posted on MON 9 JAN 2012 12:16 PM
DPA Briefing on Syria

Tomorrow (10 January), Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe will brief Security Council members on Syria during the Council’s monthly “horizon scanning” briefing. (The monthly DPA briefing usually covers a number of emerging issues of concern and while it appears that Syria will be the main focus of the briefing, Pascoe may choose to bring up other issues.) Council members have been closely following the Arab League’s approach to the Syrian situation and are likely to be interested in hearing an assessment of the situation in Syria since the Arab League deployed its observer mission in late December with an initial mandate of one month.

There is also likely to be interest in hearing about possible UN involvement in the Syria situation. On 8 January the Arab League expressed interest in coordinating with the UN on technical assistance for the observer mission. (This issue was also discussed on 4 January during a meeting between the Prime Minister of Qatar and the Secretary-General.)

While the Council condemned the 23 December and 6 January terrorist attacks in Damascus in press statements, it continues to be unclear whether the Council will take action on the larger crisis while the Arab League observer mission continues. While some Council members are concerned that by remaining silent they are sending the wrong signal, others appear to want to wait and see if the observer mission can achieve progress in resolving the situation. (The observer mission is expected to report back by 19 January, a month after Syria signed the protocol with the Arab League.)

At press time, it was unclear when Council members might meet again to discuss the draft resolution circulated by Russia on 15 December. Most members appear to be waiting to hear Pascoe’s briefing before deciding how to proceed.

Although there was a great deal of activity on the draft in late December, largely at expert level, it seems fundamental divisions remain. Many Council members consider that any resolution on the Syrian situation should clearly condemn the violence by the Syrian regime and demand full implementation of the Arab League initiative and not just the observer mission.

In addition, while most Council members apparently agree that violence is now being perpetrated by the opposition as well as the regime, many members emphasise that any resolution should refrain from suggesting an equivalence in the level of violence—or responsibility for it—between the Syrian regime and the opposition.

It appears another point of contention is the suggestion by some members for inclusion of stronger human rights references, explicit language on access for independent observers including media, humanitarian actors and cooperation with the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry. These members also consider measures such as sanctions, especially a total arms embargo, may also be necessary.

It seems that in late December, the EU members of the Council and the US proposed the inclusion of language on the possibility for further action if Syria fails to comply and an ongoing reporting requirement to keep the issue firmly on the Council’s agenda. However, at press time Russia had not incorporated these suggestions into a new draft. It seems Russia is uncomfortable with any suggestion of sanctions, further measures or ongoing reporting.

On 1 January, five new elected members replaced the five rotating off the Council. Four of the newly elected Council members (Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco and Togo) voted for the 19 December General Assembly resolution condemning the violence in Syria and supporting the Arab League initiative, whereas Pakistan abstained. Of the remaining Council members, Colombia, France, Germany, Portugal, the UK and the US voted in favour while China, India, Russia and South Africa abstained.