On 3 December, humanitarian chief Valerie Amos briefed Council members reporting no progress in gaining cross-line access into hard-to-reach areas. She also reported no improvement in the protection of civilians or in the demilitarisation of schools and hospitals. She said there was moderate progress with the approval of visas for UN humanitarian workers and additional humanitarian hubs. On 4 December, the Special Coordinator of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission, Sigrid Kaag, briefed Council members on the preparations for removing critical chemical agents from Syria by 31 December, warning that the security situation could negatively impact the end of year deadline. Council members were briefed on 16 December by the Secretary-General on the final report of a UN team led by Åke Sellström that included the results of the investigation into seven allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria. On 18 December, Council members failed to reach agreement on a press statement condemning the Syrian government’s airstrikes against Aleppo. Separately, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on 2 December that the UN Commission of Inquiry had produced massive evidence that war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed and indicated responsibility at the highest level, including Assad.
On 4 November, OCHA head Valerie Amos briefed Council members on humanitarian access in Syria. She reiterated her deep disappointment that access had not improved and there had been no major breakthrough in getting Syria to lift bureaucratic obstacles. On 5 November, Sigrid Kaag, the Special Coordinator of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission, briefed Council members that 21 of 23 declared sites had been inspected. (Syria reported that the two remaining sites were abandoned. One was later inspected on 6 November, and the remaining site will be inspected when security conditions allow.) Separately, the General Assembly’s Third Committee passed a resolution, drafted by Saudi Arabia, on 19 November condemning human rights violations in Syria, in particular attacks against medical facilities. It urged the Council to take measures to end violations in Syria and stressed the need for immediate action to facilitate humanitarian access.
On 2 October, the Council adopted a presidential statement on humanitarian access in Syria. Members were briefed on its implementation on 25 October by OHCA head, Valerie Amos. Amos expressed deep disappointment that, despite the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, access had not improved and there had been no major breakthrough in getting the Syrian government to lift bureaucratic impediments and other obstacles. On 10 October, Council members were briefed in consultations on the recommendations for the establishment of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission. The Council authorised the mission on 11 October to support, monitor and verify the destruction of the chemical weapons programme by 30 June 2014.
On 4 September, in a horizon scanning briefing in consultations, Jeffrey Feltman, head of the Department of Political Affairs, reported on his discussions with Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the situation in Syria and preparations for Geneva II peace talks. On 16 September, the Secretary-General briefed Council members on the results of the UN investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August. Although the UN inspectors’ mandate did not cover the attribution of blame for the attacks, many Council members, particularly the P3, in remarks to the press following the consultations were of the view that the report provided detailed information on delivery systems which pointed to government culpability. Also in September, there was a flurry of high-level diplomatic activity, particularly between Russia and the US, regarding Syria. On 19 September, Russia and the US transmitted to the Council their framework for the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons agreed in Geneva on 14 September. On 24 September, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry met on the sidelines of the General Assembly to discuss a draft resolution on the destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal. On 27 September, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2118 requiring the verification and destruction of the chemical weapons stock piles in Syria. The resolution also called for the convening of the Geneva II peace talks and endorsed the establishment of a transitional governing body in Syria with full executive powers.
Council members met in consultations on 21 August to receive a briefing from Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson on attacks earlier that day on rebel-held areas east of Damascus that reportedly involved the use of chemical weapons and killed hundreds of Syrian civilians, including women and children. Speaking at the stakeout after the meeting, Ambassador María Cristina Perceval (Argentina), Council President for August, said that “all Council members agree that any use of chemical weapons by any side, under any circumstances, is a violation of international law.” She added that “the members of the Security Council also welcomed the determination of the Secretary-General to ensure a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation.”
On 5 July, Australia and Luxembourg withdrew a draft press statement on the Syrian government’s siege of Homs after three days of negotiations that were not able to address the objections raised by Russia. On 16 July, the Council was briefed on the humanitarian situation in Syria by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and Assistant Secretary-General Ivan Simonovic on behalf of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. All three underscored that the solution to the Syrian crisis was political and not military. Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey also participated. Amos said that humanitarian organisations had not been able to gain consistent and unimpeded access to the 6.8 million Syrians in need. She called for a mix of approaches to address the humanitarian crisis, including cross-border operations as appropriate. Guterres said there were nearly 1.8 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries with two-thirds of them having fled since the beginning of 2013, a rate not seen since the Rwandan genocide. Simonovic said that serious human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity were now the rule in Syria with several reports of massacres by the government and affiliated militias. He called for the supply of weapons to both sides to stop and for the Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC. On 26 July, Council members met with the leadership of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) in a closed Arria Formula session organised by the UK. The delegation included the head of the SNC, Ahmad Jarba, the representative to the US, Najib Ghadbian, as well as Burhan Ghalioun and Michel Kilo. The SNC delegation communicated its willingness to participate in peace talks with the Syrian government insofar as the outcome of Geneva I—the 30 June 2012 communiqué outlining a political transition—was the basis for Geneva II. Separately, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, the head of the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria, addressed the General Assembly on 29 July.
On 4 June, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernández-Taranco briefed Council members at “horizon-scanning” consultations on the UN’s preparations for a possible peace conference between the Syrian government and opposition in Geneva. The Council issued a press statement on 7 June expressing grave concern about heavy fighting in Al-Qusayr, calling for unhindered humanitarian access and emphasising accountability. On 20 June, OCHA head Valerie Amos briefed Council members in consultations under “any other business” on the humanitarian situation in Syria. She reported that access had been denied or delayed for months and there had been an increasing use of siege tactics by the parties. She said that unless there is a genuine political solution to the crisis then the humanitarian situation would continue to deteriorate with increasing regional instability. She called on the Council to consider alternative forms of aid delivery, including cross-border operations. On 21 June, Council members met with Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro and Karen Abu Zayd of the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria in a closed “Arria formula” format session organised by Australia. Pinheiro reported on the militarization of the conflict, warning that further arms shipments to Syria are likely to be used to commit serious violations of international law. He added that violations are being committed by all parties but that the scale and intensity were greater on the part of Syrian government forces and affiliated militias. Regarding the use of chemical weapons, he said the Commission could not establish the perpetrator, the chemical agent or the mode of delivery. Finally, he called for the Council to lead a diplomatic surge to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis.
On 15 May, the General Assembly adopted a resolution strongly condemning the Syrian government’s use of indiscriminate violence against civilian populations and welcoming the establishment of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as interlocutors needed for a political transition. The resolution was adopted with 107 votes in favour, 12 votes against, and 59 abstentions.
On 18 April, the Council received briefings on the humanitarian situation in Syria from Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Bangura, and Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui. Amos described the situation in Syria as a “humanitarian catastrophe”. Guterres asserted that the refugee crisis had become an “existential threat” to some of Syria’s neighbors. Bangura detailed instances of sexual violence alleged against both the opposition and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, adding that her message to the perpetrators of such abuses is that “justice may be delayed, but it will not be denied”. Finally, Zerrougui drew the Council’s attention to the fact that more than three million children inside Syria had been affected by the conflict, and more than 600,000 children had been counted among the refugees in the subregion. Representatives of Syria, Lebanon and Turkey also made statements. Closed consultations followed the briefings, after which the Council President read elements to the press at the media stakeout in which Council members strongly condemned incidents of sexual violence and violence against children; urged all parties to protect civilians and respect international humanitarian law; and “underlined the need to facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance … including where appropriate across borders in accordance with guiding principles of humanitarian assistance.” On 19 April, UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi briefed Council members in consultations on his own efforts to facilitate a political solution to the Syrian conflict. Speaking to the press following the briefing, Brahimi denied rumors that his resignation was imminent and reiterated his position that the situation in Syria required action by the Council. The Syrian conflict also dominated statements made during the quarterly open debate on the Middle East, held on 24 April (S/PV.6950 and Resumption 1). Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al Hussein, Ambassador of Jordan,addressed the Council in a private meeting on 30 April to seek the Council’s determination that the influx of Syrian refugees into Jordan represents a threat to international peace and security (S/2013/247).
On 19 March, the Government of Syria and the opposition each accused the other of employing chemical weapons in an attack that killed dozens in Aleppo province. France raised the issue in the Council under “other matters” on 20 March. On 21 March the Secretary-General announced his intention. In a 22 March letter, the Secretary-General said he would establish a technical mission to investigate the Aleppo incident. On 22 March, the Council issued a press statement condemning a terrorist attack on a mosque in Damascus that killed more than 40 people, including a senior Muslim cleric.
Council members were briefed on 27 February in closed consultations by Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, on the humanitarian situation in Syria. In addition, High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and Zainab Hawa Bangura, the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, also briefed. As of 24 February, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had registered more than 740,000 Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, while elsewhere the UN has estimated that up to 70,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict. A draft press statement proposed by Russia on 21 February regarding a series of bombings in Damascus that killed at least 50 people failed to achieve consensus following objections from the US that the statement should also make reference to attacks on civilians conducted by the government of Syria. Similarly, Council members were also unable to agree to a draft press statement proposed by France on 1 February on the humanitarian situation, in particular a call for cross-border humanitarian access to areas under the opposition’s control. Russia, while supportive of OCHA’s efforts, appeared to have a problem with the Council making a public statement on the cross-border issue.
On 18 January, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and OCHA head Valerie Amos briefed Council members in consultations on, respectively, the human rights and humanitarian situations in Syria. Amos reported that there were as many as 4 million in need within Syria, including 2 million internally displaced persons, and 650,000 Syrian refugees negatively impacting the economic and political situations in host countries. She also highlighted the indiscriminate nature of the violence, distressing reports of sexual violence and the need for unhindered humanitarian access. Pillay reiterated the findings of an independent study commissioned by her office that more than 60,000 people had died in the Syrian conflict and repeated her call for the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC. (On 14 January, Switzerland submitted a letter to the Council requesting that it refer the situation in Syria since March 2011 to the ICC. The letter was co-signed by 56 other member states including Council members Australia, France, Luxembourg, the Republic of Korea and the UK.) The five Council members who signed the letter urging a referral to the ICC made a joint statement to the press following the Pillay and Amos briefing that without accountability there will be no sustainable peace. On 29 January, Council members were briefed in consultations by the UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, on his efforts towards a political solution to the Syrian conflict. Brahimi reported that the international community was facing a scenario of a failed state in Syria, putting the stability of the region at risk. It seems Brahimi urged the Council to take the lead in forging an initiative that would bring the opposition and the government together in talks based on the Geneva Communiqué’s call for a transitional government with full executive powers and that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s legitimacy had been too severely damaged to be a credible partner in such talks. It seems Brahimi also suggested the Council might want to set up inquiries into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria to complement the work being done by the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry.