25 May 2012 Just five weeks ago, the Security Council authorized the establishment of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), with up to 300 unarmed military observers deployed for up to 90 days in the Middle Eastern country.
The observers are tasked with monitoring the cessation of violence and supporting the full implementation of a six-point plan put forward by the Joint Special Envoy of the UN and the League of Arab States for the Syrian crisis, Kofi Annan, in an effort to bring an end to the violence there.
The crisis in Syria, which began in March 2011 as a protest movement similar to those across the Middle East and North Africa, has claimed over 9,000 lives, mostly civilians, and displaced tens of thousands.
The head of UN peacekeeping, Under-Secretary-General Hervé Ladsous, paid a lightning visit to Syria recently, before returning to UN Headquarters this week, where he spoke with the UN News Centre.
UN News Centre: Why did you go to Syria?
Hervé Ladsous: As the United Nations mission in Syria was nearing its full deployment, I thought it was timely for me to go to Syria to see how things were going, discuss with the management and the people who are now deployed on the ground, see how things were going, and also have some discussions with the Syrian authorities and with the Syrian opposition. And I did talk to all these people.
UN News Centre: What was your assessment?
Hervé Ladsous: The assessment is that it is a very difficult mission, possibly one of the most difficult we’ve ever... it is a very difficult mission, possibly one of the most difficult we’ve ever had… had because let’s face it: we are there to monitor a ceasefire which does not exist yet.
I think the very fact that we were able to deploy – and let me say, to deploy with utmost rapidity, I think we broke every record of the quickness of the deployment of our people – the very fact that they [UNSMIS observers] are deployed in a particular city or locality has, very quickly, an effect on the level of violence, which decreases to a certain point. It means that heavy weapons are not used or are withdrawn somewhat. But of course, the absolute ceasefire is not there yet by a long shot, and there are still unacceptable actions going on.
At the same time, our military observers and civilian colleagues – there is also very substantial civilian staff in the mission – have to work towards making mediation on a local basis. The overall goal is that, through their presence, our people will generate a certain degree of confidence which so far did not exist at all, thereby creating some change in the atmosphere which would allow space to open for the political process under the leadership of Special Envoy Kofi Annan to take shape and hopefully develop.
UN News Centre: What are UNSMIS observers doing in relation to mediation on the ground?
Hervé Ladsous: Homs is a very good example. You have a city that has in certain parts been massively destroyed. Baba Amr is a field of ruins. But you have the centre of the city which is held by the opposition which is partly desert, you don’t see anything, everything is closed. But you have dozens of tonnes of garbage which has not been picked up for the last two or three months. That’s a health hazard – this is typically the kind of issue on which our people can arrange for contacts and arrange for something to be agreed upon so that this immediate need is taken care of.
It is very complicated work. You have to go step by step. You have to be very prudent. But I think at the end of the day, if it can be achieved, it is certainly something that can be done in other places, and gradually some process can emerge from that.
UN News Centre: How do you respond to comments that 300 observers cannot possibly have that much of an impact in such a large area of operations?
So, we are there to do our best to help generate a process, because the situation of violence which erupted now 15 months ago in Syria, which made thousands – 10,000, maybe 11,000 killed – countless thousands maimed, imprisoned with massive human rights violations. This situation clearly is intolerable and cannot be allowed to go on.
UN News Centre: What are the challenges that UNSMIS observers face on the ground?
UN News Centre: How do the two tracks of political discussions of the Joint Special Envoy and the work of the UNSMIS observers come together?
UN News Centre: You have been in this job eight months and have been given one of the biggest UN issues for peacekeeping. How do you feel about this?
Hervé Ladsous: It is a job which is about challenges. There are plenty of others around the planet. This one of course, Syria, is the most acute right now but we should not forget the still very current danger of war between ‘the Sudans,’ we should not forget the very difficult situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, well I could multiply the examples. I think that goes with the job and I try to be up for those challenges.
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