What's In Blue

Posted Thu 20 Feb 2014

Possible Vote on Syria Draft Humanitarian Resolution

Yesterday evening (19 February), following an intense two weeks of Council negotiations led by Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg with both the P5 and the full Council membership, the penholders put the draft resolution on humanitarian access in Syria in blue (S/2014/115). (In general, a resolution is put in blue 24 hours before it is likely to be put to a vote. However, this does not mean that a vote has to take place or that there cannot be further negotiations.) At press time, some members appear to be looking at the possibility of a Friday morning vote, while Russia was seeking a postponement.

The core group of Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg and the P3 decided to put the text in blue despite uncertainty over whether the compromise language was sufficient for Russia to cast a positive vote. In their view, the draft represents a fair package addressing the main areas of divergence without compromising any of the core group’s fundamental concerns: ceasing the aerial bombardment of population centers, securing cross-border access for aid and humanitarian access to besieged areas.

Significant areas of disagreement emerged during the course of negotiations including references to the Syrian government’s unwillingness to implement the 2 October 2013 presidential statement (S/PRST/2013/15), citing Article 41 (i.e. sanctions) in the draft resolution and calling for cross-border access. Similarly, there was resistance from
Russia to strong condemnation of the regime and language highlighting the government’s particular responsibility to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian access. Russia also stressed, as it has done in past negotiations on Syria outcomes, the need to “balance the blame” on both the government and opposition forces. An example of how this position affected the current draft was in language referencing attacks using methods of warfare currently only employed by Syrian authorities, such as barrel bombs. The draft in blue does not make an explicit reference to the government’s use of aerial bombardment.

While the core group was willing to condemn violence by all parties and strengthen counter-terrorism language in the draft, they could not agree to language downplaying the pace and scale of the government’s attacks on civilians. Other areas of disagreement were citing the number of people affected by the conflict, the type of weaponry used by the government and references to war crimes and accountability.

The draft in blue contains a number of other changes from the version shared with China and Russia on 6 February, including significant amendments to two of the most contentious issues—the threat of sanctions and cross-border access. The earlier draft demanded Syrian authorities allow unhindered humanitarian access across borders and for the lifting of all restrictions on cross-border access in particular via Iraq and Turkey. The draft resolution in blue has dropped references to the neighbouring countries and the lifting of restrictions, but retains the general language demanding humanitarian access across borders.

Russia said publicly and during negotiations that the threat of sanctions was a non-starter. As a result the draft in blue has dropped the intent to impose measures under Article 41 if demands are not met within 15 days which was in the 6 February draft. It simply expresses intent to take further steps in the case of non-compliance. The request for monthly reporting from the Secretary-General included in the early version has been retained.

The earlier draft stressed accountability, recalling the relevance of the International Criminal Court (ICC) while the draft in blue only stresses that those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses should be brought to justice. The references to the ICC raised concerns among a few members, particularly Russia, Rwanda and the US.

However, despite the changes to the text to try and address Russia’s concerns, it is still unknown if Russia will be able to support the draft resolution and, if not, whether Russia would be willing to abstain rather than veto. Apparently China was largely quiet during negotiations but did register concern at the lack of progress on all three Syria tracks: political, humanitarian and chemical weapons. Nevertheless, it remains unclear if China found the proposed compromise language acceptable or if the automaticity of backing Russia’s position will continue. (It seems there have been several high-level demarches from Western and Arab governments to convince Beijing to vote based on the merits of the resolution.)

Separately, it is possible UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi may brief Council members next week on the Geneva II peace talks. Today’s urgent meeting of the General Assembly on Syria was postponed to next week, likely in deference to the impending vote in the Security Council.

Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Sign up for What's In Blue emails