What's In Blue

Posted Sun 4 Dec 2016

Syria: Vote on Aleppo Draft Resolution

Tomorrow (5 December) afternoon, the Security Council will vote on a resolution drafted by Egypt, New Zealand and Spain—the penholders on the Syria humanitarian situation—that decides that all parties shall end all attacks in Aleppo for an initial period of 7 days, including attacks against Security Council-designated terrorist groups Al Nusra and ISIL. It also demands full implementation of the cessation of hostilities in the rest of the country, allowing for this to be in line with resolution 2268, i.e. counter-terrorism operations can continue. Most Council members are of the view that the penholders have done everything they can to reach consensus, but do not discount the possibility that there will not be a unanimous vote.

Tomorrow’s vote comes after several days of intense consultations amongst Council members—in particular between the penholders, Russia and the US—to agree on further changes to the text that was put in blue on 29 November. The penholders conducted these negotiations in an attempt to balance the desire for consensus with preserving the intent of the resolution to establish the minimum requirements to lower overall levels of violence, get humanitarian aid flowing and create conditions that would allow Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura to resume talks on a political transition. On Friday (2 December), the penholders withdrew their 29 November draft and submitted a revised resolution to be put in blue for a vote on Monday.

The main areas of difficulty during negotiations have been when the truce in Aleppo will go into effect and for how long, as well as how to address the need to separate terrorist fighters from other armed opposition groups.

Since the draft resolution was first put in blue on 29 November, Russia has continued to argue against a blanket prohibition on all attacks in Aleppo. It has asserted that the truce in Aleppo should only go into effect after the country-wide separation of terrorist fighters from other armed opposition groups. It also proposed that any truce in Aleppo should be for renewable 24-hour periods, that counter-terrorism operations in Aleppo should continue, and that any armed group in Aleppo that did not comply with the truce would be treated as terrorists and would not be afforded the protection provided by the cessation of hostilities.

The humanitarian penholders, the P3 and many other Council members have maintained that “counterterrorism” is being used as an alibi by Russian and Syrian forces to justify targeting all opposition groups and civilians in eastern Aleppo. The text that will be voted on tomorrow, and indeed all previous versions of this draft resolution, have included the need for armed opposition fighters to disassociate themselves from Al-Nusra and ISIL. However, this demand does not supersede the call for an end to all attacks in Aleppo. In the end, as a compromise, the Aleppo truce period was reduced from 10 days to 7 days, will go into effect 24 hours from the adoption of the resolution, and will be subject to recurring extensions.

The terms of the cessation of hostilities, agreed between Russia and the US in February 2016, included the need to cease aerial attacks as well as the need for armed groups to disassociate themselves from terrorist fighters. The Council endorsed this agreement in resolution 2268 without actually incorporating the specific demands of the agreement into the resolution. Instead, the cessation of hostilities agreement was referred to as an “annex” of resolution 2268, although no annex was actually attached to the document.

There has been some concern expressed that the demand for the disassociation of fighters has been explicitly referenced in the draft resolution without the corresponding explicit demand for the government to cease aerial bombardment, beyond a generic reference to airstrikes in relation to the 7-day Aleppo truce. However, Council members are aware that a demand that the government cease all airstrikes indefinitely would trigger a veto by Russia, as demonstrated by its 8 October vote.

On Saturday, the day after the revised draft was put in blue, Russia announced that it was ready to discuss with the US the withdrawal of opposition fighters from eastern Aleppo. Rebels have said that they will not leave. Meanwhile, media reports indicate that the Syrian military has said they expect to take full control of Aleppo within weeks.
If the draft resolution is adopted tomorrow, the Secretary-General will be required to report back to the Council on its implementation in 10 days. It is unclear to many Council members whether there will be any progress to report in light of Saturday’s announcements by parties to the conflict.

Separately, Canada, on behalf of 74 member states, has asked the president of the General Assembly to convene a plenary session on Syria. It seems likely that this session will be held this week and that the General Assembly will pass a resolution focused on the humanitarian situation in Aleppo. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates—which support the Syrian opposition—support Canada’s efforts but did not sign the letter. These four countries cited the need for a stronger response from the General Assembly, including an emergency special session under the “uniting for peace” formula. Resolution 337 A (V) adopted on 3 November 1950, which became known as the “Uniting for Peace” resolution, states that when the Council fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security because of a lack of agreement of the permanent members, the General Assembly can consider the matter and make recommendations for collective measures.

Post-script: The vote on the draft resolution tabled by Egypt, New Zealand, and Spain (S/2016/1026) was 11-3-1. Russia cast its sixth veto on a Syria draft resolution and China cast its fifth. Angola abstained and Venezuela voted against.

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