Talks aimed at trying to end the civil war in Syria will today see international powers meet with the opposition to discuss a political transition.
|Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi|
Ahead of the meetings, peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi suggested in his leaked January 29 briefing to the UN Security Council that President Bashar al-Assad must step down as part of the transition.
The briefing featured a six-point plan laid out by the envoy as he prepares to join U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden in Munich for the meetings today with Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, head of the Syrian National Coalition.
UN Report posted this full text of Brahimi’s briefing to the Security Council, which suggests that Assad should go:
BRIEFING TO THE SECURITY COUNCIL
Joint Special Representative for Syria , Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi
New York, 29 January 2013
Thank you very much indeed, Mr. President,
Distinguished Members of the Council,
1. It is an honor to come to this Informal Consultations of the Council to discuss the Syrian situation, and it gives me particular pleasure to do so under your Chair, Mr. President. I believe it is not too late to express to you and to your Colleagues and Staff a happy 2013. I guess that the best wish one could express to the Security Council as a whole is that you have no work at all. Indeed no work at all for you would be what the people of the world would appreciate most.
2. In my opening remarks, I’ll address the disastrous consequences of the crisis on the people of Syria. I will speak after that about the political and military situation and how in my view, the conflict needs to be addressed. I hope to show that intervention of the Council is now necessary. Without your action, Mr. President, Syria runs the risk of sliding fast into Somalization.
3. Things in Syria are not any better today than they were when I last briefed the Council, on 29 November 2012: as we, and most observers keep repeating, things continue to get worse by the day. You were briefed ten days ago by High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and by the Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos. Since then more Syrians have lost their lives, more Syrians have lost their limbs; and more Syrians have lost hope.
4. I thought that the sickening attack at the University of Aleppo earlier this month was the most revolting illustration of the immense suffering this conflict is inflicting on the people of Syria: the mass murder of nearly one hundred students and displaced persons living on the Campus, and the wounding of scores of others had no military value. It was killing for the purpose of terrorizing and inflicting harm on the civilian population and little else.
5. But then came those unbearable images brought back by Lyse Doucet of the BBC from the rural settlement of Haswaeyeh near the city of Homs; there, we saw that it was still possible to reach even worse levels of horror. In this rural, and until then rather peaceful part of Syria, God knows how many peaceful, helpless civilian men, women and children were literally slaughtered and burned by cruel, evil men.
6. But the tragedy simply does not have an end. Just before coming down, we read of yet another horror, in a suburb of Aleppo this time; sixty-five bodies discovered with their hands tied and shot in the head.
7. Or look also at the nearly 30 bakeries targeted in the course of 2012, often when long queues of people were waiting to buy a loaf of bread. After each of these and similar crimes, both sides were quick to claim innocence and accuse the other party of the crime. Due to a track record and, at times, circumstantial evidence, strong suspicion if not actual evidence often points the finger at Government Forces or their shadowy militia, the Shabiha as the perpetrator. It is however an established fact, that armed opposition groups have also been known to commit equally outrageous crimes against civilians.
8. These amount surely to crimes of war and crimes against humanity and it may be useful to initiate specific inquiries into crimes such as those committed earlier this month in Aleppo University, the village of Haswaeyeh or the Bakery attacks. It is of course difficult to undertake such tasks from a distance but I feel certain that, in many instances, it will be possible to establish responsibility. And that is worth doing; as it would be a useful complement to the serious work being done by the International Commission of Inquiry led by Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.
9. Valerie Amos told you, Mr. Chairman, everything there is to say about the dire humanitarian situation. To further underline the magnitude of the problem, please listen to the following sentence I have taken one out of the large number of reports and articles we all see every day. I quote: “The U.N. refugee agency in Jordan says there has been a spike in the number of Syrians fleeing the civil war at home and crossing into Jordan. UNHCR's representative Andrew Harper says about 3,000 Syrians have entered Jordan every night for the past five days. Harper said Tuesday that the spike is due to intensified shelling, fighting and the "desperate situation" in Syria's southern villages. He says Jordan's Zaatari refugee camp is filling up quickly and UNHCR is running out of money to expand and set up other camps.”
10. Another illustration of the magnitude of the tragedy: talking to a visiting UN delegation a few days ago, a senior official of the Syrian Government said that the city of Daraya in the suburbs of Damascus has seen its population dwindle to seventy thousand – 70,000 – from an original total of more than 300,000; which means that more than two thirds – 2/3 – of the inhabitants of that city have left it.
11. Let us, for a minute or two play a game of guess work: should the military situation around Damascus take a turn for the worst, we will of course see a massive exodus of civilians fleeing the capital. Let us suppose that, not two thirds like Daraya, but one third only of them leave. You would then be speaking of more than one and a half million people getting out of Damascus. Let us further suppose that one third of the people on the move find refuge somewhere else inside Syria.
12. Where would the remaining one million people go? Obviously to the nearest borders, that is the Lebanese and Jordanian borders.
13. This is of course a worst-case scenario; but it would be totally wrong to assume that this is far fetched or only a very remote possibility. Someone who knows Syria much better than me speaks of another scenario far more gloomy and frightening: he sees Damascus being the theater of a long and bloody confrontation where the beautiful Old City will be completely destroyed.
14. But let us stay with our own scenario: I am sure you’ll agree with me that Lebanon would collapse under the weight of 500,000 additional people forcing their way into its territory and that Jordan will be equally critically destabilized by the flow of half a million new arrivals from Syria.
15. Do we need to add to this description the familiar figures of 60,000 people at the very least of those killed and probably five times maybe more that number of the wounded during this conflict. And the refugees already abroad 700,000 of them, predicted to go up to one million in a few months time. And the internally displaced: more than two million. And those who need help inside the country: four, perhaps already close to five million.
16. Let us also remember the detainees: I saw a nominal list of nearly 30,000. Their real number is certainly very, very much higher; some speak of 60,000 others of 100,000. It has been established, as you all know, that torture is routinely practiced in official and non-official detention centers. And there are also countless people who have disappeared and are said to have been detained or killed by the many security organizations of the State and the much feared, shadowy Shabiha.
17. And do I need to mention again the physical destruction of the country, those parts of some cities that look like Berlin in 1945? The priceless cultural heritage of Syria being destroyed or plundered? The bandits and traffickers doing what they do best? The hospitals and other health facilities destroyed completely, or closed, or used by security agents to arrest people suspected of being part of the opposition? Electricity being cut off for long hours every day? In some place lately there is no electricity at all. Shortages in almost everything? The galloping unemployment and punishingly high prices that continue to increase almost by the day: two very quick examples of how difficult life is for Syrians today: to get some gas it is necessary to queue with you car for up to 24 hours in front of a petrol station. And the price of a cooking gas canister has gone up – listen to this - from 350 to 5,000 liras.
18. Syrians themselves are helping one another to the best of their ability. For example, the small town of Salmya is home to 100,000 to 120,000 mainly Ismailis. They have received and are supporting 100,000 IDPs, with little help from outside. Some Kurdish villages have seen their population shoot up from 10,000 to 60,000 people.
19. Syria’s neighbors deserve everyone’s admiration and profound gratitude for their inspiring sense of international responsibility, their fraternal solidarity with their neighbors and their amazingly generous hospitality extended to those hundreds of thousands of refugees.
20. All UN Agencies are mobilized, as you know. Together with others, the ICRC chief among them, they are doing their best to come to the rescue of all these people, be they inside or outside Syria, in Government or opposition controlled territory. Theirs is not an easy task. They do not always succeed in reaching those who need them the most; and their work is not without risk for national and international staff alike. But it is indispensable to do this work and it is being done as well as conditions permit.
21. In addition to the physical difficulties faced on the ground, humanitarian aid is crippled by the lack of funding, so much so that food rations are now being curtailed. In addition to what Valerie Amos told you on the subject, let me quote from what the Secretary General said a few days ago in Davos. I quote: “The humanitarian community needs $1.5 billion for the next six months -- the largest-ever short-term appeal. However, our appeals to date have been woefully under-funded. That is why I am convening a pledging conference in Kuwait on January 30th. For many years, Syrians have shown great generosity and solidarity in hosting refugees from Palestine, Iraq and Somalia. The international community should come to Syria’s aid in its own time of need.”
22. Of course humanitarian action is indispensable and urgent. It will address the needs created in and around Syria by the terrible crisis, which has been affecting the country and its people as well as their neighbors for close to two years now.
23. But humanitarian aid does not address the core of the problem; it addresses only the consequences. To go to the roots of the problem, a lasting solution has to be found for the crisis.
24. Two months ago, when I briefed the Council, many believed that the Syrian regime was crumbling and President Assad about to fall or flee the country in a matter of weeks perhaps even days. Today, the mood has shifted; President Assad is said to be doing well and his regime still strong. He will be there for the foreseeable future if not forever, we are told. To drive the point home some journalists in Damascus and Beirut write very optimistically articles about the progress being made every day. One went as far as to say total victory, for the regime of course, is not more than a few weeks away!
25. We were not convinced by the analysis, which prevailed two months ago, anymore than we are convinced by what is being said today. The truth is that the regime has been seriously shaken and it has not regained its balance. It was under stronger pressure two months ago than it is today, but Kissinger’s formula is as valid today as it was yesterday: “A conventional army loses if it doesn't win; the guerilla army wins if it doesn't loose”.
26. The regime is still strong enough to keep President Assad in power. But its legitimacy has been severely, probably irreparably damaged and many are those who have serious doubts that President Assad will be able to regain that legitimacy anytime soon, if at all. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of the Russian Federation has come closer to the truth than most when he said a few days ago in Davos and I quote: I think that every day, every week, every month the chances of him (meaning President Assad) surviving are becoming less and less. And Prime Minister Medevdev added “but I repeat, again, this must be decided by the Syrian people. Not Russia, not the USA not any other country.”
27. Much has been said in 2011 about the fact that in the countries of the so-called Arab spring “the wall of fear has come down.” In the course of the dramatic developments of these past months in the region, this may have been forgotten. But that is a fundamental reality and it is as valid in Syria as it is elsewhere. The regime in Damascus is still as repressive as it has been, if not more, and is engaging in a full scale war against entire segments of its population, but it is nevertheless still true that people are less afraid to speak out and many have taken arms to challenge the domination of the regime. Indeed, many, as you know, have deserted the ranks of the armed forces, the Police, the Government, the Baath party and the bureaucracy.
28. In this connection much nonsense has been written or said about what passed between President Assad and myself when we met on 24 December 2012. Our conversation was in fact perfectly “normal”, exactly what a conversation between a Head of State and a United Nations Envoy is and should be. Our exchange was easy, candid and mutually respectful. I invited the President to tell me how he saw the situation and what he intended to do, and he did tell me. I then told him honestly how I saw things and what, in my opinion, the reactions of Syrians and non-Syrians would be to what he had told me of his forthcoming initiative. And he listened to me with attention and patience.
29. I later spoke publicly about President Assad’s speech of 6 January 2013. I stand by everything I said except for the word “sectarian” which was not an accurate description of what was in the speech. A few days later, on 9 January I think, Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid al-Muallem sent to the Secretary-General a memorandum, which tried to give an infinitely more positive reading of the speech than what had been actually said by the President. And yesterday, Syria’s Permanent Representative sent you another letter to inform you of how his country’s Government is trying to implement President Assad’s initiative.
30. The fact remains, however, Mr. President that the Syrian parties to the conflict are still very far apart. For President Bashar, the problem is almost exclusively, an external conspiracy implemented by terrorist organizations trained, armed and funded by external enemies of Syria. As for the opponents of the Government, they see a popular uprising against a repressive regime that has lost its legitimacy. It is important to note in this connection that this analysis of the opposition is shared by all of the components of the opposition, those who are working from abroad and those who are inside the country; those who have taken up arms and those who still believe in the possibility of peaceful protest and action.
31. One change that has taken place, however, deserves attention: the Government as well as opposition groups now speak timidly of “a political solution” even if neither appears to be ready to give up its fundamental preconditions.
For the government those preconditions are that the “external conspiracy has to come to an end first; funding and arming of the rebellion must be suspended and “the terrorists” as they call their opponents put down their weapons; and
For the opposition groups those preconditions are that President Assad abandons power, if not immediately, within a very short period of time.
32. But this very modest progress in no way means that things have changed enough for what I call the “inner circle” meaning the Syrian track to be the place where a peaceful process maybe initiated. The Syrians alas, are not really ready to talk to one another even through intermediaries. They need much help to reach that stage.
33. And, as I said in my previous briefing, at the regional level, the picture is not very promising either. It is in fact worrisome. The challenge of building a regional consensus for a peaceful settlement in Syria is made difficult by the clear alignment of most regional parties with one or the other of the parties in Syria.
34. Grave concern is expressed in many ways among Syria's immediate neighbors as to the present impact of the Syrian crisis and of its future implications if the crisis continues spiraling, as well, we all fear it could. There is, first and foremost, the problem of the wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians rendered more serious by particularly harsh winter conditions. Public opinion in each of those countries is already divided on the Syrian issue with factions having expressed support for the government and others for the opposition. The flow of Syrian refugees is increasingly becoming a matter of controversy in those countries with some calling for an open borders policy to help alleviate the displaced people’s misery and others insisting on closing the borders before them. There are also strong indications that Syrian factions are getting material support from allies in neighboring countries and that citizens of those countries are fighting alongside their Syrian allies.
Hence the two big risks that are of serious concern to the international community:
35. The first is the transformation of Syria into a playground for competing regional forces, governments and non-state actors alike. This process is largely underway and can become acute in view of the high stakes embedded in the Syrian tragedy. As many have already observed, what we are presently witnessing in Syria is AT THE SAME TIME, and with the same intensity, a struggle INSIDE Syria and a struggle FOR Syria. The combination of these two processes substantially fuels the present conflict and complicates its settlement through diplomatic mediation.
36. The second, and no less serious concern, is the risk of a full-fledged regionalization of the Syrian civil war through the growing osmosis of that war with unresolved domestic issues within its immediate environment. No country, and certainly not Lebanon or Jordan, Iraq or Turkey, not to mention the Palestinians, is immune to the military and political fallout of the Syrian civil war. The Syrian civil war may well end up becoming contagious and affect the whole Levant where similar sectarian makeups and cleavages are to be found not to mention trans-state ideological and partisan movements. In other words, Mr. President, far from being in a position to help Syrians solve their present problem, the region is facing the risk of being itself contaminated by Syria’s difficulties and engulfed in its crisis.
37. We are still where we were two months ago: only the Security Council is in a position to help, if I may so Mr. President, and the time to act is now.
38. As you and the other distinguished members of the Council are aware, since I last briefed the Council I had three meetings with representatives of the Russian Federation and the United States. The first meeting was in Dublin on 6 December and was attended by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the second and third meetings took place in Geneva on 9 December 2012 and 11 January 2013 respectively, and were attended by the Personal Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for the Middle East and Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and United States Deputy Secretary of State Mr. William Burns.
39. I am deeply grateful to Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov for meeting with me in Dublin and for agreeing to the two other meetings with their respective deputies. I will not be so presumptuous as to comment on those meetings in the presence of Ambassador Susan Rice and Ambassador Vitaly Churkin.
40. I am sorry if I sound like an old, broken record. But I seriously don’t see where else one should start or end except in saying that, things are bad and getting worse, the country is breaking up before everyone’s eyes; there is no military solution to this conflict – at least not one that will not destroy Syria completely and destroy also the nation of Syria; Syrians cannot themselves start a peace process, their neighbors are not able to help them; only the international community may help and is the international community is first and foremost the United Nations Security Council. And the Geneva Communiqué and Action Plan offer good bases to initiate the necessary action to provide that help.
41. There evidently is now a better assessment worldwide, of the tragic dimension of the crisis and its terrible consequences on the Syrian population and, no less important, of the huge disintegrating impact it is having on the social fabric of the country, of the rising influence of extremist groups on both sides and of the growing violent sectarian alignments.
42. Compared to the upheavals that have struck some countries in the Arab world, the Syrian conflict has indisputably proven to be the deadliest and most intractable, the most threatening for its neighbors and the most worrisome for the country’s future. Does international action measure up to this climatic peak in the so-called “Arab Spring”? Does the diplomatic management measure up to the dimensions of the tragedy and the stakes at play? Does the pressure from third parties on the belligerents to accept a negotiated settlement measure up to the violence and devastation? To all these questions, I am sure you will agree, distinguished members of the Council, the answer is, at best, a very polite “not enough.”
43. I think that public opinion the world over is now looking up to the Security Council to take a determined, strong lead.
44. The principles on which the Council’s actions might be based are explicitly or implicitly contained in the Geneva Communiqué:
a) Syria’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity must be preserved;
b) There must be clear recognition that the ultimate objective is to enable the Syrian people to exercise their legitimate rights to dignity and human rights and to have a full say in the manner in which they are governed;
c) An essential element in that process is the formation of a transitional Government with full executive powers. The meaning of “full executive powers” has to be clarified before the Syrian parties come together to discuss the formation of that transitional government. Leaving that definition, the definition of full executive powers, to the parties is fairly certain to lead to a dead end;
In this connection, the Geneva communiqué was elegant and creative in that it did not speak of President Bashar Al-Assad and his role in the transition and beyond. I think, however, it is largely understood that “governing body with full executive powers” clearly meant that the President would have no role in the transition;
Now, Mr. President,
And this is another point that needs to be taken into consideration,
d) The actual negotiation should take place between a strong, fully representative team on behalf of the opposition and a strong civilian- military delegation representing the Government. Of course both negotiating teams should be comprised of individuals capable of reaching a compromise agreement during a reasonable period of time;
e) These negotiations should start outside of Syria and take place according to an agreed timetable to enable the process to move – as fast as possible - towards the democratic process which would include the election, constitutional reform and referendum. From what I heard in Damascus and elsewhere, it will not be to difficult to secure agreement to move the country from the present Presidential system to a Parliamentary system of Government;
f) It is important that the Council unequivocally expresses support for the right of each citizen in Syria to enjoy full equality before the law irrespective of gender, religion, language or ethnicity.
Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Council
45. I have put down a number of elements, which in my view could inform an initiative of the Security Council, which in turn would offer a base for negotiations between a team representing the opposition and another acting on behalf of the Government.
This, of course, not a draft resolution; I would not be so presumptuous as to submit such a draft to all the experts around this table.
46. I have been blamed by many because I did not submit my plan for the resolution of the conflict soon enough.
I accept that criticism. In my defense, I will only say that I did not consider that presenting my own personal plan was the main objective of my mission.
I thought and still think that the main objective was and still is to ensure that there is a SYRIAN PLAN, a plan that the Syrians can accept and implement.
47. I believe that difficult as it is, reaching that stage is possible. But it is necessary to obtain, first, a strong, unequivocal support from the Security Council. And that is what I am asking you Mr. Chairman and honorable delegates today.