Expected Council Action
In July, 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 situation in north-western Syria, particularly in southern Idlib, northern Hama and western Aleppo, continues to deteriorate. Although this area was considered one of the four “de-escalation” areas agreed by the Astana guarantors (Iran, Russia and Turkey) in 2017, this has not prevented an increase in Syrian and Russian airstrikes and a ground offensive. Despite attempts to broker a new ceasefire, the escalation has continued, leading to incidents of direct confrontation between Turkey and Syria and retaliation by the Council-listed terrorist group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.
In May and June, there were five Council meetings on the humanitarian situation in Syria that focused particularly on developments in the north-west. At the request of the humanitarian penholders on Syria (Belgium, Germany and Kuwait), the Council was briefed on 18 June by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock. He said that since 1 May, an estimated 330,000 people had been internally displaced by the hostilities, which had resulted in more than 230 civilian deaths and hundreds injured. Furthermore, he conveyed reports of continuous attacks having severe impact on civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, highlighting that “some have drawn the conclusion that hospital bombings are a deliberate tactic aimed at terrorizing people”. Many of these sites had been deconflicted—their locations shared with the parties in order to avoid attacks—through the UN’s deconfliction mechanism. He stressed that counter-terrorism efforts cannot absolve states of their obligations to uphold international humanitarian law. At the meeting, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, stressed that efforts to mediate a political solution “cannot move forward in an environment of open conflict” and called for addressing the presence of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in Idlib “without triggering the humanitarian catastrophe that we see unfolding before our eyes”.
Divergent positions among Council members on the military operations in the north-west have prevented the emergence of a unified position. Although most Council members called for all parties to uphold international humanitarian law, protect civilians and urgently de-escalate the situation, China and Russia emphasised the importance of fighting terrorism.
In north-eastern Syria, the situation remains fragile as tension builds up between Turkey and its allies and the Kurdish YPG militia, which is part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The conditions in the camp of Al-Hol near the Iraqi border remain dire. Some 75,000 people, more than 90 percent of whom are women and children, are sheltered there after being displaced by hostilities between the SDF and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Furthermore, deliberately-set fires have ravaged thousands of hectares of wheat in the region, adding to the vulnerability of the population.
Regarding the political process, Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen has continued discussions with the parties, as well as the Astana guarantors, on convening a credible, balanced and inclusive constitutional committee as soon as possible that could help to unlock a broader political process.
At a 12 June press conference, Fernando Arias, the Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), announced that Syria had denied visas and refused to submit confidential information to the members of the OPCW’s Identification and Investigation Team, established to identify perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria following a decision of the Conference of State Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in June 2018.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 41st session, the Human Rights Council is expected to receive an oral update from the Commission of Inquiry on Syria on 2 July.
Key Issues and Options
Despite international engagement on the establishment of the constitutional committee, it remains an open question whether efforts on the political process will yield results, considering the divisions in the Council, the trajectory of the conflict, and the consolidation of control by the Syrian government. Council members could organise a retreat to hold an informal and frank discussion with Pedersen to consider how, individually and collectively, they can best support the prospects for a political process based on resolution 2254.
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 efforts to prevent a full-fledged military offensive in Idlib. Furthermore, they could meet in a private setting with OCHA to discuss the wave of recent attacks on medical facilities and schools, many of them in settings deemed as deconflicted.
The Council could suggest that the working group on detainees, abductees, handover of bodies and identification of missing persons, which was set up in December 2017 and 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. (This idea was floated by DiCarlo in a 27 March briefing.) The Council could hold a meeting specifically to shed light on this little-discussed issue and call on the guarantors to use their influence with 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 threats of 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-General of the OPCW to participate in an informal interactive dialogue on the work of the organisation on Syria.
Members’ positions on Syria appear entrenched, with their significant differences reflected in approaches to the situation in north-western Syria and in the Council’s inability to react unequivocally to serious violations of international humanitarian law. The clear divisions on the three areas through which the Council engages on the conflict—humanitarian situation, political process and chemical weapons—continue to hamper an effective Council response.
Belgium, Germany and Kuwait are co-penholders on humanitarian issues in Syria.
|Security Council Resolutions
|13 December 2018S/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 2015S/RES/2254
|This was the first resolution focused exclusively on a political solution to the Syrian crisis. It was adopted unanimously.
|27 September 2013S/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.
|19 June 2019S/2019/508
|This was the bi-monthly report on the humanitarian situation in Syria.
|Security Council Letters
|30 May 2019S/2019/447
|This was an OPCW report on progress in the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons programme.
|Security Council Meeting Records
|18 June 2019S/PV.8553
|This was on the situation in north-western Syria.
|28 May 2019S/PV.8535
|This was on the humanitarian situation in Syria.