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It is a stain on the collective conscience of the international community that after nearly four years of fighting, 200,000 killed and 10 million displaced, there is still little hope for an imminent end to Syria’s civil war. Regional and international efforts to end the conflict, documented in great detail in our ‘Crisis in Syria’ page, have had limited impact.
The rare consensus that allowed the Security Council to pass resolutions 2165 permitting cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid, and 2118 calling for the destruction of the Assad regime’s chemical arsenal, were welcome developments. However, in practice, it has done little to relieve the suffering of civilians still caught in the slaughter.
Instead, the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS or IS) has regionalized the war, bringing wanton destruction and the threat of genocide to neighbouring Iraq, while Turkey’s borders are currently threatened by the ISIS siege of Kobane.
Already, the conflict has consumed two astute international negotiators – Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi – both sent to Syria as joint UN/Arab League Special Envoys, and both unable to stem the bloodshed. The third to try his hand is Staffan De Mistura, a veteran diplomat who has served as the head of the UN missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The siege of Kobane and the appointment of De Mistura have both brought with them new proposals for a gradual ease in the fighting aimed at creating space for a political solution. The Turkish proposal to create a ‘buffer zone’ along the Syria-Turkey border, and De Mistura’s local ‘freeze’ represent the latest attempts to change the conflict’s trajectory.
While similar in their aims, they differ in operational terms. Both, however, have invited criticism and praise that underscore the complexity of the conflict and any solution to it. The potential for these plans to bring immediate relief to civilians and a long-term settlement is measured through the vocal response of civil society and other influential voices below.
Buffer Zone: Bastion of Safety or Invitation to Bloodshed?
On October 10, 2014, the Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP or R2P) expressed deep concern over ISIL’s offensive in Kobane, particularly for ethnic and religious minorities who have been the targets of ISIL’s murderous campaign throughout Iraq and Syria. The advisers warned that:
“ISIL and other armed groups have reportedly committed grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity…the situation in Kobane raises the credible prospect that the population is at imminent risk of being subjected to similar acts.”
The US and its allies have heeded calls for international action to prevent the slaughter of Kobane’s civilians, launching airstrikes on ISIL targets inside the city. However, there is broad agreement that more is needed.
Though scant on details, the Turkish requests for a protected “buffer zone”, if approved, could significantly change the dynamic on the ground. If implemented, the plan would see US aircraft utilizing the Incirlik Airbase in Turkey to launch strikes reaching from north of Aleppo to the town of Kobane to prevent further ISIS incursions. Simultaneously, Turkish special forces would enter Kobane to provide support to Syrian opposition fighters and its leaders, who would be free to use the zone to consolidate their efforts.
The plan also has a protective element to it. It seeks to prevent what UN officials have warned could become another Srebrenica by providing a safe haven for civilians who have been forced to flee or who remain caught in the fighting. In an interview with Syria Deeply, Ambassador Frederic Hof, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, praised the idea for both its humanitarian and political appeal, suggesting that:
“There are very strong humanitarian justifications to be able to protect people inside Syria rather than see them race across borders as refugees.” He also adds, “…there needs to be the growth of decent, legitimate governance in Syria, governance that would ultimately be extended to all Syrians,” recommending that a buffer zone in Kobane could be the starting place.
Likewise, in an article for Foreign Affairs, J. Trevor Ulbrick acknowledged the urgency of the situation for Kobane’s civilians, justifying a buffer zone in RtoP terms. Ulbrick holds that:
“The situation in northern Syria, where ISIS has attacked the citizens of Kobane with impunity, seems to fall squarely under R2P. The Assad regime is either unwilling or unable to protect the Kurdish civilians living there, who are now under imminent threat of being massacred by ISIS on the basis of their ethnicity.”
Still, others are much more cautious and suggest a buffer zone may in fact run counter to the objective of civilian protection. For example, in another Syria Deeply interview, Elizabeth Ferris also raised the spectre of Srebrenica – though to remind of the tragic consequences of the UN’s inability to prevent a Serbian massacre in the supposed ‘safe zone’. She explains, “Any time you mix military action with the protection of civilians, you put them in danger. The Assad regime could argue that they are a military target and a threat to the regime.”
Similarly, in the Brookings Institute’s Lawfare blog, Ashley Deeks argues that couching the buffer zone in humanitarian terms, rather than the collective self-defence argument that currently underpins coalition operations, could undermine the tacit agreement with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, giving him “a stronger argument for claiming that the United States is engaged in an armed attack against it and for using force to protect its territorial integrity.” If indeed the ‘Article 51’ collective self-defense argument falls apart, there are also important implications for the legality of a buffer zone, which would then need Security Council approval to fulfill this requirement and to be considered as an action falling under the realm of RtoP.*
With reports that the U.S., France, and Britain are coming closer to accepting such a plan, all of these possibilities must be weighed carefully.
Local ‘Freeze’: Brave New Initiative or Same Old Formula?
The local ‘freeze’ proposed by Staffan De Mistura is another initiative that is currently on the table. The plan would look something like this: the government and opposition would agree to a UN-mediated de-escalation of the violence by ‘freezing’ the conflict in the iconic city of Aleppo. This would allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to beleaguered populations, and a semblance of normalcy to be restored. Ultimately, it is hoped that the model can be transposed to other key cities to create the political space for a national peace process. It can also demonstrate the possibility of shifting the narrative of the conflict from the military to political.
De Mistura views the plan as going beyond simply “talking” about peace at the international level, to taking incremental steps to achieve a “bottom-up” solution. According to the UN Envoy, both the Assad government and the Syrian opposition are seriously considering the initiative.
Like a buffer zone, the freeze has invited optimism along with skepticism. Much of the latter stems from observing previous ceasefire agreements that have failed to produce results. A report commissioned by the London School of Economics and the Syrian civil society organization Madani analyzed four locally negotiated ceasefires in Homs, Aleppo, Barzeh and Ras Al-Ain.
The report outlines the salient factors that led to ceasefire collapse, including: military and strategic manipulation of the agreement to gain concessions; negotiations conducted in bad faith and with a lack of trust; the existence of war profiteers and other spoilers who stand to gain from prolonging the violence; the absence of an independent mediator; and the lack of a larger peace process in which to frame the ceasefire.
Many are concerned that De Mistura’s plan will suffer from similar setbacks. For example, Joseph Bahout, a visiting fellow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace believes:
“The regime appears to be interested in ‘easing’ pressure on certain fronts, so that it can send its elite forces from one place to another…Alleviating the suffering of people is a good thing, but [de Mistura’s proposal] is a ‘time out,’ which the regime needs, before a resumption of hostilities takes place.”
Bahout also notes the lack of a parallel peace process as an impediment to the plan’s effectiveness. Such concerns should be considered seriously, for as Noah Bonsey of International Crisis Group warns, “Ceasefires don’t have an inherently positive value…Bad cease-fires end up costing more lives.”
Regardless of the risks, the lack of alternatives has led others, such as Coalition members PAX and Human Rights Watch, to view the freeze as the only viable way forward. PAX, in a recent policy brief on the subject, recognized that there are indeed risks associated, including the potential to manipulate the agreement for strategic gains. But under the proper conditions, it can also improve human security and allow for the development of local governance structures by civil society actors.
For this to occur, PAX cites a few crucial ingredients that have been missing from past ceasefire efforts. These include: UN third-party monitoring to ensure compliance with the terms of the freeze, including through sanctions if necessary; significant and sustainable improvement of the humanitarian situation; support and promotion of inclusive and responsive local government; securing buy-in and commitment of all local commanders in Aleppo; and a political framework that links the freeze to a broader peace process.
Steps such as these could potentially set the freeze apart from other failed initiatives. However, the damage done by previous ceasefire violations still hangs heavy. Indeed, the Syria National Coalition has reportedly stated it would reject the plan unless it is backed by a Chapter VII resolution and tied to a concrete peace plan such as the stalled Geneva talks. This reflects the reluctance to trust a government that has been all too willing to renege on past agreements. It also clearly shows that any chance for implementation will rely heavily on De Mistura’s ability to skillfully negotiate the terms with both parties.
No Perfect Solutions
Both of the above proposals follow the similar logic of creating zones of protection and stability that will ripple outwards, demonstrating the possibility of good governance and political agreement in the war-ravaged nation. However, De Mistura’s plan relies much more on consensus and cooperation, while a buffer zone is far more coercive in nature. Both utilize important RtoP tools, including mediation, humanitarian assistance, and potentially, the use of force for the immediate protection of civilians. However, as in any RtoP case, the proper course of action should depend on a careful analysis of the situation and the potential consequences of any intervention, in accordance with the UN Charter. Crucially, the precautionary “Do no harm” principle must continually be minded.
Ultimately, both plans bring with them the potential of failure and unintended consequences. However, the international community can no longer dither, and certainly the people of Syria can no longer wait. The sad reality is, as Alex Bellamy rightfully professes, “The time for perfect solutions is long past.”
* The Responsibility to Protect norm, as agreed to in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, does not sanction a unilateral military response or a response by a “coalition of the willing.” Any military response under RtoP must be authorized by the Security Council.
On 20 July, with only 13 hours left before the expiration of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) mandate, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted Resolution 2059 drafted by the United Kingdom and cosponsored by France and Germany. The Resolution restructured the mandate to facilitate dialogue between the opposition and the Syrian regime in accordance with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s July 2012 report on UNSMIS, and extended the mandate for a “final” 30 days with a possible renewal if there is a cessation of the use of heavy weapons and a decrease in violence by all parties.
Despite the renewal of the UNSMIS mandate, divisions amongst Council Members remain a barrier to implementation of further diplomatic, political, economic and, as a last resort, military measures by the UNSC aimed at halting the violence in Syria. While much of the debate within the international community has remained focused on what steps the UNSC, specifically, should take to halt the violence, the Council’s lack of decisive action has led commentators to make recommendations for measures to be taken by national- and regional-level actors.
Exploring Options for Syria
Reflecting on the deteriorating crisis, civil society organizations, regional actors, commentators and specialists in fields related to conflict and mass atrocity prevention have provided a wide range of “next steps” for Syria.
As the expiration of the UNSMIS mandate rapidly approached, several international actors provided suggestions for a restructured mandate. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in a letter to UNSC Ambassadors stressed the importance of strengthening the UNSMIS mandate and urged Council members to include within the mission an intensified human rights component with specialists to act as “impartial ‘eyes and ears’ of the international community.” FIDH noted, “Upholding human rights and working to protect civilians in Syria is an imperative that goes beyond the political differences of members of the Security Council. We call on the Security Council to fulfill this shared responsibility to Syrian civilians.” FIDH also urged the UNSC to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Similar suggestions were put forth by Amnesty International (AI) following the 19 July double-veto. AI also called for the inclusion of an adequately staffed human rights component as well as providing expertise in related fields and resources to document and report findings and progress. AI wrote, “The failure today of the UN Security Council to deliver better human rights protection for Syrians will embolden those responsible for the crimes and violence wracking the country.”
While FIDH and AI have discussed measures to improve UNSMIS, other international actors and commentators have focused specifically on how a political transition would be orchestrated.
Steven Heydemann, senior advisor at the US Institute of Peace‘s Middle East Initiatives, in his article “The end game in Syria,” brings light to a transformation of perspectives by international actors due to recent developments, saying, “These trends all point to one conclusion: the end of the Assad regime is drawing nearer. The relevant question is no longer whether the regime will fall, but when and, even more importantly, how.”
Similarly, Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, in his article “The Solution in Syria Must Be Political” stressed that a “Yemen-style” solution is the most plausible as it would stop the bloodshed- the main goal of all actions being taken in Syria. This process would involve a temporary transfer of power, followed by a UN-Arab League-mediated dialogue on the political future of Syria. This, however, has its drawbacks as a transition of this style would likely grant amnesty to Assad, as seen with the political process in Yemen.
Also arguing in favor of a political solution, and reflecting on the discord between UNSC members in “No room for foreign military intervention in Syria” John Hubbel Weiss, associate professor of History at Cornell University,argues that any attempt to act under Chapter VII of the Charter would only be vetoed by Russia, as was seen on 19 July. Instead, he believes that the only way to convince Assad to take a less-violent course of action is if the Syrian population and civil society from within the country call for and/or take action themselves.
While some still believe that there are feasible options for bringing an end to the crisis in Syria, either through the facilitation of a political transition or implementation of more robust measures, others do not believe it is possible for the international community to successfully and effectively operationalize stronger measures than what has been implemented thus far.
“How Russia Divided the World”, an article written by Michael Ignatieff, an original member of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) which initially articulated the Responsibility to Protect in 2001, presents a grim outlook for the future of Syria and RtoP more broadly. Ignatieff states that the divisions within the opposition leave no opportunities for successful military intervention, such as air strikes, safe havens or buffer zones and, that because there is not an established power to take authority once the Assad regime falls, there is no sense in toppling the regime via military measures.
Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at Australian National University and a visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute, was no more optimistic in his article “A Syrian intervention must be weighed against the costs.” He claimed that it was unlikely for diplomatic and political measures to be successful, and instead, military measures, such as air strikes or no fly zones, were increasingly “the only way to fulfill our responsibility.” Yet he delved deeper to state that, although military intervention may be the only tool left untested in Syria, military tactics may not be feasible or halt violence. White sees another barrier to implementing further measures if the RtoP entails a responsibility to assist post-crisis, and states that “If so, we have a problem, because the West has no capacity to shape Syria’s trajectory after Assad.”
In response to White’s argument, Tim Dunne and Sarah Teitt from the Asia-Pacific Centre for R2P, an ICRtoP Steering Committee Member, published “Firing blanks at R2P.” Dunne and Teitt reiterated the idea that coercive military measures are not the solution to ending the crisis, and went further to suggest that a resolution was slowly becoming viable, “not through the overt threat or use of force but through tireless diplomacy on the part of the UN and through unrelenting scrutiny by humanitarian NGOs.”
Advocates for military intervention –in various forms- have voiced their ideas as well. One commentator on military measures is Ausama Monajed, Executive Director of the Strategic Research and Communication Centre (SRCC), who puts forth a set of steps in his article “The Price of Apathy: Why the World Must Intervene in Syria” that the international community should take to immediately halt the bloodshed, including arming the rebels, establishing safe zones inside bordering countries, and creating buffer zones along the Syrian border. These steps are what Monajed refers to as a “viable alternative” and what he believes will lead to and trigger an increase in mass defections, which could serve to facilitate the fall of the Assad regime and an end to the conflict. He believes that those who still advocate for the imposition of sanctions to “bankrupt Assad” should take heed that Russia and Iran remain “staunch, wealthy allies.”
Despite the enduring deadlock within the UNSC regarding further implementation of preventive measures, an array of tools to halt the violence in Syria remains at the disposal of regional, national and civil society actors. In this sense, the Responsibility to Protect remains a crucial framework through which to view the crisis and assess achievable and effective tools to protect populations.
With the establishment of UNSMIS, the international community took action in a timely and decisive manner, to ensure an observer presence on the ground. However, divisions within the Council continue to pose a great barrier to UNSC authorization of further non-military and if necessary, military measures, to protect civilians from mass atrocity crimes. With a 30 day renewal of UNSMIS, the Council must work creatively to overcome their differences, and be prepared to respond collectively to the situation in a flexible, timely manner.
As South Sudan Marks One-Year Anniversary, RtoP Remains Essential As Country Confronts Challenges Moving Forward
The day of independence brings new hopes, challenges & new opportunities to build a peaceful, prosperous, secure, & stable #SouthSudan—
Gov of South Sudan (@RepSouthSudan) July 08, 2012
South Sudan marked the one-year anniversary of its independence from Sudan on 9 July, with the official Twitter account of the Government of South Sudan (GRSS) sharing its optimism for the future, and President Salva Kiir vowing to work towards a more complete independence for the country at the celebrations in Juba.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also extended his congratulations to the people of South Sudan for “realizing their long-held aspirations” of independent nationhood.
One year on, however, the world’s newest nation has endured a number of challenges that have wracked its first year of independence, and will continue to threaten its stability as it enters its second year of nationhood.
Border Clashes, Oil Dispute with Sudan
To begin, the split with Sudan has not brought about a peace dividend between the two countries. An oil dispute over pipeline fees with Sudan led the South to halt the production and export of oil in January, which has amounted to an apparent economic disaster in South Sudan. Protracted skirmishes over natural resources and contested border areas have also nearly led to open war between the two nations, with civilians often caught in the crossfire.
In April, South Sudanese forces captured Heglig, an oil-town in Sudan, which was met with immediate condemnation from the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), as well as threats from Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to overthrow what he called the “insect” government in South Sudan. In the aftermath, Sudan has been charged with conducting cross-border aerial bombardments on South Sudanese territory on 23 April and 9 May, in direct violation of the UNSC Resolution 2046 of 2 May, which called for an immediate end to hostilities between the two countries.
While an uncertain verbal agreement struck on 8 July between the two countries currently holds a fragile peace in place, a number of outstanding provisions of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended the decades-long Sudanese civil wars and led to the creation of the independent state of South Sudan, remain unresolved, including the status of disputed border areas in Abyei, issues of citizenship, and the sharing of oil revenues.
Amnesty International charged in an 8 July press release that a failure of leadership in Juba and Khartoum has led to increased tensions and conflict between the two countries, The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect reiterated this message, stating that the failure by both Sudan and South Sudan to resolve outstanding issues has resulted in the commission of mass atrocities in both countries. With the UN-imposed deadline of 2 August to resolve outstanding CPA issues fast approaching, the threat of a return to violence between these two countries, along with it the commission of mass atrocities, remains. In response to this, a global campaign backed by over 150 human rights activists, civil society organizations and faith leaders called We Choose Peace urged the UN, the African Union, and the League of Arab States to persuade the governments of South Sudan and Sudan to resolve the remaining CPA issues and cease all hostilities.
Ethnic Violence in Jonglei State, Human Rights Concerns
Internal violence has also marred South Sudan’s first year as a nation, with widespread ethnic violence between the Lou Nuer and Murle tribes claiming the lives of nearly 900 in Jonglei State between December 2011 and February 2012. In a 25 June report by the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), entitled Incidents of Intercommunal Violence in Jonglei State, the ethnic clashes were characterized as, “one of the biggest challenges for the GRSS [Government of the Republic of South Sudan] since independence in terms of testing its capacity to protect civilians and to demonstrate its capacity to impose law and order.”
The report subsequently describes how, despite warnings of an impending attack by a large number of Lou Nuer, the GRSS was “slow to respond”, and “failed” to prevent or contain the violence. As the report reads, at the heart of the failure by the GRSS to uphold its primary responsibility to protect civilians was a lack of capacity:
Supported by UNMISS, the Government made efforts to contain the violence but these were constrained by the weak capacity of GRSS institutions, particularly local government, security and justice, a lack of human and logistical resources and the tenuous control that state institutions have over territories such as Jonglei, which have been marginalised and neglected over many years.
The report also reflects on the capacity gap faced by UNMISS to assist the GRSS in responding to the crisis:
While UNMISS, as part of its mandate to support the government in protecting civilians, used its resources to the maximum and the actions of both the Mission and the SPLA [Sudanese People’s Liberation Army] contributed to saving lives, it too faced serious constraints to fulfill its mandate obligation in this regard.
As we detailed in a February blog post, the ethnic violence in Jonglei State not only confronted South Sudan’s ability to uphold the first pillar of RtoP – its primary responsibility to protect civilians – but also exposed key challenges for the international community in fulfilling its second-pillar responsibilities of assistance and capacity building:
With the GRSS unable to uphold its responsibility to protect its population without international assistance, UNMISS sought to support national action through preventive deployment, fulfilling RtoP’s second pillar. At the same time, however, UNMISS itself is reeling from a capacity deficit – most importantly, in flight-ready helicopters – which has obstructed the force from effectively carrying out its civilian protection mandate during the recent outbreak of inter-ethnic violence. Thus, although the Security Council established UNMISS in a timely and decisive manner – and with a Chapter VII mandate to protect civilians by “all means necessary” – the force itself has been constrained from providing protection for the South Sudanese population.
Compounding the challenge of upholding pillars one and two has been a lack of accountability for the violence. In a 5 July news release, Coalition-member Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the GRSS to address the issue of impunity, as well as much-needed human rights reforms, ahead of independence celebrations, stating:
“The government has yet to demonstrate that it will respond to the violence appropriately by actually identifying and prosecuting those responsible,” Bekele said. “South Sudan needs justice, in addition to peace efforts, to stem the violence. The absence of justice contributes to the cycles of attacks and counterattacks across the country.”
The International Federation for Human Rights also documented concerns over the human rights situation in South Sudan in a 6 July report published to mark the first anniversary of the country’s independence, which catalogued concerns over violations of women’s rights, infringements of freedom of expression, and illegal arrests and detention.
RtoP Essential Moving Forward as South Sudan Confronts Challenges
On top of South Sudan’s internal struggle with ethnic violence and human rights, as well as the looming threat of a return to war with their neighbours to the north and a dismal economic situation, Oxfam International has stated the country is, “facing its worst humanitarian crisis since the end of the war in 2005.” The World Food Programme (WFP) has also reported that levels of hunger and malnutrition in South Sudan are higher now than they were one year ago, affecting nearly 4.7 million people. Tied to this is the conflict with Sudan, which, according to the WFP, “continues to produce a flow of refugees and displaced families, who put further strain on an already overstretched food supply system.”
As South Sudan begins its second year as a nation, the path ahead is fraught with an interconnected web of political, economic, and humanitarian challenges that, if left unresolved, would threaten to subvert the dream of a, “peaceful, prosperous, secure and stable South Sudan.” It is critical that lessons learned from the December 2011-February 2012 violence in Jonglei be institutionalized so as to improve the manner in which the GRSS and UNMISS confront any threatened or actual outbreaks of mass atrocity crimes in the future. In this sense, the Responsibility to Protect remains a critical framework for South Sudan and the wider international community as the world’s newest nation struggles with the extraordinary challenges it faces.
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will host an informal interactive dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect this summer (date yet to be announced). The dialogue will be the third of its kind since 2009, and is an opportunity for discussion between Member States, regional and sub-regional arrangements, and civil society on the norm and its implementation. This year, the dialogue will be on measures under the third pillar of the Responsibility to Protect framework – timely and decisive action.
Each dialogue is based, in part, on a report published by the UN Secretary-General (UNSG) ahead of time, which explores aspects of the prevention and response to mass atrocities and roles of various actors within the RtoP framework. A report for this year’s dialogue has yet to be released.
Civil society plays an important role ahead of the dialogues, engaging UN Officials, regional and sub-regional organizations, and Member States to provide constructive remarks, working together to educate on the thematic focus of the dialogues, participating in the meetings themselves, and publishing reports in their aftermath.
The dialogues have served as an important forum to stimulate discussion on the implementation of RtoP, emphasize the importance of prevention, and advance the normative consensus at the UN and in national capitals. They have also attracted an increasing number of attendees since the first meeting in 2009, including from civil society organizations.
Both ICRtoP and the Global Centre for R2P issued statements at the 2010 dialogue on Early Warning, Assessment and RtoP in 2010. Civil society was also represented in the opening panel during this dialogue. The following year, during the dialogue on The Role of Regional and Sub-Regional Arrangements in Implementing the RtoP, the Coalition, Global Centre, Initiatives for International Dialogue (based in the Philippines), and the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University gave remarks.
The thematic focus of this year’s dialogue will be measures under the third pillar of the RtoP framework. Third pillar tools range from diplomatic, to economic, legal, and military, and enable flexible, rapid responses to country-specific situations. In light of recent cases including Libya, Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan/South Sudan, and Syria – where such third-pillar measures have been implemented in efforts to protect populations from mass atrocities – the dialogue will serve as a timely opportunity to address concerns held by some UN Member States over RtoP’s implementation, reflect on best practices and lessons learned, and foster informed conversation on clarifying what RtoP’s third pillar entails and how to operationalize these measures.
Underlining the importance attached to this summer’s dialogue, 38 civil society organizations* from around the world participated in a sign-on letter coordinated by the ICRtoP Secretariat, which was sent to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the President of the UNGA, Abdulaziz Al Nasser, and the UNSG’s Special Adviser on RtoP, Dr. Edward Luck, on 23 March.
The letter calls for an announcement of a date for the dialogue, and asks that the UNSG’s 2012 report on measures within RtoP’s third pillar be released at least two months ahead of the dialogue, following a consultative process with civil society. As the letter reads:
“Only if published well in advance, can your report be a crucial resource for Member States, regional organizations, and UN offices and departments to prepare for a constructive dialogue. Regional meetings of NGOs and diplomats ahead of the dialogue are an opportunity for these actors to reflect on the report. This will result in increased participation from Member States and regional organizations, as in past years they have lacked adequate time to prepare remarks for the General Assembly….This year’s dialogue can act as a forum to further the commitment of all actors to protect populations from mass atrocities, fostering discussion on how we can all work towards the effective use of the full spectrum tools under the third pillar of RtoP.”
Recognizing the central role that regional and sub-regional organizations play in preventing and halting mass atrocities, and the need for these organizations to be involved in ongoing discussions of RtoP, ICRtoP also sent a letter addressed to 14 such organizations** on 22 March to encourage their attendance and active participation at this summer’s meeting.
Our letter to these organizations draws on the active role played by these organizations in response to country-specific situations where mass atrocities are threatened or have occurred. From the African Union-facilitated mediations in response to the post-election violence in Kenya in 2008, to the deployment of an international policing operation in Kyrgyzstan in 2010 by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the diplomatic moves by the League of Arab States, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, and the Gulf Cooperation Council to resolve the current crisis in Syria, the efforts of regional and sub-regional organizations are critical to fostering a more comprehensive understanding and robust discussion on third pillar measures under the RtoP framework.
For more information on regional and sub-regional arrangements and regional entry points for the prevention of mass atrocities, please see our regional pages: Africa, the Americas, Asia-Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East.
As the summer nears, civil society has indicated its willingness to be an active participant in this year’s dialogue, as it has been in the past. The announcement of a date for the upcoming dialogue, a published report from the UNSG well in advance to provide the opportunity for wide-ranging consultations, and a commitment by regional and sub-regional organizations to participate in the meeting would be welcome first steps in ensuring the fourth informal interactive dialogue on RtoP is the most comprehensive and attended dialogue yet.
*The 38 civil society organizations that signed on are as follows: A Billion Little Stones (Australia), Act for Peace (Australia), Aegis Trust (United Kingdom), Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (Australia), Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition, Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights (Canada), Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (Liberia), Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (Australia), Centro de Investigación y Educación Popular (Colombia), Citizens for Global Solutions (United States), Coalition for Justice and Accountability (Sierra Leone), Coordinadora Regional de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales (Argentina), Droits Humains Sans Frontières (Democratic Republic of the Congo), East Africa Law Society (Tanzania), Genocide Alert (Germany), Global Action to Prevent War (United States), Global Justice Center (United States), Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (The Netherlands), Human Rights Watch (United States), Initiatives for International Dialogue (The Philippines), Madariaga-College of Europe Foundation (Belgium), Mindanao Peaceweavers (The Philippines), Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (Canada), Pan African Lawyers Union (Tanzania), Permanent Peace Movement (Lebanon), R2P Student Coalition (Australia), Réseau de Développement et de Communications de la Femme Africaine (Mali), Semillas para la Democracia (Paraguay), STAND Canada (Canada), United Nations Association – Denmark (Denmark), United Nations Association – Sweden (Sweden), United Nations Association – UK (United Kingdom), United to End Genocide (United States), West Africa Civil Society Forum (Nigeria), West Africa Civil Society Institute (Ghana), World Federalist Movement – Canada (Canada), World Federalist Movement – Institute for Global Policy (United States, The Netherlands) and World Federation of United Nations Associations (United States and Switzerland).
**The 14 regional and sub-regional organizations are as follows: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, African Union, Caribbean Community, European Union, East African Community, Economic Community of West African States, Gulf Cooperation Council, Intergovernmental Authority for Development, International Conference of the Great Lakes Region, League of Arab States, Organization of American States, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Southern African Development Community.
To better understand the challenges posed for RtoP in the aftermath of the UN-mandated, NATO-led operation in Libya, we asked a few ICRtoP Member organizations from throughout the world to reflect and provide insight on the following questions:
- Was the UN-mandated, NATO-led operation in Libya a step forward or a setback for the norm? What implications – positive and/or negative – does the Libya operation carry for RtoP moving forward?
- What are the responsibilities of the international community as Libya transitions into the post-Gaddafi era? Despite the ending of the NATO mandate in Libya, should the international community continue to play a role in civilian protection?
- Through an RtoP lens, what lessons can be learned from Libya for future cases where international action – whether non-coercive or coercive – is necessary to protect civilians?
The enlightening responses we received drew on the individual expertise of these ICRtoP Members, and brought in unique regional perspectives as well. Members who contributed were:
Rachel Gerber, Program Officer at The Stanley Foundation
Gus Miclat, Executive Director of Initiatives for International Dialogues
Robert Schütte, President of Genocide Alert
Jillian Siskind, President of Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights
Sarah Teitt, Outreach Director and China Programme Coordinator for the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Dr. Robert Zuber of Global Action to Prevent War and Armed Conflict
The full post, “Civil Society Reflects on RtoP Post-Libya“, includes our review of the international response to the situation and analysis on its implications for RtoP, as well as the reflections on the challenges for the norm post-Libya by the individuals above.
We have also published a piece to mark the one-year anniversary of the first protests in Libya, which discusses the difficulties of the transition into the post-Gaddafi era.
The one-year anniversary of the first protests in Libya was marked on 17 February 2012. Spurred on by the arrest of a human rights campaigner and emboldened by protests sweeping the Arab world, citizens in the eastern Libyan town of Benghazi hit the streets in a “Day of Rage” exactly one year ago in protest of the now-deceased Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s 41-year rule.
Like Tunisia and Egypt before it, protests spread like wildfire across Libya, with Benghazi becoming the de facto stronghold of the opposition to the Gaddafi regime. As they spread, the crackdown by the Gaddafi regime became more ruthless.
The Libyan leader broadcasted his clear intent to commit further widespread human rights violations in a 22 February 2011 speech, calling on his supporters to attack the protesting “cockroaches”, and urging them to “cleanse Libya house by house” until they surrendered.
The international community responded in an unprecedented manner with a range of measures within the framework of the Responsibility to Protect, imposing sweeping diplomatic and other non-coercive measures at the national, regional, and international levels.
Civil society was quick to label Libya an RtoP situation, with a number of organizations calling for decisive action to prevent atrocities against civilians.
Individual states enacted sanctions, asset freezes, and travel bans. Regional organizations such as the League of Arab States (LAS), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the African Union appealed for restraint, with the European Union enacting sweeping sanctions.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) imposed an arms embargo, travel ban, and assets freeze, while also referring the situation to the International Criminal Court through the unanimous adoption of UNSC Resolution 1970. The UN General Assembly suspended Libya from the Human Rights Council, after the Geneva-based body requested such an action be taken.
With sweeping non-coercive measures failing to bring an end to the crackdown, on 17 March 2011, exactly one month after the first protest erupted, the UNSC passed Resolution 1973, which authorized “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians. A Coalition of international states, led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), moved to quickly enforce the mandate on 19 March 2011.
The decision was another benchmark for RtoP, as it was the first time the Council had mandated the use of force to protect civilians from one or more of the four crimes under the norm’s framework.
Seven months later, after a protracted civil war with devastating consequences for civilians and combatants, Gaddafi was captured and killed on 20 October 2011 by rebel forces, with assistance from NATO airpower. The dictator’s shocking demise spurred the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International to raise suspicions that a war crime was committed.
It was a violent end to the old Libya, and a turbulent beginning to the new era.
Insecurity, Lawlessness Prevail
As Libyans celebrated an end to the Gaddafi era, Mahmoud Jibril, the former leader of Libya’s now-provisionally-ruling National Transitional Council (NTC), hailed Gaddafi’s death as an end to “all the evils” in his country.
One year on however, evil has not vanished from Libya. Instead, insecurity and lawlessness prevail, and a number of high-profile civil society organizations have documented allegations of widespread human rights violations by Libya’s revolutionaries.
According to a 16 February report by Amnesty International (AI), hundreds of armed and “out of control” militias threaten Libya’s transition in the post-Gaddafi era, which the provisional NTC has been unable to rein in.
Running street battles often break out between the militias, terrifying and threatening civilians. Revenge attacks and discrimination against known or suspected Gaddafi supporters, as documented by ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a 22 January report, are commonplace. Clashes between rival militias have erupted in the southeast, and despite NTC forces intervening, have continued. The violence is fueled by easy access to weapons stockpiles, some of which have slipped across Libya’s borders into neighbouring countries.
Impunity also reigns. These “out of control” militias, along with some NTC-affiliated military and security entities, have allegedly engaged in ill-treatment, torture, and killings of detainees. Lacking an effective judicial system, these alleged crimes have largely gone unpunished in the new Libya.
Detention in these conditions persists for thousands, mostly in centres that are controlled by militias independent of the ruling NTC. A 16 February report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) indicated that 8,500 detainees remain in custody in over 60 separate places of detention, most of which are under the control of different authorities.
Detention centres in Misrata were appalling enough to cause Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to suspend their work in the prisons on 26 January. In a press release, MSF stated that officials from Misrata-based militias that ran the detention centres frequently subjected detainees to torture and denied them medical care. Furthermore, members of MSF staff were repeatedly brought detainees in the middle of an interrogation to be given medical care so that they could be questioned further.
At a UNSC briefing on 25 January, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stated that the lack of central oversight “creates an environment conducive to torture and ill-treatment”, and urged the detention centres to be brought under the control of the Ministry of Justice.However, while the NTC has reportedly assumed custody of more detainees, the reports of AI, HRW, and MSF highlight the continued risk of torture and other human rights violations in post-Gaddafi Libya.
Despite this, there are glimmers of progress. The citizens of Misrata held Libya’s first real exercise in democracy in 42 years by going to the polls on 20 February to elect a new City Council. The NTC has also vowed for elections in June, along with drafting a new constitution, although no date has been set. These gains are threatened by the fact that Libya’s revolution cities, like Misrata, are outpacing the NTC with reforms and forming nearly autonomous city-states.
Reports emerging from Libya in the first months of 2012 are certainly troubling. The struggle to establish security in the new Libya after an eight-month civil war has been compounded by an equally difficult struggle to ensure that human rights are protected, the rule of law is built and respected, and reconciliation is pursued.
Moving forward, the country’s authorities, along with partners at the international, regional, and national levels, must work together to ensure both peace and justice as Libya rebuilds. Such a challenge may prove as a great a test for RtoP as its implementation in response to the crackdown nearly one year ago; however only then will the responsibility to protect truly be upheld in the post-Gaddafi era.
The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of a Saudi-drafted UNGA draft resolution on the situation in Syria on 16 February. 137 states voted in favour, 12 in opposition, and 17 states abstained from voting. Syria, Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Belarus, Zimbabwe, and Cuba all registered votes against.
The resolution calls for the UN and its members to support the League of Arab States’ peace plan in Syria, which provides that President Bashar al-Assad delegate power to deputy in order to begin the process of a political transition. It also condemned the escalating violence in Syria, urged the Syrian authorities to put an end to further violations of human rights, and stressed the need to ensure accountability for all violations, including those that may amount to crimes against humanity. The resolution also calls for the UN Secretary-General to appoint a Special Envoy on Syria, and for the UN to provide technical and material assistance to the League of Arab States.
More updates to follow, here and on Twitter.
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has scheduled a vote on 16 February at 3:00 pm EST on a new resolution concerning the situation in Syria, drafted and circulated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on 10 February. The UNGA has previously condemned the Syrian government’s crackdown against civilian protesters on 22 November and 19 December 2011, with each urging strong support for regional efforts by the League of Arab States.
Specifically, it calls for the UN to support the Arab League peace plan, which provides that President Bashar al-Assad delegate power to a deputy and begin a process of political transition. However, the language of the UNGA draft resolution is much stronger in condemning the violence and urging accountability for violations for human rights, “including those violations that may amount to crimes against humanity.”
It also calls on the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, to support the efforts of the League of Arab States through the appointment of a Special Envoy and technical and material assistance.
It is expected that the draft resolution will pass at the 16 February vote. There are no veto rights within the General Assembly, which has crippled efforts to respond to the situation in Syria at the Security Council. The passing of a resolution at the UNGA would increase diplomatic pressure on Assad and throw UN support behind the Arab League peace plan; however the resolution would not be legally binding for UN Member States.
The draft was circulated after a Cairo meeting of the League of Arab States on 12 February. The organization passed a resolution which formally backed the Syrian opposition, called for it to unite, and requested that the UN Security Council authorize a joint United Nations-League of Arab States peacekeeping force to protect civilians and oversee a cease-fire.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made his opposition to the idea clear by stating that his country would not support a joint peacekeeping operation unless there was a ceasefire in place between the government and the rebel Free Syrian Army and other armed opposition. China’s Foreign Ministry stated that it supported the League of Arab States’ efforts to resolve the crisis, but did not express whether it would support peacekeepers being deployed in Syria, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, the US administration of President Barack Obama also expressed concerns with peacekeepers being deployed in Syria, among them the challenges in overcoming Russian and Chinese opposition, and gaining Syria’s consent to such a force.
There is not, however, any mention of the formation of a joint UN-League of Arab States peacekeeping force in the General Assembly draft resolution.
UN Officials Speak Out Ahead of Vote
Ahead of vote at the UNGA, UN officials continued to condemn the violence in Syria.
UN Special Advisers for the Prevention of Genocide, Dr. Francis Deng, and for the Responsibility to Protect, Dr. Ed Luck, issued a statement on 10 February condemning the recent violence in Homs, which has been reported to have claimed upwards of 300 lives. The Special Advisers warned that such indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations could constitute crimes against humanity. Dr. Luck also warned in a press statement on 14 February that the conflict in Syria was splitting along sectarian lines, with attacks occurring against specific groups.
In light of situation, the two Special Advisers urged the international community to act:
At the 2005 World Summit, Heads of State and Government made a solemn commitment to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, including their incitement. They agreed, as well, to utilize the full range of regional and global tools under the United Nations Charter to help protect populations from these crimes. Many of these measures would not require authorization by the Security Council. These would include efforts to build trust among communities within Syria, to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need, and to encourage regional cooperation in advancing human rights and preventing further rounds of violence against civilian populations.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay briefed the UNGA on 13 February on the situation in Syria. In her address to the Assembly, Pillay condemned the continued government crackdown in Syria, expressing her “outrage” over the serious violations of human rights that have been committed since March 2011.
The High Commissioner stated at the General Assembly that the systematic nature of the government’s response to protests, including it’s shoot-to-kill policy against civilian protesters, its “massive campaign” of arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture and sexual violence, and the high number of children who have been killed by security forces, indicated that crimes against humanity had been perpetrated by Syrian forces.
Pillay again encouraged the UNSC to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court so that the crimes committed do not go unpunished. The High Commissioner also urged the international community to “act now” to uphold its obligations to protect Syrian populations from continued violations of human rights, which she noted the Syrian government had manifestly failed to do.
Push for Security Council Re-Engagement
The renewed effort to respond to the situation in Syria through the United Nations comes after Russia and China employed their vetoes to strike down a draft resolution at the Council on 4 February.
It appears, however, that France – a permanent member of the Security Council – is holding negotiations with the Russians in order to introduce a new resolution that overcomes Russia’s concerns with previous drafts tabled at the Council.
Reuters reported on 15 February that French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé hopes that a new resolution would include the creation of humanitarian corridors in Syria. Juppé argued that the humanitarian zones would serve to alleviate civilian suffering in Syria by allowing inter-governmental and non-governmental aid agencies to deliver food, water and medical services, but would likely have to be protected by armed observers or peacekeepers.
Given Russian and Chinese opposition to any form of outside military intervention in Syria over the course of the UN’s efforts to respond to the situation, such a proposition would likely encounter resistance from those Members at the UNSC.
Meanwhile, following a Russian delegation’s meeting with President al-Assad of Syria, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun announced that China would also travel to Syria with an envoy to discuss the situation with the Syrian government.
Diplomatic Efforts Come as Violence Escalates
Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis continue as violence has escalated steadily since the failed UN Security Council draft resolution on 4 February. The bombardment of Homs by Syrian security and military forces has continued in recent days, and clashes between those forces and the rebel Free Syrian Army have reportedly expanded across the country. New raids were reported in Daraa as well, as the government seeks to extinguish rebellious pockets in major Syrian cities.
On 16 February, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed the calls of many of his UN colleagues by stating that there have been “certain” crimes against humanity in Syria, particularly the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas by Syrian security forces.
Stressing the need for continued international engagement in Syria despite the failure to pass a resolution at the UNSC, Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P), called for a “diplomatic surge” through the framework of the responsibility to protect in order to end the violence in Syria. Adams writes:
“Crimes against humanity are occurring in Syria…What we need now is a diplomatic surge, with Russian engagement, to overwhelm those elements in the Syrian regime who think that they can simply shoot their way out of the current crisis.”
And according to Amnesty International (AI), such a “diplomatic surge” could not come a moment too soon. In a press release, AI states that as the debate has moved from the Security Council to the General Assembly, the Syrian government has steadily stepped up its attacks, which have resulted in a rising civilian death toll. As such, Ann Harrison, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa for AI, urged the international community to “not stand idly by” as Syrian civilians continued to be targeted by the government in Homs, Hama, and Daraa, Syria.
AI and Human Rights Watch issued a joint-letter ahead of the UNGA vote, which urged the UN body’s members to vote in favour of the draft resolution and, “strongly affirm that the vast majority of states have not abandoned the people of Syria”.
Post researched and written by Evan Cinq-Mars. Editing by Rachel Shapiro and Megan Schmidt.
For the second time since the nearly year-long crackdown in Syria began, Russia and China vetoed a United Nations Security Council draft resolution on the situation. The draft resolution, premised on the 22 January Arab League plan calling for President Assad’s transition from power and the formation of a unity government, was introduced by Morocco, with the support of Western and Arab states, and tabled on 26 January. Extensive negotiations and concessions, however, were not enough to prevent the veto from being employed. Given this failure to reach a consensus, actors at all levels, extending from the national to the international, must re-double their efforts to halt these gross human rights violations in Syria.
Extensive Negotiations Not Enough to Prevent Veto
The Council sat to vote on the resolution at 11:00 a.m. on 4 February. It was uncertain how the vote would unfold in the lead up to the meeting, especially with regards to Russia’s potential veto, and how China, India, South Africa, and Pakistan would vote, particularly as India and South Africa had abstained in a vote on an earlier draft resolution on 4 October 2011.
When the vote was called, 13 Security Council members voted in favour of the draft, which included Morocco, India, Pakistan, Colombia, Guatemala, France, Germany, Portugal, the United Kingdom, the United States, Azerbaijan, Togo, and South Africa. Despite this broad support for the draft resolution, Russia and China prevented the Council from taking any action by employing their veto powers.
The draft resolution went through a series of negotiations between 27 January and 4 February, as supporters made a number of amendments attempting to appease the “red lines” of the Russian delegation and prevent the use of the veto.
Among the provisions dropped were explicit references to the specifics of the Arab League plan regarding President Assad delegation of power. Operative clauses that stated Member States could pursue measures like arms embargoes and economic sanctions in cooperation with the Arab League were also removed from the draft.
These amendments were included in the final draft of the resolution. Though Council Members awaited Russian changes ahead of the vote on the evening of 3 February, these amendments did not return to the Council until 4 February, moments ahead of the scheduled vote. According to Reuters, Western diplomats said that the changes were “unacceptable”, and the vote proceeded without them.
Russia, China Explain Double Veto – Again
In the wake of the vote, both Russia and China have sought to defend and explain their use of the veto.
Addressing the Security Council after casting the veto, Russian Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, stated while his country had been working towards a resolution of the crisis in a non-violent manner, some other Council Members had not:
“Some influential members of the international community, unfortunately, including those sitting around this table, from the very beginning of this process have been undermining the opportunity for political settlement, calling for regime change, pushing the opposition towards power, and not stopping their provocation, and feeding armed methods of struggle.”
Ambassador Churkin said that Russia was thus opposed to the draft resolution because it was “unbalanced” and did not reflect the amendments it had presented before going to a vote. In an interview with RT on 7 February, Ambassador Churkin stated the resolution could have passed with two or three more days of extended discussions. Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, echoed this in his defence of using the veto, stating that it did not impose balanced demands on the armed opposition to cease violence, and that it would have obstructed a Syrian-led political process.
Ambassador Li Baodong, Permanent Representative of China to the UN, towed the Russian line at the Council, stating that the resolution put “undue emphasis on pressuring the Syrian government”, which would prejudge the outcome of a Syrian-led political process. Ambassador Baodong said that Council Members were still seriously divided over the draft resolution, and that hastily moving towards a vote without reflecting the amendments made by the Russian delegation ultimately led to the use of their veto. The Ambassador’s statement was quoted near-verbatim in a Xinhua report that explained China’s veto.
Supporting Council Members Condemn Double Veto
Council Members who supported the draft resolution were quick to condemn Russia and China in their addresses in the aftermath of the vote.
UK’s Permanent Representative, Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, said that his country was “appalled” that Russia and China would veto an “otherwise-consensus resolution” submitted and supported by a wide array of actors, including a number of regional states.
In his statement on behalf of Morocco, which tabled the initial draft resolution, Ambassador Mohammed Loulichki expressed his “great regret and disappointment” that the Council was unable to act unanimously.
US Ambassador Susan Rice said that her country was “disgusted” by the fact that the Russian and Chinese delegations continue to hold the Council “hostage” over Syria, while standing behind “empty arguments and individual interests” as they delay action in the country. Ambassador Rice called the “intransigence” of Russia and China “shameful”, as she noted that, “at least one of these members continues to deliver weapons to Assad.”
Ambassador Gérard Araud of France called 4 February, “a sad day”, and condemned Russia and China for their vetoes, stating, “They are doing this with a full knowledge of the tragic consequences entailed by their decisions for the Syrian people. They are doing this and making themselves complicit in the policy of repression carried out by the Assad regime.”
India and South Africa Voice Cautious Support
On 4 October 2011, both India and South Africa abstained from the vote on an earlier draft resolution on the situation in Syria, largely paving the way for the first Russia-China double veto. In a rather surprising move both countries voted in favour of the draft resolution on 4 February, voting separately from Russia and China in the Council. Pakistan also voted in favour of the resolution.
Explaining his country’s cautious support for the resolution, Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, Permanent Representative of India to the UN, stated that it was “in accordance with our support for the efforts by the Arab League for the peaceful resolution of the crisis through a Syrian-led inclusive political process.” Puri also noted that the resolution strictly ruled out the use of force to respond to the situation, which India stood opposed to in negotiations.
Ambassador Baso Sangqu, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the UN, echoed the statement made by Ambassador Puri, noting his country’s support for a Syrian-led process, the emphasis on the Arab League’s involvement, and the restriction against the use of force.
Civil Society Organizations Call Double Veto ‘Betrayal’
Throughout the course of the negotiations, civil society organizations had urged Council members, particularly Russia and China, not to employ their vetoes against the draft resolution. Later, both Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the double veto by Russia and China a “betrayal” of the Syrian people.
In a press release issued in the wake of the vote, HRW UN Director Philippe Bolopion said:
“After weeks of Russian diplomatic games-playing and in the middle of a bloodbath in Homs, vetoes by Moscow and Beijing are simply incendiary…they are not only a slap in the face of the Arab League, they are also a betrayal of the Syrian people. The Russian government is not only unapologetically arming a government that is killing its own people, but also providing it with diplomatic cover.”
Salil Shetty, AI’s Secretary-General, said in a presser that Russia and China’s use of veto was “completely irresponsible” in the face of an already-watered-down draft resolution.
What’s Next for Syria?
Despite disagreement over the draft resolution, Council members vowed to remain seized of the situation in Syria at the Council. But with the UN Security Council sidelined by the double veto, it remains unclear how the international response to the situation in Syria will unfold. In the mean time, Syrian security forces have stepped up their efforts to quell the opposition, including shelling the city of Homs with artillery fire, leading to many civilian casualties across the country.
Russia carried through with its plan to send Minister Lavrov and Mikhail Fradkov, the head of the External Intelligence Agency, to hold talks with President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Reuters reported Minister Lavrov as saying that Assad had presented constitutional reforms in their discussions, and that the Syrian President was willing to carry them out in order to end the bloodshed. According to the BBC, Lavrov said that Damascus was ready for a larger Arab League monitoring mission to observe efforts to end the crisis. The killing continued in the wake of Russia’s meet with Assad, however, with reports of continued government shelling in Homs.
Meanwhile, Western and Arab states increased diplomatic pressure on the Assad regime. In response to the recent surge in violence, the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have expelled all Syrian ambassadors, recalled their own envoys, and called on the League of Arab States to exercise “all decisive measures” to end the bloodshed in Syria. The United States responded by closing its Embassy in Syria, and a number of Western countries, including United Kingdom and Canada, have ratcheted up diplomatic pressure on the Assad regime and Moscow.
UN Officials have also spoken out against the recent violence, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemning the assault of Homs on 7 February, calling it “totally unacceptable before humanity”, and urging the Assad regime to cease using force against civilians. On 8 February, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the Syrian government’s indiscriminate attacks against civilians, and reminded the international community of their responsibility to protect Syrian civilians.
Pillay’s reminder is all too important: Despite the failure to reach consensus at the UN Security Council, actors at all levels continue to have a responsibility to protect civilians form genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing. From the Syrian authorities to regional and international organizations, all must work together to prevent further attacks against Syrian civilians.
ICRtoP Blog’s Syria Resolution Catalogue
Post researched and written by Evan Cinq-Mars. Editing by Rachel Shapiro and Megan Schmidt.