Expected Council Action
In October, the Security Council is expected to hold a briefing, possibly followed by consultations, on political and humanitarian developments in Syria. Consultations on the use of chemical weapons in Syria are also expected to be held this month.
Key Recent Developments
With the political process at a standstill, Syria continues to be mired in a security, humanitarian and economic crisis. More than a decade of conflict, rising food prices, fuel shortages, water scarcity, and a recent cholera outbreak in the north of the country are among the factors exacerbating the living conditions of ordinary Syrians. OCHA estimates that some 14.6 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance.
On 18 August, artillery fire hit a market in the opposition-held city of Al-Bab in northwest Syria, killing 17 civilians and injuring 35 others. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based human rights monitoring organisation, accused the Syrian government of the attack.
Rising numbers of civilians are also dying from the explosive remnants of conflict. Three children were killed by a landmine on farmland in Homs in the western part of the country on 4 September, and another four children died when ordnance detonated in an abandoned apartment in Idlib in northwest Syria on 5 September. In a 6 September statement, the humanitarian organisation Save the Children said that at least 22 people, including seven children, had reportedly been killed as a result of the explosion of landmines and other ordnance in the previous four months.
On 17 September, Israeli air strikes reportedly hit Damascus International Airport and other areas near the Syrian capital. Syria has reported that five of its soldiers died in the strikes. Media reports have suggested that the motivation for these strikes was to curtail the delivery of weapons through flights to militia supported by Iran, including Hezbollah.
A delivery of humanitarian assistance across conflict lines in Syria took place on 17 September from Aleppo into northwest Syria. According to OCHA, the inter-agency convoy “delivered 453 metric tonnes of food, nutrition, water and sanitation items, health kits, female dignity kits and other supplies to the World Food Programme warehouses” into Idlib governate. This was the seventh delivery of cross-line aid since an inter-agency plan was created for such deliveries following the Council’s adoption of resolution 2585 in July 2021.
On 2 August, the Secretary-General submitted a report to the General Assembly on missing persons in Syria, pursuant to a December 2021 General Assembly resolution. The report underscored the difficulties families face in finding information about the status and whereabouts of relatives who have reportedly been arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared. Among the report’s recommendations were the following:
- the need for the conflict parties to adhere to their obligations under international law and release arbitrarily detained persons;
- the need for member states to increase efforts to support victims, survivors, and the families of the missing, including by establishing a trust fund; and
- the establishment of a new international entity through the General Assembly to “clarify the fate and whereabouts” of missing persons in Syria and provide “adequate support to victims, survivors and the families of those missing, including through the establishment of a trust fund”.
On 14 September, the Security Council held a briefing on the political and security situation in Syria. The briefers were Deputy Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria Najat Rochdi, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths, and Mazen Darwish, the director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression. Rochdi underscored the importance of a nationwide ceasefire as an underlying objective of the political process in Syria. She expressed concern about ongoing reports of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and kidnapping for ransom in Syria, and advocated the establishment of a new international entity to deal with such matters, as outlined in the Secretary-General’s 2 August report to the General Assembly. Griffiths appealed for more financial support for OCHA’s Syria humanitarian response plan, noting that only about a quarter of the $4.4 billion plan for 2022 had been funded. Darwish, like Rochdi, expressed support for the creation of an international body to address challenges related to missing persons in Syria. He also favourably referenced veto restraint initiatives, calling on permanent members to disavow the use of the veto to block action to prevent mass atrocities.
On 26 September, Security Council members held an informal interactive dialogue on Syria in accordance with resolution 2642 of 12 July, which renewed the Syria cross-border aid mechanism for six months with a further six-month extension subject to a new resolution. Adopted after difficult negotiations, this resolution encouraged the Security Council to convene an “Informal Interactive Dialogue (IID) every two months with participation of donors, interested regional parties and representatives of the international humanitarian agencies operating in Syria”. The purpose of the IIDs is to review and follow up on the resolution’s implementation, including with regard to early recovery projects.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths briefed during the IID. He reportedly underscored the importance of the cross-border aid mechanism, and described progress being made with regard to cross-line aid deliveries and early recovery projects. He also reiterated his concern about the shortage of funds to support the humanitarian response in Syria. Griffiths and other OCHA officials discussed the recruitment and procurement challenges of implementing a six-month mandate, as opposed to a one-year mandate, for the Syria humanitarian aid resolution.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is how it can reinvigorate the political track in Syria.
The humanitarian and economic crises in the country are also ongoing issues of concern for Council members.
One option for the Council is to adopt a presidential statement that:
- supports UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pederson’s efforts to reinvigorate the political process; and
- encourages donors to enhance their support for the Syria humanitarian response plan.
An additional option in the future would be a Council visiting mission to the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syria-Türkiye border. On such a visit, Council members could meet with UN and other officials responsible for implementing and overseeing the cross-border aid delivery mechanism to get a better understanding of how it works and its importance in addressing the country’s humanitarian crisis.
Strong divisions persist 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.
Most Council members are strongly supportive of the cross-border mechanism, arguing that cross-line assistance alone cannot address the scope of humanitarian needs in Syria. China and Russia have been less supportive of the mechanism than other members. They have expressed concern about cross-border aid being diverted by terrorist groups, emphasised that the cross-border aid mechanism constitutes a violation of Syria’s sovereignty, and argued that it needs to be phased out and replaced by enhanced cross-line deliveries.
Ireland and Norway are the penholders on humanitarian issues in Syria.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SYRIA
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|12 July 2022S/RES/2642||This resolution reauthorised the cross-border humanitarian aid mechanism in Syria for six months until 10 January 2023 and required a separate resolution to extend the mandate for an additional six months until 10 July 2023.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|14 September 2022S/PV.9130||This was a briefing on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria on 14 September 2022.|