Expected Council Action
In May, the Security Council is expected to hold its monthly meetings on the political, humanitarian and chemical weapons tracks in Syria.
Key Recent Developments
Released on 22 February, OCHA’s 2022 Humanitarian Needs Overview indicated that 14.6 million people in Syria (including 6.5 million children) are in need of humanitarian assistance. In an 11 March statement marking the 11th anniversary of the Syrian conflict, 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.
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.
Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. 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 indicat[e] 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”. A spokesperson for the opposition co-chair, Hadi AlBahra, said that there had “been no meaningful progress” in the talks and that the opposition had been “unsatisfied with the government’s engagement”.
At the time of writing, media reports indicated that Russia was recruiting Syrian troops to assist its war effort in Ukraine. While thousands of Syrian fighters have registered to fight, it remains unclear how many have arrived in Ukraine.
On 26 April, the Security Council held a briefing, followed by consultations, on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria. Pedersen, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya, and Nirvana Shawky, the Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa for CARE International, briefed. Pedersen announced that the 8th session of the Constitutional Committee is scheduled for 28 May to 3 June in Geneva. He and Msuya emphasised that the crisis in Syria must not be forgotten. Msuya and Shawky called for the Council to renew the mandate of the cross-border aid mechanism in July. Shawky noted the importance of early recovery programs in Syria in allowing schools and hospitals to remain open and supporting livelihood opportunities.
On 28 March, fighting broke out at the al-Hol refugee camp in northeast Syria between camp residents reportedly aligned with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL\Da’esh) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a predominantly Kurdish group opposing the Syrian government, that oversees the camp. At least three people were killed and ten wounded in the incident. Al-Hol is home to approximately 56,000 people, many of whom are women and children associated with apprehended or deceased ISIL fighters. The overcrowded camp has been plagued by high levels of violence in recent months.
On 29 April, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu briefed the Council on the Syria chemical weapons track. She reiterated that gaps remain in Syria’s declaration of its chemical weapons stockpiles. Consultations followed the briefing. On the same day, Council members issued a press statement initiated by the UK that marked the 25th anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction.
Women, Peace and Security
On 13 April, Mariana Karkoutly, co-founder of the civil society organisation Huquqyat, briefed the Security Council during the annual open debate on conflict-related sexual violence. She said that both Syrian government forces and armed groups “continue to murder, torture and use sexual and gender-based violence against civilians as a matter of policy”. In particular, she explained that women in Syria have been detained for opposing the regime, or as a punishment for their male relatives having done so, and have often faced sexual and gender-based violence while in detention. Karkoutly said that the Council “has failed to take actions to hold perpetrators accountable” and called for the situation in Syria to be referred to the ICC. She urged the Council to adopt a resolution on the situation of detainees and missing persons underscoring the Syrian government’s legal obligations and reflecting the priorities identified by victims and survivors’ associations. She also urged the Council to renew the cross-border mechanism for at least 12 months and reauthorise access through all crossing points.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is how it can support the Special Envoy’s efforts to promote 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 high 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 Council members to hold a closed Arria-formula meeting with civil society representatives who can speak to the importance of early recovery projects in Syria and provide their input on the types of projects that would be most beneficial to the welfare of Syrians.
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, and drawing connections between unilateral sanctions on Syria and the challenging humanitarian situation in the country. 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, arbitrarily detaining people, and not engaging meaningfully in political dialogue.
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, and India argues that the cross-border mechanism undermines Syria’s sovereignty. There is likely to be a heightened focus on the cross-border aid mechanism in the Council as the July expiration of resolution 2585 approaches.
The war in Ukraine also appears to be having an impact on Council dynamics on many issues, including Syria. In the meeting on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria on 24 March, Russia said that Secretary-General António Guterres had abandoned his usual neutral language with regard to Ukraine. At the same meeting, the US accused Moscow of using “some of the same barbaric tactics” in Ukraine as in Syria, adding that it was troubling that Russia was recruiting Syrians to fight in Ukraine. And at the 26 April meeting, the UK said that the rising cost of food in Syria has been exacerbated by Russia’s “premeditated and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine”.
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.|
|19 April 2022S/2022/330||This was the 60-day report on the humanitarian situation in Syria.|