September 2021 Monthly Forecast

MIDDLE EAST

Syria

Expected Council Action

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

Key Recent Developments

In the southwestern province of Daraa, several weeks of tensions and reports of low-level violence followed the residents’ rejection of the results of Syria’s 26 May presidential elections. In late June, the conflict escalated when Syrian government forces, apparently supported by Iranian-backed militias, began a siege of Daraa al Balad in the southern province of Daraa. Daraa al Balad is inhabited by 55,000 people, including a large number of former members of the armed opposition. Having cut off access and critical services and supplies to Daraa al Balad, government forces began shelling the area on 28 July and ground clashes between government and opposition forces ensued. According to OCHA, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent had officially registered 38,600 people displaced by the fighting as at 17 August.

There has also been an uptick in fighting, including shelling and airstrikes, in Idlib in the north-west of Syria since June, with reports of civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure as a result of aerial bombardments and shelling in the area. Mark Cutts, the UN Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, was quoted in a 23 August Al Jazeera article as saying that Idlib is experiencing the most “serious escalation in bombing” since the March 2020 ceasefire. According to the Secretary-General’s 18 August report on the humanitarian situation in Syria, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has verified the deaths of 35 civilians from the conflict in Idlib governate in June and July.

On 12 August, Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen released a statement in which he called for a nation-wide ceasefire, raising alarm at the “siege-like situation” of Daraa al Balad and noting ongoing tensions elsewhere in Syria, including increased violence in the north-west and persistent water security problems in the north-east. In Daraa al Balad, Pedersen referred to a lack of sufficient medical assistance for the wounded and severe shortages of fuel, water, bread, and cooking oil.

On 24 August, the Council held a briefing, followed by consultations, on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria. Special Envoy Pedersen, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths, and Khaled Erksoussi, the Secretary General of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, briefed the Council via videoconference (VTC). Pedersen urged the parties to work toward a nation-wide ceasefire, and emphasised the importance of a “credible political process” supported by “more sustained international cooperation”. Griffiths reported that “ongoing hostilities, economic crisis, water shortages and COVID-19 are driving humanitarian needs for millions of already vulnerable people [in Syria to some of the highest levels…since the start of the conflict”. Erksoussi expressed concern about the toll of high food prices and sanctions on the Syrian people, as well as the negative impact of water shortages in the north-east of the country.

There has been no discernible progress on addressing the use of chemical weapons in Syria. During a 4 August Council session on the issue, Thomas Markram, Deputy High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, outlined the difficulties that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) continued to face in order to complete its work in Syria, including travel restrictions due to COVID-19 and no response from the Syrian government to the OPCW’s request to deploy its Declaration Assessment Team to Damascus in May. During the meeting, members’ interventions again demonstrated the stark divisions on the Council on the chemical weapons file. While most members expressed support for the work of the OPCW, Russia, in particular, voiced strong apprehension, claiming that OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias, who briefed the Council on 3 June, had offered “many inconsistencies and outright distortions” and that there had been “an increasingly dangerous politicization in the OPCW”.

The meeting also came amidst tensions arising from an incident on 8 June, when an attack—reportedly by Israel—took place on a Syrian military facility housing a previously declared former chemical weapons production facility, destroying two cylinders related to the use of chlorine gas in April 2018 in Douma. The OPCW had been mandated to transport the cylinders to its headquarters for further inspection but had been prevented from doing so by the Syrian authorities.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 5 August, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet released a statement expressing alarm over “the plight of civilians in and around the southern Syrian city of Daraa, where neighbourhoods are seeing intense fighting and indiscriminate shelling by government forces and armed opposition groups, with the only route out strictly controlled by the Syrian government”. The fighting, which is “the most serious confrontation” there since 2018, has led 18,000 civilians to flee Daraa al Balad since 28 July, the statement said.

During its upcoming 48th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) is expected to hold an interactive dialogue on 23 September with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria and consider its latest report (A/HRC/48/70). On 24 September, the HRC is expected to hear an oral update from an OHCHR representative on the extent of civilian casualties in Syria, as requested in HRC resolution 46/22, followed by a general debate.

Women, Peace and Security

During the 25 June monthly political meeting on Syria, Special Envoy Pedersen and Abeer Hussein, a member of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement, briefed the Security Council. Pedersen regretted the lack of progress on the issue of detainees, abductees and missing persons in Syria. Echoing reports from the Women’s Advisory Board, he noted how women “are particularly impacted when detained or when their family members are”, and reported on his engagement with the Syrian government towards advancing this issue. Hussein stressed that women residing in Syria are strong and that their choice to stay in Syria is motivated by the prospect of having greater opportunities for generating change, especially at the community level. During her intervention, Hussein stressed the importance of reaching “a genuine political solution” and focused on living conditions in Syria, noting how the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened a situation already characterised by a lack of economic security and education as well as gender-based violence and displacement. She strongly criticised the May elections as not respecting “the most basic internationally recognized standards” and argued in favour of a constitution that will give precedence to international instruments over conflicting domestic legal arrangements “in order to abolish all kinds of discrimination against women”.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue is what role the Council can play in reinvigorating the political process in Syria. Plans for a sixth round of the Constitutional Committee have been delayed for several months as the parties have not agreed to Pedersen’s proposal for an agenda for the meeting. The rising violence in Daraa and other parts of Syria is another important issue that the Council will continue to monitor. On the humanitarian front, the importance of securing cross-line humanitarian access, efforts to step up COVID-19 vaccinations, and water shortages in the north-east of the country are key ongoing issues.

Council members may wish to build on the momentum garnered from the unanimous adoption of resolution 2585—which reauthorised the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for the delivery of humanitarian aid—and adopt a presidential statement expressing support for the work of the Special Envoy, calling for the full and constructive engagement of all parties to the Constitutional Committee, demanding an end to hostilities, and emphasising the need to provide cross-line access, particularly in north-west Syria.

Another option could be for members to convene an informal interactive dialogue with Syrian officials to discuss ways to overcome obstacles to the delivery of cross-line humanitarian assistance in north-west Syria.

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. Building positive momentum around this achievement could shift Council dynamics towards a more constructive engagement on the Syria file. However, while Council members were able to bridge differences and find compromise language in 2585, on several issues that have divided the Council on the humanitarian situation including 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 remain sources of disagreement that may continue to adversely affect Council deliberations.

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
18 August 2021S/2021/735 This was the regular 60-day report on the implementation of humanitarian resolutions by all parties to the conflict in Syria.