UN-mandated inspectors back in Syria after Assad government declaration of chemical weapons materials + UN Security Council resolution

A UN Security Council-mandated team of Chemical Weapons [CW] inspectors has been back on the ground in Syria for a second time, investigating several more reported CW attacks [including three that reported occurred after the large August 21 attack in Ghouta].

The BBC has produced a graphic to show the sites of the second investigations.  The BBC also reported here, that the UN CW team, “led by Ake Sellstrom, arrived in Syria for its second visit on 25 September and hopes to finish its work by Monday 30 September”.
The UN CW team completed a six-day mission on 1 October, the UN reported here. They are reportedly aiming at producing a “comprehensive” report by the end of October.

[n.b. – This is not a complete or exhaustive indication of reported CW attacks — there were more; see our earlier Chronology, in previous posts below]:

Sites of reported CW attacks being investigated by UN-mandated inspectors
Sites of reported CW attacks being investigated by UN-mandated inspectors

 

This graphic was Tweeted by Fred Abrahams @fredabrahams – “Map of 7 alleged chemical weapons attacks in #Syria being investigated now by UN team, from BBC.  pic.twitter.com/b9Qk78I8tA” — via @DanKaszeta

Three attacks near Aleppo in North:

19 March Khan al-Assal [this is the first CW attack in Syria + the Syrian Government formally requested a UN investigation]
13 April Sheikh Maqsoud
29 April Saraqeb

Three attacks near Damascus in south of this graphic [after the 21 August attack on Ghouta — attacks on all three days were mentioned by Syria’s Ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari in a “stake-out” outside the UN Security Council, filmed by UN TV and posted on Youtube here; he blamed these attacks on “terrorists” = rebels]:

22 August Bahhariya
24 August Jobar
25 August Ashrafieh Sahnaya

Trying to figure how UNSG BAN selected the 6 additional sites [I do not see 7 — unless, as the BBC report seems to say, the UN team will be taking a second look at, or doing a follow-up on, the large August 21 CW attacks in Ghouta]:

1st, Khan al-Assal on 19 March 2013, was requested months ago by Syria.  The UNSG promised to investigate before August 21 [in fact, that’s why the  UN CW team was in Syria when the 21 August attack took place].

After the August 21 CW attacks on Ghouta, Syria’s Ambassador Bashar al-Assad demanded UN inspection of 3 post-August 21 attacks near Damascus [rebel accidents handling CW/precursors in tunnels etc] on 22, 24 and 25 August This can be see on Youtube here — though Ambassador Jaafari seemed to give a different order of dates and places from those shown in the graphic above, supposedly based on UN information.

Syria’s Amb al-Jaafari also complained [in May] about the April 29th attack in Saraqeb; it was also cited by a defector as well as in French + UK declassified reports released at the end of August.

The April 13th attack in Sheikh Maksood/Maqsoud was cited in French + UK reports published after the Aug 21 attacks, + cited by a US NatSec Adviser [in a high-confidence assessment] and it appears to be the only one on the list that was not requested by the Syrian Government…

One article, posted here, mentions another attack on 19 March, in Otaibah near Damascus [close to the Damascus International Airport] which is NOT, as the article points out, on the UN CW team’s list…

On 27 September, the UN Security Council in New York unanimously adopted resolution 2118 — which endorses a decision taken the same day by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the Hague, containing special procedures for the expeditious and verifiable destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons — and the UNSC resolution’s text is contained in the UN Press Release posted here

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted that the UNSC resolution also contains “requirements for all countries, especially Syria’s neighbours, which must report on moves by non-State actors to secure chemical weapons”…

The resolution followed a Syrian decision to surrender its CW and accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention — and a subsequent Syrian declaration of its Chemical Weapons stockpiles and precursors and equipment.”

UPDATE: On 3 October, the disarmament inspectors reported from Damascus that they felt they had made initial progress:
“The joint OPCW-UN team mandated to assist Syria with the elimination of its chemical weapons programme has made encouraging initial progress, following the first working day of meetings with the Syrian authorities. Documents handed over yesterday by the Syrian Government look promising, according to team members, but further analysis, particularly of technical diagrams, will be necessary and some more questions remain to be answered. The team hopes to begin onsite inspections and the initial disabling of equipment within the next week, but this depends on the outcome of the technical groups established with the participation of Syrian experts yesterday. These groups are working on three areas which are key to the mission’s success: verification of the information handed over by the Syrian Government; the safety and security of the inspection teams; and practical arrangements for implementing the plan, under which Syria’s chemical weapons material and equipment are to be eliminated by mid-2014″.   This OPCW press release is posted on the UN News website here.

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Ex UNSG Kofi Annan quits Syrian envoy effort, sprinkling blame liberally all around

Five months ago, former UN Secretary-General Annan [who is retired, after two terms in office and living in Geneva] accepted the job of joint UN and Arab League envoy to end to bloodshed in Syria.

Today, Annan told journalists at a news conference in the Palais des Nations in Geneva that he was giving up — but he’s apparently not walking out and leaving right away, he said….

He’ll be leaving at the end of the month, on 31 August.

Coincidentally, France — which is the most gung-ho in wanting intervention in Syria — has assumed the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council for the month, and will preside over all deliberations durin the entire of August.

Does that suggest that Annan might be persuaded, if circumstances change, to change his mind?

It seems not. Here is what he replied when asked by a journalist, “Is this a resignation?”: “Yes, I am not going to continue”, Annan said.

But, there’s something about this that gives the impression that Annan didn’t jump on his own, and that he was pushed.

Just look at the expressions on these two faces — both of these men, including spokesperson Ahmad Fawzi on the left, show unease, if not chagrin — not regret or firm determination. They look perturbed.

UN Photo by Yann Castanier
This photo is posted by the UN here.

Ian Black wrote in The Guardian here that Annan made “a sometimes bitter and frustrated statement” in the Geneva press conference. Black also wrote that “Sluggish and ineffective diplomacy has been outpaced by a fast-moving and increasingly dangerous situation” on the ground in Syria, particularly in Aleppo.

It may be that Annan was perturbed by a reference, reportedly since eliminated, that he should better focus his efforts — a reference contained in a Saudi-backed draft text on Syria due to be presented to the UN General Assembly on Friday.

But, it is interesting that UNSG BAN Ki-Moon so readily accepted Annan’s resignation [ok, BAN did say “with deep regret”, but that’s the least he could do]. And, instead of diplomatic reflection, or saying that the entire business is under re-evaluation, there was an immediate flurry of speculation about who might be Annan’s successor…

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Annapolis process did not work, says UN Special Middle East Coordinator

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry, told the UN Security Council today that “the inconclusive results of last year’s Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and unmet Road Map obligations, especially regarding settlements” are realities that must be faced — and “squarely addressed”.

Of course, the Serry statement was balanced. Carefully balanced.

But there were several particularly sharp messages.
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Is Russia upping the ante on Kosovo? Is the EU? NATO? The UN?

The Associated Press is reporting just now that ” Serbia’s minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic, crossed the border Monday to visit Serb communities in Kosovo. The top UN official in Kosovo, Joachim Ruecker, said he allowed Samardzic into Kosovo on the condition that he issue a public statement ‘making it very, very clear that he distances himself from violence and the visit is about ensuring peace and calm with the Kosovo Serbs’. Ruecker said he also insisted on meeting with Samardzic to ‘tell him what we think of some of his recent statements’ — but said later that he was not satisfied with some of the Serbian official’s answers. Samardzic said he told Ruecker that the Serbian government ‘will do everything to maintain peace in the regions of Kosovo it controls, where the Serbs live‘.” This AP story (datelined Kosovska Mitrovica, KOSOVO) is posted here.

So, the top UN official is being un-diplomatic, and the Serbs say they will continue to control areas of Kosovo that are populated by Serbs.

Is a real fight in the works?

The Russian Foreign Minister has weighed in: ” ‘We actively support Belgrade’s demand … to restore the territorial integrity of Serbia, restore the country’s sovereignty’, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on state-run Vesti-24 television. Lavrov claimed NATO and the European Union, which plans to deploy a 1,800-member police and justice mission to Kosovo, were considering using force to keep ethnic Serbs from leaving Kosovo. ‘The question of using force to hold back Serbs who do not want to remain under Pristina’s authority … is being seriously discussed’, Lavrov said in the broadcast, without offering any evidence. ‘This will only lead to yet another “frozen conflict” and will push the prospects for stabilizing Europe — and first of all for stabilizing the Balkans — far to the side’. The EU did not immediately respond to Lavrov’s remarks. But EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said earlier that the bloc’s mission would cover all of Kosovo, including the northern parts where Serbs are concentrated.“, the AP reported.

UN talking tough about Eritrea's treatment of UN peacekeepers

Aletheia Kallos has alerted me to the latest development in “Eritrea’s actually still ongoing farewell bash for UNMEE” (the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea) — Eritrea seems to be blocking the UN peacekeepers’ movement, and cutting off their food catering. The UN SG had his spokespeople issue a statement at today’s regular noon briefing for journalists, and he convened a meeting with troop-contributing countries.

UN spokesperson Marie Okabe told journalists that the UN was “exploring contingency options to supply the mission with the food and fuel necessary to continue with the relocation of mission personnel and assets” — whatever that means. An airlift, or an airdrop? Or what?

In short order, the UN Security Council also convened an emergency meeting on the situation. The Security Council then adopted a statement strongly condemning Eritrea’s actions, and expressing deep concern — and it demanded that the government of Eritrea resume full cooperation with UNMEE.

Agence France Presse reported that “[UNSG] Ban ‘will speak to the Eritreans at the highest level’, said DPKO spokesman Nick Birnback. ‘We are doing everything that we can on our side, but without the consent of the host government it becomes very difficult to envisage a scenario in which our mandate can be implemented’. In a communique, the Eritrean Foreign Ministry said it could not discuss or acquiesce in the ‘temporary relocation’ of UNMEE or some other new ‘arrangement’ that is at variance with the provisions of a peace agreement. Under the 2000 Algiers peace deal which ended their two-year border war, Eritrea and Ethiopia pledged to accept as ‘final and binding’ a verdict by a UN-backed boundary commission on their dispute … In its final ruling, it granted Eritrea the border town of Badme, which Ethiopia has refused to accept, saying it split families between the countries … Asmara says the Security Council has failed to redress the situation and ‘ensure the removal of Ethiopian occupation of Eritrean territories in breach of the Algiers Peace Agreement and the UN Charter’. To show its displeasure, it has placed a number of restrictions on UNMEE, including a ban on UN helicopter flights in Eritrea’s airspace and its expulsion of UNMEE’s North American and European staff.” This AFP report is published here.

Here are the “highlights” (or notes) on the statement made by spokesperson Marie Okabe at today’s regular noon briefing:

* The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the situation with the relocation of personnel and equipment of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), from Eritrea to designated relocation sites on the Ethiopian side.

* Since the beginning of the movement of UNMEE’s advance units on 11 February, not more than six vehicles have been allowed by the Eritrean authorities to cross into Ethiopia.

* A number of UNMEE vehicles were stopped by the Eritrean Defense Forces and prevented from crossing the border. In one such case, on 14 February, UNMEE personnel were threatened and the equipment seized.

* In a disturbing development, the Eritrean commercial company that provides rations to UNMEE has informed the Mission today that it will no longer be able to fulfill its contractual obligations. The Mission has only a few days of emergency rations left.

* The Secretary-General is in close contact with the Security Council and the Troop Contributing Countries, and the Eritrean authorities are being contacted at the highest level to seek an immediate resolution of this unacceptable situation.

* The Secretary-General calls on the Eritrean authorities to cease their obstruction of the relocation of UNMEE, with their equipment.

* The UN reiterates that this relocation is temporary and that Eritrea must immediately meet its international obligations to cooperate with the mission.

* The Spokeswoman later announced that the Security Council was holding consultations at 3 p.m. today in connection with Eritrea/Ethiopia.

* Asked for more details about developments in UNMEE, the Deputy Spokesperson added that the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations and Department of Field Support had briefed troop-contributing countries (TCCs) on 14 February on the relocation process. They insisted that Eritrea has an obligation to ensure that the peacekeepers relocate in dignity, safety and in an orderly manner, and also has to supply the fuel required for such relocation.

* The UN is conveying this demand to the Government of Eritrea and are exploring contingency options to supply the mission with the food and fuel necessary to continue with the relocation of mission personnel and assets, Okabe added.

* In response to a question, the Spokeswoman said the Secretariat had been given a mandate by the Security Council, which had in fact recently been extended by six months. In the meantime, UN peacekeepers in Eritrea are not able to carry out their mandated tasks, she said.

* In response to a further question, Okabe said the majority of UNMEE troops were stationed in Eritrea.

These “highlights” from today’s daily noon briefing at UNHQ/NY are posted here.

Report: Hague court says families can sue UN and Netherlands for Srebrenica massacre

Reuters is reporting that “Families of Srebrenica massacre victims have cleared a legal hurdle in their lawsuit against the Dutch state and the United Nations, which they argue allowed the killing of thousands of Muslims, their lawyers said. A court in the Hague ruled the case could proceed, dismissing pleas by public prosecutors that it should be dropped after the United Nations invoked its legal immunity and said it would not take part. In 1995 Bosnian Serb forces massacred 8,000 Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica, a town declared a safe area and guarded by a Dutch army unit serving as part of a larger UN force. Lawyer Marco Gerritsen, representing the victims’ families, said on Tuesday the court had supported their argument that the UN could not be granted automatic immunity. ‘The UN has the duty to prevent genocide. An appeal to immunity in a case of genocide, as in the Srebrenica drama, is irreconcilable with the U.N.’s own objectives and its international obligations’, he added in a statement…” The full report is posted here.

Human rights experts frustrated by lack of media coverage

The UN’s Human Rights Committee is frustrated at the lack of media coverage of its work, it appears.

A press release published by the UN Office in Geneva, where the Committee meets, reports that: “Committee Expert Ivan Shearer presented a working paper on how to improve the Committee’s relations with the media and to make the work of the Committee more widely known, as well as to improve public understanding of its work. Among issues raised in the paper were how to make the Committee’s traditional end-of-the-year press conference more effective; whether Committee meetings should be moved from Palais Wilson to the Palais des Nations, were there were more facilities and were it was easier to attract the press; and whether the Committee’s conclusions on private communications should be communicated to the media.

“Further questions and remarks, raised for discussion by Mr. Shearer included whether the Committee should abandon its rule of keeping the name of the country Rapporteurs confidential; whether draft versions of General Comments should be posted online before they were being adopted; and whether the results of the follow-up procedures should be made available in the public domain. He also suggested that the Committee consider naming a Rapporteur on media relations.

“During the ensuing discussion, a number of Experts criticized the current Committee website, which was categorized by one Expert as ‘a mess’.

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Report of new hacking attack on UN websites in Asia — another "cyber rattle"

Darren Pauli of Computerworld Australia is reporting that “The United Nations (UN) has been hit by a string of hacking attacks aimed at identity and credit card theft, and building botnet hordes. The attack on the UN Asia Pacific website is believed to originate from the same group responsible for attacks on the US-based Biotechnology Information Organization and the prominent Indian Syndicate Bank. The financially-motivated incursions, launched from the same remote location, infected a server common to all three websites and downloaded a Trojan to visitor computers via drive-by attacks…
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UN Site hacked

Slashdot, a tech site is reporting that the main UN site was hacked using a technique called “SQL Injection”. This well known vulnerability typically occurs when a database-driven site exposes too much information, thus allowing users to manipulate database commands via the URL bar.

Also worth noting is the run on expensive, proprietary Microsoft software. Not only that but they used MS Word, the popular word processing application to create the “Down for maintenance page here: ” UN Site.

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Today the UN celebrates International Anti-Corruption Day

According to the UN Spokesman, “In a message to mark the occasion, Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, says that, since corruption affects us all, we all have a role to play in stopping it.”

A UN Convention against Corruption came into force one year ago.