Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Time for De Mistura to resign?

There are growing calls for UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura to resign in the wake of criticisms of his failure to find a solution to the crisis, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Time for De Mistura to resign?
Time for De Mistura to resign?
Al-Ahram Weekly

Syrian opposition figures are being increasingly vocal in their criticisms of UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura. One faction says that he merely shifts problems instead of grappling with the essence of them, while another calls him an outright failure. A third says he has been violating international and humanitarian law.

The upshot is that many Syrians are now calling for De Mistura to resign, wanting to see a more capable person take the job.

De Mistura began his mission as UN special envoy to Syria in July 2014, nearly 18 months ago. As soon as he was appointed, he received tens of thousands of pages of documents from previous envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and even more from the envoy before him, Kofi Annan.

The documents contained the views of all the Syrian forces and proposals from hundreds of prominent activists of all backgrounds regarding a solution to the crisis. But De Mistura turned his back on all of them and started from scratch in his quest for a resolution to the crisis.

In his first year, De Mistura met with hundreds of Syrians from across the ideological spectrum, among them politicians, civil society activists, human rights experts and representatives of the military forces.

He also spoke with representatives of the countries that have a stake in the crisis, within the region and elsewhere, as well as with many personnel from the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

De Mistura has launched three initiatives over the last year and a half, all of which have failed before getting off the ground. In the first, he advocated permitting the unrestricted entry of fighters from abroad to fight with the Syrian Kurds during the battle for the town of Ain Al-Arab (Kobane), effectively legitimising the actions of the regime when it brought in Iranian, Lebanese and Iraqi fighters.

He said the international community should protect the town in northern Syria, forgetting that all Syrian towns need protection from either the Islamist terrorist groups that have killed tens of thousands or from the Syrian regime and Iranian militias that have killed hundreds of thousands more.

At the time, the Syrian opposition said the diplomat was effectively calling for Syria’s borders to be opened to chaos.

In his second initiative, De Mistura called for a ceasefire in only one area of Syria and did not present a clear programme. When asked about next steps, he confirmed he had no clear vision in mind. Describing the initiative as a gaffe, the opposition rejected it, saying it would turn the country into separate fiefdoms and divide the population.

In his third initiative, he proposed forming four working groups made up of both regime and opposition figures that would discuss each element of the crisis and disregarded the Geneva Declaration that all agree is the sole framework for resolving the crisis.

At this point, the opposition began describing De Mistura as an ally of the regime and Iran, saying he was operating in violation of UN resolutions and human values. It began to wonder why the UN had retained him instead of replacing him with someone with more experience.

Shortly before the Geneva III Conference organised earlier this year, De Mistura indicated that everything was in order for finding a solution to the crisis. However, there was widespread shock when De Mistura began to solicit the views of a wide range of miscellaneous figures, as if there was a need once again to reinvent the wheel before a solution to the crisis could be found.

In a speech two days before the conference, De Mistura said the Syrians “did not know” who was shelling them or destroying their cities.

This was the straw that broke the camel’s back and it undermined the last remnant of cordiality between him and the Syrian opposition factions, who accused him of conspiring with the regime to cover up its crimes, along with those of Russia and Iran.

Syrian opposition activist Sayeed Muqbil said that De Mistura has “never demanded the exit of foreign combatants fighting for the regime and has not even criticised the regime’s use of barrel bombs and aerial shelling of civilians.”

Muqbil continued, “He hasn’t criticised Iran or Russia for their military intervention in Syria, and he hasn’t used international law as the basis for his initiatives. The only thing he’s done is stress the need to involve Iran in any solution to the crisis, as if the Iran-backed militias were not a basic part of it.

“If he had been serious about finding a solution to the Syrian crisis, he would have worked out a unified understanding of the Geneva Declaration among the countries that drafted it. He would have accurately described the Syrian regime, or insisted on the need for a binding UN Security Council Resolution in support of his initiatives.”

Syrian opposition figure Bourhan Ghalioun said De Mistura’s initiatives had “failed to find a solution to the Syrian crisis. He should submit his resignation because his plans are an insult to the intelligence of the revolutionaries and the opposition.”

The crisis in Syria “has become a regional and international conflict with Iranian and Russian intervention. It is no longer a matter of bringing down the Al-Assad regime. Now it is also a matter of resisting the Iranian and Russian occupation,” Ghalioun said.

Opposition writer Abdel-Qader Al-Munla said that events had spun out of De Mistura’s control. “It is impossible to find a solution through the work of international envoys,” Al-Munla said.

“If any of them had serious proposals, they would only run into numerous dead ends. The envoys have no executive authority. International diplomacy on Syria over the past four years has not had any specific objectives. It has been less interested in finding a solution than in stalling for time.”

The problem is that even if De Mistura is taking his orders from the superpowers or has a hidden agenda, the way he has been going about the negotiations speaks of bad management and poor judgement.

His work has proven to be an ineffectual failure, leading many in the Syrian opposition to wonder when he will finally be given the boot.

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