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At Long Last, the UN Security Council Unites on a Syrian Resolution


In rare action-packed diplomacy at the United Nations, a draft resolution was agreed on Sept. 26 by the five permanent members of the Security Council, reinforcing the plan made earlier in the month between Russia and the United States to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, after Syria agreed to join the Chemical Weapons Convention. Yet the resolution, which is binding, does not go as far as the US and its allies would have liked, leaving out automatic repercussions should Syria not comply with the text’s obligations. The resolution will be passed formally by the other 10 elected members of the council imminently.

Samantha Power
Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, discussing the agreement of a text for a resolution on Syria.

Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, was able to maintain its stance in negotiations on the draft resolution that no automatic sanctions or use of force would be included if Syria reneged on the terms. Britain, France and the US, also permanent members, had striven all along to include such triggers, as outlined in Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The resolution does enable, however, the council to consider more steps in further resolutions should Syria fall short of the mandate.

The passage of the resolution by the permanent five members represents a major declaration of unity for the council on Syria. In the last year, Russia (with its ally, China, another permanent member) has refused to consent to any action that could bind Syria’s fight against the opposition in the country’s two-and-a-half year civil war.

The resolution was also written and agreed on amid the busiest week of the year at the UN, during the opening session of the annual General Assembly debate and other high-level meetings on disarmament and the Millennium Development Goals.

The new resolution may leave the UN slightly less vulnerable to criticism worldwide for its inability to end a war that has killed at least 120,000 people, by latest estimates. The latest move by the Security Council could also give UN staff members a renewed sense of mission in their work on peace and security, since they have voiced their personal and professional frustrations time and again on the inaction of the council to take a unified stance this year regarding Syria’s war.

The final discussions on the draft began just days ago, once Syria decided to join the Chemical Weapons Convention to forestall the threat of military action by the United States in response to a sarin gas attack occurred in a Damascus suburb on Aug. 21. Russia and the US negotiated an initial accord on Sept. 14 in Geneva to arrange for the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons as a UN investigative team confirmed that sarin gas had been used in Ghouta. The American government says the gas attack killed at least 1,000 people and was instigated by the Syrian government.

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In related news, the UN announced that the mission investigating other alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria continued working on a report that should be ready by late October. The report will address seven allegations made by various parties to the secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, regarding the possible deployment of chemical and biological weapons.

These seven reported incidents, all occurring this year, are Khan al-Assal, March 19; Sheikh Maqsoud, April 13; Saraqeb, April 29; Ghouta, Aug. 21; Bahhariyeh, Aug. 22; Jobar, Aug. 24; and Ashrafiah Sahnaya, Aug. 25.

The mission will continue to use the same impartial fact-finding methods that were applied to the first round of investigations in Ghouta. The UN said that this meant using scientifically agreed on and accredited environmental and epidemiological techniques, such as sampling and laboratory analyses as well as interviews with physicians, victims and parties connected to the incidents.

The UN team of investigators, led by Dr. Ake Sellstrom, returned to Syria for its second working visit on Sept. 25, and expects to leave the country on Sept. 30. The team consists of experts and specialists from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization, both UN specialized agencies.

[This article was updated on Sept. 27, 2013.]



Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach 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 Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working 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.

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