Expected Council Action
In January, the Security Council expects to hold its monthly meetings on the political, humanitarian and chemical weapons tracks in Syria.
Key Recent Developments
Syria’s humanitarian situation has shown no signs of improvement in recent months. According to an October 2021 World Food Programme (WFP) assessment, Syria’s food insecurity is at its worst level in over a year, with October marking the highest recorded monthly average for food prices since WFP started tracking this data in 2013. In addition, rising fuel prices and decreasing access to heating fuel have driven up the costs of transportation and reduced the availability of adequate heating.
Syria’s already fragile health care system has been further strained because of the effects of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the country’s increasing water crisis. Syria continues to see rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, especially in the northwest, while access to vaccines remains limited. According to OCHA, only 2.9 percent of Syria’s population has been vaccinated. And, as previously reported, unprecedentedly diminished water levels in the Euphrates River have contributed to power outages, reduced access to clean drinking water, and loss of crops, while a resulting increase in water-borne diseases in Syria’s northeast has challenged health care providers. The situation is likely to worsen amidst reports that the region’s Alouk water station, which had been operating well below its normal capacity, stopped functioning on 26 November 2021, affecting access to water for over a half-million people.
The protection of civilians in Syria also remains dire as a result of ongoing violence. According to OHCHR, regular airstrikes and shelling in November 2021 in Syria’s northwest killed 12 civilians, including four women and four children, and injured 31 civilians. In addition, the Secretary-General’s 15 December report noted that 78 incidents of airstrikes and shelling resulted in 97 civilian deaths, including seven women and 27 children, and another 127 civilians were injured during the 60-day reporting period.
From 9 to 10 December 2021, the WFP organised its second delivery of humanitarian assistance from government-controlled territory in Aleppo into opposition-held territory in northwest Syria, with 17 trucks providing food and nutrition assistance for 43,500 people. (This followed an initial cross-line delivery of humanitarian assistance on 30 August.) The December delivery also contained aid from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF. Briefing the Council on 20 December, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths explained that OCHA has developed a six-month plan that would offer more “predictable” cross-line operations. He also echoed the Secretary-General’s 15 December report, warning that despite progress made by cross-line deliveries, they “cannot at this point replace the massive scale of the cross-border operation”.
Since the conclusion of the last round of meetings of the Constitutional Committee from 18 to 22 October 2021, little progress has been made on that track. Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen, briefing the Council on 20 December, informed members that a lack of agreement on the committee’s methodology had hampered progress, but that he was ready to convene another session of the Constitutional Committee “as understandings are in place”. In recent weeks, however, Pedersen travelled extensively throughout the Middle East, holding bilateral meetings with regional actors as well as meeting with Russia, US and EU representatives as part of his efforts to create a new diplomatic initiative; he told the Council on 20 December that this initiative would allow for key states to take a “step-by-step, step-for-step” approach and to identify and agree on “incremental, reciprocal, mutual, realistic, precise, and verifiable steps that could be taken in parallel” in order to help resolve Syria’s conflict.
During the Council’s 8 December 2021 meeting on chemical weapons in Syria, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu reiterated the long-held assessment by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that unresolved “gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies” in Syria’s chemical weapons declaration to the OPCW meant that it could not be considered “accurate and complete in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention”. At that meeting, Russia said that the situation vis-à-vis the OPCW was “far from encouraging” and that the current difficult predicament was not grounded in the situation in Syria but in the “constant attempts to politicize the [OPCW’s] work”, which was leading to the destruction of “one of the most important pillars of the regime of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 1 December 2021, the President of the Human Rights Council (HRC), Nazhat Shameem Khan (Fiji), announced the appointment of Lynn Welchman (UK) to serve as a member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Syria, which was established by the Council in August 2011 to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law committed in the country since March 2011. The COI is scheduled to present a written report to the HRC at its 49th session in March.
Issues and Options
The main issue for Council members in January will be extending the mandate of the cross-border mechanism for delivery of humanitarian assistance. In resolution 2585, adopted on 9 July 2021, the mechanism’s mandate was extended until 10 January 2022, with another six months’ extension (to 10 July 2022) subject to the issuance of the Secretary-General’s substantive report focussing on “transparency in operations, and progress on cross-line access in meeting humanitarian needs”. That report was issued on 15 December.
One option for the Council would be to take a low-key approach to the issue by allowing the mandate automatically to roll over for another six months based on the timely issuance of the Secretary-General’s report. Another option would be to consider the findings of the report while welcoming its issuance and acknowledging that these enable a six-month extension of the cross-border mechanism. Finally, the Council could discuss the report’s findings, using its conclusions to establish any steps needed for the further extension of the cross-border mechanism.
When resolution 2585 renewing the cross-border mechanism mandate was adopted in July 2021, all Council members hailed the unanimous vote and the ability of Russia and the US to overcome differences on Syria. But Council members offered divergent interpretations of the resolution’s language concerning the length of the mandate. Those differing positions have remained largely unchanged. At the conclusion of the July 2021 vote, France, the UK and the US were joined by Estonia and Mexico in stating categorically that the renewal was for 12 months. Some members, including co-penholders Ireland and Norway, understand that the second six months will automatically follow the Secretary-General’s report, while others believe that the report’s “particular focus on transparency in operations, and progress on cross-line access in meeting humanitarian needs” is the condition by which the Council will grant the additional six months. After the July vote, Russian Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia told the press that not allowing a straight 12-month renewal “was our red line, because you cannot expect that it will go without any assessment and reassessment of what’s happening on the ground. That’s why the second six-month period will be conditional on progress which we’ll make in other areas of [the] humanitarian and political situation in Syria”.
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.|
|18 December 2015S/RES/2254||This was the first resolution focused exclusively on a political solution to the Syrian crisis.|
|15 December 2021S/2021/1030||This was the “substantive report, with particular focus on transparency in operations, and progress on cross-line access in meeting humanitarian needs” requested in resolution 2585.|
|This was the latest report on the humanitarian situation in Syria.|