What's In Blue

Posted Thu 17 Jan 2013

Syria Briefing on 18 January

Security Council members will be briefed in consultations at 11 a.m. tomorrow (18 January) on the situation in Syria by High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos. It seems that France, the lead country on Syria in the Council, requested both briefings.

It is likely that Council members will be interested in having Pillay elaborate on her 2 January statement that more than 60,000 people will have been killed in the on-going conflict in Syria by early 2013. (Pillay drew on new figures referred to in an independent study commissioned by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released that day which stated that 59,648 “unique killings” had been catalogued in Syria between March 2011 and November 2012.) This was a much higher number than had been expected.

Pillay is also likely to highlight accountability issues and the role of the Security Council when she addresses Council members tomorrow. In comments to the media following the release of the independent study, Pillay said that the study—along with evidence gathered by her Office and the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry—was the basis on which to build future investigations and to enhance accountability. She also expressed concern that the international community, in particular the Security Council, had not taken concrete action to address the Syrian crisis. When Pillay last briefed Council members on 2 July 2012, she called on the Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC). (This past Monday [14 January], Switzerland submitted a letter to the Council requesting that it refer the situation in Syria since March 2011 to the ICC. The letter was co-signed by 56 other member states including Council members Australia, France, Luxembourg, the Republic of Korea and the UK.)

The issue of such a referral is sensitive in the Council for a number of reasons. Council members that are not signatories of the Rome Statute, traditionally have been wary of ICC referrals. In addition, the lack of strong follow-up of the Council to its two previous referrals to the ICC (Darfur and Libya) has made some other Council members cautious about referring a situation which may be perceived as a political move. There is also concern that an ICC referral could effectively remove the possibility of a political solution if President Bashar al-Assad were to step down.

It is also likely that Pillay will brief Council members on the 20 December 2012 Periodic Update by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria. The update reported unabated violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, that civilians are bearing the brunt of intensified fighting in urban areas, and commented on the increasingly and overtly sectarian nature of the violence in the conflict.

Amos reported that Syria was on the edge of irreversible damage in her last briefing to Council members on 17 December 2012 on the humanitarian situation in Syria following her 15 December visit to Damascus. Tomorrow’s briefing comes as OCHA Operations Director, John Ging, travels to Damascus and UN agencies characterise the humanitarian impact from the Syrian crisis as catastrophic. Current estimates indicate as many as four million in need within Syria, including 2 million internally displaced persons, and 600,000 Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries also in need of support with estimates that refugees could increase to one million in the first half of the year.

Meanwhile, reports indicate that funding to meet these humanitarian needs is falling significantly short. In this context, Amos is also likely to update Council members on her plans to better coordinate and prioritise the UN response to this crisis given the sharp deterioration in recent months and the complexity of the situation on the ground. Council members will also likely be interested in Amos’s assessment of humanitarian access within Syria and her plans to return to Damascus later this month to meet with the government prior to the high-level International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria, scheduled for 30 January in Kuwait.

It seems possible that UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi may brief the Council later in the month to update members on the trilateral talks he has held with Russia and the US on a political solution to the Syrian crisis based on the principles outlined in the 30 June 2012 Geneva Communiqué. (The most recent trilateral talks took place in Geneva on 11 January.) Brahimi has not briefed the Council since these meetings nor since his meeting with President Assad on 24 December 2012 (his last briefing was on 29 November 2012).

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