This week, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous announced the removal of half of the 300 observers taking part in the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS). He said that the move was a result of reduced UN patrols since June 15 due to the increasingly dangerous conditions on the ground. He added that the forces would return if the security situation improved.
The move comes on the heels of a UN Security Council vote on July 20 to authorize the observer mission for an additional 30 days, extending its term from the original 90 days set forth April, which would have expired just hours after the extension unanimously passed.
According to the resolution, further renewals would be possible “only in the event that the Secretary-General reports and the Security Council confirms the cessation of the use of heavy weapons and a reduction in the level of violence by all sides sufficient to allow UNSMIS to implement its mandate.”
The previous day, a Security Council resolution extending the mandate for 45 days and demanding Syrian authorities cease the use of heavy weapons against civilians or face sanctions was vetoed by Russia and China. The recorded vote on the draft resolution was 11 in favor, 2 against (Russia and China) and two abstentions (Pakistan and South Africa).
Following the vote, British Permanent Representative to the UN Mark Lyall Grant said: “The United Kingdom is appalled by the decision of Russia and China to veto the draft resolution aimed at bringing an end to the bloodshed in Syria and at creating the conditions for a meaningful political process. This is the third time that Russia and China have blocked the efforts of the Council to address the crisis in Syria.”
Russian Permanent Representative Vitaly Churkin countered: “The Russian delegation had very clearly and consistently explained that we simply cannot accept a document, under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, that would open the way for the pressure of sanctions and later for external military involvement in Syrian domestic affairs.” (A full transcript of the deliberations is available here.)
Fighting in Syria has escalated dramatically over the past few weeks, with rebels engaging government troops in the nation’s largest city, Aleppo, and in its capital, Damascus. In both cities, forces loyal to the Syrian government have responded to rebel offensives with a combination of ground forces, artillery barrages and helicopter gunship patrols.
On July 18, an explosion at the National Security building in Damascus reportedly killed several senior Syrian officials, including the defense minister.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, fighting in Syria since March 2011 has claimed the lives of at least 19,000 people — and there appears to be no end in sight. International Debates covered the beginning of the Syrian uprising in-depth in its September 2011 issue, Syria Crackdown, and we will continue to cover the ongoing conflict and resulting humanitarian crisis in Syria.