June 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 May 2021
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MIDDLE EAST

Syria

Expected Council Action

In June, the Security Council expects to hold its monthly meetings on the political and humanitarian situations and the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Key Recent Developments

Presidential elections in Syria, which were announced on 18 April and held on 26 May, have dominated the country’s political situation. President Bashar al-Assad, who has led Syria since July 2000, ran against Abdallah Salloum Abdallah, a former Syrian minister from 2016 to 2020, and Mahmoud Marei, who represents the Democratic National Opposition Front, an entity that includes political opposition figures allowed to operate by the Syrian government. On 3 May, Syria’s Constitutional Court announced that it had approved the candidacies of Abdallah and Marei, as well as Assad, though it rejected 48 other candidacies for “failing to meet constitutional and legal requirements”. Potential candidates were required to fulfil numerous criteria, many of which have automatically disqualified prominent opposition figures from running. Syrians abroad began voting on 20 May; election day voting did not take place in areas outside government control. At the time of writing, results for the elections were unavailable, though it was widely understood that Assad would be re-elected.

Briefing the Council on 26 May, Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen said that the elections were “not part of the political process called for in resolution 2254” and, as such, he reminded the Council that he did not have a mandate to become involved in the presidential election. Resolution 2254, which was adopted unanimously in 2015, calls for “free and fair elections, pursuant to [a] new constitution, to be…administered under supervision of the UN”. He further stated that “it is a source of regret that, despite our best efforts, there has been little progress” in advancing a political solution to the conflict. During the meeting, some Council members—including Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK and the US—criticised the elections, noting that they failed to conform with resolution 2254. France, in particular, said that the elections were “not credible”, while the US called them “illegitimate”. These views largely echo a 5 May Group of Seven (G7) ministerial statement, which called for the Syrian government to engage in steps in line with resolution 2254, including organising elections under UN supervision, and noting that “only when a credible political process is firmly under way would [the G7] consider assisting with the reconstruction of Syria”. During the 26 May Council meeting, however, Russia positively highlighted the organisation of presidential elections, maintaining that they are “fully in line with Syria’s constitution and do not run counter to the provisions of resolution 2254”.

In anticipation of the 26 May presidential elections, international media reported on 11 May that over 400 people, mostly those detained for engaging in online criticism of the Syrian government, had been released from prison. On 2 May, President Assad granted pardons to people who had been found guilty of crimes such as smuggling, drug abuse and foreign currency trading. At the time of writing, the number of those pardoned was unclear. According to a 27 November 2018 report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, arbitrary detention throughout Syria has been perpetrated by all parties on the ground, but “nowhere has the phenomenon been more pervasive than in areas under government control”. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, briefing the Council on 7 August 2019, said that “reports suggest that more than 100,000 people have so far been detained, abducted, disappeared or gone missing, largely, but not only, at the hands of the Syrian Government”, while noting that the UN is unable to verify these reports independently.

Syria’s economic difficulties continue to worsen. According to the World Food Programme’s monthly assessment for April, Syria’s ongoing fuel shortage has worsened, and is having severe knock-on effects for the price of goods and energy production and consumption. These challenges have been compounded by fluctuations in the value of the Syrian pound and a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases. On 15 April, Syria’s national bank devalued by half the official exchange rate of the pound against the US dollar (the unofficial rate has also seen a devaluation of the currency against the US dollar), leading to further increases in the price of goods.

Syria’s humanitarian conditions also continue to deteriorate. The World Food Programme reports that 43 percent of surveyed households suffer from poor food consumption, which is double the figure reported one year ago. According to OCHA, there are now 3.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria’s north-west, a 20 percent increase from 2020 and a number that includes 3.1 million people in “extreme and catastrophic need”. Meanwhile, OCHA reports that 63,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported country-wide through 19 May, representing an increase of over 5,000 cases since April. Severely lagging testing capacity and an apparent shortage of oxygen supplies in several parts of the country present further challenges in responding to the pandemic.

Finally, there has been no progress on the chemical weapons track in Syria. Briefing the Council on 6 May on the findings of the monthly report of the Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu told the Council that “identified gaps, inconsistencies, and discrepancies…remain unresolved” on outstanding issues and thus “the declaration submitted by the Syrian Arab Republic still cannot be considered accurate and complete”. Nakamitsu’s briefing followed two high-profile steps taken by the OPCW in April. On 12 April, the second report of the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) concluded that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that the Syrian air force dropped at least one cylinder of chlorine on Saraqib, Syria, on 4 February 2018. In addition, on 21 April, the OPCW Conference of State Parties (CSP) voted to suspend Syria’s rights and privileges within the organisation’s policy-making organs.

Key Issues and Options

Addressing Syria’s deteriorating humanitarian situation will be a major focus of the Council in June, especially given that members are likely to begin negotiations on the renewal of resolution 2533, which authorises cross-border humanitarian deliveries and is due to expire on 10 July. As the COVID-19 vaccination rollout will be partially contingent on continued humanitarian access, Council members may wish to issue a press statement encouraging the equitable distribution of the vaccine in both government- and non-government-held areas of Syria.

As evidenced by the Council’s 26 May meeting on Syria, it remains deeply divided on the validity of the presidential elections held that day. In addition, there are strong disagreements on the progress achieved by, and the future of, the Constitutional Committee. Despite this, Council members may wish to issue a press statement calling on both the government and opposition to engage constructively with the Special Envoy and in the work of the Constitutional Committee.

Council Dynamics

The Council’s deep divisions on Syria have shown no discernible improvement in recent months. The organisation of presidential elections not in compliance with 2254 again exposed fractures amongst Council members on the file, while discussions about the renewal of cross-border humanitarian access, which will begin in the coming weeks because of the 10 July expiration of resolution 2533, are likely to be tense and difficult.

UN DOCUMENTS ON SYRIA 

Security Council Resolutions
13 July 2020S/RES/2533 This resolution renewed the Bab al-Hawa border crossing (Syria/Turkey) until 10 July 2021.  Twelve members voted in favour of the resolution, while three members (China, the Dominican Republic and Russia) abstained.
Secretary-General’s Reports
22 April 2021S/2021/390 This was the regular 60-day report on the implementation of humanitarian resolutions by all parties to the conflict in Syria.
Security Council Meeting Records
7 August 2019S/PV.8593  This was a briefing on the situation of detainees, abductees and missing persons in Syria.