April 2022 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 March 2022
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MIDDLE EAST

Syria

Expected Council Action

In April, the Security Council is expected to hold its monthly meetings on the political, humanitarian and chemical weapons tracks in Syria.

Key Recent Developments

Syria continues to face the devastating effects of 11 years of civil war. There are no signs of meaningful diplomatic progress that could end the ongoing conflict, and OCHA reports that some 14.6 million Syrians require humanitarian assistance. In an 11 March statement marking the war’s 11th anniversary, Secretary-General António Guterres emphasised the need to reach a negotiated political settlement. He lamented that the conflict has “exacted an unconscionable human cost” and that Syrians “have been subjected to human rights violations on a massive and systematic scale”. The reauthorisation of resolution 2585 in July, when it is set to expire, is “a moral and humanitarian imperative”, he said. Resolution 2585 mandates the delivery of cross-line (that is, across domestic frontlines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control) and cross-border humanitarian aid (from Turkey into Syria through the Bab al-Hawa crossing) and welcomes early recovery projects in Syria.

On 25 February, the Council received briefings on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria from Special Envoy Geir O. Pedersen and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya, respectively. Pedersen said he had been trying “to identify areas where consensus might be found on a series of reciprocal confidence-building measures…that could be implemented in parallel, step by step” by the parties to the conflict. Pedersen has previously noted that confidence-building measures could focus on such matters as abductees, detainees, and missing persons; humanitarian assistance and early recovery; conditions for safe, voluntary and dignified return of refugees; the restoration of better socioeconomic conditions; and diplomatic issues. During her briefing, Msuya noted the importance of cross-line humanitarian aid delivery in Syria while also emphasising that “there is no alternative in place now that can match the scale and scope of the massive United Nations cross-border [humanitarian] operation”.

On 3 March, Pedersen met with representatives of the League of Arab States (LAS), Egypt, the EU, France, Germany, Iraq, Jordan, Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UK, and the US in Washington, DC. to discuss the Syria crisis. In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the participating states:

  • called for a nationwide ceasefire in Syria;
  • emphasised the importance of unhindered humanitarian assistance “through all modalities, including through the re-authorization of cross-border humanitarian aid delivery…as well as cross-line aid and early recovery projects”;
  • took note of Pedersen’s efforts to build momentum in the peace process through the “step-for-step” approach;
  • affirmed their commitment to pursue accountability; and
  • urged continued support for refugees from Syria and host countries.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) hosted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for a state visit on 17-18 March, the first time an Arab state has hosted Assad since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011. During his visit, Assad met with Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and Mohammed bin Rashid, the Ruler of Dubai. Emirati state media indicated that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed emphasised “that Syria is a fundamental pillar of Arab security, and that the UAE is keen to strengthen cooperation with it”.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said that the US, a UAE ally, was “profoundly disappointed and troubled by this apparent attempt to legitimize Bashar al-Assad”.

High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu briefed the Council on 10 March on the use of chemical weapons in Syria. She reiterated that because of “identified gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies that remain unresolved…Syria’s declaration cannot be considered accurate and complete in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention”.

The seventh round of the Syria Constitutional Committee was held from 21-25 March in Geneva. The parties discussed four principles during the first four days of the session— “Basics of Governance”, “State Identity”, “State Symbols”, and “Structure and Functions of Public Authorities”. On the final day, they discussed their amendments to proposals on constitutional principles. Pedersen released a statement at the conclusion of the session. He said: “All delegations offered at least some revisions to some of the texts presented. Some of these embodied amendments indicating an attempt to reflect the content of the discussions and narrow differences. Others contained no changes.”  Pedersen added: “I will do everything I can to bring closer viewpoints among the members through exerting my good offices, which is plainly needed.”

On 24 March, Pedersen briefed the Council via videoconference on political developments in Syria, while Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths briefed in person on the humanitarian situation in the country. Assistant Secretary-General of the League of Arab States Hossam Zaki also briefed in person. Pedersen urged participants in the Syria Constitutional Committee’s seventh round, which was still in session at the time of his briefing, to start to narrow their differences and make compromises. Griffith appealed for financial support for early recovery projects in Syria. Zaki called on the Council to reauthorise the delivery of cross-border aid into Syria in July, prior to the expiration of resolution 2585.

Human Rights-Related Developments 

On 18 March, during its 49th session, the Human Rights Council held an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria and considered its report (A/HRC/49/77). Based on investigations conducted between 1 July and 31 December 2021, the report documents grave violations of fundamental human rights and humanitarian law across the country. It notes that there were “significant levels of violence involving all parties to the conflict and a notable increase in pro-government air strikes and shelling in Idlib”. The report also states that “the delivery of critical aid was hindered by insufficient funding, the continued closure of additional border crossings [as the Security Council had for several years authorised the delivery of humanitarian aid through four such crossings but currently only authorises one], and impediments to cross-line operations in the northwest”.

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 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, and increased unemployment.

One option for the Council is to adopt a statement that supports the Special Envoy’s efforts to reinvigorate the political track.

Another option would be for the Council to request a briefing from a civil society representative who can speak to the importance of early recovery projects in Syria.

Council Dynamics                                                                                                    

There are stark differences in the Council on Syria. China and Russia tend to be sympathetic to the Syrian government, emphasising the need to respect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They also argue that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) conducts its work on the chemical weapons track in Syria in a biased manner. On the other hand, 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. They underscore the need to hold perpetrators of violence against civilians in Syria accountable and blame the Syrian government for obstructing the work of the OPCW in the country.

While there is general support for the work of the Constitutional Committee, several Council members have expressed deep frustration with its lack of progress since being launched nearly two and a half years ago. Some members, such as Albania, the P3 (France, the UK and the US) and Ireland, tend to accuse the Syrian government of not engaging in the process in good faith. For example, at the Council’s 25 February meeting on Syria, Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason (Ireland) said that the committee “must achieve substantive progress but cannot do so without meaningful engagement on texts, especially by the Syrian authorities”. On the other hand, Russia, a close ally of the Syrian government, has cautioned against imposing artificial deadlines on the committee’s work.

Although most members have repeatedly emphasised that the cross-border aid mechanism is an essential humanitarian tool in Syria, China and Russia maintain that cross-line deliveries should ultimately supplant cross-border deliveries.

The UAE, which joined the Council in January, has advocated engagement with the Assad government to help resolve the conflict in Syria. In its 26 January Council statement, the UAE said that “opening channels of communication and building bridges are the most successful paths to resolving the protracted crisis in a way that alleviates people’s suffering and achieves stability”, and that “it is important to strengthen and activate the Arab role in a way that is supportive of and consistent with Mr. Pedersen’s diplomatic efforts”. Damascus was suspended from the LAS in 2011, following the start of the Syria conflict; however, sources indicate that a number of LAS member states are in favour of normalising relations with Assad.

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.
Security Council Meeting Records
10 March 2022S/PV.8990 This was a meeting on the chemical weapons track in Syria.
25 February 2022S/PV.8978 This was a meeting on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria.
Secretary-General’s Reports
21 February 2022S/2022/135 This was the 60-day report on the humanitarian situation in Syria.
15 December 2021S/2021/1030 This was a report mandated by resolution 2585 on the transparency of UN humanitarian operations in Syria.

 

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