to focus on the situation in Syria, Camp Ashraf in Iraq and the elections in Senegal.
On Syria, Pascoe is likely to brief Council members on continued efforts by the international community to bring pressure to bear to end the violence. Pascoe covered Syria in the regular monthly Middle East briefing to Council members on 28 February. He told Council members that the international community had failed in its duty to Syria and that there was a disproportionate use of force by Syrian authorities. He also warned about the dire humanitarian consequences of the conflict. In addition Pascoe said that there were credible reports of a death toll of in excess of 7,500 civilians, between 100,000 and 200,000 internally displaced persons and approximately 25,000 registered refugees.
Pascoe is also likely to update Council members on the activities of the UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy, Kofi Annan, who is expected to meet the Arab League in Cairo later this week and is scheduled to visit Damascus on 10 March, followed by visits to other countries in the region. It seems that Council members are supportive of Annan’s role as mediator for a peaceful solution in Syria and are keen to get the latest information on his programme.
A related development that is likely to come up during the briefing is today’s (5 March) news that Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) head, Valerie Amos, had been granted access by the Syrian authorities to visit Damascus. At press time she was expected to visit Damascus from 7-9 March. While in Damascus she is expected to try and reach a framework agreement for UN access to address urgent humanitarian needs. Amos was scheduled to brief Council members on her attempts to gain access to Syria tomorrow afternoon (6 March) but it appears that the briefing has been postponed until her return from Damascus.
Pascoe may also touch on the General Assembly meeting on 2 March where the Secretary-General briefed members following-up on the 16 February General Assembly resolution on Syria. In his statement, the Secretary-General underlined Pascoe’s message that the international committee had failed to take the action needed to end the crisis in Syria. He also stressed that further militarisation is not the answer.
Following tomorrow’s DPA briefing, the Council has several other opportunities in March to maintain its focus on Syria. Besides the forthcoming OCHA briefing by Amos, the 12th March ministerial debate on challenges and opportunities in the Middle East and the regular Middle East briefing towards the end of the month will allow Council members to be updated on developments in Syria.
A related issue of concern for Council members is the impact of the Syrian situation on Lebanon. Council members will have a chance to hear more about this issue when the new Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, briefs Council members towards the end of the month. (At press time, registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon numbered approximately 7,000 with a new influx of between 3,000 and 4,500.).
It seems that Pascoe is also likely to brief on the Camp Ashraf situation in Iraq. (Camp Ashraf houses over 3,000 dissidents from a group known as the People’s Mujahedin of Iran and was expected to close down on 31 December.) This issue was also brought up during Pascoe’s last three DPA briefings on emerging issues. At the Secretary-General’s request, the Iraqi government extended the deadline to close the camp from 31 December 2011 to 30 April 2012 and the UN agreed to process residents for relocation to third countries. Given the 30 April deadline it seems that Council members are particularly concerned about the lack of third countries willing to take in residents from Camp Ashraf.
On 17 February, about 400 of residents of Camp Ashraf moved to Camp Liberty, a former US military base near Baghdad airport. However, according to media reports there have been complaints about conditions in Camp Liberty and the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has been accused of misrepresenting conditions there. It seems that now the leadership in Camp Ashraf is resistant to any more residents moving to Camp Liberty. Council members are likely to want an update on what is being done to persuade them to relocate before 30 April.
Another situation that is likely to be covered in Pascoe’s briefing is the elections in Senegal. The electoral commission announced today (5 March) that the second round run-off between incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade and former Prime Minister Macky Sall will be held March 25. While the 26 February election took place in a peaceful manner there were high tensions and violent protests in the months leading up to the elections. The Secretary-General on 2 March called for “civic responsibility” and “democratic commitment” to prevail ahead of the second round. Pascoe is likely to provide information on the UN’s efforts to support a peaceful and credible election.