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Diplomatic Pressure Intensifies on Syria as UN General Assembly Set to Vote on New Resolution

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.

The UN General Assembly, whose members met to discuss the situation in Syria on 13 February (UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

The Saudi-drafted UNGA draft resolution is similar to the one that was subject to in-depth negotiations and ultimately vetoed by Russia and China at the UN Security Council (UNSC) on 4 February.

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.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay speaking to the press about the situation in Syria. (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

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 “certaincrimes 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. 

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Syria Update: Council to Vote on Amended Draft Resolution Put “In Blue”

According to a Reuters report, the UN Security Council will meet on 4 February at 10:00 a.m. to vote on the most recent version of the joint Western-Arab state resolution, which was put “in blue” and circulated to national capitals on 2 February. The Council has debated the draft resolution (original version here) since 27 January.

Explainer: What does it mean when a draft resolution at the UN Security Council is “put in blue”? According to Security Council Report’s What’s In Blue, which provides insight into the work of the Council, when members approach the final stage of negotiating a draft resolution, the text is printed in blue ink to indicate that is the final version to be voted on.

The Security Council meeting will come on the heels of reports of a massacre in the Syrian city of Homs on 3 February, with government security forces seeking to regain control of areas held by the rebel Free Syrian army. This is the second such time that a massacre has been reported in Homs as the Council has deliberated the draft resolution, with tens of civilians allegedly killed on 27 January.

While all 15 members of the Council supposedly support the text of the draft resolution, members were awaiting proposed amendments from Moscow on 3 February. However, according to Reuters, Russia did not present any changes to the document, and it remains unclear how it will vote on 4 February.

Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, Russia's Permanent Representative to the UN Security Council, briefs the Council on 31 January. (c UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

Initial word from Russia early on 3 February suggested that it was not satisfied with the text, with Interfax News Agency reporting Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov as stating that Russian “cannot support the updated Moroccan draft on Syria.”

Meanwhile, the Times of India reported that India’s Permanent Represetative, Ambassador Hardeep Puri, will allegedly vote for the Syria draft resolution at the Council. India’s “change of heart” is a result of the recent and continued violence in the country, the Times of India stated. On 4 October 2011, India abstained from voting on an EU draft resolution that condemned the violence in Syria.

As a result of continued negotiations and concessions made by Western and Arab members – including dropping the reference of the involuntarily imposition of an arms embargo and economic sanctions in cooperation with the Arab League – the draft was altered before being put “in blue” and sent to national capitals.

The most recent draft includes a number changes to the 3rd version:

  • Preambulatory paragraph 5 (pp 5), which welcomes the Arab League action plan of 2 Nomvember 2011 and 22 January 2012 decision, no longer includes “supporting full implementation” of the plan, instead stating that it “aims to achieve a peaceful resolution of the crisis
  • Pp 8, which expresses concern at the flow of weapons into Syria and encourages Member states to take “necessary steps” to prevent such flow of weapons has been removed completely from the version put in blue. The change reflects Russia’s opposition towards an arms embargo in Syria – even if referenced in an involuntary manner
  • Pp 10 has been amended to include that “nothing in this resolution authorizes measures under Article 42 of the Charter [of the United Nations]”, reflecting Russia, China, India and South Africa’s staunch opposition towards any form of military intervention in Syria
  • Operative paragraph 6 has been amended so that “without prejudging the outcome” has been added, so as to read, “Calls for an inclusive Syrian-led political process conducted in an environment free from violence, fear, intimidation and extremism, and aimed at effectively addressing the legitimate aspirations and concerns of Syria’s people, without prejudging the outcome”. Russia has openly opposed regime change in Syria throughout the course of the Council’s deliberations
  • Consistent with the 2 February negotiations, sub-paragraphs a-c of operative paragraph 7 have been removed from the version put in blue, and the new text includes “a Syrian-led political transition”, so as to read, “Fully supports in this regard the League of Arab States’ 22 January 2012 decision to facilitate a Syrian-led political transition…”
  • Operative paragraph 14 has been removed completely, which encouraged all Members to adopt similar measures taken by the Arab League – which has imposed sanctions against the Assad regime – and cooperate with it in their implementation
  • Regarding follow-up, operative paragraph 15 has been watered down by removing all reference to “Syria”, and has been amended by deleting the portion of the paragraph that stipulated the Council would act in consultation with the League of Arab States in considering other measures in the event of non-compliance with the resolution.

What’s In Blue offers an explainer on the changes, as well as on the status of negotiations ahead of the 4 February vote.

UPDATE (04/02/2012 @ 10:00 AM EST): According to the New York Times (with a report from AP), Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated after negotiations with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton that issues remain regarding the draft resolution. Russia apparently takes issue with the demands for armed groups in the resolution, which it feels have not gone far enough, and that the resolution still “prejudges” the outcome in Syria. Lavrov was quoted as saying that the two issues needed to be amended if the resolution was to be adopted by the Council, and that Russia was not opposed to employing its veto.

More updates to follow tomorrow’s Council vote on the resolution. Follow this site and our Twitter handle, @ICRtoP.

Post researched and written by Evan Cinq-Mars. Editing by Rachel Shapiro and Megan Schmidt. 

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Syria: After Extraordinary Security Council Session, Members Continue to Debate Arab League Plan to Resolve Crisis, Civil Society Urges No Veto

–Updated below–

The United Nations Security Council met on 31 January in an extraordinary session on the situation in Syria, with Council members debating the recent draft resolution circulated by Morocco. The Council was briefed by the Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, and Nabil Elaraby, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.

The Qatari Prime Minister expounded Syria in his address to the Council for avoiding cooperation with the Arab League and failing to implement multiple initiatives by the organization to resolve the crisis. Instead, al-Thani stated that, “the only solution available to it [the Syrian government] was to kill its own people. The fact of the matter is that bloodshed has continued and the killing machine is still at work.

Qatari PM Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani briefs the Council (UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

Both al-Thani and Arab League Secretary-General Elaraby were resolute in making clear that the draft resolution being negotiated by the Council was not a pretext for military intervention in Syria, and included no such authorization to use force in the country. Stressing the importance of a peaceful political settlement of the crisis, Elaraby urged the Council in his remarks to support the current Arab League initiative by passing the draft resolution.

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, French Minister of Foreign Affairs Alain Juppé, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, and Ministers from Germany, Portugal, Guatemala, and Morocco also addressed the Council, highlighting the importance attached to the Council’s deliberations of this draft resolution on the situation in Syria.

In his address Juppé chided the Security Council for its “scandalous silence” on the Syrian matter. The French Foreign Minister was also the first to mention the Responsibility to Protect at the Council meeting, stating:

Each State has the responsibility to protect its civilian population. Not content with failing to protect its people, the Syrian regime despicably massacres them without restraint. This behavior has direct consequences on international peace and security: thousands of refugees are fleeing the fighting, violations of the sovereignty of neighboring states, heightened ethnic tensions, so many direct repercussions on the stability of an already fragile region. Without even mentioning the responsibility to protect, these regional consequences are enough to establish the Security Council’s responsibility.

Harold Caballeros, the Guatemalan Minister of Foreign Affairs, joined France in affirming his country’s support for the Responsibility to Protect, stating:

We understand that popular demands expressed in a pacific manner cannot be equated with a Government that uses force to address those demands. That is why, in an era when the principle of the Responsibility to Protect is being questioned, we are not ashamed to affirm that…we support that principle.

Those speaking in support of the resolution were staunch in their condemnation of the Assad regime and the continued violence in country, and put their full weight behind the Arab League plan. In attempting to assuage Russian concerns, Secretary Clinton, Minister Juppé, Minister Hague and other Ministers and Permanent Representatives were adamant that the draft resolution did not authorize the threat or use of force to intervene in Syria, and instead was focused on finding a political settlement that ended the violence and realized the aspirations of the Syrian people.

Russia, who has put up the most resistance to the current draft resolution, offered its reservations at the Council, with Permanent Representative Ambassador Vitaly Churkin asserting that the process to resolve the crisis must be Syrian-led, and must not include economic sanctions or the use of force. “The Council cannot impose the parameters for an internal political settlement,” said Ambassador Churkin, “it simply does not have the mandate to do so.”

Ambassador Li Baodong, Permanent Representative of China to the UN, affirmed his country’s support of Russia’s position towards the draft resolution, going as far as saying that it “fully supportedRussia’s draft resolution, circulated on 15 December 2011, while only “taking note” of the Arab League plan. The Russian draft, which placed equal blame for the violence on the government and “extremist groups”, was criticized by Council members as being too lenient towards the Assad regime.

Both India and South Africa echoed the concerns expressed by Russia and China, and emphasized the need for a Syrian-led process without outside interference. Referencing the intervention in Libya, Ambassador Baso Sanqu, South Africa’s Permanent Representative, also affirmed the need to avoid the use of military force.

The Council debates the situation in Syria. (UN Photo/JC McIlwaine)

Negotiations continued on the draft resolution on 1 February at the UN Security Council, with Permanent Representatives debating its content. Security Council Report’s What’s In Blue reported that the divisive issue, “remains the political transition process as defined by the Arab League”, while other issues that remain unresolved include:

  • Preambulatory clause pp 8 of the draft resolution, which calls on members to halt the flow of arms into Syria;
  • Operative clause 13, which calls on all States to adopt similar measures taken by the Arab League – bilateral sanctions, for example – and cooperate with the League in the implementation of those measures, and;
  • Operative clause 15, which states that the Security Council should adopt further measures, in cooperation with the Arab League, if the Syrian government does not implement the resolution within 15 days

A recent draft of the resolution, obtained and published by Inner City Press, shows the state of negotiations on its clauses amongst Council members.

As evident in the draft, preambulatory paragraph 8, which expresses “grave concern at the continued transfer of weapons into Syria” and “calls on Member States to take necessary steps to prevent such flow of arms”, has been crossed out. Although the text did not explicitly include the imposition of an arms embargo, this change reflects one of Russia’s “red lines” in the negotiations. The Washington Post reported that Russia would continue to sell arms to Syria, with Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov affirming it would honour its “obligations” to the Assad government.

Operative clauses 7 a-c – which provide for the formation of a unity government, the delegation of Assad’s powers to a Deputy, and the holding of free and fair elections – have also been dropped from the text. As a Reuters report indicates, the changes reflect both Russia and China’s uncertainty towards the imposition of a political settlement in Syria by the Arab League and their opposition of forced regime change.

However, while the draft resolution has dropped text calling for Assad to hand over power, it still supports the Arab League’s 22 January decision to facilitate a political transition. As reported by the BBC, “Western diplomats say this means that while the draft no longer mentions the details of the Arab plan, it still clearly backs the substance.

The revisions apparently reflect an effort by the United States, European Union Council members, and Arab allies to drop more the more contentious measures of the resolution in exchange for Russian support, according to The Washington Post’s Colum Lynch. The Associated Press reported Council members would continue to discuss the revised draft behind closed doors on 2 February, and it remains unclear whether the changes will be enough to garner Russia’s support despite the revisions.

With Western and Arab nations engaged in the equivalent of a diplomatic full-court press to dissuade Russia from vetoing the draft resolution, civil society also spoke out against the employment of the veto. On 1 February, Amnesty International (AI) called on Russia not to block international efforts to resolve the crisis in Syria, with the organization’s representative to the UN stating:

Russia’s threats to abort a binding UN Security Council resolution on Syria for the second time are utterly irresponsible…Russia must work with other Security Council members to pass a strong and legally binding resolution that will help to end the bloodshed and human rights violations in Syria once and for all.

The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) also issued a press release on 1 February, which called on members of the Security Council to uphold their Responsibility to Protect. Specifically, GCR2P called on Russia to abstain from using its veto as crimes against humanity continue in Syria.

Efforts to sway Security Council members to resolve the crisis and protect Syrian lives turned to South Africa as well, with Daniel Bekele and Philippe Bolopion of Human Rights Watch urging the country “to do the right thing for Syria”. Noting South Africa’s opposition to the West’s implementation of Resolution 1973 in Libya and fear of a similar overreach in Syria, Bekele and Bolopion assert that the current draft resolution “provides absolutely no authorisation for military intervention in Syria.” As such, the authors call on South Africa not to settle political scores with the West over Libya, but to act in support of the Arab League in Syria.

Updates on 2 February Permanent Representative-level negotiations to come shortly. Follow this site, and our Twitter account (@ICRtoP). 

UPDATE (02/02/2012 @ 10:00 PM EST): The Washington Post reported that Permanent Representatives failed to reach a consensus on the revised draft resolution during negotiations on 2 February. According to the story, however, the document will be “put in blue” – meaning that it could be voted on within 24 hours if no further amendments are made – by the Moroccan mission and sent to national capitals of the Council members for further consideration.

Reuters reports that during negotiations, Russia’s Ambassador Vitaly Churkin allegedly threatened to veto any resolution submitted on Friday that included in the text that it “fully supports” the Arab League plan for a political transition in Syria. In the media scrum after the debate, Council members disagreed on the progress made. The Permanent Representatives (PR) of Pakistan and Togo thought that the Council was close to achieving consensus on the draft, but Ambassador Susan Rice, PR of the United States, did not share their opinions. Meanwhile, according to Inner City Press, when asked about how the negotiations went, India’s PR was quoted as saying, “not so well“.

Despite being sent to capitals, it remains unclear whether there will be a vote on the resolution before week’s end. The BBC reported that Colombia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations confirmed that negotiations would continue on Friday, 3 February.


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