On Friday the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution which outlines a path towards a peaceful settlement in Syria.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254 is billed as the first resolution focused exclusively on a political solution to the Syrian crisis. It calls for a ceasefire and talks beginning early January between the Syrian government and opposition groups.
Expressing its support for a Syrian-led political process, it sets a target of six months for the establishment of an ‘inclusive transnational governing body, which shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent while ensuring continuity of governmental institutions’. This governing body should take steps towards drafting a new constitution, with free and fair elections to be held within eighteen months.
The United Nations will be responsible for monitoring the ceasefire. Military action against legitimate terrorist targets, including ISIS, will remain unaffected.
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The United Nations Security Council held its first ever session on 17 January 1946. It is one of the five principal organs of the United Nations, tasked with maintaining international peace and security, accepting new members to the UN, and approving changes to the UN Charter. It is the only UN body with the authority to issue binding resolutions to member states.
The Council consists of fifteen members. Five of these – Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, and the United States – are permanent, and they may veto any substantive resolution reached by the Council, including those on the admission of new members or candidates for the role of Secretary-General.
Ten non-permanent members are elected on a regional basis to serve two-year terms. The five members for 2014-15 are Chad, Nigeria, Jordan, Chile, and Lithuania, while the five members for 2015-16 are Angola, Malaysia, Venezuela, New Zealand, and Spain. For 2016-17 Egypt, Senegal, Japan, Uruguay, and Ukraine will become non-permanent members. The presidency of the body rotates between members on a monthly basis.
From 1946 to 2015, vetoes were issued by permanent members on 236 occasions. Russia or the Soviet Union used the veto on 103 occasions, with the vast majority of these occurring before 1965. The United States used the veto on 79 occasions, and since 1972 it has used the veto more than any other permanent member.
Before the meeting of the Security Council at UN Headquarters on Friday, the nineteen participants comprising the recently established International Syrian Support Group (ISSG) gathered in New York. This included diplomats from the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Qatar, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, alongside UN and Arab League representatives.
The ISSG has met twice before, in Vienna on 30 October and 14 November, where it drafted a framework for Syrian peace. During the talks, Jordan was asked to produce a list of terrorists, as a means of determining which anti-Assad rebel groups would be eligible to take part in the reconciliation process.
Together these ISSG meetings in Vienna served as the basis for Friday’s Security Council Resolution. Indeed, the resolution ‘Acknowledges the role of the ISSG as the central platform to facilitate the United Nations’ efforts to achieve a lasting political settlement in Syria’.
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Part of Resolution 2254 is devoted to recalling and reaffirming the Council’s prior resolutions on Syria: 2042 (2012), 2043 (2012), 2118 (2013), 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2170 (2014), 2175 (2014), 2178 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2199 (2015), 2235 (2015), and 2249 (2015).
These variously condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria and asked for an investigation to determine responsibility for their use; condemned ISIS and al-Nusra recruitment, obliging all member states to respond to their threat and prevent their illicit funding; and authorised cross-border humanitarian access.
Beyond the difficulty in determining which rebel groups ought to be part of the peace process, Friday’s resolution makes no mention of Bashar al-Assad, the current President of Syria. Russia and China, who maintain ties with Assad, have continued to dismiss the demand of the United States, France, and the United Kingdom that Assad leave power as a precondition for talks.
The last resolution on Syria that was vetoed by the Council was proposed on 22 May 2014. Drafted by France and co-sponsored by sixty-five UN member states, it sought to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court. The resolution was vetoed by Russia and China.
If there is to be a ceasefire in the coming weeks, and engagement between the Syrian government and members of the opposition, the effort will depend on Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations and Arab League Envoy to Syria.
The war in Syria, which began with unrest in the spring of 2011, is now heading towards its fifth year. Around 300,000 people have been killed, with millions more displaced. The Syrian government continues to rule over the majority of the country’s population, while ISIS holds the vast but sparsely populated west. Some territory is also controlled by an assortment of rebel groups and the Kurds.