Wednesday, April 20, 2016

UN Doles Out Syria News of Evacuation, Dodges on Yemen, Corruption, Censorship

By Matthew Russell Lee

WASHINGTON, April 20 -- With the UN's Syria talks in Geneva failing or at least being put on hold, UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric on April 20 arranged for a question to read out some good news:

"Today plans are underway to evacuate some 500 people including the sick, wounded and their family members from the besieged four towns which are Fuaa, Kafraya, Madaya and Zabadani, in urgent need of life-saving medical attention," Dujarric read out from a paper just handed to him in time for the question.

  To this he added, “We continue to call on all parties to the conflict that medical evacuation of the sick and wounded be facilitated in a timely and systematic manner everywhere in Syria and by all parties to the conflict."

  Dujarric in the same briefing dodged Inner City Press questions on Yemen -- why did UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed not send this press release to the Press but to the "UN News Center"? - on Burundi, South Sudan, UN corruption and finally, censorship. But on Syria, the UN's news was pre-written, and asked for by its friends.

Back on March 14 before UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura took four questions in Geneva, he announced that for the next ten days, he would grant no exclusive interviews.  Background below.

 On the tenth day, March 24, de Mistura held a press conference during which he repeatedly said that his "paper" would be released "right now." Here, just released, is the paper:

"Special Envoy’s Paper on Points of Commonalities

Explanatory Note

This is an Explanatory Note to the Special Envoy’s Paper on Points of Commonalities. It sets out what the official purpose is of the paper. During the course of talks the Special Envoy noted that certain commonalities existed between the two sides in relation to their respective visions of what a future of Syrian state might look like. He instructed his staff to try to capture points of convergence in order to help him structure the next round of talks which shall also focus on political transition. The paper is a useful guide as to the commonalties that exists between the two negotiating parties. It is not an agreed paper of the two negotiating parties. It does not constitute in any way a framework document or a negotiating text and shall not be put before the UN Security Council or the ISSG unless specifically authorised by both sides. Instead, the Special Envoy has invited each of the two negotiating parties to take away the paper to examine whether it accurately captures points of convergence if not consensus. He has also invited each of the two negotiating parties to identify important points of divergence on essential principles. For the avoidance of doubt the two negotiating parties continue to maintain their respective negotiating positions as regards any political transitional process and what a future Syrian state might look like.

Essential Principles of a Political Solution in Syria

The participants in the intra-Syrian talks agree with the Special Envoy that the full implementation of UNSC Resolution 2254, the ISSG statements and the Geneva Communique in its entirety are the basis for a political transition process and beyond that will end the crisis in Syria—a crisis that has cost countless lives and imposed endless suffering on the people of Syria. The sides confirm that a political settlement is the only way to peace. Towards this end the parties recognize the following essential principles as the foundation for a future Syrian state that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people:

1. Respect for the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria. No part of the national territory shall be ceded. As an integral part of the Arab nation, Syria is committed to a peaceful and active role in the international community. As a founding member, Syria is dedicated to the UN Charter and its purposes and principles. The people of Syria remain committed to the restoration of the occupied Golan Heights by peaceful means.

2. The principles of sovereign equality and non-intervention shall apply, in conformity with the UN Charter. The Syrian people alone shall determine the future of their country by democratic means, through the ballot box, and have the exclusive right to choose their own political, economic and social system without external pressure or interference.

3. Syria shall be a democratic, non-sectarian state based on citizenship and political pluralism, the representation of all components of Syrian society, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, equal rights, non-discrimination, human rights and fundamental freedoms, transparency, accountability and the principles of national reconciliation and social peace.

4. Syria cherishes its history of diversity and the contributions and values of all religions, traditions and national identities to Syrian society. Acts of revenge against individuals or groups shall not be tolerated. There shall be no discrimination against, and full protection of, all national, ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural identities. Members of all communities, men and women, shall enjoy equal opportunities in social, economic, cultural and public life.

5. Women shall enjoy equality of rights and representation in all institutions and decision-making structures at a level of at least 30 per cent during the transition and thereafter.

6. As per Security Council resolution 2254 (2015), the political transition in Syria shall include mechanisms for credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance, a schedule and process for drafting a new constitution and free and fair elections pursuant to the new constitution, administered under supervision by the United Nations, to the satisfaction of the governance and to the highest international standards of transparency and accountability, with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate.

7. Such governance shall ensure an environment of stability and calm during the transition, offering safety and equal chances to political actors to establish themselves and campaign in the forthcoming elections and participate in public life.

8. Continuity and reform of state institutions and public services, along with measures to protect the public infrastructure and private property, shall ensure stability in accordance with international standards, principles of good governance and human rights. The governance will take effective measures to combat corruption. Citizens will benefit from effective mechanisms of protection in the relations with all public authorities, ensuring full compliance with human rights.

9. Syria categorically rejects terrorism and strongly opposes terrorist organizations and individuals identified by the UN Security Council and will engage in a national endeavour, in international partnership, to defeat terrorism and to address the causes of terrorism. Syria calls on all states in accordance with the relevant UNSC resolutions, to prevent terrorist groups from being supplied with weapons, money, training, shelter, intelligence or safe havens and to refrain from inciting acts of terrorism.

10. Syrians are committed to rebuilding a strong and unified national army, also through the disarmament and integration of members of armed groups supporting the transition and the new constitution. That professional army shall protect the borders and population of the State from external threats in accordance with the principle of the rule of law. The state and its reformed institutions will exercise the exclusive right of controlling weapons of war. There shall be no intervention by foreign fighters on Syrian soil.

11. All refugees and internally displaced people wishing it shall be enabled to return safely to their homes with national and international support and in line with international protection standards. Those arbitrarily detained shall be released and the fate of the disappeared, kidnapped or missing shall be resolved.

12. There shall be reparations, redress, care, and restitution of rights and property lost for those who have suffered loss or injury in consequence of the conflict. As peace and stability are being restored, Syria shall call for the holding of a major donor conference to gain funds for compensation, reconstruction and development of the country, and the lifting of all coercive economic measures and other unilateral actions affecting the people of Syria. Syria looks forward to international guarantees and support for the implementation of the political process in a way that does not infringe upon the sovereignty of Syria"

Later on March 14, after de Mistura briefed the UN Security Council by video, Ambassador Gaspar Martins of Angola, president of the Council for March, emerged to say that all members found Russia's announcement of starting to withdraw most of its forces from Syria positive.

  Inner City Press asked Gaspar Martins if the (yet to be agreed) inclusion of Kurdish groups in Syria into the talks was discussed. Yes, he said, there is a desire that the talks get more inclusive.

 But will they, particularly after the Ankara attack?

  Now, Kurdish official Idris Nassan says Kurds will declare self determination in northern Syria. So it seems those who delayed and demurred on Kurdish involvement in the UN's Geneva talks have only themselves to blame.

 On March 15, Inner City Press put the question to US State Department spokesperson John Kirby. From the State Department transcript:

Inner City Press: what does the U.S. think of the inclusion of Kurdish groups from – in Syria in the talks?  There’s more and more – many countries talk – say they should be involved.  Obviously, Turkey says that they shouldn’t be involved; there’s the Ankara attack.  Has your – what’s the thinking here?

MR KIRBY:  I’ve addressed this before and our position is exactly the same.  The invitations to the talks were decided and sent by the UN, by Special Envoy de Mistura.  He sent invitations this time to the same groups that he sent last time.  Right now, that does not include Kurdish groups in the proximity talks.  That said, as before, he continues to consult with a wide range of groups, to include Kurdish groups.  And we believe that we need to respect his decision-making process going forward and how he wants to conduct these talks.  We’re going to continue to support that.  And again, there are consultations, there are discussions going on.  We recognize that those consultations are important.

  But what about Kurds declaring self determination in northern Syria? We hope to have more on this.

Here's some background on de Mistura's M.O. in Geneva, then Inner City Press' question on it: on March 1 the "Association des Correspondants Aupres des Nations Unies a Geneve" (ACANU), in a bit of advocacy the NY-based UNCA does not engage in, protested de Mistura making announcements about the Syria talks in exclusive interviews, and not to all correspondents at once.

 Inner City Press has obtained the ACANU letter, which was cc-ed to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric (who threw Inner City Press out of the UN Press Briefing Room on January 29 and out of the entire UN on February 19 and 22,petition here) and published it here.

  In New York, Ban Ki-moon and his Under Secretaries General like Herve Ladsous dole out information to favored correspondents; Ban's USG for Public Information Cristina Gallach on February 19 went so far as to oust Inner City Press after speaking with Giampaolo Pioli's UNCA but not Inner City Press. Will de Mistura, as now pledged, be different?

On March 14, Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric told Inner City Press there is no policy in this regard. From the UN transcript:

Inner City Press: I saw you [carbon copied] on this, so it seems like a fair question to you.  I saw a letter from the ACANU, or the Geneva press association of correspondents, directed to Mr… Mr. de Mistura and [carbon copied] to you, protesting that he announced a delay… initial delay in the Syria talks in an exclusive interview.  And I saw him this morning very early say that he's not going to do any exclusive interviews between 14 and 24 March, sort of as an accommodation.  I guess I wanted to know, what is the UN's policy in terms of both the Secretary-General or a news-maker like de Mistura giving… ACANU seemed to say very clearly this information should be given to all correspondents at the same time.  Do you agree with that?

Spokesman:  No, Mr. de Mistura is a seasoned diplomat.  He chooses to… he deftly handles the media, and he will do whatever he feels he needs to do.  There is no policy per se on any of these issues that you raised.

  No policy - like on the "lending out" of the UN Press Briefing Room, resulting in differences of opinion on the right to cover events there which the UN, Dujarric, can use as a pretext to oust the Press.

  UN Geneva spokesman Ahmad Fawzi on March 14 gave the first question to “our Turkish colleague” -- who asked about the timing of elections in Syria. The next picked questioner identified himself “with the Geneva press corps;” then Al Jazeera Arabic asked if there is any deadline for a deal to be reached.

  To this, de Mistura said this first round would run from March 14 to 24 -- during which no exclusive interviews, he said -- then a recess of a week or ten days. This will be folllowed by a second round of two weeks, then another recess, length undefined.

  Fawzi's final question went to ACANU, representing Geneva correspondents accredited by the UN, hopefully (much) better than the decaying and corrupt UN Correspondents Association the UN uses in New York. This question was to say when meetings begin and end. And then it was over.

One couldn't help wonder if there were anywhere near this focus on the slaughter in Yemen - and where is de Mistura's counterpart Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed?

 On Syria, will the Ankara attack impact mounting demands that the Kurds be given a role in this round of talks? We'll have more on this.