New Crises Seize Security Council’s Attention in 2012 as Continuing Change around Arab World Sparks Second Year of Tumultuous Transitions
Members Pass 53 Resolutions, Issue 29 Presidential Statements as Meetings Decrease
As it faced a second year of tumultuous change around the Arab world in 2012 — including ever-worsening bloodshed in Syria and steady but difficult transitions in Libya, Yemen and elsewhere — the Security Council was seized of new crises building in Mali and Gaza, but also saw long-term stabilization efforts come to fruition, most notably the successful conclusion of United Nations peacekeeping operations in Timor-Leste and the political transition in Somalia.
The Council adopted 53 resolutions in 2012 — 40 of them concerning Africa — and issued 29 presidential statements. It strove once again for consensus, with only four texts requiring a vote, although two suffered vetoes by China and the Russian Federation as the Council remained divided on the means by which to foster a peaceful, nationally led transition in Syria.
In total, the Council convened 184 public meetings in 2012, compared to 213 in 2011, with 85 of them concerning Africa, over which deep concerns were expressed early on regarding a “toxic mix” of humanitarian and political problems in the Sahel. Those challenges were exacerbated by the flow of arms and migrants out of Libya following the turmoil there and by the presence of terrorist and criminal groups in the vast region. Those elements coalesced into rebel activity in northern Mali, which was eventually overrun by militias, some of them linked to terrorist groups, the Council was told, as the previously stable country suffered a coup d’état in March. Following meetings throughout the year on the situation, the Council authorized an African-led force to help the Malian army stabilize the country, as proposed by regional organizations in December.
Elsewhere in Africa, Somalia reached the end of its political transition period with the election of a new President in September. However, the progress seen in Sudan’s North-South peace process during 2011, culminating in the birth of the Republic of South Sudan, was followed in 2012 by a relapse into tensions between the two countries over unresolved issues that flared into military action. Similarly, some progress was seen in the implementation of the latest agreements on Darfur, but not enough to end fighting and continuing displacement. A renewal of insurgent activities, with massive suffering on the part of civilians, was also seen in the Democratic Republic of the Congo following a mutiny by members of the M23 movement, a rebel group previously integrated into the national Armed Forces. Guinea-Bissau was rocked by a coup in April, after the Council had been warned about lagging efforts to reform the security sector and effect other changes.
On Syria, a succession of diplomatic initiatives failed to stem the escalation between Government forces and the armed opposition, both of whom seemed increasingly locked in a fight to the death. In April, the Council agreed to deploy unarmed monitors to observe a ceasefire in support of Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point plan. They were then reinforced as part of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS). However the ceasefire never took hold and the civilian toll continued to climb as population centres were further targeted. China and the Russian Federation remained opposed to language allowing coercive measures against the Government of Syria, and both wielded the veto against a text that would have extended the Mission, which expired on 19 August. That action, and their earlier veto in February, engendered some of the most divisive language of the year in explanations after the vote.
Updates on the mounting carnage in Syria continued until the end of the year in monthly briefings on the Middle East, as did information on the threat posed by the crisis to the security and stability of neighbouring Lebanon. Updates on the Israeli-Palestinian situation, also featured in those briefings, continued to warn that the status quo, frozen by a deadlock over conditions for direct negotiations, was unsustainable. That was shown once again to be true when rocket fire into southern Israel and that country’s response exploded into full aerial bombardment in November, with Israel again poised for a ground assault until a ceasefire was agreed. The Secretary-General, addressing the Council by video link from the region, commended the parties on “stepping back from the brink”, but also warned, as did other officials, that peace in the region could not hold without a comprehensive settlement.
Besides UNSMIS, the Security Council did not create any new missions in 2012, but December saw the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) complete its mandate after ensuring progress in security and the successful holding of national elections. The Council reduced the police and military components of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) towards pre-earthquake levels, amid discussions on the requirements for its eventual drawdown. Missions in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire were also reassessed as those countries made progress in consolidating stability.
Protection children and other non-combatants, empowerment of women in conflict situations, and other thematic issues remained at centre stage in open meetings during 2012. Proliferation concerns over Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were also addressed, often in response to reports about nuclear activities and missile tests. Issuing 12 press statements, the Council condemned major terrorist attacks in various countries around the world, while continuing to monitor compliance with counter-terrorism resolutions through its subsidiary bodies, which briefed Council members several times.
Concerning the International Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, July saw the opening of the Arusha branch of the “Residual Mechanism”, which the Council authorized to carry out remaining tasks and legacy documentation. The Tribunals continued to report headway in completing their work despite staffing challenges, recent arrests and appeals. However, prospects for reconciliation in parts of the former Yugoslavia, such as Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, remained problematic, the Council heard in briefings.
Continuing its practice of undertaking missions to gather first-hand information on key situations, Council members visited Haiti, from 13 to 16 February; West Africa ( Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire) on 18-24 May; and Timor-Leste from 3 to 6 November.
The General Assembly elected Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, Republic of Korea and Rwanda to serve two-year terms as non-permanent members of the Security Council, beginning on 1 January 2013. They replaced Colombia, Germany, India, Portugal and South Africa, which concluded their terms on 31 December 2012. Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo will complete their terms at the end of 2013. China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and the United States are permanent members.