Spiralling violence in Syria

On 9 February, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called for a fresh effort to resolve the crisis in Syria. He proposed establishing a joint UN-Arab League observer mission and appointing a UN special representative for the Syria conflict. This comes after Minister Westerwelle and his French counterpart, Alain Juppé, issued a joint call on 6 February to set up a contact group for the friends of a democratic Syria as a forum to coordinate future action.

Vetoes from Russia and China on 4 February again prevented the UN Security Council from passing a resolution on Syria. Foreign Minister Westerwelle called the vetoes “a wrong decision and a decision that goes against the people in Syria”. He added that “Russia and China take a great responsibility upon themselves with this decision.”

The Foreign Minister expressed the view that it was now vital to continue working with our partners in the Security Council and the Arab League. “We owe that to the people in Syria and to the reputation of the international community,” he said, adding that to give up would be to leave the Syrian people alone, to abandon them, in their efforts for freedom and self-determination.

Westerwelle demonstrated how broad an alliance stood against the Assad regime’s violence and repression, pointing out that 13 members of the Security Council, representing every continent, had voted to adopt the resolution and categorically condemn the Syrian Government and that the Arab League and Turkey also intended to oppose the violence in Syria.

Foreign Minister Westerwelle has issued repeated calls for the Security Council to take swift and decisive action to counter the violence. On a visit to Israel on 2 February, for example, he said that Syria’s President had to clear the way for peaceful transformation in his country, declaring that Assad had “no future”.

Input from the Arab League

On 27 January, with support from Germany, the UK, France, Portugal, the US and Arab states, Morocco put forward a draft resolution which takes up the Arab League’s most recent demands, issued on 22 January. These set out a political roadmap for initiating a phase of transition in Syria.

The roadmap contains two key points: a call to President Assad to hand over power to a deputy and a call to Syria’s Government and opposition to enter into dialogue with a view to forming a government of national unity within two months. That government would then prepare parliamentary and presidential elections and build a free, pluralist political system.

The Secretary General of the Arab League, Nabil El-Araby, spoke at the Security Council to garner support for the Arab peace plan. Jassim Al-Thani, head of the government in Qatar, called on the Council to stop the “death machine” in Syria. The Syrian Government, he said, had as yet not been open to cooperation.

Nabil El Araby briefing the Security Council

Nabil El Araby briefing the Security Council
© UN Photo

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Nabil El Araby briefing the Security Council

Nabil El‑Araby briefing the Security Council

Nabil El Araby briefing the Security Council

At a Security Council session on 31 January, Minister of State Link declared Germany’s support for the work being done by the Arab League with regard to Syria. Link considers “the country on the brink of civil war, with repercussions for peace and stability in the region”. The violence, he said, “must stop immediately”. He said that the Syrian people merely wanted freedom of opinion, freedom of assembly and the right to elect their own government. In light of the recent developments, the Arab League on 28 January suspended an observer mission which had been investigating the situation in the country since 26 December 2011.

Systematic violations of human rights

Link told the Security Council that the Syrian Government’s systematic violations of human rights had been documented by a commission from the UN Human Rights Council. Members of the military and security forces may have perpetrated crimes against humanity. That was why, as the Minister of State explained, Germany was in favour of the Security Council mandating its own commission of inquiry.

A report by the UN Human Rights Council commission published on 28 November 2011 accuses the Syrian regime of gross violations of human rights. The report documents abuses including targeted killings, torture and sexual violence. The commission concludes that Syrian military and security forces have been systematically committing appalling human rights abuses since March 2011. Although the members of the commission were not allowed into Syria, they were able to interview a total of 223 victims and witnesses and thereby gather firsthand information.

The European position

Since early May 2011, the European Union has reacted to the ongoing violence in Syria with eleven rounds of sanctions. In addition to a ban on oil imports from Syria, they include a comprehensive arms embargo against Syria, sanctions on Syrian companies and institutions as well as travel restrictions and asset freezes targeting President Assad and members of his family, senior military figures, and other persons with close ties to the regime.

On 23 January 2012, the EU foreign ministers agreed to expand the sanctions on Syria to include 22 more individuals and eight additional entities. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton is convinced that this decision will increase the pressure on those responsible for unacceptable violence in Syria. There are plans to further tighten sanctions at the Foreign Affairs Council in late February.

Council conclusions on Syria (PDF, 30 KB)

On 1 December 2011, the EU foreign ministers had tightened their sanctions against the Syrian regime. Trade in Syrian bonds and Syrian Government guarantees is now prohibited in the EU, while loans to Syria are only permitted for humanitarian reasons. A ban was also imposed on exporting technology for the oil and gas sector to Syria.

Information for travellers and German citizens in Syria

Warnings are in place against travelling to Syria. The Federal Foreign Office again emphatically urges all German citizens still in Syria to leave the country.

Last updated 09.02.2012

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