Ban Ki Moon lays ground for greater UN role in Syrian crisis
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has repeated his plea to the Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, to “stop killing and listen to his people.” Speaking in Abu Dhabi on Monday, the head of the UN went slightly further in his comments than on recent occasions. Apparently not satisfied with merely offering disapproval of the Syrian government’s response to a wave of popular dissent, Ban appeared to hint at a possible future role for the UN in mediating the continuing crisis.
In December the UN estimated that at least 5,000 people had died in the course of the nine-month-long uprising and government crackdown. Such figures—as well as the continued stream of gruesome reports and video footage being released by Syrian opposition activists—have caused extreme anxiety around the world. Until now the only concerted action taken against Bashar Al-Assad’s regime has amounted to a series of ineffectual sanctions imposed by the EU and US, and unconvincing measures taken by the Arab League. After suspending Syria’s membership, the Arab League dispatched observers in an attempt to control the crisis. But these observer teams have since been widely criticized, by Syrian opposition groups, the Syrian regime, and even from within their own ranks—Algerian delegation member Anwar Malik resigned from his duties and labeled the observation mission “a farce.”
A potential resolution to the crisis is not yet in sight and there has been growing clamor for more substantive action to be taken. Ban Ki Moon’s comments have therefore been interpreted in some quarters as a cautious first step towards greater UN involvement and an encouragement to certain members of the UN Security Council. “I hope the UN Security Council handles Syria in a coherent manner and with a sense of gravity,” said the Secretary General. “The casualties have reached such an unacceptable stage we cannot let the situation continue this way.”
So far Security Council members Russia and China have been unwilling to assent to action on the Syrian question, although they have encouraged dialogue and support the role of the Arab League. The other members of the council, France, UK and US have likewise demonstrated their reluctance to become overly involved in a prolonged and expensive crisis. It seems that the current position of veto-weilding Security Council members is to allow the Arab League to take the lead in this matter.
Ban Ki Moon’s comments also endorsed the continued engagement of the Arab League, but he alluded to the weakness of the League’s efforts to date by highlighting a need for future clarity: “I highly appreciate the League of Arab States engaging in discussions with President Assad. I sincerely hope they carry on and they need to have a clear sense of action.”
These heavily nuanced words come at a time of heated debate within the League over the Syrian crisis and a split amongst members of the Arab League over how to proceed. Amr Moussa, a former head of the League, has supported calls from the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, to seriously consider deploying troops in Syria. But Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki moved to calm talk of foreign military intervention: “Such intervention would signify that the war will spread across the whole region, opening the way to all powers, following the example of Turkey, Israel, Iran and Hezbollah. That would mean the whole region exploding.”