Syrian crisis makes UN reform ever more urgent, European ministers say

The year and a half of deadly violence inSyriais clear testimony of the need to reform the United Nations to strengthen its preventive capabilities, European ministers told the UN General Assembly on September 29 2012.

“The truth is that the Security Council has become an obstacle to international efforts to address and solve situations such as in Syria,” Iceland’s foreign minister, Össur Skarphéðinsson, said in his speech to the 67th Assembly’s General Debate, at UN Headquarters in New York, the UN News Centre said.

More than 18 000 have been killed and hundreds of thousands more driven from their homes in fighting between the government and opponents in the Middle Eastern country.

“The Syrian problem is also a wake-up call for the UN with regard to the Security Council. Syria has demonstrated how arcane the Council is, and how out-of-tune it is with the needs of the modern world,” Skarphéðinsson  said of the 15-member body, in which a veto from one of its five permanent members can trump a decision by all 14 others.

Resolutions to address the Syrian situation have twice been vetoed in the past year, most recently in July.

“Thousands of innocent people, not least innocent children, are losing their lives due to an oppressive regime,” Skarphéðinsson told the gathered delegates, on the fifth day of the General Debate. “The international community must unite to end the violence and we must make a better effort to seek a political and peaceful solution for the sake of the Syrian people.

“We must also ensure that those, on both sides, who commit atrocities, will at the end of the day face their responsibility in an international court of law.”

The call for strengthening the UN to endow it with the capability to forestall crises such as the one now engulfing Syria was echoed by foreign minister Nebojša Kaluderovic of Montenegro.

“The scale and consequences of violence in Syria serve as a stern reminder of the importance of preventive measures in preserving international peace and security, which requires enhancement of the UN preventive capacities and the role of dialogue and mediation in peaceful conflict resolution,” Kaluderovic said to the Assembly.

“Montenegro strongly advocates an approach that strives towards an early prevention and elimination of threats before they evolve into sources of conflict,” Kaluderovic said, pledging to increase his country’s participation in peacekeeping operations in accordance with its capacities.

Calling the Syrian crisis an “existential challenge” to the UN, in her remarks to the Assembly, Liechtenstein’s foreign minister Aurelia Frick called on the Council’s five permanent members – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States – to give up their right of veto in matters of atrocities.

“We ask them to acknowledge that the Council must at all times act in accordance with the purposes and principle of the United Nations,” Frick said. “And we therefore request that they pledge not to use the veto to block Council action aimed at preventing or ending genocide, crime against humanity and war crimes.”

In his address to the General Debate on Friday, Andorra’s foreign minister, Gilbert Saboya Sunyé, said that for all its shortcomings, the world was still a much better place thanks to the UN.

“Although the way the United Nations system works is indeed far from optimal, we should not forget however that what today is reality seemed an unattainable dream a century ago,” he said. “We should move on from talk of dreams and progress to talk of ambition. We should move on from dreaming about change to having the ambition to change.”

The European ministers are among of scores of world leaders and other high-level officials presenting their views and comments on issues of individual, national and international relevance at the Assembly’s General Debate, which ends on October 1.

The situation in Syria is at a stalemate, especially while the opposition is divided, EU foreign ministers agreed at a co-ordination meeting in New York during the 67th session of the UN General Assembly, Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry said on September 26.

The EU foreign ministers said that while there is no unified opposition that represents all political, ethnic and religious groups, it is difficult to plan for a post-Assad transition.

“We are seeing some encouraging signs for the unification of the Syrian opposition and support the mediation mission of the new UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi,” Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov said. He also announced that Bulgaria has allocated humanitarian aid to destitute regions like Syria, the Sahel and the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

The humanitarian crisis in Syria has the potential to become a full-scale disaster, Valerie Amos, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said during a meeting with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Mladenov, the Foreign Ministry said on September 29. The number of registered Syrian refugees who have fled their country adds up to 300 000 but estimates by NGOs put the true number at closer to 700 000.

“An additional concern is the millions displaced inside the country, who could at any moment cross the border to any of the neighbouring countries. In this way, the number of Syrian refugees could increase dramatically,” Amos said.

She said that UN humanitarian aid is reaching the destitute mainly through the Red Cross/Red Crescent and local organisations, but often, for security reasons, humanitarian reasons cannot access all conflict sites. Amos expressed great satisfaction about her work with with Bulgaria’s EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva.

Foreign Minister Mladenov said: “We are closely monitoring the situation in Syria, because it is geographically close and there are Bulgarian citizens living there”. After the protracted conflict, the fabric of society is being destroyed, so we should pay special attention to minorities who are most vulnerable, to work with their leaders to know what will be needed after the conflict, Mladenov said.

(Photo: UN Photo/Mark Garten)



The Sofia Globe staff

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