What's In Blue

Posted Thu 17 Apr 2014

Briefing on Homs, Syria

Later today, Council members are set to be briefed by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos and Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernández-Taranco in consultations on the situation in Homs. It seems that France requested the briefing, expected to be held at 5:30 pm, following the intensified bombing of Homs. The focus will be on Homs specifically, rather than the larger humanitarian situation which will be covered during a briefing by Amos on 30 April following the second monthly report on the implementation of resolution 2139 on humanitarian access. At press time no outcome was expected from the briefing.

Earlier today UN-Arab Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi issued a statement expressing alarm that Homs was once again the “theatre of death and destruction”. He also expressed regret that negotiations were stopped when a comprehensive agreement seemed close at hand and urged all parties to return to the negotiating table. Council members may be looking for more details from Taranco on the prospects of restarting talks to lift the siege on Homs.

From 10 – 16 February a six day humanitarian ceasefire allowed 1,350 civilians to leave Homs. However, while citing this evacuation as an example of what can be achieved if parties act in support of humanitarian action, Amos also noted in a 13 February briefing to Council members that men and boys were separated from their families and detained by the government during the evacuation.

On 15 April, Syrian forces launched an assault on the city of Homs, which has been under siege for two years, advancing into several rebel-held neighbourhoods around Homs. Media reports indicate that about 1,300 people, mainly fighters, remain in the besieged rebel areas. In the last few months, government forces have recaptured several rebel held areas and closed off rebel supply routes from Lebanon.

In addition to an update on the situation in Homs, some members may be looking for an assessment of the likelihood of a massacre if the Syrian forces enter Homs. There will also likely be keen interest in whether there is any possibility of a truce at this stage.

Another issue that may come up in the discussions is 9 April’s deadly car bombings in Homs where more than 20 people were killed and over 100 injured. In a 10 April statement, Amos condemned the car bombings and reminded the parties that attacks on civilians are war crimes and might amount to crimes against humanity. Syria, in letters to the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Council, called on the UN to condemn these attacks. Council members may be interested in further information on this incident.

The escalation of violence in Homs which is likely to impact humanitarian access in the area is likely to galvanise those Council members who are becoming increasingly convinced that there is a need for a resolution imposing measures for non-compliance on the humanitarian track. If Amos’ 30 April briefing show little improvement in terms of humanitarian access, it is likely that this could prompt a move towards a vote on such a resolution.

Yesterday (16 April), Council members met in an Arria-formula meeting organised by France focusing on detention of Syrians by the Syrian regime, human right violations committed during their detention and justice for crimes committed in Syria. On 2 April France had circulated the “Report into the Credibility of Certain Evidence with regard to Torture and Execution of Persons Incarcerated by the Current Syrian Regime” (codenamed the “Caesar” Report) as a document of the Security Council (S/2014/244), and two members of the inquiry team involved in the report briefed during the Arria-formula meeting. They confirmed the authenticity of photographs and testimony provided by a former member of the Syrian military police—“Caesar”—which portray widespread torture and executions in Syrian prisons. Yesterday’s Arria-formula meeting and the report appear to be part of a series of moves by France paving the road to presenting a draft resolution on a referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

Next week it seems that there may be a briefing by the Special Coordinator of the Joint Mission of the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Sigrid Kaag on the implementation of resolution 2118, which required the verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. It appears that some Council members are keen to use this briefing – which will be held in addition to the monthly briefing under the terms of resolution 2118 – to maintain pressure on Syria to comply with the key deadline for full removal of chemical weapons material by the end of April.