Experts: UN observers' credibility dented

2012-05-29 21:47
Beirut - The massacre in the central Syrian town of Houla has dented the UN observer mission's credibility and may be a turning point in the international community's response to the regime, analysts say.

UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan "placed his bets on the monitors' presence stemming abuses. But he may have lost his bet, though it may be a little too early to say so," UN expert Alexandra Novosseloff said.

Over the past month, nearly 300 observers were progressively deployed in 10 Syrian towns to monitor a truce that went into effect on April 12.

But after a relative lull in the first weeks of the ceasefire, the violence raged anew.

Arriving in Houla just hours after the massacre ended, although anti-regime activists first reported an army assault on Friday afternoon, the monitors could do little more than count the bodies of at least 108 victims, among them around 50 children.


Activists posted amateur videos online showing UN monitors taking notes and photographs of horrific scenes, while some observers were visibly embarrassed by their inability to do more than witness and document the tragedy.

The massacre, which prompted a massive global outcry, made Syrian anti-regime activists sceptical of the joint UN-Arab League mission's effectiveness.

The mission's mandate is due to expire in mid-July, and in an interview with French daily Le Monde, mission chief Major General Robert Mood admitted on Monday that its future was uncertain.

The observers' role is to "offer Syrians the choice to opt for peace," he said. "If the violence continues at its current rate, we'll have to find another way out."

Renewed violence may give rise to the international consensus needed for firmer action against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.


In apparently co-ordinated moves on Tuesday, the European Union, the United States and other governments including Australia, Canada and Switzerland ordered out top Syrian diplomats in protest at the Houla killings.

"The [observer] mission was born out of the international community's incapacity to agree on a firmer course of action," said Peter Harling of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

"The Houla massacre might change the situation in two ways. It might lead certain countries to increase their aid to the armed opposition, while resuming efforts in favour of a military intervention," said the Syria expert.

"Or it might push other countries, mainly Russia and China, to put forward a genuine political solution, which will require them to put all their energy into convincing the regime."

But if the international community does not find an alternative, it will have to extend the UN mission's mandate, experts say.


"If UN Security Council members, including the US, consider the mission failed, they may then decide to veto any resolutions extending its mandate," said Jocelyn Coulon, director of the Research Network on Peace Operations.

"But with no alternative to offer, it is more likely that Annan will call on the council to extend the mission's mandate for three months... especially if he makes progress in political negotiations," Coulon said, adding that this is the option Syria's powerful neighbour Turkey backs.

"There's a 50-50 chance that the international community will take this route, because the Annan plan is the only diplomatic solution on offer at the moment," said Novosseloff of Assas-Paris 2 University.

"If the observers are sent home at the end of their mission, with no Plan B in sight, the Syrians will feel even more abandoned than they do already," she added.

But having failed to implement the ceasefire Annan brokered, the observers can continue to document the violence - insofar as the Syrian authorities will allow them to - to help the international justice system take action, should a legal case against the Syrian authorities be opened.

"Peacekeepers' testimonies have a special weight before the International Criminal Court," Coulon pointed out.

Read more on:    un  |  kofi annan  |  syria

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24


Hilarious mortal kombat elevator prank!

How would you react if you had to share a lift with this guy?

This is how the Top Gear presenters spend their £55 million!
Thirty and still single? There’s hope!
SA’s Playboy Playmate of the year in action!
12 lies everyone accepts as fact

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now! - shop online today

Festive gifts!

Check out our awesome range of festive gifts to make everyone’s wishes come true. Shop now!

Seen something you like in our catalogue?

Find the perfect gift and save up to R5000 – As seen on the catalogue. Hurry and shop now!

Save up to R2200 on electronics! – As seen in the catalogue

Wishing for tech gadgets this festive? Save up to R2100 on hot tech products at While stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 35% off books

Save up to 35% on the latest page-turners. While stocks last. Shop now!

Good Morning, Mr Mandela by Zelda la Grange

Good Morning, Mr Mandela tells the extraordinary story of how a young woman had her life, beliefs, prejudices and everything she once believed in utterly transformed by the greatest man of her time. Now R221. Pre-order now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25


It may be hard to stay cool, calm and collected. Your emotions can get quite heated in the moment. You may benefit from finding more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.