Today marks three years since the start of the Syrian conflict, and three weeks since the passing of Resolution 2139 (Syria – Humanitarian Assistance). The resolution made several demands including the following:
(1) it strongly condemned “widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the Syrian authorities, as well as the human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law by armed groups…”
(2) demanded “an end to all forms of violence…”
(3) demanded “that all parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs…”
(4) demanded “that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, fully implement the provisions of the 2 October 2013 Statement by the President of the Security Council (S/PRST/2013/15) including through facilitating the expansion of humanitarian relief operations…”
(5) called upon “all parties to immediately lift the sieges of populated areas…”
(6) demanded “that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for UN humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners…”
(7) Urged “all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, to take all appropriate steps to facilitate the efforts of the United Nations, its specialized agencies, and all humanitarian actors engaged in humanitarian relief activities…”
(8) Demanded “that all parties respect the principle of medical neutrality and facilitate free passage to all areas for medical personnel, equipment, transport and supplies…”
… and more. Read the full text here.
Since then violence has not stopped. The shelling and the bombing of civilian areas by Assad’s air force has not stopped (here, here, here). The UN and aid agencies are still being blocked from bringing relief supplies. Sieges have continued. Seemingly deliberate attacks on hospitals by Assad’s forces have continued.
Resolution 2139 concludes by requesting “the Secretary-General to report to the Council on the implementation of this resolution by all parties in Syria… in 30 days of its adoption and every 30 days thereafter, and upon receipt of the Secretary-General’s report, expresses its intent to take further steps in the case of non-compliance with this resolution.”
The Secretary-General’s first report will fall due Monday week. As Assad’s non-compliance is already clear, Security Council members should now be making ready measures to enforce the resolution. A particular responsibility will rest on the Permanent Five members. If as in the past Russia and China refuse to co-operate with enforcement measures, that responsibility will rest with France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
There are three reasons why UNSC 2139 must be enforced. The first is humanitarian. On past evidence, carefully targeted military action against Assad, particularly against his air force, would likely save many more lives than it would put at risk.
The second is to preserve and build the legitimacy of international humanitarian law, international law in general, and the UN Security Council in particular. The repeated use by UNSC Permanent Members veto power to shield perpetrators of mass murder undermines the legitimacy of the institution. Human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty have called for reform of the use of the veto power, but the lack of such reform doesn’t absolve individual members from their responsibility to uphold the express will of the UNSC, and their responsibility to uphold international humanitarian law in general, particularly in cases where the nature of the breach can only be effectively dealt with by powerful and technologically sophisticated military forces.
The third reason why UNSC 2139 must be enforced is because Syria’s war presents an increasing threat to citizens of other countries, including citizens of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It is in all of our interests to reduce the violence and to break the spell of impunity currently granted to the perpetrators.