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Briefing by Deputy Joint Special Envoy for Syria

Tomorrow morning (19 April) Council members will be briefed on Syria in informal consultations by Jean-Marie Guéhenno, deputy to UN-Arab League Special Envoy Kofi Annan, and Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Edmond Mulet. It is likely that Annan may brief the Council separately next week.

Guéhenno will brief on the situation on the ground as well as the implementation of resolution 2042 which was unanimously adopted on Saturday (14 April) authorising the deployment of an advance team of up to 30 military observers to Syria. Mulet will brief on the activities of the 6 UN personnel that are already on the ground in Syria as well as the planned deployment of the remainder of the advance team expected to arrive in Damascus over the next week.

Council members are likely to be interested in receiving from Guéhenno some concrete feedback on the Syrian government’s cooperation with the advance team. Council members are also likely to be concerned about reports of ongoing violence by the government in population centres, the lack of a sufficient withdrawal of the military from such areas and how such an environment may negatively impact the UN’s ability to deploy an effective supervisory mission. Some Council members may want to emphasise the importance of the Syrian government keeping its commitments.

Council members are also likely to want an update on the status of negotiations between Annan’s team and the Syrian government on the protocol which will govern how the advance team and any future mission will operate in the country. It seems several issues have arisen such as the need for any UN mission to have independent air support, unobstructed communications and the observers’ nationalities (it seems Syria is hesitant to accept observers from states that have imposed sanctions on it, which would include the Arab League states, possibly resulting in a dearth of Arabic speaking observers.)

It seems another issue is the provision of security to the advance team and any future mission. Resolution 2042 specifies that the primary responsibility for security lies with the Syrian authorities. It seems there has also been significant work done by Annan and his team to secure guarantees from opposition elements. At press time it remained unclear when a protocol might be finalised between the UN and the Syrian government.

The Secretary-General’s recommendations for a full UN supervision mechanism to monitor a cessation of violence as well as other aspects of Annan’s six-point plan are likely to be transmitted to the Council in a letter. At press time, consultations on the recommendations were still ongoing. (Resolution 2042 requested submission of these recommendations by today, 18 April.) It seems DPKO is planning for a mission of 300 to 350 personnel to be deployed in phases within approximately two months following Security Council authorisation. Council members are particularly interested in these details as it will likely have to act swiftly when conditions are appropriate to authorise such a mission.

All Council members agree that the main objective of any such mission should be to monitor a cessation of violence. There are differences however over whether military observation should be the sole focus of any mission, or if the mission’s function should also include monitoring implementation of other aspects of the six-point plan. If there is agreement that the monitoring of issues related to arbitrary detention, torture and sexual violence are needed the mission would need to include some protection advisers and human rights expertise. (Resolution 2042 expresses the intention to monitor cessation of violence in all forms by all parties and relevant aspects of the six-point plan.)

There is a common interest amongst Council members for the violence to end and for monitors to deploy. There is also a sense among some Council members that a fully deployed mission could decrease violence. Other Council members have expressed concern about deploying unarmed UN personnel in a potentially non-permissive environment.

It seems unlikely that the Council will move to authorise a full monitoring mission without a clear indication from Annan that he is satisfied that the commitments outlined in resolution 2042 have been sufficiently met—in particular issues related to freedom of movement and access. In that sense the possible briefing by Annan next week may be the point at which Council members may need to seriously consider the authorisation and deployment of a UN supervision mechanism.

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