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Update Report No. 2: Syria

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Expected Council Action
On 25 May France, Germany, Portugal and the UK circulated to Security Council members a draft resolution condemning the government crackdown in Syria. At press time it was unclear when the draft might be put to a vote. Discussions at the G8 summit in France today and tomorrow could be significant in this regard.

The initiative to take action on the violence by Syria against its citizens has been gaining ground over the last month. But there have been divisions in the Council.

Key Recent Developments
The escalation of the Syrian government's violent suppression of public protests since mid-March—with reports, described as credible by the UN, of 850 killed and 8,000 arbitrarily detained—has led to increased pressure on Syria. Recent media reports have indicated mass graves found in Deraa and a death toll of 1,100.

The draft Security Council resolution recalls the Syrian government's responsibility to protect its citizens, stresses the need for accountability, condemns the systematic abuse of human rights including killings, arbitrary detention, disappearances and torture; and calls upon Syrian authorities to: 

  • respect human rights and international humanitarian law, act with restraint and refrain from reprisals, and allow unhindered humanitarian access;
  • undertake comprehensive and credible reforms for genuine political participation;
  • release all prisoners of conscience; 
  • lift the siege of Deraa and other affected towns and lift all media and communications restrictions; and
  • launch a credible and impartial investigation and cooperate with the UN Human Rights Council's investigative mission.
  • In addition the draft resolution calls upon member states to prevent the supply or sale of arms and related material to Syria and asks the Secretary-General to report back to the Council within two weeks.

US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron discussed the Syrian issue during the US state visit to London on 24-26 May.

On 25 May, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah made his first public pronouncement on the situation in Syria calling on "Syrians to preserve their country as well as the ruling regime." (Hezbollah is backed by Syria and Iran.)

On 23 May, the EU imposed sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It had imposed similar measures on 13 members of the Syrian ruling elite on 9 May. 

On 19 May, US President Barack Obama said during his Middle East speech that Assad should lead his country to democracy or step aside. On 18 May the US imposed sanctions on Assad and six members of his regime. The US took similar measures on 29 April against the Syrian regime.

Switzerland and Canada have also recently imposed sanctions.

On 22 May, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference expressed concern over the escalating violence and called for restraint.

On 20 May, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees announced it was working with Lebanon to aid Syrians in northern Lebanon who had fled the violence. 

On 17 May, Assad seemed to acknowledge that there had been an excess of violence by the state. But he said the crisis was coming to an end and 4,000 police were undergoing training to "prevent these excesses".

On 15 May, Israeli forces killed a number of civilians on the border between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and on the blue line between Israel and Lebanon when crowds of Palestinian refugees, living in Syria and Lebanon respectively, breached the border in al-Nakba protests. In the case of the Golan Heights incident, approximately 4,000 participated in the protest with 100 crossing the Israeli technical fence. Such protests in this area are annual occurrences, however the numbers this year were unprecedented and it was the first instance of Syria allowing unauthorised attempts to cross the border in the 37 years since UN Disengagement Force was established. Analysts note that the breach of the border could not have happened without the knowledge and acquiescence of the Syrian authorities.

It is noteworthy that on 10 May, Rami Makhlouf, an advisor to Assad, said that without stability in Syria, there would not be stability in Israel.

On 9 May, the Secretary-General again called for an end to the violence and mass arrests, for an independent inquiry into the killings and for a UN team to enter Syria to assess the humanitarian situation, as previously discussed with Assad in a 4 May phone conversation.

On 27 April, the Council held a public debate on Syria, which enabled many members to put on record their concern about ongoing violence by Syrian security forces against unarmed civilian protestors. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe briefed and Syria also participated.

On 26 April, the Council failed to reach consensus on a press statement on the situation in Syria. The statement called for an end to the violence, urged restraint and stressed the importance of respect for human rights. It also supported the Secretary-General's call for an independent investigation into the recent killings.

On 21 April, Syrian emergency laws, in place since 1963, were lifted but other more recent repressive measures were not and a significant intensification of Syrian repression of demonstrations followed, including by military forces with armoured units.

S/PV.6531 and resumption 1 (10 May 2011) on protection of civilians.

  • S/PV.6524 (27 April 2011) was a briefing by Under-Secretary-General B. Lynn Pascoe on the situation in Syria followed by a Council public debate, which included statements by Council members and Syria.
  • Security Council Letter

    • S/2011/310 (16 May 2011) was a letter from Israel regarding the 15 May al-Nakba protests in the Golan Heights.

    Human Rights Council

    • A/HRC/RES/S-16/1 (29 April 2011) requested an investigative mission to Syria, with preliminary findings expected in June and a follow-up report in September.