Tag Archives: Syria

Fire and Rain:  The Council Divides its Urgent Attentions

31 Aug

The world is, to reference the Washington Post and virutally every other media outlet, beset with crises.   From Mali to Ukraine, hardly a day goes by without at least one new eruption of hostility, one new warning that the armed violence we struggle to manage may well be entering a new and more potent phase.

At such times, eyes are cast towards the UN Security Council hoping that its ‘maintenance of peace and security’ mandate will translate into policies and actions that can put out some of the fires ranging across half the world, or at the very least lower their searing heat.

The Council is trying hard to do just that, but there are simply too many fires raging, too many escalating conflict zones, any one of which could take up Council members’ full attention.  We find the Council careening from one issue to another, focusing on Syria one week but not the next; obsessing on the ISIS threat while diverting attention from Gaza; assuming that a soon-to-be-deployed peacekeeping operation in Central African Republic will stop that bleeding while Libya disintegrates before our eyes.   Only Ukraine, and that in large measure because of the involvement of permanent Council members and their large militaries, tends to keep its Council focus.

Under the presidency of the United Kingdom, the Council had a busy and varied August, which including a ‘field trip’ to the Hague, Somalia and other locations; some forceful efforts to limit the length of statements, even by governments that have limited access to the Council and are party to grave conflict; and at least two important discussions – one on protection of humanitarian workers and the other on UN capacities for preventive response to violence prior to its full eruption.

Both of these discussions brought out a range of deep UN member state anxieties.   The loss of life from the community of humanitarian workers is shocking and worthy of both great honor and urgent response.  Most of us can barely imagine the challenges of bringing relief to people isolated by violence and abandoned by governments and insurgencies alike.  In the case of the prevention discussion, it is somehow reassuring to those who carefully follow Council deliberations that there be an acknowledgement of how untenable the current situation is, a situation that lends itself to short-term crisis management rather than the longer term crisis prevention which  is closer to our common hope.

In life as in policy, it is often the things left unsaid that are of more significance than those which are named.  This also pertains to webcast Council meetings where statements too often traverse well-worn paths that seem to be designed to ‘inform’ constituents more than sharing thoughtful policy assessment.  In these discussions, there is much text devoted to what Council members care about and occasionally even what they are prepared to do about it.   But much of that is in the form of general recommendations that offer neither kernels of lessons learned nor honest assessments of the failures of past policy.   When the Council speaks of the disintegration of Libya, for instance, while defending (or ignoring altogether) the Council’s resolution authorizing ‘all necessary means’ to stop Gaddafi and the ethnic chaos and the grotesque and highly fluid arms market that were left in its aftermath, it is natural to wonder if Council members are paying enough attention to the longer-term implications of their own decisions.   The rest of us, after all, can ignore the potential consequences of our life choices only at our peril.

So what about those unmentioned items with significant policy reference?   Briefly, two stood out.   In the case of humanitarian workers, we were hoping that someone on the Council would raise clearly the uncomfortable relationship for these workers being protected by peacekeepers who are increasingly seen as partisan, in part because of the expansion of peacekeeping mandates, especially regarding use of coercive force beyond the mantra of “self-defense and the defense of the mandate. “  Such forward projection of force, which in the DRC seem to have won the confidence of diverse UN officials, need to be more carefully vetted from the standpoint of their implication for the safety of already beleaguered humanitarian operations.  As we have seen in South Sudan and just this weekend with capture of Fiji and Filipino peacekeepers, there are legitimate concerns about playing with peacekeeper neutrality in a manner that can jeopardize the safety of more than peacekeepers.  The more that others – states as well as ‘spoilers’ — see PKOs as partisan forces, the more likely that affiliated UN humanitarian workers and other ‘country team’ members could be dragged into threatening situations caused by such ‘partisan’ conflict.

On prevention, the ‘debate’ style format elicited many comments from non-Council members, most of which were laced with anxiety about the state of the world and the Council’s often tepid responses.  From our standpoint, there needed to be more commentary from Council members about the dangers of continually ignoring the smoke that signifies potential danger.   We would also have liked to see more representation in the debate from the people who manage the understaffed and too often ignored preventive architecture of the UN system.

We are extremely grateful to outgoing High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and felt that her presence at the debate added considerable value.   But there are others who also should have been in that chamber, including the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. The Council is unlikely to successfully shift its distracted gaze towards prevention responsibilities without routinely acknowledging and consulting with those already tasked with preventive functions.

As our understanding of conflict-related threats continues to grow, opportunities for Council over-stretch will grow likewise.   The discussions this month pointed again to the grave need for Council members to engage the full measure of the UN’s preventive capacity as well as to demonstrate to an anxious global public why they believe that the  current crop of Council resolutions and related responses to the many violent outbreaks now on its agenda are both sufficiently mindful of the needs of humanitarian workers and also more likely to suppress violence in the end than to inflame it further.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Raising the Stakes on Conflict Prevention Stakeholders

25 May

On Thursday, an unusually large crowd of diplomats, invited guests and NGOs gathered in the Security Council to observe the veto of a resolution on Syria (S/2014/348) that had been drafted by France and endorsed by an array of other states inside and outside the Council.

The gist of the resolution was a referral to the International Criminal Court as one measure of ending impunity or at least, in the words of the Australians, to remind abusers that there is no ‘statute of limitation’ on crimes being committed in Syria.

Such reminders are important, to be sure, though it is unclear that the ICC is well suited to conduct investigations and render judgments in the midst of a protracted civil war.   The Chief Prosecutor of the ICC speaking at a briefing on Libya earlier in the month pointed out to the Council that conducting investigations with little funding while confronting massive security threats is difficult at best.  That Syria (like Libya) features massive abuses by multiple parties only complicates jurisprudence, perhaps placing the attainment of justice in this instance well beyond the reasonable capacity of the court.

The failed resolution on Syria seemed somehow consistent with a recent pattern in the Council of trying to ‘do something’ by punting the political football to DPKO (in the form of more complex and coercive mandates) or the ICC (in the form of hastily conceived, unfunded, imprecise referrals) rather than examining the limitations of its own power and process.   The Council remains among the most politicized spaces in the UN.  It is also among the most uneven spaces from the standpoint of power and influence.   The non-permanent members (with the exception of their time as president) largely populate sub-committees and make public statements.  The Russians and Chinese would have little say on many resolutions if they could not force Council members to pay attention to them through threat of the veto.   And the rest of the UN system too often sits on its proverbial hands waiting to see if the Council will take on yet more ‘thematic concerns’ for which it then presumes to act as global legislator.

The present preoccupation with veto restraint within some parts of our policy community is a diversion that belies full recognition of the limitations of the Security Council and the under-tapped resources of the broader UN system (including the Joint Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect) which the Council seems largely to ignore.    As we have written previously, effective veto restraint implies the existence of depoliticized findings of impending mass atrocity violence, a sincere and robust commitment to solve violence primarily through diplomatic means, and Council members whose motives are transparent and attached to the kinds of assessments and accountabilities that have eluded that body for most of its history.  In a system where findings are politicized, where preventive measures are under financed and too often disregarded, and where there is no way to hold the Council accountable for its own mistakes, veto restraint would simply be a gift to the P-3, one which they have not necessarily merited.  Whether or not such restraint would also be a ‘gift’ to victims has to do in part with organizational assessments of the relative efficacy of diplomatic vs. militarized solutions to complex patterns of violence.

Capacity support is the lifeblood of the UN system, and this is true for atrocity crime prevention as in other areas.   But the success of such support is only enhanced when the full complement of stakeholders is acknowledged and engaged.  Regarding RtoP, for instance, it has never been clear who the relevant stakeholders are.  Is it permanent Council members?  Other member states?   The small group of NGOs that gather around the issue here in NY?  Regional or national governmental/military alliances?   What is the role for a small office like GAPW aside from routine (and often ineffective) ‘squawking’ about systemic limitations?   What is the role of media?  Business?   Education?  Development agencies?   Local civil society organizations? Is atrocity crime prevention a responsibility of the entire, extended UN ‘family’ or is it a responsibility of a few powerful states and some random national focal points?   It has often seemed as though the RtoP/atrocity crime prevention community has been more effective in shutting off hard questions than in welcoming them, of closing the gates on offers of energy and commitment rather than finding ways to put such to work.   But our own limitations notwithstanding, the stakes remain critical for the prevention of mass atrocities. We need to get this right, by which we mean to establish reliable and fair structures that are largely prevention oriented and that encourage the broadest possible stakeholder involvement.   We remain far from that goal.

The UN Charter does, indeed, confer upon the Council the primary responsibility for maintaining peace and security.    However, this does not indicate ‘sole’ responsibility nor does it imply that ‘maintenance’ is primarily a reactive matter rather than a preventive one.  Whatever the results of the parallel reform movements afoot within the UN regarding the membership and working methods of the Council, it is imperative that the current Council takes stock of itself and does more to address violence than fling accusations across the desks of political adversaries. Perhaps it could start with an examination of its own ‘franchise.’ After all, the more the Council is understood (or understands itself) as the only relevant player on atrocity violence the more unlikely it is to endorse and encourage other stakeholders.  However, such endorsements and encouragements are the key to an effective system of protection from mass violence that can both energize diverse conflict prevention capacities and help spare the international community the spectacle on Syria that we recently witnessed and which frankly was hard to watch.

Dr. Robert Zuber


Practice Makes Perfect: Another Step towards Effective Prevention of Mass Violence

13 Feb

Yesterday’s Security Council debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict under the presidency of Lithuania was the latest in a series of efforts by Council members and other states to outline the road ahead regarding what has become a welcome, urgent preoccupation of diplomats and policymakers – strategies to effectively protect civilians from violence perpetrated by state and non-state actors.

Valerie Amos and Navi Pillay, among others, gave their typically comprehensive and passionate overviews of what, for them and for many of their colleagues, are surely quite painful markers on the long road ahead until responsibilities under international humanitarian and human rights law are fulfilled by all relevant actors as a matter of course. Ms. Amos in particular noted unresolved ‘stresses’ between humanitarian workers and PKOs implementing coercive mandates, and also reflected on the fact that, despite increased social media scrutiny, ‘siege’ strategies to terrorize and humiliate civilians are still prevalent.

States, too, were thoughtful about the policy directions that should be pursued and the infrastructure gaps and working methods that need to be addressed. Uruguay underscored the need for accurate information to assess POC operations and reassurances that coercive measures such as the DRC Brigades – which tend to blur the lines between traditional peacekeeping and atrocity crime response — adhere to core PKO values.  Indonesia highlighted the need for POC mandates to do more to understand local contexts and work with local conflict prevention capacities.  Both Slovakia and Cuba linked POC to larger efforts to abolish war, while Brazil underscored the ‘mirage’ of military solutions and urged more attention to conflict prevention strategies. As they have done previously, the UK rightly urged that ‘politics and protection’ not be mixed, though without what would surely be a helpful confession of the numerous, diverse incarnations of that ‘mixture’ to date.

In the end, while many delegations conveyed helpful insights, it was New Zealand which most forcefully reminded Council members and others in the room that we already have many Council statements on POC that are not yet fully integrated into country-specific resolutions.   Nor, we might add, are they fully reflected in Council working methods which continue to encourage ‘deliberations’ without the necessary feed-back loops to help identify any concrete impacts from such discussions.  While resolve was in evidence throughout this debate, it still seemed more rhetorical than practical.   For those who make a living around the UN, this hardly constitutes a surprise.

Thankfully, though, this debate was more than a ‘talk shop,’ more than yet another effort to build support for additional coercive mandates. The resolve in the room was mostly directed towards helping the UN system to ‘get on the same page’ regarding protection responsibilities, available (and required) implementation tools, the need for more robust and transparent regional partnerships, etc.   It was also (between the lines) about getting capacities such as the C-34 to take more leadership on POC; about states cooperating more through the PoA process to stop illicit arms flows; about the Council paying closer attention to the Special Advisers on genocide prevention and RtoP — and to others with expertise on development and climate — providing early warnings of potential humanitarian disasters; about listening more closely to working journalists doing important and dangerous reporting in volatile country contexts.   There are many more steps to be taken and, if yesterday’s debate was any indication, sufficient skill and capacity to take them.

The small part of the wider world that tuned in for this debate surely came away with the sense that, despite the desperate headlines from CAR and Syria, the international community really is trying to address their POC responsibilities with proper seriousness.   One next step is to ensure full-system accountability for those in danger of being victimized.   As Italy noted during the debate, we must say ‘loud and clear’ that there is no excuse for abusing civilians. The UN must ‘grab the reins’ if states will allow it.   Despite misgivings about the working methods of the Council, the clarity and ‘selectivity’ of POC mandates, or the ‘inconsistency’ of much of the UN’s general response to conflict, many states seemed ready to support Italy’s call.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Securing the inspectors: Legitimacy, capacity and security dimensions of disposing Syria’s chemical weapons

17 Oct

Editor’s Note:  The following is analysis on options for protection of those disposing of Syria’s chemical arsenal by Dr. David Curran.  David teaches at the University of Bradford in the UK and is a Fellow in peacekeeping at GAPW for fall 2013.  David has taken leadership on joint conferences and publications with GAPW and has offered consults with diplomats on some of the important peacekeeping issues coming up in the Fourth Committee of the UN General Assembly. 

The UN Security Council’s endorsement for Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s three-stage strategy for the elimination of the Syrian Governments arsenal of chemical weapons marks a small yet positive step in its handling of the crisis. It has also set a rapid time frame between the passing of UNSCR 2118[1], and the eventual elimination of all chemical stockpiles belonging to the Syrian Regime. Destroying the stockpile contains a number of risks, at several different phases in the process, from transportation to sites, securing the sites, destroying stockpiles and the process of verification of the destruction. This is difficult enough in peace-time yet alone in the midst of a civil war. Thus in the implementation of UNSCR 2118 a question arises over the possible role of military and security assets which will be used to assist the joint OPCW/UN mission. In particular, the question of ‘who’ provides such assets will be of importance to the development of the operation.

The Secretary General outlined a three phase approach to the elimination of the chemical arsenal. Phases I and II make the first steps towards the destruction of chemical weapons, through initial investigation and destruction of production and mixing and filling equipment respectively. Phase III of the plan poses the most serious challenges for the mission, particularly regarding the safety and security of the inspectors. In Phase III, (to be completed between 1 November 2013 to 30 June 2014), the joint team will be expected to ‘support, monitor and verify the destruction of a complex chemical weapons programme involving multiple sites spread over a country engulfed in violent conflict’ [2]. This process is expected to require movement by the operation (and potentially certain types of chemical agents) through ‘active confrontation lines and in some cases through territory controlled by armed groups that are hostile to the objectives of the Joint Mission’ [3].  In a situation described as ‘dangerous and volatile’, with a range of belligerent groups (some attached to formal command structures, some not), there exists a potential for serious risks to the success of the operation and, more significantly, the health and wellbeing of those in the vicinity of the destruction sites.

The assessment of the Syrian opposition from the International Crisis Group outlines the range of factions fighting against the Syrian regime as being ‘pluralistic and deeply divided, their structures improvised and shifting and their foreign backers apparently altogether less consistent and coordinated’[4]. Moreover, as Al Jazeera has reported there has been a shift in the opposition whereby thirteen of the most powerful rebel groups have withdrawn their recognition of the Syrian National Council, leaving the free Syrian Army ‘increasingly splintered’[5]. There are also significant reasons for those in opposition to be skeptical about any process which leads to ceasefire

Surrender, they are convinced, would mean merciless vengeance at the hands of a regime that, already, has shot at peaceful protestors, killed untold numbers of detained prisoners, tolerated the slaughter of women and children, bombed villages and fired ballistic missiles into densely populated neighbourhoods[6]

It is in this environment that the Joint Mission will operate. It is therefore important to look through what options for military support have been discussed.

It appears that discussion on the topic has led to two main options being espoused. Firstly, a ‘coalition of the willing’ type arrangement formed from a lead nation, and supported by others. For example, towards the end of September, the Russian government offered to provide a security force comprised of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan troops[7]. The benefits of such a coalition would be in common operating procedures, and cultural familiarity (through joint training for example). However, such compositions may effect the legitimacy of the operation in a context such as Syria, where the conflict has become internationalized to a considerable extent[8], and a wide range of states are seen as being allied to one side or another. This is particularly true with regards to the generally hostile view held by opposition groups towards the Russian Government, a strategic partner of the Syrian Government[9].  Reflecting on this, Richard Gowan from NYU’s Centre on International Cooperation suggests that Russian personnel would be counter-productive for security

I think there is a very significant risk that rebel forces will try to disrupt this process, especially if they see significant numbers of Russian personnel involved in the destruction of chemical weapons, because for the hard-line rebels the Russians are almost certainly fair game[10]

An alternative solution would be some kind of force which would look similar to UN peacekeepers. The Secretary General’s letter to the Security Council highlights that in the process of developing a ‘viable operational concept’ there is a requirement for consultation with Member States ‘that may be in a position to contribute to the associated activities’, leading to questions of the extent to which the DPKO would be involved[11]. Involvement of a ‘type’ of peacekeeping is reflected in other areas. Richard Guthrie, a British chemical weapons expert, suggested that some kind of UN peacekeeping presence was needed as those who normally inspect weapons under the Chemical Weapons Convention are not military personnel, and ‘can’t stand there with machine guns in hand and protect the weapons,’ Guthrie adds that any mission ‘would have to be done in coordination with some kind of UN peacekeeping force — which would have to be armed guards and they would have to be able to deter any attack on those locations’[12]

A UN peacekeeping-style plan may however be more difficult to attain in practice. There are reasons for this. Firstly are the technicalities of raising a UN peacekeeping force. In particular issues of mobilizing forces, logistics, equipping and the levels of training have led some in the UN to suggest a Peacekeeping plan is not feasible’ [13]. Moreover, the requirement of a functioning peace process has also been highlighted by advocates of intervention as a necessary precondition for the deployment of UN peacekeepers[14]

However, one thing that the United Nations could represent is a degree of legitimacy in being able to cross lines of conflict. This legitimacy is not by any degree watertight, but it may mean (to use Gowan’s terminology) that UN forces are not seen as ‘fair game’. The internationalized nature of the conflict could well mean that conflicting parties rely on external funding and support. Attacking a civilian-led UN operation designed to uphold international law may not be the best way in which to maintain an external funding base. One of the guiding principles of UN peacekeeping is the perceived legitimacy of its operations, as they are derived from an institution which broadly represents the will of the international community[15].

This short review of response options has opened up an important issue. On the one hand (a ‘coalition of the willing’) there exists high levels of preparedness yet possibly less legitimacy in the eyes of all parties; yet any attempt to mandate a UN peacekeeping-style operation would likely have lower preparedness but a higher chance of maintaining legitimacy. Unfortunately it appears that the nationality of the security providers will matter, possibly as much as where the highest levels of expertise can be sourced. This means that there exists a fundamental need for creative solutions to blend competence and legitimacy in the operation, something which is already evident in Ban Ki Moon’s flexible design of the operation, as well as in the recent plea from the head of the OPCW to instigate short-term localized ceasefires[16], which may facilitate the removal of weapons. Possibly a ‘golden egg’ solution can be found which is able to draw on the best expertise whilst maintaining legitimacy in the eyes of those involved in violent conflict (a different type of coalition?). This is a large step into the unknown, and the stakes are high. This fact is not lost on the Secretary General, who stated in his letter that this will be an ‘operation the likes of which, quite simply, has never been tried before’[17].

Dr. David Curran, Peacekeeping Fellow

[1] United Nations, United Nations Security Council Resolution 2118 (S/Res/2118), 27 September 2013

[2] United Nations, Letter Dated 7 October 2013 from the Secretary General addressed to the President of the Security Council (S/2013/591), 7th October 2013, P6

[3] United Nations (note 2), P6

[4] International Crisis Group, Syria’s Metastasising Conflicts: Middle East Report N°14327, June 2013, P25, Found at


[5] Al Jazeera, The Future of the Free Syrian Army, 6th October 2013, Found at http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestory/2013/10/future-free-syrian-army-2013105155250560782.html

[6] International Crisis Group, (see Note 4), P26

[7] The Guardian, Russia offers to guard sites holding Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, 26th September 2013, Found at


[8] Open Democracy, Syria, realigning the war, 10th October 2013, http://www.opendemocracy.net/paul-rogers/syria-realigning-war

[9] See: CNN, War of words between Russia, U.S. on Syrian crisis heats up, 6th September 2013, Found at, http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/05/world/russia-us-relations/index.html; The Moscow Times, Russia’s Syria Ties Boost Humanitarian Aid, Red Cross Says, 8th October 2013, Found at: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/russias-syria-ties-boost-humanitarian-aid-red-cross-says/487556.html

[10] Worldpress.org, Syria: Interview with Richard Gowan, 10th October 2013, Found at http://www.worldpress.org/Mideast/3985.cfm

[11] Inner City Press, On Syria, Questions of UN Trust Fund & Plans, Ban Said to “See From One Eye”, 8th October 2013, Found at http://www.innercitypress.com/syria1baneye100813.html

[12] Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Explainer: How Practical Is Russia’s Syria Chemical-Weapons Proposal?, 10th September 2013, Found at,  (http://www.rferl.org/content/syria-chemical-russia-practical/25101800.html)-

[13] The Nation, Racing the Clock, Chemical Experts Begin to Disarm Syria, 7th October 2013, Found at, http://www.thenation.com/article/176519/racing-clock-chemical-experts-begin-disarm-syria#

[14] The Guardian, MPs vote down military intervention in Syria: Politics live blog, 30th August 2013, Found at http://www.theguardian.com/politics/blog/2013/aug/29/mps-debate-syria-live-blog

[15] United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, United Nations Peacekeeping Principles and Guidelines, UN, New York, 2008

[16] See: BBC, Syria chemical weapons: OPCW plea for short ceasefires, 14th October 2013, Found at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24516303; New York Times, Syrian Rebels Urged to Let Inspectors See Arms Sites, 14th October 2013, Found at


[17] United Nations, (see Note 2), P6

Fueling the Syrian Conflict From All Sides

29 May

As the conflict in Syria rages on, ostensibly slipping further and further into an increasingly grievous civil war, the European Union decided on 28 May 2013 to lift an arms embargo thereby allowing for the option to provide arms to the Syrian rebels fighting against President Bashar Al-Assad and his government. The decision to lift the embargo was supported mainly by the UK and France. Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, remarked that the non-renewal of the arms embargo comes with certain conditions—weapons can only be sent to the so-called moderate Syrian National Coalition and the affiliated Free Syria Army and can only be used to “protect civilians.” While the embargo sets the stage for weapons transfers to the Syrian rebels, there is no immediate plan to begin authorizations of weapons as the earliest possible time for such transfers would be August 2013 (after a conference is to be held in Geneva next month to negotiate a peace agreement). Nevertheless, this policy change is indeed a worrisome development in the context of a bloody, prolonged, and seemingly intractable civil conflict in a region of unsettling politics and violence. Several countries have rightly argued that more weapons will inevitably mean more death and destruction no matter to which parties to the conflict they are intended.

Particularly in light of the recent adoption of an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in the UN General Assembly (set to be open for signature next week on 3 June 2013), the dangers of transferring conventional arms to governments (or, in this case, entities) with the potential to violate international humanitarian law, international human rights law, undermine peace and security, or be used to commit acts of gender-based violence or violence against children are highly relevant to the debate over supplying arms to “stabilize” a conflict versus “exacerbating” the violence. The original intent and impetus of an ATT—preventing the human suffering associated with the unregulated and illicit arms trade—are interestingly on display in the Syria case. The human suffering apparent in the Syrian context is indisputable. The UN estimates that nearly 80,000 individuals have died in addition to the dire refugee and displacement crises and the overall disruption of livelihoods. Such violence has been committed with imported (legally and illicitly) weapons of all kinds as arms flow into and within the region. Moreover, the dangers of “legitimate” arms falling into the hands of “non-legitimate” entities are even more severe in the context of Syria given the lack of information on the rebel groups and the instability of the region writ large. The determination of which groups are the “legitimate” representatives of the Syrian people is hardly clear.

Applying the ATT to the Syrian case is not straightforward, but an interesting case study nonetheless. Export assessment criteria represent the linchpin of the ATT operability insofar as these criteria must be examined prior to any arms authorization by the exporting states party. The agreed criteria in the ATT do provide an interesting backdrop to the discussion of whether or not such export authorizations are in line with international legal obligations. Of course, a major difference (and ultimately a major complication and what would seem a “loophole” in the Syria case) that must be noted is that the ATT covers inter-governmental transfers and does not explicitly elaborate on criteria related to transfers to non-state actors. A prohibition against transfers to non-state actors was a hotly debated issue during the ATT negotiations and, ultimately, was not included in the final text. Many of the loudest objectors to the text, including many Arab states and the three states that formally objected to the text at the conclusion of the March 2013 negotiations (the DPRK, Iran, and Syria), noted the absence of this prohibition as a major oversight in the drafting. They noted that although the majority of states called for this prohibition, it was purposefully left out. Therefore, the ATT, even if it had already entered into force and the relevant parties were state parties, would not apply in this case. If instruments such as the ATT are to have a real impact, then treaty criteria must be incorporated into all export decisions and not just those which are explicitly referenced. Otherwise, a policy of criteria avoidance could be easily adopted and implemented.

In the same week that the EU lifted the embargo, the Russian government announced that it would move ahead with the transfer of anti-aircraft missiles to the sitting Syrian government as a “stabilizing factor” that would “deter” foreign intervention into the conflict. It is clear that arming either side—the Assad regime or the rebel groups—is doing little to bring the violence to an end or address the dire humanitarian crisis. The Syrian conflict has ultimately moved from a rebellion to a civil war to a regional war by proxy with external forces such as Iran and Russia eager to counterbalance moves by the EU and the US.

The insertion of more weaponry on either side has little hope for changing the political or practical dynamics of the conflict and, thus, instigating hopes for bringing forth a negotiated peace. As Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted to the Human Rights Council in Geneva recently, “The message from all of us should be the same: we will not support this conflict with arms, ammunition, politics or religion.”


–Katherine Prizeman

Security Council Holds Open Debate on International Criminal Court

25 Oct

On 17 October the UN Security Council (SC) held an open debate on the subject “Peace and justice, with a special focus on the role of the International Criminal Court”. In addition to the five permanent members of the SC – China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States – as well as the ten non-permanent members – Azerbaijan, Colombia, Germany Guatemala, India, Morocco, Pakistan, Portugal, South Africa and Togo -, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Judge and President of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Song Sang-Hyun, and a representative of the Office of the Prosecutor of the Court, Phakiso Mochochoko, also made statements at the debate. Many other non-members of the SC offered statements as well.

The majority of the speakers praised the good timing of the debate, as this year the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, celebrates its tenth anniversary. Furthermore, perhaps even more symbolic, Guatemala, which is presiding at the SC this month as president, is the latest state that has ratified the Statute. Therefore, at the initiative of Guatemala, this debate on peace and justice and the ICC was held this month. Many states, realizing the vitality and the sensitivity of the issue, expressed their wish to hear from the ICC at the SC on a more regular basis.

As Mr. Sang-Hyun and Mr. Mochochoko argued in their statements, and what was later on repeated by the vast majority of speakers at the debate, there cannot be peace without justice and there cannot be justice without peace. If the international community is aiming for sustainable peace, justice cannot be overshadowed and be seen as a secondary matter in any conflict resolution. As oftentimes justice has been sacrificed in order to reach peace, there is a prevailing “culture of impunity”  in many conflict-torn countries across the world. As General-Secretary Ki-moon noted, this is a new age of accountability and “the perpetrators can no longer be confident that their crimes will be unpunished”.

Another issue that was widely discussed among the speakers was the relationship between the SC and the ICC as well as their distinct mandates. While the UN SC is essentially a political body, which makes its decisions based often subjected to political aspirations and biases,, the ICC represents an international criminal law enforcement tool, which was set up to function completely independent and uninfluenced by the political currents often endemic in the SC. The separation of distinctive mandates is essential when speaking of referrals. When a state is not a party to the ICC, the SC, seeing that grave crimes have been committed and thus  a potential threat to an international peace and security has been identified, can refer the case to the ICC. The referral to the ICC should be impartial, therefore, as Pakistan pointed out, prepared with diligent scrutiny and never be a default process when an injustice occurs. On the other hand, the final decision would be made by the ICC whether to initiate an investigation or not.

Another issue widely addressed at the debate was the cooperation between the two institutions and how it should and could be improved. As non-SC members, such as New Zealand, Australia, Bangladesh and Lithuania pointed out, when the referral has been made, the SC has to act with the utmost commitment and support in order to make sure that the referral will be followed through upon. Failure in an execution of arrest warrants is a great example where there has been a lack of commitment.

Another important issue brought up during the debate was the Syrian case. Such states as Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia and Slovenia mentioned that mass breaches of human rights and grave atrocities against the Syrian population should be to the ICC. Keeping in mind how impotent the SC has been in acting on the Syrian case due seemingly intractable country positions, it would be unlikely to expect that this time things will go differently. Uruguay, on the other hand, brought up an important point – it raised a question, whether or not it would be fair and right if the permanent SC members would restrain from their veto power when dealing with such issues as crimes against humanity..

As international humanitarian law continues to gain more attention and legitimacy worldwide, the debate at the UN SC was timely and necessary. Many important issues have been addressed and the support that states declared for the ICC is encouraging and promising. A lot is still left to do to ensure global peace and justice, but fighting the “culture of impunity” and preventing future human rights violations through collaboration between the UN SC and the ICC is one of the ways to do it.


—Donata Saulyte

The Chemical Weapons Convention: Setting a High Multilateral Disarmament Standard

2 Oct

On Monday 1 October, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) celebrated fifteen years of serving as the custodian of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction (CWC). The Ministerial Meeting was held on the final day of the UN General Assembly’s high-level segment and featured a slew of statements from member states as well as the Secretary-General and the Director-General of the OPCW Technical Secretariat that resides in The Hague, Netherlands. The CWC, as noted by several delegations on Monday afternoon, is an example of the success that can be achieved in the field of multilateral disarmament. The purpose of this meeting was to both generate support for the long-term objectives of the Convention and also to provide impetus to the Third Special Session of the Conference of the States Parties to Review the Operation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, scheduled to be convened in April 2013.

With 188 states parties, the CWC confirms that it is, indeed, possible to eliminate an entire category of a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) through nearly universal adoption of a legally-binding convention. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the eight member states that remain outside of the CWC, namely those that are non-states parties including Angola, Egypt, the DPRK, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria, as well as Israel and Myanmar that have signed the CWC but not yet ratified it, to accede to the Treaty and join the international community’s commitment to destroy all existing chemical weapons stockpiles. In addition to its near universal participation, the CW’s twin pillars of eliminating existing stockpiles and preventing the emergence of new types of chemical weapons are significant commitments to WMD non-proliferation and disarmament.  As the UK Ambassador reminded the attendees, as of August 2012, 75 percent of all declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been verifiably destroyed.

Among the issues highlighted, several member states underscored the importance of the peaceful uses of chemistry including the delegate of Iran, the newly appointed Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), who noted the importance of chemistry to overall economic development. Cooperation with the chemical industry was a topic also of interest to states parties; in particular the delegate of Japan called for closer cooperation between the OPCW and relevant industry stakeholders. Also encouraged was victims’ assistance. The Iranian delegate, on behalf of NAM, called for an international support network and a voluntary trust fund.

Moreover, the robust verification regime of the CWC was highlighted as an important and unique contribution to multilateral disarmament. The Cuban delegate rightly stated that the total, verifiable elimination of weapons within a specified time frame is a fundamental pillar of disarmament. The Mexican delegate also noted that the exemplary verification regime of the CWC sets a high standard for multilateral disarmament writ large. The specifics of the CWC example illustrate how robust verification is imperative to comprehensive and universal disarmament measures. The CWC Verification Regime is split into two operational units of the Technical Secretariat—the Verification Division and the Inspectorate Division. The Verification Annex to the Convention provides a comprehensive regime for verifying all chemical weapons-related activities, as well as routine monitoring of the chemical industry through on-site inspections. The Verification Annex is by far the most extensive portion of the CWC. (More detailed information on the OPCW’s verification activities can be found here.)

Some delegations also made pointed comments on the recent statements by Syrian officials regarding the government’s possession of chemical weapons. The delegations of the EU, Norway, France, and the Secretary-General all expressed concern over the admission of Syrian officials of the government’s possession and possible use of chemical weapons. The Director-General of the OPCW has echoed the Secretary-General’s concerns and has stated that the OPCW continues to “monitor developments there closely.” The widespread outrage over such claims that the Syrian government possesses and, even more, would contemplate use of such weapons is indicative of the well-established and common international norm that use of chemical weapons is entirely unacceptable.

The success of the chemical weapons regime is encouraging in a field that often struggles with a lack of consensus and a deficit of political will necessary to eliminate such egregious weapons. As noted by the Turkish delegate, attention must also be paid to nuclear and biological weapons, in particular nuclear disarmament through a regional approach in light of the forthcoming Conference on a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East. Elimination of an entire category of WMD is possible through universal participation and robust verification—such an important goal must be vigorously pursued in other disarmament contexts.



—Katherine Prizeman