Expected Council Action
In May, the Council will receive the monthly briefings on the humanitarian situation, the political process, and the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Key Recent Developments
The humanitarian situation in Syria remains critical. After Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (a Council-designated terrorist group) took control of most of Idlib in January, there has been an upsurge in attacks by government forces and in civilian casualties despite an agreement by Turkey and Russia to carry out coordinated patrols in and around the Idlib de-escalation zone. On 4 April, Syrian airstrikes hit a market in the town of Kafr Nabl, killing at least a dozen people and wounding dozens.
The situation in the northeast of Syria continues to be fragile following the December 2018 announcement by the US that it would withdraw its troops, with the potential for an escalation of violence between Turkey and the Kurdish YPG militia, which is part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
On 18 April, UN Humanitarian Coordinator Panos Moumtzis urged governments, some of which have refused to take back their citizens, not to abandon the 2,500 foreign children held in the Al-Hol camp, which is overcrowded with some 75,000 people, more than 90 percent of whom are women and children. The camp hosts people who were living in territory held by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), including family members of foreign fighters, displaced by hostilities and the group’s territorial loss.
Briefing the Council on 24 April, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller highlighted how, eight years into the conflict, 11.7 million people inside Syria still require humanitarian assistance and protection. She emphasised the need for durable solutions for the thousands of people who remain stranded in the makeshift Rukban settlement, near Syria’s southern border with Jordan. Although most residents have expressed a desire to leave the settlement, they have also highlighted various protection concerns. In recent weeks, over 7,000 people have left the camp, but Mueller reiterated that any returns or relocations must be voluntary, safe, dignified and well-informed and must abide by the core protection standards of international humanitarian law and human rights law. At the meeting, Nujeen Mustafa, a civil society representative, briefed the Council on the disproportionately high impact of the Syrian conflict on people with disabilities.
Rosemary DiCarlo, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, briefed the Council on 27 March on developments on the five goals identified by Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen for the period ahead. These include a sustained dialogue with the government and the opposition; concrete action on detainees, abductees and missing persons; engagement with a wide range of Syrians on the political process; convening a credible, balanced and inclusive constitutional committee as soon as possible; and improving international dialogue and cooperation on Syria. Since assuming office, Pedersen has held three separate meetings with the government of Syria in Damascus and with the opposition Syrian Negotiation Commission in Riyadh.
At a 25-26 April meeting, the Astana guarantors—Iran, Russia and Turkey—decided to hold the next round of consultations on the launching of a constitutional committee in Geneva. Pedersen has said he considers the convening of a constitutional committee as a potential door-opener for the political process.
The High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, briefed Council members on 4 April. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the Syrian government have held technical consultations to discuss the gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies identified by the OPCW in Syria’s initial declaration in 2013 of its chemical weapons stockpile. In March, these issues were reviewed and prioritised for further action, and a road map for future activities was developed.
Key Issues and Options
Given the crucial role of the Astana guarantors on both the political and humanitarian fronts, Council members could seek an informal interactive dialogue with their representatives to have a more action-oriented discussion regarding current and future efforts to avert a full-fledged military offensive in Idlib.
Despite international engagement on the establishment of the constitutional committee, some question whether any effort on the political process is likely to yield results, considering the trajectory of the conflict and the consolidation of control by the Syrian government. With Pedersen still early in his tenure, Council members could organise a retreat to hold an informal and frank discussion with him to consider how, individually and collectively, they can best support the prospects for a political process based on resolution 2254.
Building on the information provided by DiCarlo in her 27 March briefing, the Council could suggest that the working group on detainees, abductees, handover of bodies and identification of missing persons, which includes the Astana guarantors and the UN, meet in Geneva in the near future and move beyond one-for-one exchanges to focus instead on the simultaneous release of unequal numbers of detainees/abductees. The Council could hold a meeting specifically to shed light on this little-discussed issue and call on the guarantors to use their influence on the government to engage in good faith on this matter.
The Council could request a briefing in consultations by the Secretariat to focus on the potential for instability in north-eastern Syria, call on the actors involved to exercise restraint, and support good-offices efforts to address long-standing grievances.
Council members could invite the director of the OPCW to participate in an informal interactive dialogue on the work of the organisation on Syria.
Strong divisions among Council members persist on Syria. Although the arrival of a new envoy provides an opportunity to reinvigorate the political process, Council dynamics on Syria continue to be marked by polarisation, especially among the permanent members, on the three areas through which it engages on the conflict: political, humanitarian and chemical weapons.
Belgium, Germany and Kuwait are co-penholders on humanitarian issues in Syria.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SYRIA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|13 December 2018 S/RES/2449||This was a resolution prepared by Sweden and Kuwait renewing the authorisation for cross-border and cross-line humanitarian access to Syria.|
|18 December 2015 S/RES/2254||This was the first resolution focused exclusively on a political solution to the Syrian crisis. It was adopted unanimously.|
|27 September 2013 S/RES/2118||This resolution was adopted unanimously by the Council and required the verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, 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.|
|16 April 2019 S/2019/321||This was the bi-monthly report on the humanitarian situation in Syria.|
|Security Council Letter|
|28 March 2019 S/2019/279||This was an OPCW report on progress in the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons programme.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|27 March 2019 S/PV.8493||This was a briefing on the political and the humanitarian situations in Syria.|