The United Nations and Syria: A Work in Progress?

By Mathias, Steven | Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law, Annual 2012 | Go to article overview

The United Nations and Syria: A Work in Progress?


Mathias, Steven, Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law


As the crisis in Syria continues, and in the context in which the Security Council, as of the time of this panel being convened, has issued two Presidential Statements on the subject but failed to adopt two resolutions because of non-concurring votes of certain Permanent Members, it may be best to begin by noting that the United Nations, taking into account all of its parts, has in fact been active from an early date in seeking to address the Syrian crisis.

In March 2011, the Secretary-General urged the Syrian authorities to refrain from violence and called on the government in Syria to listen to the legitimate aspirations of the people and address them through inclusive political dialogue and genuine reforms. (1) Throughout the crisis, the Secretary-General has on various occasions also called for the protection of civilians in Syria, the need for humanitarian access, and the release of political prisoners. The Secretary-General has also engaged in dialogue with the President of Syria to encourage him to end the human rights violations taking place in Syria, as well as supported the efforts of the League of Arab States.

The Human Rights Council, a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, also responded to the crisis from an early date. In late April 2011, the Human Rights Council authorized a fact-finding mission to Syria to investigate alleged violations of international human rights law. (2) Four months later in August 2011, the Human Rights Council authorized the dispatch of a commission of inquiry. (3) The report of the international commission of inquiry formed the basis of the December 2, 2011, resolution of the Human Rights Council, in which the Council urged Syria to end the violence and investigate human rights violations as well as establish a mandate for a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Syria. (4)

On February 16, after the Security Council could not adopt a draft resolution on Syria due to the negative votes of two Permanent Members of the Council on February 4th,5 the General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/253. (6) In it the General Assembly (1) called upon the government of Syria to immediately end all human right violations and attacks against civilians; (2) demanded that the government act in accordance with the League of Arab States Plan of Action, including ceasing violence and protecting its population, releasing all persons arbitrarily detained, withdrawing all military forces from cities, guaranteeing freedom of peaceful demonstrations; (3) requested full access to League of Arab States institution and media; (4) called for an inclusive Syrian-led political process; and (5) fully supported the League of Arab States' decision to facilitate a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system, including through a serious political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition. The resolution further called on the Secretary-General to use his good offices to support the efforts of the League of Arab States through the appointment of a special envoy.

In late February 2012, in accordance with General Assembly Resolution 66/253, the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States appointed Kofi Annan as the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria. The Joint Special Envoy has presented a six-point peace proposal to the Syrian government, including: (1) committing to work with the envoy in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to addresses legitimate aspirations of Syrians and to this end, committing to appoint an empowered interlocutor when asked by the envoy; (2) committing to ending fighting and achieving a UN-supervised cessation of violence by all parties to protect civilians; (3) ensuring timely provision of humanitarian assistance; (4) intensifying the pace of releasing arbitrarily detained persons; (5) ensuring freedom of movement for journalists; and (6) respecting freedom of association. …

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