Briefing on UN Mission in Syria
Council members will be briefed tomorrow morning (8 May) on the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) in closed consultations by UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan (via video-link) and Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Hervé Ladsous. (Resolution 2043, which authorised UNSMIS on 21 April for 90 days, requested reporting on the mission twice monthly.)
Annan is expected to update the Council on his mediation efforts since his last briefing on 24 April. Council members will likely be interested in hearing what the Syrian government has done to implement its earlier commitments under the six-point plan (which it agreed to on 25 March). Many Council members are concerned that the pre-condition for a sustained cessation of violence—the Syrian government’s halting troop movements and withdrawing heavy weapons from population centres—has not been fulfilled. (Media reports indicate a significant uptick in violence after a short lull following the 12 April deadline for cessation of violence.)
Council members are also likely to want to be updated on the opposition’s commitments and actions with regard to a cessation of violence. Additionally, Council members may want more information about reports of reprisal violence by Syrian authorities in areas visited by monitors and following demonstrations.
Ladsous will likely focus on the establishment of the force of 300 authorised unarmed military observers. (At press time, DPKO had received commitments for 250 military observers.) An update is also likely on the civilian component of the mission. It seems DPKO is working to identify approximately 35 personnel with expertise in civil affairs, political affairs and human rights. Some Council members also seem interested in ensuring that the civilian component includes staff with protection expertise—particularly on issues related to women, children and sexual violence. On 3 May, the head of UNSMIS, Major General Robert Mood, reported that 50 military and civilian observers were deployed in Damascus, Homs, Hama, Dera’a and Idlib and this deployment of mission personnel seems to have helped reduce shelling in those areas and may assist in preventing reprisal violence.
Council members have urged for the rapid deployment of the remaining authorised observers and it seems full deployment is possible by the end of May. Council members will also likely be interested in the Status of Mission Agreement (SOMA) between the UN and Syria, in particular the government’s position on air transportation for UNSMIS. A lack of agreement on this may begin to negatively impact freedom of movement and safety of UNSMIS personnel as the mission moves towards full deployment.
During tomorrow’s consultations, Morocco (as the Arab representative on the Council) may raise the 26 April Arab League proposal for the Council to respond to the need to protect civilians if the Syrian government does not implement its commitments to cease violence. The Arab League, while aware that mediation of such a complex crisis needs time, would like to see progress measured by tangible results and lives saved, not just political commitments.
Another significant development is that the Council’s recent unity on Syria seems strained over the pace at which the six-point plan is being implemented. While all Council members support Annan’s six-point plan, many remain sceptical about the Syrian government’s intentions vis-à-vis ceasing violence and implementing the plan’s provisions. These Council members are also concerned that responsibility for the crisis has shifted away from the Syrian government towards the opposition while blame for not stopping the violence is unfairly shifting to the UN.
In the past the Council has tended to follow Annan’s lead on the situation and will likely continue to do so in the medium-term. However, there is an emerging hesitancy among some Council members about investing too much political energy into the six-point plan if the Syrian government doesn’t quickly and concretely act on its stated commitments. One additional frustration seems to be the lack of unified political opposition to engage with the Syrian government if a political dialogue were brokered by Annan.
A significant majority of Council members agrees that a critical window for the situation to improve is between now and 20 July, when UNSMIS expires. However, there is also a sense that this 90-day timeframe might not be sufficient for a successful diplomatic effort, particularly if the situation deteriorates further and the Syrian government continues to offer only small concessional gestures.
The P3 have indicated that they would like the Council to consider sanctions in the case of non-compliance by the Syrian government with resolutions 2042 and 2043. It seems the P3 considers that the situation on the ground—and the not the 90-day mandate—should determine when to push for such measures. However, sanctions are likely to still be a red line for Russia and China. They—along with other Council members—are concerned that sanctions would undermine the already fragile progress with the six-point plan. A number of Council members also seem to be leaning towards the idea of coercive measures as the logical next step if the situation stays the same or deteriorates. However, at this juncture, most think the appropriate time to assess the situation and consider such action will be when the UNSMIS mandate expires in July.
Many Council members are anticipating a sharp focus on Syria this month and expect to regularly assess the situation and calibrate their response accordingly. (A report on UNSMIS is due on 24 May and the Council’s next scheduled briefing is on 30 May.)
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