Monday, April 24, 2017

On Syria Bombing of Foah & Kefraya Evacuees, UN Spokesman Issues Canned Call for Justice

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 15 - After a deadly bombing of evacuees in Syria, the UN issued a canned statement attributed to its holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric: "We  condemn the attack today in Rasheedin, west Aleppo, on 5,000 evacuees traveling from the towns of Foah and Kefraya to government-controlled areas. We express our condolences to the families of the victims of the incident and wish those injured a speedy recovery. The evacuations were being conducted in accordance with the agreement reached pursuant to the Four Towns agreement, covering Foah, Kefraya, Madaya and Zabadani. We call on the parties to ensure the safety and security of those waiting to be evacuated. Those responsible for today's attack must be brought to justice. Stephane Dujarric Spokesman for the Secretary-General." The words Dujarric and justice form an oxymoron: he most recently misused his UN podium to characterize as harassment the mere critique of the UN's Najat Rochdi for covering upinjustice in Cameroon. On Syria as on Yemen and most of Africa, today's holdover UN is running on fumes. We'll have more on this. When UN envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura took questions on April 11, Inner City Press asked him about the US Tomahawk strike on Syria, and the Geneva talks. Video here. UN transcript: Inner City Press: Right after the strike, your office put out statements saying you were operationally focused on it. I just wondered, specifically when did you learn about the strike and what did you do in response? Also in the US, there is a lot of focus on different statements by the administration about Assad not staying or not being legitimate. I just wanted to know when you see those, do you believe it is through your process, that the things that they are discussing will be carried out, or there is some separate process they are referring to  by which Assad no longer remain in power?
SdM: I frankly can't answer the second point, but what I can say is what I hear, and what I hear from the Americans, but also from anyone else, that the solution for the future of the Syrian political environment is through negotiation and according to resolution 2254 and through a UN led negotiation. All the rest I am not in a position of commenting on frankly. I learnt about the strike, not when it happened, later, and my first reaction was how can we now manage the crisis and avoid that it becomes an escalation, that has been my first thought, and that is normally what the UN should be doing. 
After that, de Mistura said he will be continuing as envoy, after seeing the photographs and being asked to continue, by his family. It was the opposite of the usual invocation of family in such circumstances. Antonio Guterres is giving the UNDP top stop to Achim Steiner. After some surmised that the UN Security Council's three draft resolutions were, along with twenty planes, among the things destroyed by the US Tomahawk missiles last week, the Security Council voted on a revised draft on April 12 just after 3 pm. The resolution failed, with Russia (veto) and Bolivia against, and China, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia abstaining. UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said there'll be a push on April 13 at the OPCW; Russia's Safronkov also cited that meeting. Prior to the vote, Inner City Press put questions to UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura We'll have more on this. On April 11, Ukraine's Ambassador Yelchenko emerged from the Council's meeting about Haiti and told the press about the draft. Inner City Press asked if the Assad government turning over flight logs was still in the draft; yes. Here it is: "Recalling the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, and the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (CWC) ratified by the Syrian Arab Republic on 14 September 2013, and the Council’s resolutions 1540 (2004), 2118 (2013), 2209 (2015), 2235 (2015), 2314 (2016), and 2319 (2016),
Expressing its horror at the reported use of chemical weapons in the Khan Shaykhun area of southern Idlib in the Syrian Arab Republic on 4 April 2017 causing large-scale loss of life and injuries, affirming that the use of chemical weapons constitutes a serious violation of international law, and stressing that those responsible for any use of chemical weapons must be held accountable, 
Noting the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has announced, in addition to its ongoing investigation, that its Fact Finding Mission (FFM) is in the process of gathering and analysing information on this incident from all available sources and will report to the OPCW Executive Council,
Recalling that in resolution 2118 (2013) the Council decided that the Syrian Arab Republic shall not use, develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons, to other States or non-State actors and underscored that no party in Syria should use, develop produce acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer chemical weapons,
Recalling the report by the Director General of the OPCW (EC-82/DG18 dated 6 July 2016) that the OPCW Technical Secretariat is not able to resolve all identified gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies in Syria’s declaration, and therefore cannot fully verify that Syria has submitted a declaration that can be considered accurate and complete in accordance with the CWC or OPCW Executive decision EC-M-33/DEC.1 dated 27 December 2013 or resolution 2118;
Recalling its determination that the use of chemical weapons in the Syria Arab Republic represents a threat to international peace and security,
1. Condemns in the strongest terms the reported use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, in particular the attack on Khan Shaykhun reported on 4 April 2017, expresses its outrage that individuals continue to be killed and injured by chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, and expresses its determination that those responsible must be held accountable;
2. Expresses its full support to the OPCW Fact Finding Mission, demands that all parties provide delay-free and safe access to any sites deemed relevant by the OPCW FFM, and, as applicable, by the JIM, to the reported incident in Khan Shaykhun, including the site of the reported incident on April 4, in accordance with resolution 2118, and requests that the FFM report the results of its investigation as soon as possible;
3. Requests that the Secretary General make the necessary arrangements for the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism to liaise closely with the Fact Finding Mission to expeditiously investigate any incident the FFM determines involved or likely involved the use of chemicals as weapons in order to identify those involved in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 5 of its Resolution 2235;
4. Recalls that in its resolutions 2118 and 2235 it decided that the Syrian Arab Republic and all parties in Syria shall cooperate fully with the OPCW and the United Nations including the Joint Investigation Mechanism;
5. Emphasizes that this includes the obligation upon the Syrian Arab Republic of complying with the relevant recommendations of the OPCW and the UN, including the JIM, by accepting personnel designated by the OPCW or the United Nations, by providing for and ensuring the security of activities undertaken by these personnel, by providing these personnel with immediate and unfettered access and the right to inspect, in discharging  their functions, any and all sites, and by allowing immediate and unfettered access to individuals that the OPCW has grounds to believe to be of importance of the purpose of its mandate, and specifically that this includes the obligations upon the Syrian Arab Republic to provide the JIM and FFM with the following and take the following steps:
(a) flight plans, flight logs, and any other information on air operations, including all flight plans or flight logs filed on April 4 2017;
(b) names of all individuals in command of any helicopter squadrons;
(c) arrange meetings requested including with generals or other officers, within no more than five days of the date on which such meeting is requested;
(d) immediately provide access to relevant air bases from which the JIM or the FFM believe attacks involving chemicals as weapons may have been launched
6. Requests the Secretary-General to report on whether the information and access described in paragraph 5 has been provided in his reports to the Security Council every 30 days pursuant to paragraph 12 of resolution 2118.
7. Recalls its decision in response to violations of resolution 2118 to impose measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations charter."
  Also on April 11, Bolivia's Ambassador said he'd be looking to see what comes out of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's meeting on April 12 with his Russian counterpart Lavrov. In the UN Security Council's open meeting on April 7 after the US airstrikes on Syria, when Syria spoke last, French Ambassador Francois Delattre walked out of the chamber and left. Before that, US Ambassador Nikki Haley spoke, as fast transcribed below by Inner City Press. On April 8, US President Donald Trump wrote to the US Congress: "Dear Mr. Speaker:   (Dear Mr. President:) At approximately 8:40 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on April 6, 2017, at my direction, United States military forces in the Mediterranean Sea, operating beyond the territorial sea of any state, struck the Shayrat military airfield in Syria.  United States intelligence indicates that Syrian military forces operating from this airfield were responsible for the chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians in southern Idlib Province, Syria, that occurred on April 4.  I directed this action in order to degrade the Syrian military's ability to conduct further chemical weapons attacks and to dissuade the Syrian regime from using or proliferating chemical weapons, thereby promoting the stability of the region and averting a worsening of the region's current humanitarian catastrophe.

I acted in the vital national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.  The United States will take additional action, as necessary and appropriate, to further its important national interests.

I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution (Public Law 93-148).  I appreciate the support of the Congress in this action.

             Sincerely,DONALD J. TRUMP"
 At the UN noon briefing on April 7, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric about UN envoy Staffan de Mistura saying he is "operational focused" - what does it mean? From the UN transcript
Inner City Press: Staffan de Mistura has this quote where he says he's fully and operationally focused on the situation.  Can you unpack that a little bit?  Like, does it, was he informed of this?  Was he… has he had a dialogue with either the United States or anyone else…?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware…

Inner City Press:  What does it mean to be operationally focused?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware, I'm not aware that he was, that he was informed.  I don't believe anybody in the UN was informed.  But I, as I said, I'm just not aware that he was informed. Obviously, I think the events of the last few days are likely to have an impact on, on his efforts.  And so, I think, like all of us, with the Secretary-General or his envoy, we are focused and refocused on trying to get the, make sure the political process and the Geneva talks stay on, on track.  And, you know, the Secretary-General's belief that there is no other option but a political option remains, and he's asking everybody to recommit to the Geneva talks.
  Here's Inner City Press' fast transcript of NIkki Haley: "For six years the world has watched as the Syrian government has terrorized its own people…it has broken international law, committed criminal acts that shocked the conscience of all humanity. The JIM has found beyond a doubt that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against its own people multiple times. On Tuesday the Syrian government launched another attack.

Assad thought he could get away with this.

That changed last night. When the international community fails to act collectively, there are times when states are forced to take their own action. The US will not stand by when chemical weapons are used. Our military destroyed the airfield from which the airstrike took place. We were totally justified in doing so. The moral stain of the Assad regime could no longer go unanswered. It was time to act…Assad must never use chemical weapons again.

While the Syrian regime is responsible, it is not the only guilty party. Iran bears a heavy responsibility. It has propped up and shielded Syria’s dictator for years.

The Russian government also bears responsibility. Russia has stood beside Assad. Russia made it known, as it has 7 times before, that it would use its veto again. Further delay would only have strengthened Assad. We were not going to allow that.

Russia is supposed to be a guarantor of removal of chemical weapons from Syria. Obviously that has not happened.

It could be that Russia is knowingly allowing chemical weapons to remain in Syria; it could be Russia has been incompetent; or it could be that the Assad regime is playing Russia for fools.

The world is waiting for Russia to reconsider its alliance with Assad.

Now we must move to a new phases: a drive to a political solution to this horrible conflict. We expect the Assad regime and its allies to take the process seriously. We expect the Council to speak loudly and forcefully. The US took a very measured step last night. We are prepared to do more. But we hope that will not be necessary. "
  Just before US airstrikes on Syria, the UN Security Council ended its Syria meeting past 8 pm on April 6. Video by Inner City Press here.After the strikes, with 58 and 59 missiles reported hitting their targets, Bolivia requested a Security Council meeting. The US as Council President for April scheduled the meeting for 11:30 am but made it open. Ambassador Nikki Haley said, "This morning, Bolivia requested an emergency UN Security Council meeting to discuss the events in Syria. It asked for the discussion to be held in closed session. The United States, as president of the Council this month, decided the session would be held in the open. Any country that chooses to defend the atrocities of the Syrian regime will have to do so in full public view, for all the world to hear.”

  As he left the UNSC on the night of April 6, Uruguay's Ambassador said, We never give up. Sweden's Ambassador Olof Skoog, who earlier hearkened back to Hans Blix in 2003, said we continue to work. Source told Inner City Press that Sweden's role has led to push-back against it. In some instances Sweden takes a line such as on women's rights; in others it backs down, as to Morocco about Western Sahara, after a threat to ban Ikea. We'll see.