The U.N. Security Council has approved a new military force to launch operations against rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The force’s mandate is unprecedented in explicitly assigning “offensive” capability to a peacekeeping force under the United Nations. The force would target the rebel M23 and other groups operating in the DRC’s border regions with Rwanda and Uganda.
France is signalling pretty unambiguously that it is prepared to step into the Malian conflict. President Hollande said any military action would take place within the framework of the UN, but officials at the Elysee have made clear that, in France’s view, existing UN resolutions already provide sufficient legal cover.
Media reports in Paris say a detachment of French troops is already on the ground at the airport in Mopti, about 70km (43 miles) south of the frontline. It is not clear what their role is - perhaps to assess the situation ahead of a possible intervention.
And what form that intervention might take is not clear either. Off the record, French officials say the “line in the sand” is Mopti. If the rebels and foreign Islamists advance much further towards the town, France could perhaps launch air strikes to stop them.
But France faces two difficult questions. Seven French hostages are held in the Sahel region. What would their fate be if France intervened? And, second, what guarantee is there that air strikes would halt the advance? If they don’t, what then?
“France, like its African partners, cannot accept this. I have decided that France will respond, alongside our African partners, to the request from the Malian authorities.
“We will do it strictly within the framework of the United Nations Security Council resolution. We will be ready to stop the terrorists’ offensive if it continues.”
[…] Earlier this week, the militant Islamist group Ansar Dine said it had entered the key central town of Konna and intended to advance further south.
The army has refused to comment on the claim.
Following its emergency meeting on Mali on Thursday, the UN Security Council called for a “rapid deployment” of the African force and expressed “grave concern” at the capture of Konna by “terrorists and extremist groups”.
UN diplomats in New York said President Traore had appealed for help to Paris and to UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
“It basically said ‘Help, France’,” the US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told reporters in describing the letter.
In the dark of night, on 14 November, the United Nations Security Council met to discuss Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. As elections in Israel are on the horizon, the Israeli Defense Force conducted an extra-judicial assassination of Hamas’ Ahmad Jabari, who only hours beforehand had received a draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel (according to Nir Hasson at Haaretz). Jabari’s assassination was followed by a barrage by Israeli aircraft and warships. A few rockets were fired from Gaza, but these have had a negligible impact. The war on Gaza is not between two armed forces, even matched, each flying the flag of a country; it is a war between a major military power and a people that it has occupied, whose means of warfare used to be the suicide bomber and has now devolved to the erratic rockets (propelled by sugar and potassium nitrate, a fertilizer, and made deadly by TNT and urea nitrate, another fertilizer). Most of the rockets fired over the past two days have been intercepted by Israel’s sophisticated Iron Dome system. No such luck for the Palestinians, who have faced US-designed F16 jetfighters and Apache helicopters and have no defensive systems.
Morocco and Egypt, on behalf of the stateless Palestinians, hastened to the UN Security Council, wanting to stop the violence and condemn Israel for its disproportionate use of force. The Council’s President, India’s Hardeep Singh Puri said, “All the statements that I heard resonated with one message – that the violence has to stop. There has to be de-escalation.”
The United States defended Israel. Susan Rice put the onus on Hamas. “There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel,” she said. “Israel, like any nation, has the right to defend itself against such vicious attacks.” The sentences sting with contradictions. Israel is not just a nation in this conflict, but an occupying power, who has violated a string of UN resolutions and the Geneva Convention in its treatment of the people it has occupied since 1967. Furthermore, while the United States has listed Hamas as a terrorist organization, this same political party also won relatively free and fair elections in Gaza in 2006 (at which point the Hamas leadership sent US President George W. Bush an unanswered letter with the proposal that they would accept Israel on the 1967 borders). Israel has been obdurate in its reluctance to make peace as long as the United States has backed it, and as long as its settlement policy in the West Bank can change the facts on the ground and its strangulation policy in Gaza can suffocate the population into irrelevance. Rice put her foot down in the Council. It could take no action.
It has been one of the clichés of Susan Rice’s tenure at the UN Security Council that she has criticized the Council for its paralysis. She has suggested, notably around Syria, that the permanent members (Russia and China) have prevented a strong rebuke of the Assad regime, and therefore have tethered any international (meaning NATO) response to the grotesque violence in that country. In the case of Israel, the shoe is on the other foot.
Rice did not call her own reluctance “disgusting,” which is the word she used to characterize the Russian and Chinese veto of the Moroccan resolution on Syria in February 2012. The White House’s paralysis on Syria reflects its own geopolitical calculations… [keep reading]
A new proposal to end the conflict in Syria was presented on Thursday by China, one of the Syrian government’s few foreign defenders, which calls for a phased-in truce, the establishment of a transitional authority and an intensified international response to the humanitarian crisis afflicting millions of Syrians. … But the Chinese proposal does not call for Mr. Assad to step down, which has been a precondition made in the past by opposition groups that contend that he cannot play any role in Syria’s political future.China Presents Plan to End Syrian Conflict
On September 24, as the UN General Assembly waited to inaugurate its annual session, Lakhdar Brahimi went before the UN Security Council. As the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria after the failed mission of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Brahimi has a very stiff task. The “civil war” in Syria has consumed 20,000 lives, with 235,000 Syrians removed to Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and an additional 1.2 million Syrians displaced inside the country.
Brahimi told the Security Council that the 18-month conflict has broken Syria. The government of Bashar al-Assad, Brahimi says, believes that it can return to the “old Syria,” to the period before the outbreak of violence. It has resorted to aerial bombardment and to “medieval” tortures to execute its U-turn. On the other side, an increasingly frustrated and fragmented rebel force sees no solution but the departure of Assad. Brahimi, who was the UN envoy to Afghanistan and Iraq, and who had helped broker the Lebanese peace, seems more aged by this encounter than any of his previous assignments. [read]
(1) commit to work with the Envoy in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people, and, to this end, commit to appoint an empowered interlocutor when invited to do so by the Envoy;
(2) commit to stop the fighting and achieve urgently an effective United Nations supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians and stabilise the country.
To this end, the Syrian government should immediately cease troop movements towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centres, and begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres.
As these actions are being taken on the ground, the Syrian government should work with the Envoy to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism.
Similar commitments would be sought by the Envoy from the opposition and all relevant elements to stop the fighting and work with him to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism;
(3) ensure timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and to this end, as immediate steps, to accept and implement a daily two hour humanitarian pause and to coordinate exact time and modalities of the daily pause through an efficient mechanism, including at local level;
(4) intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons, including especially vulnerable categories of persons, and persons involved in peaceful political activities, provide without delay through appropriate channels a list of all places in which such persons are being detained, immediately begin organizing access to such locations and through appropriate channels respond promptly to all written requests for information, access or release regarding such persons;
(5) ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists and a non-discriminatory visa policy for them;
(6) respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed.
The United Nations Security Council has adopted a statement backing joint UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s plan for ending the violence in Syria, as a government crackdown on opposition strongholds has continued.
Mark Lyall Grant, the UK’s ambassador to the UN and the current president of the council, read out the statement during a UNSC session on Wednesday.
The statement expressed the council’s “full support” for Annan’s efforts, and called upon both the government and the opposition “to work in good faith with the envoy towards a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis” and to fully implement his six-point proposal.
The statement threatened “further steps” if the government failed to comply with the proposal.
The plan calls for a ceasefire to be established, as well as for both sides to engage in political dialogue and to allow humanitarian aid agencies access to areas where citizens have been caught up in an increasingly militarised conflict.
It also calls for those detained during a government crackdown on protests to be released, and for restrictions on the freedom of movement of foreign journalists to be removed.
The UNSC called on the Syrian government to commit to working with “an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people”.
The statement has the backing of all 15 members of the council, including China and Russia, who have twice vetoed earlier UNSC resolutions on the crisis, citing concerns that the UN was taking sides.
The double veto by Russia and China is particularly disappointing because it foiled what could have been an important precedent of the international community taking a stand against internal repression by delegitimizing a sitting government because of its large-scale killing of civilian citizens. Given Russia’s large-scale killings of Chechen civilians and China’s massacres of its citizens in Tiananmen Square and elsewhere, it is a precedent that neither regime wanted to see.Stephen Zunes
The intensification of the violence [in Syria over the weekend] comes, as Ian Black at The Guardian notes, as the regional and international politics of the Syrian crisis is coming to a new boil. The Arab League’s observer mission, manipulated by the regime and proven useless, has been withdrawn. Two high Arab League officials are briefing the United Nations’ Ban-ki Moon and the League may go to the UN Security Council for an intervention, as it did with Libya. Russia expressed dismay at the Arab League decision. Russia has a naval base in Syria on the Mediterranean, and has long viewed Damascus as a client, going back to Soviet times, and wants to forestall UN intervention there.
The UNSC is expected to take up the Syria issue again on Tuesday. That the Security Council may become more aggressive in seeking an international resolution of the crisis frightens Bashar al-Assad, since most likely the international community would pressure him to step down and start a transition to a new order in Syria.
So far, Russia and China have run interference for Damascus at the UN. Russia may be especially reluctant to back down on Syria given the upcoming presidential election, in Which Vladimir Putin will want to look strong against the West. The Libya intervention was extremely unpopular in Russia, where it was seen as neo-imperialism, and forestalling American and European meddling in Syria might make Putin look strong at home.
On the other hand, the more brutal the regime becomes, and the more unpopular, the more Russia risks taking a big fall in the whole Arab world if the Baath collapses. Sami Moubayed argues that Russia is now backing an Arab League/ Saudi plan calling for Bashar al-Assad to delegate most of his power to his second in command, Farouk al-Sharaa, who should form a national unity cabinet with members of the opposition Syrian National Council in preparation for moving to new elections. (This plan resembles the Gulf Cooperation Council plan for Yemen, which, while so far implemented, has not worked very well). But that Russia is planning to meet Syrian oppositionists and seems to be content with al-Assad being pushed at least somewhat aside indicates that the president’s days may be numbered.
Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo have today [Jan. 2nd] started two-year terms on the UN Security Council as non-permanent members, thus replacing B-H, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon and Nigeria.
Diplomats say that their arrival is not expected to have any major changes in votes on crucial issues, since permanent members – Great Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. – can still veto any resolution, AFP reports.
It seems Council members will have a further meeting at expert level at 3 p.m. today (Thursday, 22 December) to continue negotiations on a draft resolution on Syria circulated by Russia on 15 December. However, at press time Russia had not yet circulated any revised text reflecting the concerns expressed at the previous round of expert level negotiations held on Monday (19 December).
During Monday’s negotiations, EU Council members and the US apparently proposed changing language which suggested symmetry in violence by the opposition and the government and introduced elements including: stronger human rights references, an explicit call regarding cooperation with the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry, the need for accountability and demanding full implementation of the Arab League’s initiative to stop the violence in Syria. It seems some Council members also feel that if there is an arms embargo it should apply to both the government and the opposition. There also seems to be broad support for language in the resolution clarifying no military intervention in Syria is envisaged.
These negotiations are taking place against a backdrop of increasing international pressure on Syria to end its crackdown on protestors which has been ongoing since March. According to the 12 December briefing to Council members by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, the situation in Syria has led to more than 5,000 deaths, 14,000 detained and 12,400 refugees and tens of thousands internally displaced. (On 15 December, Syria transmitted a letter to the Security Council criticizing Pillay’s briefing.)
On Monday, 19 December, the General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning the violence in Syria and calling for full implementation of the Arab League initiative.
According to media reports, an advance team of about 30 Arab League observers is to arrive in Damascus today in preparation for a larger mission of approximately 150 to be deployed by week’s end—the mission has a one month mandate. Syria and the Arab League signed the protocol for the observer mission on Monday. (The Arab League had previously suggested upwards of 500 observers.) Syria apparently conditioned the deployment of the mission insisting on a reduced number of observers and on coordination of its activities with the government.