The head of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) today warned that escalating violence in the Middle Eastern country is hampering the ability of UN observers to carry out their work.
“Violence, over the past 10 days, has been intensifying, again willingly by the both parties, with losses on both sides and significant risks to our observers. The Syrian population, civilians, are suffering and in some locations, civilians have been trapped by ongoing operations,” the Chief Military Observer and head of UNSMIS, Major-General Robert Mood, said in a press conference in Damascus.
“The escalating violence is now limiting our ability to observe, verify, report, as well as assist in local dialogue and stability projects,” he added, noting that UNSMIS had established itself as the factual voice on the ground, to ensure that the pain and suffering of the Syrian people is recognized and addressed.
The UN estimates that more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 16 months ago.
The Security Council established UNSMIS in April to monitor the cessation of violence in Syria, as well as monitor and support the full implementation of a six-point peace plan put forward by the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League for the Syrian Crisis, Kofi Annan.
The plan calls for an end to violence, access for humanitarian agencies to provide relief to those in need, the release of detainees, the start of inclusive political dialogue that takes into account the aspirations of the Syrian people, and unrestricted access to the country for the international media.
“The six-point plan does not belong to Kofi Annan, it does not belong to UNSMIS – it belongs to the Syrian parties that have accepted it and the international community that has endorsed it,” Major-General Mood said at the press conference. “There is no other plan on the table, yet it is not being implemented.”
Major-General Mood noted that the UNSMIS, comprised of up to 300 unarmed military observers as well as an appropriate civilian component and set up for an initial 90-day period, deployed at record speed.
Initially, he said, there was a lull in violence, brought about willingly by the parties. During this time, UNSMIS began to engage with the local population, establishing trust and building bridges between the local authorities and opposition groups in order to make space for a political process on the basis of the six-point peace plan – however, this has changed over recent weeks.
“There appears to be a lack of willingness to seek a peaceful transition,” the Chief Military Observer said. “Instead there is a push towards advancing military positions.”
Major-General Mood added that UNSMIS is “not a static Mission,” with the Security Council due to review its mandate will in the near future. “It is important that the parties give this Mission a chance and the international community gives this Mission a role that best serves the aspirations and welfare of the Syrian people,” he said.
Also on Friday, the UN Special Rapporteurs on summary executions and on torture, Christof Heyns and Juan Méndez, respectively, deplored the escalation of violence in Syria and called on all parties to renounce violence and lay down arms.
“While the Syrian Government has taken some steps – such as reaching an agreement regarding modalities to provide humanitarian support – the reality is that the use of force continues with an alarming intensity,” the Special Rapporteurs said in a joint news release. “The measures taken are insufficient.”
Special rapporteurs, or independent experts, are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not United Nations staff, nor are they paid for their work.