Stepping up the pressure on Syria
Syria seems ever more likely to descend into violence. The Assad regime continues to crack down harshly on peaceful protests, and the humanitarian situation in the country is approaching a new nadir. On 24 February, representatives of more than 60 states and organizations gathered as the “Friends of the Syrian People” in Tunis to discuss ways of ending the crisis. Germany was represented at the meeting by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
The Conference of the "Friends of the Syrian people"
At their first meeting, the “Friends of the Syrian People” have reiterated that a political solution to the crisis is the goal. They endorsed the Arab League’s efforts, including the roadmap for peace it put forward at the end of January and its attempts, together with western states, to ensure the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution condemning the violence in Syria. In Foreign Minister Westerwelle’s opinion, the Arab League is playing a “key role” in tackling the conflict.
Other important issues discussed at the conference in Tunis included support for the Syrian opposition and calls for free access by humanitarian organizations to the people in need in Syria.
Thus, the conference’s conclusions recognize the Syrian National Council as “a legitimate representative of Syrians seeking peaceful democratic change”.
Strong concern about the humanitarian situation in Syria was also voiced. Syria’s government was called upon to allow humanitarian access immediately, so that humanitarian aid organizations can provide aid to civilians affected by the violence. Beyond humanitarian aid, mid- and long-term economic reconstruction was discussed. A working group was established to monitor this aspect.
At the meeting, Westerwelle spelt out three of the international community’s goals with regard to Syria. “Firstly, an end to the violence, secondly, humanitarian aid, and thirdly, a political transition to a post-Assad regime.”
He noted that it was not only the Friends of the Syrian People who were working towards these aims, but also the European Union, which tightened its sanctions of 27 February, and the United Nations.
Steps taken by the United Nations
Kofi Annan (file photo)
Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s appointment as joint United Nations-Arab League envoy on the Syrian crisis was welcomed unanimously. Foreign Minister Westerwelle called this appointment an “important and proper step” and stressed that Mr Annan was a figure of authority that Russia and China could not ignore.
The present UN Secretary-General Ban Ki moon has also asked the UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos to travel to Damascus to see for herself what the humanitarian situation is like. On 22 February, the independent international commission of inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council reported that systematic human rights violations had been committed in Syria, above all by the regime. Even children have been the targets of extreme brute force.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning the violence being perpetrated by the Syrian regime on 16 February. Attempts to adopt a resolution in the UN Security Council have to date been vetoed by Russia and China.
Aid from Germany
A destroyed house in Damascus
© dpa / picture alliance
The German Government is providing humanitarian assistance for the people in Syria. It is one of the biggest international donors after the EU. While in Tunis, Foreign Minister Westerwelle announced that a further 400,000 euro were to be made available. This money is to be given to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), to help young Syrian refugees in Jordan. In the run up to the conference in Tunis, the German Government had also announced that it was to provide 300,000 euro for an emergency aid project run by the German Red Cross in cooperation with the Red Crescent in Syria. This money is to be used primarily for foodstuffs, blankets and hygiene items for particularly needy families affected by the violence.
According to conservative UN estimates, around 5600 people have been killed by the security forces in Syria since the start of unrest in March 2011. At least 20,000 Syrians are thought to have fled the country; many more have been internally displaced. So far, the EU has imposed twelve rounds of sanctions on Syria in response to the violence. It has imposed an arms embargo and an oil embargo, as well as travel restrictions and asset freezes on numerous members of the regime. On 27 February in Brussels, EU Foreign Ministers also imposed a landing ban for Syrian cargo planes at EU airports and limited trading in gold and other precious metals. The assets of the Syrian central bank in the EU were also frozen.
Last updated 27.02.2012