A day after the United Nations Security Council refused to adopt a British-sponsored resolution that would have sanctioned the Syrian government if fighting persisted, the council agreed unanimously to renew the mandate of the UN mission in the country to monitor a cease-fire that never happened.
The 400-member team, called the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (Unsmis), will stay for a final 30-day period as it prepares to withdraw amid the heightening conflict.
Susan Rice, the United States ambassador to the UN, said it was “not the resolution we hoped to adopt,” referring to the more important resolution that failed to pass a day before. That resolution collapsed when two veto-wielding permanent council members, China and Russia, voted no. They have vetoed two previous resolutions condemning the violence in Syria, which is now in its 16th month and spiraling deeper into a civil war.
The vetoes of Russia and China on July 19 dashed Western allies’ hopes for an immediate cease-fire and to enable the peace plan of Kofi Annan, the joint special envoy of the UN and the Arab League, to become feasible. Pakistan and South Africa abstained in the vote, while the remaining 11 council members favored it.
Reflecting concerns on the council and worldwide, Rice called the resolution’s failure to pass a chance for the conflict to “engulf the region in a wider war.”
The UN mission team never had much opportunity to follow its mandate regarding the Annan plan, which requires an end to violence; full humanitarian aid access; the release of detainees; a political dialogue to begin; and unfettered access to the country by international media. The mission, which was led by Gen. Robert Mood of Norway, began operating on April 21 for a 90-day term. General Mood stopped the operation in mid-June, saying the mission could not function amid the chaos. He has left Damascus this week, saying “it is no secret” that the Security Council is “divided on what actions are needed to end the killing and begin a political transition process.”
The UN is sending its military adviser for peacekeeping operations, Babacar Gaye, a Senegalese, to Damascus to maintain continuity, along with the peacekeeping department chief, Hervé Ladsous of France.
The July 19 vote occurred as violence spreads through the increased use of improvised explosive devices by the opposition fighters, who hit the military core of the government this week, killing numerous defense players in Damascus. The deadliest toll so far in the conflict was reached in June. The vote also came a day after Annan traveled to Moscow to keep his peace plan alive.
But the Russians and Chinese were not on board, even as Annan and Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, called for unity from the council on the resolution vote. The UN says that more than 10,000 people have been killed in Syria and widespread and gross human rights violations have been committed by the government. The opposition is also accused of abuses, including the use of child soldiers. The conflict has generated about 86,000 refugees and 500,000 people displaced within the country. Thousands of refugees crossed into Lebanon alone on July 19, the UN said.
The Security Council vetoed previous resolutions setting out steps on stopping the assaults by both the Syrian government and the rebels. Russia and China, with Iran, have supported the government of Bashar al-Assad, whose military is showing signs of fraying from major defections and the recent bombing of military chiefs. The council did approve two previous resolutions earlier this year, including one outlining Annan’s peace plan and another agreeing to the monitoring team.
Rice told the press corps after the vote to extend the mission’s mandate to 30 days that if the situation in Syria changed – violence decreased and heavy-weapon use by the government stopped – the council could revisit the mission’s purpose.
Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the UN, said the resolution was “balanced” and that if this approach had been taken in the wording of the July 19 resolution, it would have succeeded. Neither Churkin nor Li Baodong, the Chinese ambassador to the UN, spoke to the press after yesterday’s veto.
Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, she has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and near Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working in New York at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.