Draft Press Statement on Aleppo Strikes Under Silence
Last night (7 January), the UK circulated a draft press statement on Syrian government airstrikes against Aleppo which began on 15 December 2013. The draft is under silence until 4:00 this afternoon.
The draft press statement expresses outrage over the daily government airstrikes, particularly the use of heavy weapons such as SCUD missiles and barrel bombs in densely populated areas, which has left 700 dead and 3,000 injured since the sustained strikes began. The statement recalls a state’s primary responsibility to protect civilians and expresses grave concern at Syria’s disregard of its obligations under international humanitarian law. There is also a call for all parties, particularly the government, to implement in full the provisions of the 2 October 2013 presidential statement on humanitarian access (S/PRST/2013/15). It also welcomes the convening of the Geneva II conference scheduled for 22 January.
A very similar draft press statement was circulated by the US on 18 December 2013. Russia blocked the statement, saying it was unwarranted to single out the government given the overall levels of violence by all parties. The US argued that the regime should be singled out due to the magnitude and barbarity of the Aleppo airstrikes. Eventually, the US dropped the statement rather than dilute the language to reach the necessary consensus.
The UK consulted with the other P3 members on its draft earlier in the week. It seems, however, the US was hesitant to circulate the draft to the broader membership due to concerns about its potential impact on the Geneva II conference. While sensitive to these concerns, the UK decided to circulate the statement given the severity of the situation. It seems the UK also feels that while it is important that the Council continues to follow the chemical weapons and humanitarian track regularly, it is also important to energise Council discussion on the political track and that the Council should not be seen to be ignoring the civil war or the urgent need for civilian protection. (Despite the dire security situation, in resolution 2118 the Council only determined that the use of chemical weapons constitutes a threat to international peace and security.) However, many Council members are expecting Russia to reiterate the same concerns expressed in December before the silence period ends this afternoon.
The adoption of any text on the situation in Syria will be difficult without buy-in from Russia and the US. Given the US hesitancy over the timing, if not the substance, of this draft and the anticipated concerns likely to be raised by Russia over singling out the government, it is unclear whether Council members will be able to issue the press statement.
Separately on Syria this month, Luxembourg and the UK are planning an Arria formula meeting on 17 January focusing on women’s participation in the Syrian transition process. Council members will also closely follow preparations for the Geneva II conference and implementation of the 2 October 2013 presidential statement on humanitarian access. It seems possible that OCHA head Valerie Amos may brief Council members in late January or early February following her visit to the region, which includes a visit to Syria.