Julian Braithwaite

Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN and other international organisations in Geneva

Part of UK in Switzerland

21st March 2016 Geneva, Switzerland

The Syrian Conflict Comes to Geneva

The Syrian conflict is the source of the most immediate threats now facing the United Kingdom and Europe.  Dealing with it has become the most important agenda in Geneva.

Our citizens have travelled to the conflict and came back radicalised and ready to commit acts of terrorism.  Regional rivals have been drawn into the conflict on opposing sides.  Russian military aircraft have been shot down by Turkish air defences.  Lebanon and Jordan have been almost overwhelmed by the millions fleeing the neighbouring conflict and  the less visible but no less insidious political fallout.  Turkey has taken the most refugees of all and become all too familiar with terrorist attacks and related security challenges.  And the influx of over a million refugees last year has brought the EU’s Schengen border system to the edge of collapse.

Amidst the chaos and human misery, there are some signs of a concerted response commensurate to the challenge.  Much of this is happening in Geneva, or involves Geneva based institutions.

The EU-Turkey deal last week is the most high profile example.  Hammered out at the highest levels between EU capitals and Ankara, Geneva will play an essential role in its difficult and far from assured implementation.  The guardians of the international refugee conventions are based here.  They will be instrumental in helping us to preserve the long standing protections enshrined in international law, provide assistance to the most vulnerable, and restore some semblance of normal functioning to Europe’s borders and asylum systems.

At the heart of the EU-Turkey deal is an approach agreed at the Syria conference held in London last month.  That involves removing the incentives to make the perilous journey to Europe by sea, and break the business model of the people smugglers, by focusing our resettlement efforts on the most vulnerable in the camps and programmes around Syria.

UNHCR and IOM, along with the ILO, are also key to another important element of the London agenda: helping Lebanon and Jordan provide jobs and education to refugees, so facilitating their eventual return home.  The WHO is also playing a critical health role, including mass immunisation.

But we all know that none of this will make much difference to the suffering of millions unless the Syrian conflict can be brought to a close, and return become a realistic possibility.

Over the last couple of weeks a process has begun in Geneva that offers the best hope of ending the civil war, although the odds are still stacked against the peacemakers.  The International Syrian Support Group for Syria – which brings together the leading international and regional powers for the first time – has established mechanisms for overseeing a fragile cessation of hostilities and for pushing humanitarian access.  These have helped bring about the most sustained decrease in violence, and increase in humanitarian aid, of the last five years.  Russia and the United States, Iran and Saudi Arabia, are working together.

These processes have paved the way for the resumption of political talks last week.  They are still at a very early stage and very fragile.  But this is the key to ending the conflict and the escalating international instability that stems from it.

The architect of this process, the man at the centre of this high wire diplomacy, is the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura. Unfailingly charming and calm, he epitomises all the subtlety and pragmatism of his Swedish and Italian origins.

This week the UN’s Human Rights Council is due to play its part, passing a (British led) Resolution to extend the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria.  This offers the best hope of establishing a process of accountability and reconciliation in Syria, which will be essential for achieving sustainable peace.

There will  be more failures and tragedies before this conflict is over.  But Geneva now has a precious opportunity to show that it really does deserve its title, the city of peace.

About Julian Braithwaite

Julian Braithwaite was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva in April 2015. Julian was born in Rome, and has…

Julian Braithwaite was appointed Her Majesty’s
Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva in April 2015.

Julian was born in Rome, and has degrees from Cambridge and Harvard universities, where he studied biochemistry, history and international relations.

He is married to Biljana Braithwaite and they have
two daughters, Anya (born 2000) and Katya (born 2004). He spent much of his career dealing with the crises in the former Yugoslavia and goes to Montenegro every summer.

Julian posts on the United Nations and the issues around globalisation, including human rights, the internet, global health, humanitarian crises and arms control.