What's In Blue

Posted Tue 19 Aug 2014

Briefing on the Council Visiting Mission to Europe and Africa

This afternoon, the Security Council is expected to hold a public briefing on its 8-14 August visiting mission to Europe and Africa. One of the co-leaders of each leg of the trip will brief -Australia on Belgium, Chile on the Netherlands, the US on South Sudan and the UK on Somalia. Interventions from other Council members are not anticipated. The briefings are expected to provide a factual overview of the meetings held and other interactions during the mission. Some key themes from each leg of the trip will also be highlighted. Today’s public briefing format is the norm following Council visiting missions, although there have been exceptions, with the Council holding a public briefing, followed by closed consultations. For example, this latter format was used following the February 2012 visiting mission to Haiti, when there was considerable disappointment over certain aspects of the trip, as well as following the visiting missions to West Africa (May 2012) and Yemen (January 2013). However, the Council seems to have reverted to holding the standard public briefing, without closed consultations, after its February 2014 mission to Mali.

The Belgium visit, which took place on 9-10 August, was co-led by Australia and the UK. While in Belgium, the Council visited towns—Dinant, Leuven, Lijssenthoek, and Ypres—that are central to the historical memory of World War I, where both civilians and soldiers died in great numbers and the country’s cultural legacy was assaulted. In Dinant, Council members learned that 674 people, or approximately 10 percent of the town’s population, were killed by the invading German army in one day at the start of the war (23 August 1914). They also visited the Leuven University Library, which was burned to the ground along with its 300,000 volumes at the start of the war. (The library was rebuilt in the 1920s). Council members toured the Lijssenthoek International Military Cemetary, the final resting place of more than 10,700 soldiers who perished in World War I, over 80 percent of whom were nationals of Australia and the UK. In Ypres, the Council visited the Flanders Field Museum, which depicts the German invasion of Belgium and the subsequent trench warfare that led to years of costly stalemate. The Belgium segment of the visiting mission concluded with a trip to the Poelkapelle military base, where chemical weapons from World War I, which continue to be unearthed to this day, are dismantled and destroyed.

In today’s briefing, it is likely that Australia will highlight the value of the Belgium programme for a variety reasons. Australia will probably underscore the devastating consequences of armed conflict and the importance of commemorating those who have lost their lives in war, as well as the long term impact of using chemical weapons, a lesson learned from the Council visit to the Poelkapelle military base. This is being seen as an especially timely issue, given the devastating impact on human life that chemical weapons have had in the ongoing Syria conflict.

Australia is also likely to use the opportunity to emphasise the fundamental responsibility of the Council to engage in effective conflict prevention, a theme that has long been an area of interest for the Council and that will be revisited during its open debate on Thursday (21 August). Over the years, Council members have consistently underscored the importance of doing better on conflict prevention, as the Council spends most of its time reacting to and managing crises that are costly in terms of human life and require an enormous investment in time and resources to address.

Conflict prevention has been a key tool of Council visiting missions. The classic example of this was the visiting mission to Indonesia and East Timor from 8-12 September 1999.
Following wide-spread violence after East Timor opted for independence from Indonesia in a Council authorised referendum, a five-member Council delegation was dispatched to stress to Indonesia that the outcome of the referendum must be respected. This trip, which was largely credited with contributing to ending the violence, helped the Council to coalesce around an agreement to authorise the international force for East Timor, followed by the establishment of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). A second visiting mission was dispatched from 9-17 November 2000 to review progress and emphasise the Council’s ongoing engagement.

The Hague
The Council visited The Hague on 11 August, a segment of the visiting mission that was co-led by Chile and Luxembourg. While in The Hague, Council members focused on justice and accountability issues, as they engaged with representatives of the various international legal institutions headquartered there—including the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone, and the International Criminal Court (ICC). Later that day, Council members also received a briefing on the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in Syria.

During today’s briefing, Chile is likely to give an overview of some of the themes that were raised during the meetings at The Hague. It may, for example, refer to the challenges of achieving international acceptance of the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ, given that only about one-third of UN member states accept this jurisdiction. It is also possible that the briefing may touch upon the relationship between the work of the Council and the ICJ, as both are meant to play a key role in conflict prevention and the peaceful settlement of disputes. The briefing is also likely to emphasise the challenges of financing the international criminal tribunals, as some of these are funded through voluntary contributions.

Regarding the work of the ICC, the briefing will likely note that the ICC updated the Council on the cases on its agenda, including the two referrals made to the court by the Council (Darfur and Libya). The briefing may also note that ICC officials highlighted the court’s efforts to combat impunity and emphasised the need for the Council to follow up on its referrals. It is unclear if the desire from some Council members for enhanced communication between the ICC and the Council will be raised, as the Council is divided on this issue.

The Council’s meeting with the OPCW will also be covered in the briefing. Chile is likely to brief on the overview that OPCW officials gave on the progress that has been made in the dismantlement of Syria’s chemical weapons program. In engaging with the OPCW, it appears that Council members were given little more information than they get during the monthly briefings from Sigrid Kaag, the Special Coordinator of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission.

South Sudan
The US, which co-led the South Sudan leg with Rwanda, will brief on this segment of the visiting mission. While in South Sudan, Council members met with officials from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), President Salva Kiir and other members of the South Sudan cabinet, opposition leader Riek Machar (via videoconference), members of civil society, and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the UNMISS base in Malakal.

The US is likely to underscore the stern messages the Council delivered to the parties to the conflict while in South Sudan. Addressing the cabinet on 12 August, Ambassador Samantha Power (US), speaking on behalf of the Council, emphasised that there is no military solution to the conflict and expressed concern about impediments to humanitarian access. She noted that attacks on UN peacekeepers are a war crime. Power also urged the formation of a transitional government of national unity, as called for in the 10 June agreement the parties had signed, and warned that there would be “consequences” for spoilers to the peace process. It seems that similar messages were delivered to both Kiir and Machar during the meetings with them.

It also possible that the US will emphasise the Council’s concern with the unfolding humanitarian disaster in South Sudan. The experience of visiting Malakal, where Council members saw IDPs living in difficult sanitary and overcrowded conditions because the insecurity in the country prevents them from returning home, may also be a topic of the briefing. (The Malakal site is located in one of several UN facilities across the country in which civilians are being protected; while the camps are providing protection for the time being, it is clear that UNMISS is stretched to its capacity in hosting the civilians and that the sites are not a sustainable long-term solution.) Council members were moved by witnessing first-hand the living conditions at the Malakal camp and hearing the pleas for peace by IDPs living there. This experience may inform their approach to the humanitarian situation in South Sudan moving forward.

Another issue that might be mentioned in the briefing is the Council’s engagement with civil society including women’s groups. It may be noted that a spokesperson for women’s groups indicated that sexual violence and abuse had been employed as a “weapon of war in this conflict.”

Regrettably, only days after the Council concluded its trip to South Sudan, renewed violence broke out between government and opposition forces. On 15 August, clashes were reported near Bentiu in Unity State. Bentiu has been the scene of some of the heaviest fighting this year, and in April, was the sight of a massacre of over 400 civilians at the hands of the opposition.

In Somalia, Council members received a briefing from senior officials from the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia and the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). They also held meetings with several high-level government officials, including President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed, Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Osman Jawari, and other members of parliament. Meetings were also held with women’s groups and humanitarian organisations. In contrast to the South Sudan leg where Council members came armed with strong messages for the government, in Somalia the main aim appeared to be to show support to the government.

At today’s briefing, the UK, which co-led the Somalia leg of the trip with Nigeria, is likely to recount the various meetings and issues discussed. It is possible that the UK will underscore how important it is for the executive and legislative branches of Somalia to work together for the welfare of the country. The UK may also emphasise the need for AMISOM and the Somali military to consolidate recent military gains.

While Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant (UK) told the press in Mogadishu that Somalia had made remarkable progress over the past few years, he nonetheless also acknowledged the significant challenges the country faces. Caution in applauding progress is warranted. As in South Sudan, Somalia faces a possible famine, and vast areas of the country are not under government control. So far this year, five members of parliament have been assassinated by Al-Shabaab, and on 15 August, only two days after the Council left Mogadishu, renewed fighting led to five deaths.

As the Council stopped in Nairobi for meetings with Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) officials and President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya before returning to New York, it is likely that these interactions will also be raised in today’s meeting. These discussions focused on the situation in South Sudan. Kenyatta apparently emphasised the urgent need for a durable ceasefire and for humanitarian aid to make its way to people in need, while IGAD’s chief mediator, Seyoum Mesfin, emphasised the need for the warring parties in South Sudan to sign the matrix focusing on the details of implementing the cessation of hostilities and to develop in earnest plans for a transitional government of national unity. (Council members expressed interest in issuing a joint communiqué with IGAD expressing alarm at violations of the cessation of hostilities and indicating that the Council and IGAD would consider implementing sanctions on the parties that obstruct the peace process; however, at press time, it appeared that no consensus had been reached on the draft communiqué).

For more information on the Council mission please see:
Dispatches from the Field: Belgium and the Lessons from World War 1
Dispatches from the Field: Security Council Meetings in The Hague
Dispatches from the Field: Security Council Meetings in South Sudan
Dispatches from the Field: Security Council Concludes Visiting Mission to Horn of Africa

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