by Jane Backhurst, ISIS Europe Senior Advisor, recent human rights observer in the occupied Palestinian territory, expert in humanitarian affairs, civilian-military relations and children in conflict
Today, Europe Day, Europe celebrates what brings it together, but does it live this out in crises beyond its borders? Yesterday Kofi Annan said much more must be done to avert war in Syria. Is Europe working together to do this?
There are high hopes for the six-point plan fostered by Kofi Annan and backed internationally, and for the three hundred observers of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, UNSMIS, who should be able to move nimbly to monitor the ceasefire across Syria. However, deployment of the UN observers is hindered, only 70 are in situ and this afternoon a UN observer convoy was hit by an explosion. Firing has been reported in population areas supposed to be covered by the truce, a crowd sourcing Syria tracker sees casualties rise daily . The UN says at least 9,000 people have died since protests started in March 2011. There are 26,000 refugees in Lebanon, and the Syrian government has allegedly fired into Lebanon. Over 100,000 people are internally displaced, and more than two million are affected by the violence.
EU Member States recently agreed to reinforce sanctions, the latest in 14 restrictive measures to date, and welcomed the UN Security Council Resolution 2043 establishing UNSMIS. The European Union took an active role in the Syrian Humanitarian Forum last month and has committed €32 million in humanitarian assistance, €10 million through the EU’s humanitarian office, ECHO, and €22 million bilaterally through EU Member States. Sanctions originally included the assets of 13 Syrian officials and politicians and it took months for the list to include President Assad. Aid programmes have been suspended as well as further discussions regarding an Association Agreement between the EU and Syria. The European humanitarian Commissioner, Ms Giorgieva, has called the regime to account on denying humanitarian access and targeting civilians and humanitarian workers more bluntly than the EU’s foreign policy supremo, Ms Ashton. In 30 statements through the European Council, Ashton has repeatedly pleaded, encouraged, and appealed for an end to hostilities and civilian protection “once again I urge… that the cessation of violence is real”.
However are the “systematic and widespread violations of human rights by the regime” sufficient to take the step for suspension of the Cooperation Agreement? Surely we can go further than Article 30’s “prohibitions or restrictions on imports, exports or goods in transit justified on grounds of… the protection of the life and health of humans.” ? It is heartening to see the Crisis Platform being tested further since Libya and Egypt especially given the research I conducted with 70 leaders in crisis response putting forward recommendations along these lines. But is the Syria Crisis Platform hosted by the EEAS building the fully joined up European crisis management system which Lady Ashton heralded today and which the Lisbon Treaty promised, or will Europe’s response still be “unbalanced”. Can the EU’s Crisis Platform strengthen the EU’s support to international justice to bring those responsible for grave violations against children to account? Will it enhance implementation of its commitments in the EU Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict and on Human Rights Defenders? How will it speak out on the principles of Responsibility to Protect so that all mitigating measures are exhausted before war breaks out officially? What are the contingency plans if the UN observer mission is hindered or halted in areas? What would be the triggers for other measures? More needs to be done to sharpen Europe’s responsiveness, to further action in line with the responsibility to prevent and react, before talking about the responsibility to rebuild.
UN Middle East peace envoy Terje Roed-Larsen said today that the region is “at the brink of the abyss of war” but are “27 countries [really] working together to solve problems” as Lady Ashton said today?
You can visit our SYRIA FOCUS page here
 Council Conclusions on Syria, 3159th FOREIGN AFFAIRS Council meeting Luxembourg, 23 April 2012
 “The Time for Rapid Response, How can we sharpen Europe’s response to populations affected by crises?”, Jane Backhurst, 2009.
 European Parliament, May 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pQSeG268YE