Geneva Syria Talks Yield Progress on Humanitarian Issues

Montreux Conference in Geneva
Jan. 26, 2014 –  The Syrian government will allow trapped women and children to immediately leave the old city of Homs, Lakhdar Brahimi said on Sunday.

He was speaking after the second day of face to face talks between representatives of the Syrian government and opposition in Geneva, Switzerland.

Aid agencies have for months called for a pause in fighting to allow trapped civilians to leave the city which is partially rebel-held.

Pro-Assad forces have bombarded Homs for almost three years and the government has also reportedly blocked electricity, water and phone service while families are living without heat and adequate food.

“With regard to Homs, there is an agreement now from the armed groups inside that they will not attack a humanitarian convoy if it enters Homs,” Brahimi said in Geneva, according to a transcript provided by the UN. “What I have been told by the Government side is that women and children in this besieged area in the old city are welcome to leave immediately.”

He said “other civilians are also welcome to leave, but the Government needs the list of their names first.” Asked by a reporter who recalled the Srebrenica massacre of men and boys if this list could be used to perpetrate a similar massacre, Brahimi answered: “We don’t have that fear. I don’t think we have that fear. Horrible things are happening in Syria, we don’t want anything like Srebrenica in addition to all of that. “

While the talks are aimed at finding a political solution to the crisis which will enter its fourth year in March, there’s little indication that progress has been made on this front, but Brahimi did note there is “mutual respect” between the negotiators and an awareness that the dire humanitarian situation had to be part of the talks.

“I think we all felt, and the two parties felt also, that you cannot start negotiations about Syria without having some discussions about the very, very bad humanitarian situation,” the Algerian diplomat said.

Talks are set to resume on Monday and are expected to turn to the heart of the matter: finding a political solution based on the Geneva Communique which calls for a mutually agreed transitional government with full executive powers.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

photo: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

Ban Ki-moon Disinvites Iran to Geneva II Talks

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Jan 20, 2014 – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has rescinded his invitation to Iran to participate in the Geneva II Syria talks on Wednesday.

In New York, Ban’s spokesperson, Martin Nesirky, reading from a prepared statement, said Monday: “In a series of meetings and telephone conversations, senior Iranian officials assured the Secretary-General that Iran understood and supported the basis and goal of the Conference, including the Geneva Communiqué.

“The Secretary-General is deeply disappointed by Iranian public statements today that are not at all consistent with that stated commitment.  He continues to urge Iran to join the global consensus behind the Geneva Communiqué.  Given that it has chosen to remain outside that basic understanding, he has decided that the one-day Montreux gathering will proceed without Iran’s participation.”

The text of the Geneva Communiqué, which calls for a transitional government with full executive powers, is here.

(photo/UN photo)

Iran’s UN Envoy: No Preconditions for Geneva Syria Talks

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Jan. 20, 2014 – Tehran’s envoy to the United Nations in New York on Monday stated that Iran will not participate in the Geneva II Syria talks if it has to accept the Geneva communique.

Here is the response by the mission’s spokesperson, Alireza Miryousefi: “Regarding to the inquiry of the position of the Islamic Republic of Iran concerning the participation of Iran’s Geneva II Conference, the response of permanent representative of Islamic Republic of Iran to the UN, Amb. Khazaee is as follows: The Islamic Republic of Iran appreciates the efforts of the UN Secretary General and his special envoy, Mr. Brahimi in finding a political solution for Syrian crisis. Iran has always been supportive of finding a political solution for this crisis.
“However the Islamic Republic of Iran does not accept any preconditions for its participation in Geneva II conference. If the participation of Iran is conditioned to accept Geneva I communique, Iran will not participate in Geneva II conference.”

The text of the Geneva Communiqué, which was agreed on at a similar but smaller conference in June 2012, is here.

Top 15 Donors at Pledging Conference for Syria

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Jan. 15, 2014 – Host country Kuwait topped the list of donors at the pledging conference for Syria on Wednesday with the Gulf country announcing a $500 million contribution.

The United States followed with a $380 million donation. The European Commission pledged $225 million; United Kingdom, $164 million; Japan, $120 million; Germany, $110 million; Norway, $75 million; Saudi Arabia and Qatar both pledged $60 million.

Rounding out the top 15 donors at the conference in Kuwait City were Italy, $51 million; Denmark, $37 million; Sweden, $35 million; Switzerland $33 million; France, $27 million; and Ireland, $27 million.

A total of $2.4 billion was pledged towards a total of $6.5 billion required to support nine million Syrians in need of assistance inside and outside of Syria in 2014.

UN Security Council permanent members China and Russia were not among the 37 countries that made pledges. Nor was Canada, traditionally a strong donor. The United Arab Emirates was also absent, as too was Bahrain.

Iraq was the fourth largest Arab country donor, pledging $13 million.

Among emerging donor countries, South Korea announced a $5 million contribution; Mexico $3 million and India, $2 million.

Non-traditional donors making pledges included Estonia, $552,000; Romania, $100,000 and Botswana, $50,000, according to figures provided by UN OCHA.

A full list of the countries that pledged funds is below.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

photo: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

List of Humanitarian Assistance Pledges at the Second International Donors Conference for Syria

 

Thirty Countries to Get Invites for Geneva Conference on Syria But Not Yet Iran

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UPDATED: Jan 19, 2013: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited Iran to the Geneva II talks, saying on Sunday that Tehran must be part of the solution and indicating that it supports the Geneva 1 communique which called for a transitional government with full executive powers. “They (Iran) said that they are committed to play a very constructive and important positive role. And they said that they welcome the Geneva Communique,” Ban said. “So based on my conversations, several times with Iranian delegations, then I am convinced that they will be in support of this Geneva Communique and they will play a very important and positive constructive role”  

In addition to Iran, Ban has invited nine more countries to the talks bringing the total number of countries participating to 40. The new invitees, in addition to Iran, are Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Greece, the Holy See, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Mexico and South Korea.

Jan. 6, 2013 – The UN is inviting thirty countries to participate in the Geneva II conference on Syria but opposition from the US is holding up a decision on Iran’s participation.

Spokesperson Farhan Haq announced on Monday that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was sending invitations to the list of countries agreed on Dec. 20 at a meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry, his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.

Besides representatives of the Syrian government and opposition, the invitees include the permanent members of the Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the US – as well as Algeria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and United Arab Emirates.

High Representative of the EU, Cathy Ashton, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Nabil ElAraby, and Organization for Islamic Cooperation Secretary-General Iyad bin Amin Madani are also invited to the conference to be convened by Ban Ki-moon on Jan. 22 in Montreux.

At a Dec. 20, 2013 press conference in Geneva, Brahimi told reporters that the UN favored Iran’s participation “but our partners in the United States are still not convinced that Iran’s participation would be the right thing to do.”

John Kerry said on Sunday in Jerusalem that Iran needs to accept the Geneva I communiqué, which called for a transitional government with full executive powers, before it gets an invite.

The first Geneva conference was held in June 2012. An estimated 15,000 people had died in the Syrian conflict at that point. At least 100,000 more have been killed since.

The text of the Geneva I communiqué is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

photo: UN photo/JC McIlwaine

Syrian Government Policy of Enforced Disappearance a Crime Against Humanity: UN Investigators

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Dec. 19, 2013 – The Syrian government is continuing its policy of enforced disappearance that started in March 2011 when protests against the regime of Bashar Al-Assad erupted and the spread and pattern of this abuse amounts to a crime against humanity, UN investigators probing human rights violations in Syria concluded in their latest report.

Enforced disappearance has been used to silence the opposition, as a form of reprisal or punishment and as a tactic of war, the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry said in the report released on Thursday which covers March 2011 to Nov. 2013.

It cites instances of doctors being disappeared for providing medical services in oppositions controlled areas and injured civilians in FSA-controlled areas being disappeared when they seek treatment at government hospitals.

“The violation of enforced disappearance is often a gateway to the commission of other offences, most particularly torture,” the report says.

It adds that there is a deliberate government policy of not providing information to family members of those detained and those inquiring are often themselves then detained.

“The truth regarding the fate of the many disappeared in Syria and the extent of the phenomenon of enforced disappearance will likely only fully be grasped in the aftermath of the conflict,” the report says. “The victims of this violation number far beyond the individuals disappeared. The families and loved ones of those disappeared endure a mental anguish that amounts to a further violation of their human rights.”

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that enforced disappearances were committed by Government forces, as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population, and therefore amount to a crime against humanity,” the report concludes.

The full report is here

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Inspectors Confirm Chemical Weapons Use in Syria

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Dec 12, 2013 – UN inspectors investigating allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria issued their final report on Thursday confirming use of chemical weapons in Syria in one “clear and convincing” case and reported on four more cases where there is credible evidence that chemical attacks took place.

The team investigated seven sites and concluded that sarin gas was used in the Aug. 21 incident in Ghouta, ”against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale.” The inspectors had previously confirmed this on Sept. 16. In four more incidents, including an attack in Khan Al Asal in March, the investigators collected evidence that ‘suggests” is “credible” or is “consistent with” the use of chemical weapons.

The full report is below.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

(photo/OPCW)

Final Report of UN Inspectors Investigating Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria.

Preliminary Evidence Suggests Polio in Syria Came from Pakistan

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Nov 10, 2013 – Foreign fighters appear to be the source of the outbreak of polio in Syria that risks infecting hundreds of thousands of children in the region.

Initial tests indicate that the poliovirus detected in Syria is of Pakistani origin, according to UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

Pakistan is one of only three countries – along with Afghanistan and Nigeria – where the virus remains endemic. The BBC reported in July that the Pakistan Taliban had set up a base inside Syria to join the fight against the Assad regime.

Syria had been polio free for fourteen years prior to the outbreak and the virus had not been detected in neighboring countries in the past decade but so far this year has been found in sewage samples in Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

Polio affects the nervous system and can cause paralysis within hours. It usually affects children under five and is typically spread through contact with contaminated feces.

Children usually require four doses of the polio vaccine before school-age to provide lifelong protection against the virus.

As a result of the conflict, immunization rates have plummeted from 92 percent before the conflict to 67 percent as of 2012, according to UNICEF.

WHO and UNICEF aim to vaccinate 20 million children in Syria and neighboring countries in the coming months to prevent an epidemic.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter: @denisfitz

photo/UN Photo

Syria: The War on Development

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Oct. 31, 2013 – Syria’s economy has lost more than $103 billion since March 2011 while 2.3 million jobs have been lost and almost half the country’s school-age children are no longer in formal education.

The country’s conflict, which started after government forces used lethal force on peaceful protesters, has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people while an estimated 400,000 more people have been maimed or injured. That’s 2 percent of the population that have been killed, injured or maimed.

These are among the dire statistics in a joint report issued by UNDP and UNRWA this week on the devastating impact of the conflict on Syria’s socio-economic development.

Some 3,000 schools are out of service as a result of damage or destruction while others are housing internally displaced people.

The effect on medical services is particularly acute with the ratio of doctors to serve the population falling from one for every 660 people to one for every 4,400 people.

The World Health Organization earlier this week reported that cases of polio have been confirmed, the first such outbreak since 1999 and that vaccination rates have plummeted from 91 percent in 2010 to 68 percent in 2012.

Some 8 million Syrians have fallen into poverty since the crisis began with more than half of those living in extreme poverty.

“As the formal economy has imploded there has been a growth in informality, rent-seeking 
activities, criminal enterprise and economies of violence that will plague post-conflict economic regulation, reform, equity and development,” the UNDP-UNRWA report says.

The full report is here

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo/Wikimedia

Half of Syria’s Chemical Warfare Agents to be destroyed in Norway – Report

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update: Oct 25 – In a statement on its website, Norway’s ministry of foreign affairs says it won’t destroy Syria’s chemical warfare agents: “due to time constraints and external factors, such as capacities, regulatory requirements, Norway is not the most suitable location for the destruction of Syrian chemical warfare agents.”

Oct. 20, 2013 – Up to 500 tons of Syria’s stockpile of sarin gas is set to be destroyed in Norway pending agreement by Oslo.

Norwegian state broadcaster NRK reported on Sunday that an internal UN memo it obtained shows that the five permanent members of the Security Council along with Albania and Belgium have been asked to destroy Syria’s chemical warfare agents.

But Norway, home of the Nobel Foundation that last week bestowed its annual peace prize to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, has been asked to destroy up to half of the estimated 1,000 tons of chemical agents thought to be in Syria’s possession. 

A UN Security Council resolution passed on Sept. 27 set mid-2014 as deadline for destruction of Syria’s entire chemical arsenal.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

photo/opcw