What's In Blue

Posted Sun 3 Nov 2013

Briefings on Humanitarian Situation in Syria and Arms Proliferation in Libya

On Monday (4 November), Emergency Relief Coordinator and head of Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Valerie Amos, will brief Council members on the humanitarian situation in Syria under “any other business” following consultations on the November programme of work. At the request of Russia, Council members are also expected to be briefed the same day also under “any other business” on the implementation of resolution 2017 on the proliferation of weapons in Libya by Tarek Mitri, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, via video-teleconference from Tripoli.


Last Friday (1 November), Australia and Luxembourg requested that Amos update Council members on OCHA’s plans to implement the 2 October presidential statement on humanitarian access (S/PRST/2013/15). Amos is expected to highlight areas where Council attention might make a difference on the ground as well as provide an update on the operationalisation of the humanitarian presidential statement.

Both Amos and Council members appear to be keen to discuss how lessons from the unprecedented cooperation at the international, regional and national levels on the chemical weapons track since the adoption of resolution 2118 on the destruction of Syria’s chemicals weapons arsenal on 27 September can be applied to the humanitarian track. There is interest in making a concerted attempt to translate that momentum into tangible benefits for civilians on the ground by significantly lowering levels of violence and achieving greater humanitarian access.

During her last briefing on the implementation of the presidential statement on 25 October, Amos expressed deep disappointment that, despite the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, access had not improved and there had been no major breakthrough in getting Syria to lift bureaucratic impediments and other obstacles. She also reiterated that without real and sustained pressure from the Security Council, particularly on the government of Syria, but also on opposition groups on the ground, it would be impossible to make further progress.

Council members will be interested in getting more clarity on OCHA’s views on how sustained Council attention could have immediate and positive benefits in Syria. Amos is likely to reemphasise the importance of individual Council members using their bilateral political leverage with parties on the ground to allow the evacuation of civilians from siege areas or facilitate access in hard to reach areas. More specifically, such political leverage could be used to reinvigorate the idea of regular “humanitarian pauses” to access civilians in need.

It is also likely Amos will stress the need for pressure to be applied to achieve immediate progress on other issues addressed in the presidential statement: the cessation of the assault on medical care, the need for Syria to more predictably process requests for visas for humanitarian workers, have efficient customs clearance procedures for humanitarian supplies and equipment, facilitate field missions, authorise the establishment of additional humanitarian hubs and allow for aid to directly reach those in need, i.e. to forgo the current requirement that all aid be centrally routed through Damascus for redistribution.

Council members are also likely to be interested in Amos’s views on the idea of establishing a Geneva-based group of UN member states focusing on humanitarian access issues in Syria. Such a “contact group” would provide a practical mechanism where OCHA could raise specific issues in order to have the necessary political pressure applied to get expedited and unhindered access. While the development of this group is still in a nascent state and the participants and modalities have yet to be finalised, it would likely include a cross-section of relevant member states such as the P5 along with Australia and Luxembourg, who lead on the humanitarian track in the Council, and some regional actors—potentially Iran, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

In remarks to the press following her last briefing, Amos said she had asked the Council to consider a number of measures which would help secure humanitarian access, including the political support of Security Council members. However, aside from the call for the Council to exercise its political influence there was no explicit request for any further outcome from the Council, such as a resolution on humanitarian access.

Many Council members have pointed out that this apparent lack of robust cooperation on implementing the presidential statement on humanitarian access stands in stark contrast to the government’s compliance with resolution 2118 on chemical weapons. This has led to the troubling conclusion among most Council members that delays and obstacles on humanitarian access are political in nature rather than due to the lack of institutional or technical capacity to facilitate humanitarian relief operations as the Syrian government claims.

Some Council members are aware that a resolution may be a possible next step if cooperation on humanitarian access issues does not improve dramatically in the near term. However, the immediate focus for Council members is to see if they can act on Amos’s calls for the use of bilateral political leverage to improve humanitarian access.

Council members also see a potential positive peace dividend if humanitarian conditions can be improved on the ground. Such improvement could be a significant confidence-building measure in advance of the, as yet, unscheduled Geneva II peace talks between the Syrian opposition and the government. In this context, Council members are interested in avoiding any contentious negotiations in order to allow a limited period of time for the Syrian government to comply with the presidential statement and cooperate with OCHA in the same prompt and efficient manner as was displayed on the chemical weapons track.

Council members will have an opportunity to discuss developments on the chemical weapons track on Tuesday (5 November), when Special Coordinator Sigrid Kaag (Netherlands) is expected to brief Council members in consultations on the first monthly report by the OPCW-UN Joint Mission on the implementation of resolution 2118, which required the verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.


It seems that recent press reports on militias being approached by Al-Qaida to buy uncontrolled arms arsenals motivated Russia to ask for a briefing last Friday on the arms proliferation in Libya. Mitri is expected to brief on UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) efforts to address this issue, such as institution-building in the areas of ammunition management, arms control, mine action as well as chemical weapons and explosive ordnance disposal. He is also expected to raise the lack of financial support in addressing the risks associated with unexploded ordnance, unsecured ammunition and uncontrolled weapons systems.

Following the evidence of the impact of weapons from Libya on the wider Sahel region presented in the interim report of the Panel of Experts of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, some Council members might be interested in getting more information on weapons coming from Libya not only into northern Africa and the Sahel, but into Syria and other countries of the Middle East as well.

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