Expected Council Action
In July, the Security Council is expected to hold meetings on the political, humanitarian and chemical weapons tracks in Syria. The Council is also expected to vote on renewing resolution 2585, which expires on 10 July, and provides the authorisation for cross-border humanitarian deliveries through the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border. The resolution also encourages efforts to improve cross-line deliveries of humanitarian assistance (that is, across domestic frontlines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control) and welcomes early recovery projects in Syria.
Key Recent Developments
The Syria Constitutional Committee’s eighth round was held in Geneva from 30 May to 3 June. The following issues were discussed: “Unilateral coercive measures from a constitutional standpoint”; “Preserving and strengthening state’s institutions”; “The supremacy of the constitution and the hierarchy of international agreements”; and “Transitional justice”. During the first four days of the session, the committee spent one day on each issue, discussing a draft constitutional text. On the final day, the parties submitted and discussed their revisions to these texts. In a statement at the end of the session, Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen said that while “there were areas of potential common ground” on some matters, on others “the differences remained significant”. He added that the “slow pace of work and the continuing inability to identify and conclude concrete areas of provisional agreement” are issues which require further improvement. Pedersen indicated that the ninth round of the Constitutional Committee would be convened in Geneva from 25-29 July.
On 16 June, Griffiths and the other UN humanitarian principals—Executive Director of UNICEF Catherine Russell, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Natalia Kanem, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) António Vitorino, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) David Beasley, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, and Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus—issued a statement in which they urged the Council to renew resolution 2585 and re-authorise cross-border assistance for an additional year.
The Council held a briefing, followed by consultations, on the humanitarian situation in Syria on 20 June. Secretary-General António Guterres delivered introductory remarks and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths and Iyad Agha, the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Forum Coordinator for Northwest Syria, provided the briefings. Guterres and Griffiths urged the Council to renew resolution 2585 for another 12 months, while Agha called for a renewal of at least 12 months. Griffiths noted that five crossline convoys had reached northwest Syria since the adoption of resolution 2585, with these convoys delivering food to more than 43,000 people; however, he added that the difficulties of receiving security guarantees and approvals for such cross-line deliveries made it imperative for cross-border access to continue. According to Griffiths, 90% of the 4.4 million people in Syria’s northwest are in need of humanitarian assistance, and in the past year, 2.4 million of these people have received aid each month as a result of cross-border aid.
Syria accused Israel of airstrikes that damaged two runways and a terminal at Damascus International Airport on 10 June, leading to the airport’s closure until 23 June. Media reports have suggested that Israel initiated the attack due to concerns that Iran was using civilian flights to the airport to ship arms to Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based militant group. In a 13 June statement, Imran Riza, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, said that the closure “has severe humanitarian implications and could result in additional negative consequences for vulnerable Syrians”, as it had led to the suspension of UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flights in the country. In his 20 June briefing to the Council, Griffiths echoed Riza’s concern, maintaining that the suspension of UNHAS operations in Syria “has direct implications on the delivery of essential aid and movement of essential staff”. Russia reportedly circulated a draft press statement to other Council members condemning the airstrikes as a violation of international law, but the text did not gain traction.
On 29 June, the Security Council received a briefing, followed by consultations, on the political situation in Syria. The briefers were Special Envoy Pedersen and Omar Alshogre, the Director for Detainee Affairs at the Syrian Emergency Task Force. Pedersen appealed to the Council for the renewal of the cross-border aid mechanism and said that the Constitutional Committee was scheduled to reconvene in Geneva on 25 July. Alshogre criticised Russia and Iran for their support of the Syrian government and the US for inaction with regard to the crisis in Syria.
Human Rights-related Developments
On 29 June, during its 50th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue on the oral update of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria. On 30 June, the HRC received a presentation of the report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on civilian casualties in Syria (A/HRC/50/68).
Key Issues and Options
The key issue for the Council this month on Syria is a decision on the renewal of the cross-border humanitarian aid mechanism. If the Council reauthorises this mechanism, the resolution could emphasise the following elements:
- the life-saving effects of the cross-border mechanism;
- the need to step up cross-line aid deliveries; and
- the importance of enhanced support for early recovery projects in Syria.
Council members could also consider holding 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.
Another key issue is the ongoing stalemate in the work of the Constitutional Committee. Given that little progress was made in the eighth round of meetings of the committee, the Council could consider adopting a presidential statement that supports the Special Envoy’s efforts to reinvigorate the political track in advance of the next session of the Committee.
There are significant differences on Syria among Council members on all three areas of Council engagement: the political, humanitarian and chemical weapons tracks. On the political front, while there is general support for the Constitutional Committee’s work, several Council members have expressed frustration with the lack of progress since its launch two and a half years ago. Some members—such as Albania, Ireland and the P3 (France, the UK and the US)—tend to accuse the Syrian government of not engaging in the process in good faith. On the other hand, Russia, a close ally of the Syrian government, has cautioned against imposing artificial deadlines on the committee’s work.
Negotiations on the cross-border aid mechanism have traditionally been difficult. When the Council initially authorised the cross-border mechanism in resolution 2165 in July 2014, it approved four border crossings; in January 2020, only two crossings were renewed through resolution 2504, and since resolution 2533 of July 2020, a single crossing point has been authorised for humanitarian deliveries. The negotiations early this month to renew the cross-border aid mechanism are once again expected to be challenging. Most Council members support the cross-border aid mechanism in Syria as an essential humanitarian tool; however, China and Russia have expressed concern about cross-border aid being hijacked by terrorist groups and believe that this form of aid was an extraordinary measure that should give way to stepped up cross-line assistance. In the 24 June Council meeting, Russia also argued that it is possible to organise the delivery of aid in coordination with Damascus to all parts of Syria.
Furthermore, Council members continue to hold starkly different views on the chemical weapons track in Syria, disputing the evidence regarding responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in the country and the credibility of the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). While several members have consistently expressed support for the OPCW’s work, maintaining that it is credible and essential, other members, such as China and Russia, claim that its work is biased and politicised.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SYRIA
|Security Council Resolution|
|9 July 2021S/RES/2585||This resolution renewed the mandate of the cross-border humanitarian aid delivery mechanism to Syria.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|20 June 2022S/PV.9068||This was a briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria.|
|16 June 2022S/2022/492||This was the 60-day report on the humanitarian situation in Syria.|