Kofi Annan, the joint special envoy for the United Nations and the Arab League for the Syrian crisis, resigned today, leaving any residual hope for a peaceful resolution to the conflict gone for now. The resignation seems to have taken the UN by surprise, though Gérard Araud, the French ambassador to the UN, said after a press briefing today that there had been inklings in the last few weeks.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that Annan would not renew his mandate when it expired on Aug. 31, adding that “I wish to express my deepest gratitude to Mr. Annan for the determined and courageous efforts he has made as the Joint Special Envoy for Syria.”
Annan, who was Ban’s predecessor as secretary-general, took up the envoy post in February to wager a truce and eventual peace between the opposition groups in Syria and the government, who have been fighting each other virtually nonstop since March 2011. But Annan, whose entourage included two deputies and a press officer, devised a six-point peace plan that never got going.
In addition, a 300-person observation team had been installed, with approval by the UN Security Council, to help monitor the plan when it was to be carried out. The team, called the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, or Unsmis, was halved recently and is primarily holing up in Damascus, though some members made a foray to the country’s biggest city, Aleppo, which has been under attack by heavy weapons from the government and with nearly reciprocal force by the opposition. Unsmis’s recently renewed mandate ends Aug. 19.
Since the country’s infighting began 17 months ago, more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed, while tens of thousands have left Syria or been displaced and untold numbers of people have been tortured. A food crisis is also imminent, the UN says. The United States has donated $76 million this fiscal year alone to remedy the refugee side of the conflict, with a bulk of the money funneled to UN agencies, including $27.5 million to the World Food Program. More than 130,000 refugees have gone to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, while one million are internally displaced.
A ministerial meeting on Syria, proposed by Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, is still planned for this month at the UN headquarters in New York, Araud told the media today, but he would not go into more details except to emphasize that the UN’s role in Syria could shift even more to the humanitarian focus. France holds the rotating presidency on the council this month.
“The Security Council is at a deadlock,” he said, speaking mostly in French and reiterating that the council could “be of some use” in the humanitarian end, given that millions of people need help in and outside the country, and the Syrian government has refused to let outsiders in to alleviate the suffering. Araud also said that the Unsmis mandate “will just disappear.”
His “deadlock” comment referred to the Security Council’s vetoes, since October 2011, of three different resolutions to condemn the violence and show support for the special envoy’s work in Syria. Through their veto power on the council, Russia and China prevented the resolutions from passing, thus cutting off chances for a nonviolent resolution to the crisis, Western nations and allies on the council say.
Russia and China, on the other hand, contend that the Syrian rebels have been just as responsible for the endless conflict and need to lay down arms and begin dialogue too. Geopolitical concerns – Russia’s sway in the Middle East resides totally in Syria while China’s need for unfettered access to the region for oil – have also played crucial roles in the conflict’s staying power.
Indeed, Ban noted that both the Syrian government and opposition forces continue to increase the violence and that “persistent divisions” in the Security Council have prevented diplomacy.
Meanwhile, Ban is consulting with the Arab League to find a successor to carry on “this crucial peacemaking effort.” This step, Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the UN, was encouraging, he said on Aug. 2 to the media. He also said that one reason Annan’s plan encountered such difficulty was because some “influential” countries had “not heeded” Annan’s calls to help end the militarization of the conflict and instead “openly provided weapons” to the rebels.
Addressing reporters in Geneva today, Annan said the increasing militarization in Syria and the disunity in the council had “fundamentally changed the circumstances for the effective exercise” of his role.
“Yet the bloodshed continues, most of all because of the Syrian government’s intransigence, and continuing refusal to implement the six-point plan, and also because of the escalating military campaign of the opposition – all of which is compounded by the disunity of the international community,” Annan added.
He noted that the June communiqué of a UN-backed Action Group on Syria – which called for creating a transitional government to begin a Syrian-led political transition – provided an internationally agreed framework for such a dynamic.
“This should have been automatically endorsed by the Security Council and something the international community should have built on,” he said. “Without serious, purposeful and united international pressure, including from the powers of the region, it is impossible for me, or anyone, to compel the Syrian government in the first place, and also the opposition, to take the steps necessary to begin a political process.”
The General Assembly, led by some Arab countries, was to vote by tomorrow on a largely symbolic resolution on the crisis aimed at preventing the use of chemical weapons, stopping the violence and preserving human rights. Russia, however, has already said it would not approve it because it places most of the blame for the crisis on the government of Bashar al-Assad.
[This article was updated on Aug. 4, 2012.]