UN admits being late on civil war in Syria

UN admits being late on civil war in Syria

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
UN admits being late on civil war in Syria

Jan Eliasson.

The United Nations Security Council was late to act on the Syrian crisis, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve a solution as radical groups gain ground in the ongoing civil war, the international body’s deputy secretary-general, Jan Eliasson, has admitted.

“We regret very much that there has not been any unity in the council for such a long time. Radical extreme groups have been growing in importance during this period. These groups in the field are much stronger when compared to a year or two years ago,” Eliasson told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview yesterday.

The deputy secretary-general was in Istanbul to meet Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu over U.N. developments in Syria, Cyprus and Somalia, as well as on the conditions of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – have veto powers on the panel. Russia, Syria’s staunchest ally, as well as China, have already vetoed three resolutions condemning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and threatening it with U.N. sanctions.

An estimated 120,000 people have been killed in the war-ravaged country, with the sectarian conflict now spilling into neighboring countries. Extremist and al-Qaeda-linked groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) and the al-Nusra Front have gained ground in the last year in the northern parts of the country with no solution in sight.

Another grim reminder

“This is another grim reminder of the importance of … acting early. I wish there had been political moves already at the beginning of this conflict. Syrians would not have reached this level of suffering,” he said.

The deputy secretary-general underlined the necessity of a planned Geneva peace conference, noting that only a political solution can end the war. “I’m absolutely convinced that there is no military victory.

There were illusions last year and even two years ago. Look where we are,” Eliasson said, citing the transfer of weapons to both sides in the conflict.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced this week that the Geneva peace conference would be held in mid-December.

Asked if there was a reform plan for the council in the near future, Eliasson painted a bleak picture. “It is the most difficult issue. For many years, we [have covered] very little distance on this issue,” he said, while expressing hopes that members would use their vetoes less often. “There was an interesting sign in the debate last September where France suggested that in cases of mass crime and mass atrocities, the veto should not be applied. At least there is this beginning of a realization that the veto power needs to be limited,” he said.

Turkish officials, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, frequently criticize the Security Council for its inaction on the civil war in the neighboring country.

Erdoğan even said in August that countries opposed to the current U.N. system might establish an alternative international body. “If we are really saying that the world is bigger than ‘the five,’ then with other countries coming out, they could form their own United Nations.”

But Eliasson said the world body was an indispensable organization. “If the U.N. is to be abolished, we will probably meet tomorrow and negotiate the U.N. charter again.”
Touching on Turkey’s humanitarian efforts to over 600,000 Syrian refugees, Eliasson said Turkey, just like other neighboring countries, was paying a heavy price and that the U.N. was grateful for its hospitality. “We’ll try our very best to give more support to Turkey in a pledging conference in January 2014.”

Over 200,000 Syrians are living in 21 refugee camps, while the rest live in rented accommodation outside the camps.