The UN in Syria: years of impotence and failure

Members of the Security Council vote during a United Nations Security Council meeting on a ceasefire in Syria

Since the start of the conflict in Syria in 2011, the United Nations has repeatedly expressed outrage and indignation but has been powerless to stop the carnage.

On Saturday, the UN Security Council, with support from Russia, unanimously approved a resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire to allow for humanitarian aid deliveries and medical evacuations.

Here is a summary of the attempts so far to stop the fighting:

- Numerous vetoes -

In April 2011, six weeks after the start of a protest movement in Syria, veto-wielding powers Russia and China block a UN declaration proposed by Western countries condemning repression by the Syrian regime.

On October 4, Russia and China together veto a draft resolution by Western countries threatening "targeted measures."

In all, Moscow has used its veto 11 times to block resolutions in order to protect its Syrian ally from Western pressure.

- Two mediators give up -

In August 2012, Kofi Annan resigns as UN and Arab League mediator after five months of fruitless efforts, complaining of the lack of great-power support for his mission.

He says the increasing militarization on the ground and the clear lack of unity on the Security Council "fundamentally changed the circumstances for the effective exercise" of his role as mediator.

Annan had proposed a six-point plan calling for a cessation of combat and a political transition. But the plan is never put into effect.

Former Algerian foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi then takes up the baton. In early 2014, he organizes in Geneva the first direct negotiations between the government and the opposition, under the auspices of the United States and Russia. But the talks achieve nothing concrete. Brahimi steps down as mediator after two years of unsuccessful diplomacy.

- Nine rounds at the UN -

In early 2016, three rounds of indirect negotiations between the regime and opposition groups are held in Geneva, under the supervision of a third UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura. They hit an impasse over the modalities of a political transition and in the face of ceasefire violations.

On December 14, 2017, at the end of a new cycle of negotiations, de Mistura accuses Damascus of causing the collapse of the talks by refusing to join in dialogue with the opposition. He calls it a "big missed opportunity."

On January 26, a ninth UN cycle of peace talks is held without success in Vienna, where negotiations had moved for logistical reasons.

- 'Too little, too late' -

In October 2016, de Mistura warns that the rebel stronghold in Aleppo will be completely razed by Christmas if the United Nations fails to stop the carnage.

"Aleppo is now a synonym for hell," then UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon says at his last press conference on December 16, 2016.

But the United Nations watches helplessly as the Syrian army besieges rebel-held areas of Aleppo, supported by Russia and Iran. A handful of observers arrive to monitor the evacuation of civilians at the end of December. "Too little, too late," a diplomat says.

- Eastern Ghouta -

On February 9, Sweden and Kuwait propose a new draft resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire and the lifting of sieges imposed by the belligerents, notably the regime, in several Syrian locales.

Difficult and prolonged negotiations take place amid an intense air offensive on Eastern Ghouta on the edge of Damascus, where some 400,000 people have been living under siege since 2013. More than 500 inhabitants die in a week, including at least 127 children.

To win Russia's approval for the ceasefire, language specifying that the ceasefire will start 72 hours after the adoption of the draft is scrapped, replaced by "without delay," and the term "immediate" is dropped in reference to aid deliveries and evacuations.

In another concession to Moscow, the resolution says the ceasefire will not apply to operations against the Islamic State group or Al-Qaeda, along with "individuals, groups, undertakings and entities" associated with the terror groups.

That will allow the Syrian government offensive to continue against Al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Idlib, the last province in Syria outside the control of Damascus.

burs-oh/bbk