memorandum by Mr von Sydow, rapporteur
1. At its meeting in Paris on 5 September 2013, the
Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy held an exchange of
views on the situation in Syria in the wake of a large scale attack
with chemical weapons in the outskirts of Damascus, on 21 August
2013, and threats of air strikes by the United States of America.
2. As a conclusion of its discussions, the committee decided
to request that an urgent debate be held during the forthcoming
part-session of the Assembly (30 September – 4 October 2013) and
appointed me as rapporteur for this urgent debate, subject to the
decision by the Bureau and the Assembly. This decision has now been
taken and so my task is confirmed.
3. When the committee discussed Syria at the beginning of September,
the issue at stake was the response of the international community
to the (then still alleged) chemical attack, including whether or
not a military intervention would be appropriate and, if yes, by
whom and under which conditions. Diverging views were expressed
but a large majority of members seemed to agree that the solution
for the problem was political, not military, and regretted the incapacity
of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to act and the need
for a peace conference was underlined. The committee welcomes the
Swedish authorities’ decision to grant permanent residence permits
and the right to family reunion to all Syrian refugees currently
in the country as well as to those who will arrive and obtain a
resident permit. It encourages other member States to consider taking
4. Today, a few weeks after our Paris meeting, the situation
is much different and is changing every day, if not every hour.
After an intensive month of diplomacy, the UNSC, unanimously adopted
a resolution on Syria only a couple of days ago opening the road
not only for the destruction of the chemical weapons of Syria, but hopefully
also for peace negotiations and a political solution.
5. Therefore I will limit myself to briefly presenting the background
which led to the Assembly’s decision to hold such a debate and political
developments which have since taken place and led to the adoption
of UNSC Resolution 2118. In my concluding remarks I will focus on
the short-term and medium-term challenges as they appear at present.
and the earlier position of the Parliamentary Assembly
6. Since the uprising began some two and a half years
ago, the war between the regime of Mr Bashar el-Assad and different
groups which oppose it in Syria has already killed more than 100 000
and has resulted in more than 2 million refugees and more than 4
million internally displaced persons.
7. Both sides have been accused of atrocities. Allegations of
the use of chemical weapons by both sides had been made before and
a United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of
Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic was in the country
on 21 August 2013. The UN Mission, headed by the Swedish scientist
Ake Sellström and composed of experts from the Organisation for
the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the World Health
Organisation (WHO), had begun its mission two days earlier, on 19 August.
8. Ever since the beginning of hostilities, the UNSC had found
itself unable to adopt a resolution on the situation in Syria, as
France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, on one side,
could not come to an agreement with China and the Russian Federation,
on the other.
For its part, the Assembly held its first debate under urgent
procedure on Syria in April 2012 on the basis of a report prepared
by our committee (Doc.
, Rapporteur: Mr Pietro Marcenaro, Italy, SOC). This
led to the adoption of Resolution
on the situation in Syria, whereby the Assembly firmly
condemned “the widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations
amounting to crimes against humanity committed by Syrian military
and security forces”. It equally condemned “the human rights violations
committed by some of the armed groups combating the regime” and
reiterated “that there can be no impunity for those who commit crimes
against humanity, whoever they are”. For the Assembly, all allegations
of violations and crimes should be “properly investigated and their
perpetrators brought to justice, including, as appropriate, before
the International Criminal Court”.
10. The Assembly further called for “the creation of a space where
democratic changes can be brought about in Syria in a peaceful manner.
The conditions should thus be gradually created to allow for a ‘Syrian-led political
process’ … and eventually for free and fair elections. The Syrian
people should be free to build their own future”. In this respect,
the Assembly called on the UNSC “to urgently put into place an embargo
on the importation of all weapons and military material into Syria”.
11. The Assembly also stated that “[t]he dictatorship which has
oppressed the Syrian people for decades has no future” and expressed
its support to “all efforts, both at international and domestic
level, to help build a new, democratic and pluralist Syria, respectful
of human rights and the rights of ethnic, cultural and religious minorities”;
it called “on the Council of Europe member States to respond positively
to the appeals launched by the relevant agencies of the United Nations
in order to address the humanitarian needs of the … refugees fleeing
from Syria … as well as of the … people affected by the crisis in
Syria itself” and “to provide individual Syrian asylum seekers with
A few months later, in October 2012, the Assembly held a further
debate under urgent procedure on Syria and adopted Resolution 1902 (2012)
on the European response to the humanitarian crisis
in Syria. In that resolution, the Assembly “regrets the dramatic
deterioration of the conflict, which has escalated into a full-fledged
civil war, and its continuing grievous threat to security and stability
in the entire region and in particular the bordering countries”.
13. The visit to the Za’atri Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, on
6 April 2013, by our Sub-Committee on the Middle East, prompted
a current affairs debate at the April 2013 part-session of the Assembly
on “Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq: how to
organise and support international assistance?”. The Committee on
Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons has been entrusted with
the task of preparing a report on this theme and its rapporteur,
Mr Jean-Marie Bockel, carried out a visit to Lebanon and Turkey
in August 2013.
Last but not least, in its Resolution 1940 (2013)
on the situation in the Middle East, adopted in June
2013, the Assembly expressed its concern “about recent acts of hostility
of the Assad regime against Israel and other neighbouring countries
and about the immense influx of weapons into the area and warned
“against an escalation of the conflict”.
15. The Assembly also expressed its gratitude to the receiving
countries, in particular the Jordanian, Turkish and Lebanese authorities,
for hosting and assisting … Syrian refugees” and called “on the
Council of Europe member States, observer States and those with
partner for democracy status, as well as the international community
as a whole, to increase their financial assistance to Jordan, Turkey
and Lebanon in view of the immense daily needs of the Syrian refugees”.
3 The mosaic of the
Syrian society and of the Syrian opposition
16. It is worth recalling that Syria has a population
of 23 million, of which 90.3% are Arab and 9.7% are Kurds, Armenians,
and other. Languages spoken in the country are Arabic (official
language), Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic and Circassian. Islam is the
official religion: 74% of Syrians are Sunni Muslim, other Muslim make
up 16% of the population (including Alawi and Druze). Christians
of various denominations represent 10% and there are small Jewish
communities in Damascus, Al Qamishli and Aleppo.
17. Under President Assad, the Sunni majority has been substantially
marginalised with the Alawi minority holding the political and military
control. Christians have been granted guarantees of a peaceful cohabitation and
even representation in governmental structures. The regime has harshly
repressed minorities, for instance Kurds, which, with their claims
for self-government, were putting at risk the balance of power.
In its Resolution
, the Assembly underlined that “the mosaic of ethnic,
cultural and religious groups”, which formed the Syrian population,
“together with the territorial integrity of Syria, must be preserved in
a future post-Assad Syria”.
19. Noting the significant divisions within the Syrian opposition,
the Assembly called on its various groups to unite “in order to
be considered as a legitimate alternative offering all Syrian citizens,
irrespective of their ethnic origin, culture or religion, the prospect
of a peaceful, democratic and pluralist Syria”. It also insisted
that “any post-Assad future must guarantee the religious tolerance
that Christians have enjoyed until now”.
20. Underlining “that respect for human rights, the recognition
of ethnic, cultural and religious minorities and the choice in favour
of dialogue and democracy are not mere declarations of principle
but the prerequisites for uniting and strengthening the opposition”,
the Assembly appealed to the international community to support initiatives
aimed at uniting the opposition with a view to bringing about democratic
change in Syria. At the same time, the Assembly urged caution vis-à-vis
those forces which, because of geopolitical interests or for sectarian reasons
– in Syria as in other countries of the Arab Spring – were providing
political and economic support to extremist groups.
Today, more than a year after the adoption of Resolution 1878
, and two and a half years after the beginning
of the uprising in Syria, the opposition is increasingly deeply
divided. With the upcoming peace conference, it is important to
try to understand the complex “who is who” of the Syrian opposition.Note
22. There are a wide variety of political groups, exiled dissidents,
grassroots activists and armed militants which have been unable
to join efforts. Several groups, however, have tried to form coalitions
to unite opposition supporters in Syria and gain international help
23. The Syrian National Council (SNC) was the first coalition
of opposition groups formed in October 2011, to “offer a credible
alternative to the Syrian government” and to serve “as a single
point of contact for the international community”. It is dominated
by Syria's majority Sunni Muslim community/Muslim Brotherhood.
24. The SNC has been challenged by the National Co-ordination
Committee (NCC), which represents the internal political opposition
groups that reject violence and want to negotiate with the government.
It is made up of 13 left-leaning political parties, two Kurdish
political parties, and independent political and youth activists and
is led by longstanding dissidents, some of whom are wary of the
Islamists within the SNC. Several members of the SNC have also complained
about its ineffectual leadership. The SNC has also had difficult relations
with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
25. In November 2012, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said
the SNC could “no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the
opposition” and called for an opposition leadership structure that
could “speak to every segment and every geographic part of Syria”.
26. The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition
Forces (NC) was created, in November 2012, to replace the Syrian
National Council (which nevertheless continues to exist). The NC
includes members from within Syria and abroad and members of the
Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), a network of grassroots opposition
activists, as well as representatives of the local revolutionary
councils. It also has the support of the rebel Supreme Military
Council and Free Syrian Army (FSA). It has been recognised as “the legitimate
representative” of the Syrian people by more than 100 countries.
27. However, it does not include the NCC and several militant
Islamist groups fighting alongside the rebels.
28. In May 2013, a coalition of leading rebel groups issued a
joint statement sharply criticising the NC, accusing it of failing
to fulfil its duties and of allowing itself to be taken over by
regional and international players. The effectiveness of the NC
has also been hindered by a struggle for influence between those
supported by Qatar and those supported by Saudi Arabia.
29. The FSA was formed in August 2011 by army deserters. It is
based in Turkey and is led by General Salim Idriss. While the FSA
has claimed to have as many as 40 000 men under their command, analysts
believe there may be no more than 10 000. They are also still poorly
armed, and many have had only basic military training. The FSA has
admitted that it is unable to directly confront the Syrian army,
which is estimated to have 200 000 soldiers. Nevertheless, a growing
number of defections, partly caused by sectarian division, are weakening
the military, strengthening the FSA and increasing the violence.
The army's rank and file is largely Sunni while its leadership is
30. US officials and Arab intelligence officers told the New York Times in June 2013 that
automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some
anti-tank weapons were being funnelled to the FSA, mostly across
the Turkish border, by way of a “shadowy network of intermediaries”,
including Syria's Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
31. The FSA has functioned primarily as an umbrella group for
army defectors, civilians who have taken up arms and Islamist militants.
The UN Human Rights Council said it had documented instances of
gross human rights abuses committed by members of various FSA groups.
The FSA's leadership had also found it difficult to work with the
SNC, which had publicly stated that it wanted to safeguard the uprising's
32. However, in January 2013 the two groups agreed to co-ordinate
their operations more closely through a liaison office and the SNC
has appealed to the international community to support the rebels
“by means of military advisers, training and provision of arms to
33. Many groups within the framework of the FSA are Islamist in
character, and the rhetoric is often religious in tone, making it
difficult to distinguish between those who sympathise with moderate
political Islam, and ultraconservative Salafist extremists. This
lack of clarity is one of the main reasons why Western governments have
been so unsure about whether to arm rebel groups.
34. There are other groups, not formally working within the FSA
framework, whose fighting tactics and ideological aims prove their
extreme Salafist orientation. These include The Nusra Front or Jabhat
al-Nusra, arguably the country's most powerful jihadist group. It
has claimed responsibility for a number of high-profile attacks
in Syria's main cities and also the execution of a 14-year-old boy
in Aleppo and the kidnapping of the Italian priest Paolo Dall’Oglio.
It was founded early in the conflict with help from al-Qaeda in
Iraq. The United States has designated the Nusra Front a terrorist
organisation. Another jihadist group is the Islamic State of Iraq
and Syria (ISIS), which declared war on FSA affiliated groups (including
the Farouk Brigades in Aleppo and Ahfad al-Rasoul). Violent clashes
were reported on 18 September 2013 between these groups and the ISIS
in the north and east of Syria. This is in line with al-Qaeda’s
Ayman al-Zawahiri warning that his followers in Syria should avoid
co-operation with secular groups allied to the West.
35. The Syrian Islamic Front is an umbrella group comprising the
12 other Salafist groups fighting in Syria. Like the Nusra Front,
these groups all seek to establish an Islamic emirate in Syria.
The most high profile is the Salafist militia Ahrar al-Sham, which
originated in the north of the country. Ahrar al-Sham fighters are
said to have been present at every major assault in the country
since mid-2012. While the Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham were allied
until August 2013, clashes between the two groups started in September.
36. While most of these more extreme groups have worked in tandem
with regular FSA fighters, disputes over resources and territory
have started to cause conflict between them. The murder of an FSA
commander at the hands of an Islamist group in July 2013 has highlighted
the dangerous risk of further splits. Jihadists, including foreign
fighters, have been increasing their presence in Syria although,
for some analysts, they do not represent more than 10% of the overall
37. According to recent estimations, there are as many as 1 000
rebel groups, who between them have 100 000 fighters. There are
about 10 000 jihadists fighting for Isis and the Nusra Front, and
another 30 000 to 35 000 hard-line Islamists. A further 30 000 to
40 000 fighters belong to groups with a more moderate Islamist affiliation.
38. On 25 September, 11 Islamist rebel groups, including some
which are members of the FSA, announced that they did not recognise
the authority of the National Coalition.
A point of division among the opposition groups has also been
their stand on the proposed international peace conference. Just
a couple of days before the adoption of UNSC Resolution
on Syria, the President of the National Coalition accepted
to participate in such a peace conference, but this position has
not been backed by other opposition groups.
40. The Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) militias, active
along the Turkish border, and the Kurdish National Council (KNC)
have recently agreed to join forces with the NC. On 30 September
2013, in Strasbourg, I met a representative of the PYD, who confirmed
their wish to participate in the peace conference. Due to their secular
stand for democracy and human rights, they are accused of being
pro-western by the radical Islamist groups. They insisted that they
were fighting for an inclusive Syria and that they did not have
a separatist agenda.
4 What happened on
21 August and immediate international reactions
41. The report of the United Nations Mission to Investigate
Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons on the incident that
occurred on 21 August 2013 in the Ghouta area of Damascus was referred
to the UNSC on 16 September 2013. According to the note by the Secretary
General of the United Nations accompanying the report, chemical
weapons were used on a relatively large scale on 21 August 2013
in the Ghouta area of Damascus, resulting in numerous casualties,
particularly among civilians and including many children.
42. The Mission “collected clear and convincing evidence that
surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were
used in the Ein Tarma, Moadamiyah and Zalmalka in the Ghouta area
of Damascus.” It was however “unable to document the full extent
of the use of chemical weapons on 21 August or to verify the total
number of causalities”. Many hundreds of deaths, including several
hundred children, were reported.
43. Mr Ban Ki-Moon added in his note: “This is a war crime and
a grave violation of the 1925 Protocol and other rules of customary
international law. I trust all can join me in condemning this despicable
crime. The international community has a responsibility to hold
the perpetrators accountable and to ensure that chemical weapons
never re-emerge as an instrument of warfare.”
44. To preserve impartiality, and as that was never part of its
mandate, the report of the UN Mission does not identify the culprits.
A number of factors indicated in the report seem however to exclude
the insurgent forces as perpetrators.
45. In the immediate aftermath of the attack and pending the publication
of the report, the international community was not unanimous in
its accusations. While the Syrian regime rejected responsibility
for the attack, the United States, France and the United Kingdom
clearly accused it, referring to compelling evidence. For Russia,
the Syrian Government’s responsibility had not been proved.
46. President Obama had stated that the use of chemical weapons
was a “red line” which should not be crossed and threatened punitive
US-led strikes against Syria as an immediate response to the attack
of 21 August. He decided, however, to ask for a vote in the Senate.
47. On 29 August 2013, a vote in the House of Commons rejected
possible British military action against Syrian President Bashar
al-Assad's government to deter the use of chemical weapons.
48. French President Hollande declared that France was ready to
take part in international action against Syria. On 4 September,
the French Parliament held a debate without a vote on the issue.
49. Meeting in Dubrovnik on 2 September 2013, the Bureau of the
Parliamentary Assembly issued a statement on Syria condemning the
use of chemical weapons on 21 August 2013. It stated that “any use
of chemical weapons anywhere by anybody, under any circumstances,
constitutes a violation of international law and a crime against
humanity” and it called “on the international community to take
action to pressurise those countries which have not yet done so
to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention” and “for urgent action
to bring the stocks of chemical weapons in Syria under international
control to prevent access to them by those supporting or opposing
the current Government”. The Bureau also called all parties concerned,
both inside and outside the country, to move, without further delay,
beyond their differences towards a peace conference on Syria, stating
that “the use of arms can never lead to sustainable peace and is
therefore not an option; only a political solution can put an end
to the spiral of violence, but also to the dramatic situation of
refugees and displaced persons”.
5 Chemical weapons
in international lawNote
50. The use of chemical and biological weapons in international
armed conflicts was already banned in 1925 with the Protocol (to
the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907) for the Prohibition of the
Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological
Methods of Warfare, usually called the “Geneva Protocol”, which
entered into force in 1928. The Geneva Protocol prohibits the use
of “asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous
liquids, materials or devices” and “bacteriological methods of warfare”
but at present it is understood as a general ban on the use of chemical
and biological weapons.
51. The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production,
Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction
(CWC) entered into force in 1997 “to exclude completely the possibility
of the use of chemical weapons” but also to cover aspects not covered
by the Geneva Protocol, namely production, storage or transfer.
The OPCW is the implementing body of the CWC. With the entry into
force of the CWC for Syria on 14 October 2013, one month after accession
(which took place on 14 September 2013), the OPCW will have 190
member States, which are working together to achieve a world free
from chemical weapons. They share the collective goal of preventing
chemistry from ever again being used for warfare, thereby strengthening
To this end, the convention contains four key provisions:
- destroying all existing chemical
weapons under international verification by the OPCW;
- monitoring chemical industry to prevent new weapons from
- providing assistance and protection to States Parties
against chemical threats;
- fostering international co-operation to strengthen implementation
of the convention and promote the peaceful use of chemistry.
53. As existing declared stockpiles are destroyed, the OPCW will
continue to work hard to persuade the remaining handful of non-member
States to renounce chemical weapons and join the convention. At
the same time, the OPCW must prevent the re-emergence of a chemical
weapons threat, whether from State or non-State actors.
54. The OPCW has been given the mandate to achieve the object
and purpose of the convention, to ensure the implementation of its
provisions – including those for international verification of compliance
with it – and to provide a forum for consultation and co-operation
among States Parties. The Technical Secretariat is responsible for
the day-to-day administration and implementation of the Convention,
including inspections, while the Executive Council and the Conference
of the States Parties are decision-making organs designed primarily
to determine questions of policy and resolve matters arising between
the States Parties on technical issues or on interpretations of
55. Until 14 September 2013, Syria was, together with Angola,
Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan, one of the five countries in
the world which had neither signed nor ratified to the convention.
Israel and Myanmar signed it 20 years ago but have not ratified
6 Recent diplomatic
efforts leading to the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution
56. Against the background of threats of US-led punitive
strikes on Syria and an apparently offhand remark by the United
States Secretary of State, John Kerry, the Russian Minister of Foreign
Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, launched an important diplomatic initiative
proposing the identification and total destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.
His proposal aimed at averting any possible immediate US-led military
intervention in Syria and bringing the parties and the international
community to the negotiations table. After intensive consultations
in Geneva, an agreement was reached between Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov
on 14 September 2013, on a plan whereby Syria would account for
its chemical weapons within a week and ensure their destruction
57. For such a plan to have a chance of success, a clear resolution
of the UN Security Council should ensure a robust and independent
monitoring and verification mechanism, and enforceable deadlines.
The agreement reached in Geneva states that: “The United States
and the Russian Federation concur that this UN Security Council
resolution should provide for review on a regular basis the implementation
in Syria of the decision of the Executive Council of the OPCW, and
in the event of non-compliance, including unauthorized transfer,
or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the UN Security
Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.”
58. The international community welcomed this plan wholeheartedly
and the Syrian President declared that he was prepared to implement
it (he stated however that it would take a year and would cost a
billion dollars to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons). As a consequence,
President Obama annulled his request for a Senate vote on strikes.
59. Also on 14 September, Syria acceded to the CWC. It will become
the 190th State Party to the convention on 14 October 2013.
60. As of mid-September, negotiations started on the drafting
of a UN Security Council resolution. The main bone of contention
has been whether or not the resolution would invoke Chapter VII,
a clause that allows UN member States to use all possible means,
including military action, to enforce a resolution. This seemed
to have been agreed in Geneva, but later Russia's Foreign Ministry
rejected a French proposal for a draft resolution because of the
Chapter VII reference, as well as the suggestion that the resolution
would blame the Syrian Government for deploying chemical weapons.
61. Another issue at stake was whether the resolution should include
a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC). According
to Human Rights Watch, “The resolution the United Nations Security
Council is considering about the August 21, 2013 chemical weapon
attacks in Syria should include a referral to the International
Criminal Court (ICC). An ICC referral of the situation in Syria
would be a major step toward achieving justice for victims of the
attack and other atrocities by all sides in Syria’s armed conflict”.
62. On 21 September 2013, Syria submitted some documents concerning
its chemical weapons programme to the OPCW, which met a week later,
on 27 September, and agreed on an accelerated programme for achieving
the complete elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons by mid-2014.
This decision, which the Executive Council called “historic”, requires
inspections in Syria to start as of 1 October 2013. Interim milestones
for destruction would be set by the Executive Council of OPCW by
15 November. The UN Mission went back to Syria on 25 September.
63. Syria is believed to possess more than 1 000 tonnes of chemical
agents and pre-cursor chemicals, including sulphur mustard and sarin
and VX nerve agents. The destruction process proposed for Syria
differs in several important aspects from the one outlined in the
convention. Technical difficulties and legal obstacles are huge
and the ongoing civil war in the country increases immensely the
difficulty of the process. Political will is needed to work out
the details of the plan and strict compliance by both the Syrian
authorities and the opposition are indispensable for its implementation.
Also additional resources should be made available to the OPCW,
which is faced with the unique challenge of supervising the destruction
of chemical weapons while a war is ongoing. Several States, including
Council of Europe member States, have announced that they will contribute
to the OPCW's Syria fund and more should follow.
64. In parallel with negotiations concerning the planned destruction
of Syria’s chemical weapons and possible sanctions in case of non-compliance
with the agreed plan, talks have also been ongoing in the last couple
of weeks on the proposed international peace conference on Syria,
which Russia and the United States, meeting on 7 May 2013 in Moscow,
agreed to convene as a follow-up to an earlier Geneva meeting held
in June 2012. They had then agreed on the principle of a political
transition, but were unable to stop the war.
65. The Geneva 2 Middle East peace conference (or “Geneva 2”)
was proposed as a United Nations-backed peace conference that would
take place in Geneva in late 2013 with the aim of stopping the Syrian
civil war and organising a transition period and post-war reconstruction.
The key aim of Geneva 2 would be to get all parties to agree on
the principle of a political solution, and then build on Kofi Annan's
peace plan and the June 2012 meeting.
66. On 19 September, the media reported that, speaking on behalf
of Syria’s Government, the Deputy Prime Minister said that the civil
war had reached a stalemate, with neither side strong enough to
win. He added that at the proposed peace talks in Geneva, in which
the Syrian Government had already announced that it was ready to
take part without any preconditions, Damascus would call for a ceasefire
with the armed opposition. Later in the week, the Minister denied
having made such a declaration.
67. A few days later, on 22 September 2013, the Syrian opposition
National Coalition president Ahmad Jarba, announced that his group
was prepared and ready to attend a peace conference in Geneva to
establish a transitional government to end the conflict in the country.
Jarba's letter to the United Nations Security Council represents
the first clear commitment from the opposition to attend the proposed
conference that is sponsored by the United States and Russia. Until
now, the opposition had remained divided over the issue, refusing
to take part unless President Assad stepped down.
68. On 26 September 2013, in a meeting with United Nations and
Arab League special envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, Iranian President
Rouani said that, “if invited without any preconditions, Iran will
participate in the [Geneva 2] conference in order to help resolve
the Syrian crisis” as “everyone should make efforts to end the war
and bloodshed in Syria at the shortest possible time”.
69. Against this background and just a few hours after the decision
of the OPCW on special procedures for an expeditious and verifiable
destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal by mid-2014, the
UNSC, in a breakthrough late evening meeting, unanimously adopted
Resolution 2118, which, after two and a half years of a bloody civil
war with dramatic humanitarian consequences, renews hopes for peace
and a political settlement to the conflict.
70. The UNSC determines that the use of chemical weapons anywhere
constitutes a threat to international peace and security, and calls
for the full implementation of the above-mentioned 27 September
decision of the OPCW. The OPCW document now forms part of the UN
resolution which sets out to govern the whole process.
71. In its binding resolution, the 15-member Council prohibits
Syria from using, developing, producing, otherwise acquiring, stockpiling
or retaining chemical weapons, or transferring them to other States
or non-State actors, and underscores also that no party in Syria
should use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer
such weapons. Syria should comply with all aspects of the OPCW decision,
notably by accepting personnel designated by OPCW or the United
Nations and providing them with immediate and unfettered access
to – and the right to inspect – any and all chemical weapons sites.
Further, the Council decided to regularly review Syria’s implementation
of the OPCW Executive Council decision and its own resolution.
72. The UNSC Resolution, fully endorsing the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012, calls
for the convening, as soon as possible, of an international conference
on Syria to implement that Communiqué. Thus, the Security Council
has endorsed a road map for a political transition in Syria. The
UN Secretary General has also set a target date for the Geneva 2
peace conference of mid-November.
73. As regards the above-mentioned issues of contention, Resolution
2118 reflects an inevitable compromise: although the draft refers
to Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows the use of military
force or other punitive measures, a second resolution, adopted under
Chapter VII and authorising such a move would be needed in case
74. The resolution neither attributes guilt for the 21 August
attack nor refers to the International Criminal Court. Responsibility
for the massacre of 21 August thus remains a point of contention.
75. For his part, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon,
while describing the adoption of the UNSC Resolution as “the first
hopeful news on Syria in a long time”, underlined, that even if
it marked an important step, “we must never forget that the catalogue
of horrors in Syria continues with bombs and tanks, grenades and
guns”. He said the plan to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons was
“not a license to kill with conventional weapons”.
76. Also, stressing that the perpetrators of the chemical attacks
in Syria must be brought to justice, Mr Ban Ki-moon said that the
United Nations mission which had returned to Syria to complete its
fact-finding investigation would conclude its work by the beginning
of October, and he would promptly transmit a report to all member
77. The UN Secretary General pressed the Security Council to capitalise
on its newfound unity by focusing on two other equally crucial dimensions
of the conflict: the dire humanitarian situation and the political
crisis. For their part, the Syrian sides should engage constructively
towards the creation of a democratic State, while regional actors
should challenge those who sought to undermine that process.
78. US Secretary of State John Kerry said the United Nations demonstrated
that “diplomacy can be so powerful that it can peacefully defuse
the worst weapons of war”. He said the resolution would for the
first time seek to entirely eliminate a nation's chemical weapons
capacity and underlined that the Syrian regime bore the burden of
meeting the terms of the resolution.
79. For his part, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also
hailed the adoption of the resolution, saying Moscow was ready to
take part in “all operations” in Syria. However, he stressed that
the success of international efforts was “not only on Damascus'
shoulders” and that the Syrian opposition should also co-operate.
He also emphasised that the resolution set requirements for all
countries, especially Syria's neighbours, which should report on
moves by non-State actors to secure chemical weapons.
80. US President Barack Obama earlier said agreement on the issue
by Security Council members would be a “potentially huge victory
for the international community”.
81. United Kingdom Foreign Secretary William Hague also hailed
the adoption of “a ground-breaking resolution”. The French Minister
of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, said he was “satisfied” about
the adoption of the UNSC Resolution which he considered to be a
“step forward”. He noted that things were progressing “although
82. Reacting to the vote, Syria's UN Ambassador, Bashar Jaafari,
said the resolution covered most of Damascus' concerns. But he stressed
that countries supporting Syrian rebels should also abide by the
83. In view of the increasing rift within the Syrian opposition
and the various rebel groups, there is no official position of the
latter on the UNSC Resolution. The stand of the opposition is however
crucial. The conditions for the implementation of the resolution
and in particular for the safe access of personnel designated by
the OPCW or the United Nations to chemical weapons sites, according
to the agreed plan, cannot be met if ceasefires are not respected
by all sides.
7 A brief overview
of the dire humanitarian situation
84. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, the dire
humanitarian situation is one of the two other critical dimensions
of the Syrian conflict, together with the political one, on which
the international community should now focus.
85. According to figures provided by the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR) in a briefing note prepared for our discussions,
as of 25 September 2013, there are 2 116 000 refugees who have fled
Syria since the beginning of the conflict and have sought protection
in neighbouring countries: 763 097 in Lebanon, 525 231 in Jordan,
494 330 in Turkey, 192 396 in Iraq, 126 717 in Egypt and 14 289
in countries of North Africa.
86. The UNHCR draws attention to the fact that, despite the massive
presence of 29 refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, over 75%
of Syrian refugees are living outside camps in towns and villages
among host countries. This largely invisible urban population faces
additional challenges, such as high rental prices, rising costs
of living and limited livelihood opportunities.
87. According to the UNHCR, some 4.25 million people are displaced
inside Syria (IDPs) and some 6.8 million people are in need of humanitarian
assistance. However, of the US$249 million laid out in the 2013 IDP
Response budget, 72% remain underfunded.
88. Growing numbers of Syrians are also arriving in Europe. According
to the UNHCR, approximately 47 000 asylum claims by Syrians have
been registered in the European Union as well as in Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland
and Switzerland since the beginning of the crisis. In some countries,
between 3 000 and 5 000 asylum seekers from Syria are arriving every
month. According to UNHCR recent data, Italy is seeing a sharp increase in
Syrians arriving by boat mainly from Egypt and Turkey. 3 300 Syrians,
including over 230 unaccompanied children, entered Italian territory
mainly through Sicily, over a 40-day period.
89. On a positive note, the Swedish Government decided to grant
permanent residence permits and the right to family reunion to all
Syrian refugees currently in the country as well as to those who
will arrive and obtain a resident permit. It encourages other member
States to consider taking similar measures. German authorities, for
their part, decided to grant asylum to 5 000 Syrian refugees who
will be given two-year residence permits renewable depending on
the situation in Syria.
Already a year ago, in its Resolution 1902 (2012)
on the European response to the humanitarian crisis in
Syria, the Assembly had drawn attention to the fact that the situation
in the refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq was becoming
“dramatic owing to shortages of food and hygiene products and lack of
housing”, noting that this was the case in certain areas of Syria
91. The members of the Sub-Committee on the Middle East had the
opportunity to witness with their own eyes the difficulties faced
by both the Syrian refugees and the Jordanian authorities in view
of the immense daily needs of refugees in the Za’atri camp.
Following his visits to Turkey and Lebanon, Mr Jean-Marie
Bockel prepared a memorandumNote
in the context of the preparation
of his report on “Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and
Iraq: how to organise and support international aid?”, which he
kindly shared with me. Mr Bockel’s report aims at alerting, yet
again, the international community to the extremely precarious situation
in which Syrian refugees find themselves. He stresses that they
need to be provided with decent living conditions, with particular
focus on key aspects such as education, health and housing. He also
emphasises the particularly tragic situation of women and children,
with the latter making up 53% of the refugees.
Drawing from Resolution
, Mr Bockel intends in his report to ask again Council
of Europe member States to show solidarity and share responsibility
by taking the necessary measures to cater for Syrian refugees as
effectively as possible.
94. The international community should make a generous and most
urgent response to the calls for funds to assist the Syrian refugees
and also the neighbouring countries receiving them. The humanitarian consequences
of the Syrian conflict and the need for urgent humanitarian assistance
should be clearly tackled at the planned Geneva 2 peace conference
which, following the adoption of UNSC Resolution 2118, may be convened
in the coming six weeks with higher prospects of success than one
could have imagined a few weeks ago.
As the Assembly has already stressed in its Resolution 1902 (2012)
, the problems posed by the dramatic situation of refugees
and displaced persons in Syria and in neighbouring countries can
only be solved if there are prospects for peace. And this will only
be possible through a political solution to the conflict at which
the future Geneva talks aim.
8 Concluding remarks
96. Since the committee meeting in Paris at the beginning
of September, the dynamics have changed significantly: from considering
the possibility of military strikes against Syrian Government forces,
despite the absence of a decision by the United Nations Security
Council, we have moved to an agreement on multinational co-operation
recognising a central role for the United Nations, as well as the
OPCW. This, in itself, is a welcoming development.
97. At the same time, we are faced with a sad reality: even if
there will be no use of chemical weapons in Syria, people, including
civilians, women and children, will continue to die every day by
means of conventional weapons.
98. There is also a feeling of frustration, especially shared
by members of a parliamentary assembly belonging to a human rights
organisation: justice has not been done. In the recently adopted
UNSC Resolution 2118, there is no reference to war crimes or the
warfare laws, no reference to the International Criminal Court, nobody
is blamed for the 21 August chemical attack and the text does not
foresee automatic recourse to measures under Chapter VII of the
United Nations Charter (although it leaves the possibility open
in case of future non-compliance).
However, by agreeing on complex disarmament procedures and
strict regular reviews, United Nations Security Council member States
have assumed a long-term responsibility. And they have probably
been more effective in renewing hopes for an end to the conflict
than any military strikes. This point was accurately made by Dr
Jean Pascal Zanders, Disarmament Consultant at The Trench and Former
Senior Research Fellow at the European Union Institute for Security
Studies, during the hearing before the Committee on Political Affairs and
Democracy on the situation in Syria.Note
100. If the process in Syria succeeds, it may also open up the
possibility for wider disarmament opportunities in the Middle East
and may contribute to putting an end to the stalemate over Iran’s
101. The success of the international community’s role, after two
and a half years of failures and missed opportunities, a hundred
thousand deaths and millions of refugees and displaced persons,
will, however, not solely depend on the success of the disarmament
process – difficult from a technical and legal point of view in itself.
102. The ultimate test will be the very end of the civil war and
– an even more challenging long-term task – the emergence of a democratic,
inclusive and stable State in Syria. To succeed in this respect
requires not only exercising pressure on the current Syrian regime,
but also on the opposition groups; contributing to uniting those
opposition groups which favour democracy and tolerance; eliminating
extremist groups, including terrorist ones; marginalising external
actors which finance and provide political and military support
to extremist groups; bringing to the negotiations table all parties
concerned; and making the international peace conference (Geneva
2) the beginning of a new era for Syria.