August 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 July 2021
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MIDDLE EAST

Syria

Expected Council Action 

In August, 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 

On 9 July, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2585, which renewed the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border for a period of six months until 10 January 2022, with an additional six months until 10 July 2022 “subject to the issuance of the Secretary General’s substantive report, with particular focus on transparency in operations, and progress on cross-line access in meeting humanitarian needs”. The Council’s unanimous adoption in favour of the text was a remarkable departure from the previous five years: the Council had not had a 15-0 vote on the cross-border mechanism since resolution 2332 in December 2016. And, unlike last year when the Council required five separate votes to renew the authorisation of the Bab al-Hawa crossing for 12 months, agreement was reached this year on a single compromise text. (Further information about the adoption of resolution 2585 and what it may mean for the Council’s work on Syria can be found in our “In Hindsight” column in this month’s Forecast). 

Despite the successful renewal of the cross-border mechanism, Syria’s humanitarian situation remains precarious. Food prices have risen significantly—some 69 percent—in 2021, notwithstanding a recent decline due to the stabilisation of the Syrian pound. As such, ordinary Syrians continue to require food and nutrition assistance: according to the World Food Programme (WFP) June 2021 Country Brief, the WFP delivered food aid to over 4.9 million Syrians across the country. Of this aid, approximately 28 percent came through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing into northwest Syria.  

There is also growing concern about access to water in several parts of Syria. OCHA reported to the Council in May and June about conditions that have resulted from a 60 percent decline in water flowing from the Euphrates River from Turkey into Syria, including shortages for crop irrigation and constrained capacity of dams to generate electricity. On 17 June, OCHA reported that the difficult conditions have been compounded by low levels of precipitation in Syria’s northeast this year. On 15 July, the UN announced that over one million people were at risk of losing access to safe drinking water because of worsening conditions, including war-related damage at the Alouk water station in Syria’s northeast and a lack of access for engineers to make critical repairs. According to OCHA, Syria ranks seventh on a global risk index of 191 countries that are “most at risk of a humanitarian or natural disaster event that could overwhelm response capacity”.  

Several recent high-profile incidents also continue to underline Syria’s fragile security situation. International media and humanitarian organisations both reported that artillery attacks and airstrikes from 12 to 17 July targeted civilian areas surrounding Idlib and Aleppo, killing at least 19 people; in Syria’s southwest, there are reports that the government is besieging an area occupied by the armed opposition in the city of Daraa, imperilling over 40,000 civilians.  

Finally, having won 95 percent of the vote in Syria’s 26 May presidential elections, President Bashar al-Assad was sworn in for another seven-year term on 17 July. Most Council members have argued that the elections were not in conformity with resolution 2254, which calls for the creation of a new constitution for Syria and for elections to be administered under UN supervision. Meanwhile, Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen continues to pursue a political solution to the Syrian crisis, including potentially organising a sixth round of the Constitutional Committee in August and undertaking exploratory talks with key actors to establish a new international format that would allow them to take a step-by-step approach to resolve Syria’s conflict. On 19 July, Pedersen briefed Council members in closed consultations, assessing how the cooperative spirit displayed during the 9 July adoption of resolution 2585 could be parlayed into progress on the political track and the implementation of resolution 2254. 

Human Rights-Related Developments 

During its 47th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue on 6 July with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria. Paulo Pinheiro, Chair of the Commission, said that “the pandemic and the current economic crisis have inflicted new dimensions of suffering on Syrians”. He noted that “five international armies, their proxies and a plethora of other non-State actors continue to fight in Syria—including the air forces of the Russian Federation, the United States and Israel”. Pinheiro added that “despite the continued inadequate response at the Security Council in general, there now finally appears to be some momentum behind the establishment of a mechanism on the missing”, for which the Commission has advocated since 2016. On 13 July, the HRC adopted resolution 47/18 (A/HRC/47/L.6) by a vote of 26 in favour and six against (including Russia and China), with 15 abstentions (including India). Among other things, the resolution emphasised the need for accountability, including for crimes committed in relation to enforced disappearance. It also encouraged focused attention on the issue of missing persons. 

Key Issues and Options 

With the adoption of resolution 2585, the immediate future of the cross-border mechanism is no longer an urgent concern for the Council. Nonetheless, a number of humanitarian issues—such as addressing pressing humanitarian needs in Syria’s northwest and furthering progress on cross-line deliveries—will remain high on the Council’s agenda.  

One area where the Council could engage more closely on this issue relates to COVID-19 vaccinations. Resolution 2585 calls on member states to “respond with practical steps to address the urgent needs of the Syrian people in light of the profound socio-economic and humanitarian impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Syria”. The Council could consider adopting a presidential statement both calling for the widespread and equitable distribution of vaccinations across Syria and urging member states to increase their contributions of vaccines to Syria as well as to the COVAX plan led by UNICEF and the World Health Organization. 

Council members will also be following closely work on the political track on Syria. The need to reinvigorate the political process continues to be a key issue for the Council, especially considering the lack of progress made by the Constitutional Committee following five rounds of meetings. The Council could also use the above-mentioned presidential statement to highlight its support for the work of the Special Envoy on Syria and to call for the full and constructive engagement of all parties to the Constitutional Committee. 

Council Dynamics 

The adoption of resolution 2585 has been widely hailed as a rare moment of Council unity on the Syria file and an important moment in Russia-US relations, as the two permanent members reportedly collaborated closely in bilateral discussions on key elements of the text.   

However, the negotiations that ultimately led to the adoption of resolution 2585 also reflected the deep divisions that have persisted on the Syria file, and particularly on the humanitarian track, over the past several years. In addition to differences about the number of border crossings to be authorised and the length of the mandate, issues such as the efficacy of cross-line deliveries, the impact of unilateral sanctions, funding of early recovery projects, and reporting requirements became key sticking points. While Council members were able to bridge differences and find compromise language on most of these issues (the impact of unilateral sanctions, not referred to in 2585, being a notable exception), these themes are likely to re-appear in upcoming Council sessions. However, building on the momentum achieved with the adoption of 2585, Council dynamics could shift towards a more positive engagement on these and other issues, with members seeking ways to cooperate.  

UN DOCUMENTS ON SYRIA 

Security Council Resolutions
9 July 2021S/RES/2585 This resolution renewed the authorisation for cross-border humanitarian aid into Syria through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing.
Secretary-General’s Reports
17 June 2021S/2021/583 This was the regular 60-day report on the implementation of humanitarian resolutions by all parties to the conflict in Syria.