March 2022 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2022
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MIDDLE EAST

Syria

Expected Council Action

In March, the Security Council is expected to meet on the political, humanitarian, and chemical weapons tracks in Syria.

Key Recent Developments

Syria continues to face the devastating effects of nearly 11 years of civil war. There are no signs of diplomatic progress that could end the ongoing conflict, and the UN estimates that 14.6 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in the country. In his December 2021 report on the humanitarian situation in Syria, Secretary-General António Guterres concluded that the “socioeconomic situation continues to decline, basic social services are strained and food insecurity is on the rise”. He further expressed concern about “[c]ontinued impunity for serious violations and abuses of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law”.

Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen briefed the Council on the political situation in Syria on 26 January. He noted that he had been consulting various key stakeholders in Geneva since December 2021—the Syrian government, the Syrian Negotiations Commission (that is, the opposition), the EU, France, Germany, Italy, the League of Arab States, Qatar, Russia, Turkey, the UK, and the US—on “a range of steps that could begin to impact the conflict dynamics, [and] build some trust and confidence between and among Syrians and international stakeholders…within the framework of resolution 2254”. (Adopted in December 2015, resolution 2254 called for a political solution to the Syria crisis.)  He said that these consultations are part of a “step by step, step for step” process, whereby he is asking interlocutors what concessions they might make in exchange for reciprocal actions from others on matters such as:

  • abductees, detainees, and missing persons;
  • humanitarian assistance and early recovery;
  • conditions for dignified, safe and voluntary refugee returns;
  • the restoration of socioeconomic conditions; and
  • diplomatic issues.

On 16 February, following a meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad, Pedersen shared details of the meeting with the press. He noted that he had shared with Mikdad his idea for the “step by step, step for step” process that included conversations with various parties with a stake in the situation in Syria. He also expressed hope that a seventh round of the Syria Constitutional Committee’s drafting body could meet in March.

Terrorism remains a significant challenge in Syria. On 20 January, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants raided the Ghuwayran/Al-Sina’a prison in Al-Hasekeh in northeast Syria in an effort to free fellow ISIL fighters. Fighting ensued in and around the prison between ISIL extremists and the Syrian Defence Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-led group that operates the prison. While the SDF retook control of the prison after several days, the violence in the area led to the displacement of nearly 45,000 people, mainly children and women, according to a 27 January UNICEF statement. On 25 January, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, expressed “serious concerns for the welfare of 700 children” held at the prison and “called on States to urgently repatriate all their children detained in the country”. According to the SDF, the fighting ultimately resulted in the deaths of over 500 people, mainly ISIL fighters. An unknown number of prisoners also escaped.

On 2 February, US special forces led a raid in northwest Syria that resulted in the death of ISIL leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi. During the attack, al-Qurayshi detonated a bomb, killing himself and members of his family. During a counter-terrorism briefing in the Security Council on 9 February, Under-Secretary-General for Counter-Terrorism and head of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) Vladimir Voronkov said that while al-Qurayshi’s demise was encouraging, “Da’esh [ISIL] is known for its ability to regroup despite similar losses in the past, maintaining and intensifying its activities in conflict-afflicted regions across the world”. He added that in Iraq and Syria the group “continues to operate as an entrenched rural insurgency, exploiting the porous borders between the countries, where it retains between 6,000 and 10,000 fighters”.

On 25 February, the Security Council was briefed on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria. Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen briefed via videoconference on the political situation, while Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya briefed on the humanitarian track.

At the time of writing, the Council was scheduled to hold a meeting on 28 February on the Syria chemical weapons track.

Human Rights-Related Developments

In resolution 46/22, the Human Rights Council (HRC) extended the mandate of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Syria for a period of one year and requested the COI to present an updated written report (A/HRC/49/77) to the Council during an interactive dialogue at its 49th session, which will take place from 28 February to 1 April.

On 10 February, UN Human Rights experts issued a statement calling on Canada to urgently repatriate a Canadian citizen, Kimberly Polman, who is currently being held at Roj camp in Syria’s northeast in conditions that meet the “threshold of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”. Polman has been detained at various camps throughout Syria since March 2019 without any legal charges or legal process. A recent examination by Doctors Without Borders stated that her condition is “life threatening”.

Women, Peace and Security Developments

Thuraya Hejazi—a political activist who heads the Release Me project in Syria, an organisation that strives to empower female survivors of violence and develop local peace initiatives—briefed the Council on 26 January. Hijazi called on the Council to work towards a political solution to the conflict that includes the active participation of women and links such a solution to “accountability in a way that guarantees women’s rights”.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue for the Council is how it can support the Special Envoy’s efforts to promote the “step by step, step for step” formula to build positive momentum on the political track in Syria.

The continuing humanitarian crisis in the country remains an ongoing concern for Council members. The country continues to contend with an ever-worsening economic situation, rising food and fuel prices, increased unemployment, and a growing COVID-19 caseload.

Another important issue for the Council is the continued activity of Islamic State militants in Syria, as reflected by the violence in Al-Hasekeh in late January.

One option for the Council is to hold a private meeting that includes the participation of non-Council member states with a stake in the Syrian conflict to discuss ways to support Pedersen’s “step by step, step for step” strategy. The Council could also consider adopting a statement that supports the Special Envoy’s efforts to reinvigorate the political track and expresses concern about the continuing threat of ISIS in Syria.

Council Dynamics

There are stark differences of view in the Council on Syria. China and Russia tend to be sympathetic to the Syrian government, while the P3 (France, the UK and the US) and others are highly critical of the government for violating international human rights law and international humanitarian law and for its reluctance to make concessions to achieve a political solution to the conflict. Many members among this latter group also underscore the need to hold accountable perpetrators of violence against civilians in Syria.

One rare area of convergence among members is concern over the influence of ISIL in the conflict. In this respect, several members have expressed alarm at the prison break in Al-Hasekeh.

For the past several years, Council members have held monthly meetings on the political, humanitarian and chemical weapons tracks in Syria. At the time of writing, members were discussing proposals for changing the periodicity of these meetings; a final agreement has yet to be reached.

Ireland and Norway are the humanitarian penholders on Syria.

UN DOCUMENTS ON SYRIA

Security Council Resolutions
9 July 2021S/RES/2585 This resolution renewed the mandate of the cross-border humanitarian aid delivery mechanism 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.
Secretary-General’s Report
15 December 2021S/2021/1029 This was the latest report on the humanitarian situation in Syria.
Security Council Meeting Record
26 January 2022S/PV.8955 This was a briefing on the political situation in Syria.

 

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