Monday, 1 July 2013

How United Nations and its Charter operate in the context of the Syrian civil war

Place the UN framework in the context of the current conflict in Syrian and identify some key obstacles to an effective UN intervention. Discuss barriers (external) that impeded effective dispute resolution



The conflict in Syria (aka Damascus) is among Syrians; those loyal to the Syrian Ba’ath Government and those who seek to overthrow it. Initially it was a protest, but now it has evolved into an armed rebellion, causing more than 80,000 casualties. As recognized by United Nation and many other international humanitarian aid bodies, Syrian people must identify a resolution to the conflict and implement a vision for a new political dispensation.

UN Charter

Under article 1(1), the fundamental purpose of UN’s existence is to prevent and resolve any disputes or problems to maintain world peace.

The most active organs of UN in resolving disputes are the General Assembly and a Secretary Council established under article 7.

Furthermore, it is provided that the General Assembly (all Members of UN, art 9) may discuss matters within the scope of the Charter (art 10). There is no doubt that the Syrian conflict falls within the scope of the Charter.

Under article 18, each member of GA shall have one vote and for deciding on questions, two thirds majority is required.

There are five permanent members of the UN (China, Russia, Ireland, UK, United States) (art 23) who have exclusive duties in relation to matters under Chapters Six and Seven. In order to pass a resolution of a Security Council, there must be a unanimous vote between those five permanent members (art 27).

The Security Council resolution 2042 (2012) was passed under art 27. It included a six-point proposal that was essentially a mechanism to assist parties in de-escalating the conflict. Specifically, it provided that there is to be: 1) commitment and political dialogue; 2) ceasefire; 3) humanitarian assistance to civilians; 4) release of political prisoners; 5) access to journalists, visas and freedom of movement and 6) freedom of Syrian people to protest without being shot upon.

Both parties committed to abide by the terms and to ensure that this occurred, the UN deployed approximately 300 observers and other 100 personnel under the mission UNSMIS. The United Nations sent in observers to conduct fact-finding and good offices. In short, however, those processes ultimately failed after a few weeks.

Those processes are not one of the listed processes under article 33(1) but it quietly falls within the phrase “other peaceful means.” The process of good offices was originally found in the Manila Declaration.

Good Offices

The crux of the Annan’s peace plan (six-point plan) was essentially the good offices. Good offices can be described as the use of a third party to encourage the contending parties to come to a settlement. Unlike arbitration and adjudication, the process aims at persuading the parties to a dispute to reach satisfactory terms for its termination by themselves. They are also referred to as an adjunct to negotiation as they may simply encourage parties to resume negotiations or provide another channel of communication.

The primary purpose of good offices in midst of Syrian conflict resolution was, paraphrasing UN Report (6 July 2012), to seize opportunities to foster dialogue, to arrange local-level agreements to calm tensions and promote ceasefires between the sides and to deepen engagement where possible, as steps towards confidence-building and stability where signals from the sides encourage such measures.
Limitations of good offices

The effectiveness of good offices is usually limited by its lack of enforcement powers to ensure parties come into negotiation and the fact that it cannot ensure co-operative atmosphere.

Fact finding

In its application involving missions to crisis zones, fact-finding involves any activity designed to obtain detailed knowledge of the relevant facts of any dispute or situation that the competent UN organs need in order to exercise their functions. The purpose of UN fact-finding missions is to discover facts. But further to that primary purpose, the mission aims to prevent conflicts and enhance UN’s ability to monitor conflicts more effectively.

There are no procedural rules but fact-finding should be comprehensive, objective and impartial.

Limitations of dispute resolution processes as a whole

There were at least 4 barriers of implementing UN’s proposed dispute resolution mechanisms to resolve the Syrian conflict. Namely, the barriers were lack of trust, bad faith, responsibility of other countries, armed conflict. In summary, permissive environment was absent for resolution to take place.

A future step to resolving the Syrian dispute

Since the processes under article 33(1) has not worked, the Security Council then can have recourse to articles 41 and 42. Article 41 involves using non-military force or namely sanctions, which are occasionally proven to be ineffective. Article 42, if article 41 has not worked, operates as the last resort to dispute resolution. However in 18th July 2012, it was the third time where China and Russia vetoed against the Western proposed UNSC resolution that would threaten sanctions against Assad. 


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