Expected Council Action
In November, there will be the monthly meetings on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria, as well as on the use of chemical weapons in the country. Council members will also hold an informal interactive dialogue (IID) in accordance with resolution 2642 of 12 July, which reauthorised the Syria cross-border humanitarian aid mechanism and encouraged an IID every two months to regularly review and follow up on the implementation of the resolution, including progress in early-recovery projects.
Key Recent Developments
On 17 October, Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen met with Syrian Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad in Damascus. In a press stakeout after the meeting, Pedersen acknowledged that the political process in Syria had not delivered results. He emphasised that the UN would continue its efforts to promote a nationwide ceasefire and to address the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people. Pedersen said that he had discussed with Mekdad his ideas for all parties to engage in a “step-for-step” approach, whereby various stakeholders in the conflict would agree on reciprocal confidence-building measures. While he did not specify the nature of such measures, Pedersen has previously noted that they could focus on such matters as abductees, detainees, and missing persons; humanitarian assistance and early recovery; the conditions for the safe, voluntary and dignified return of refugees; and the restoration of better economic conditions. In addition to his visit to Damascus, Pedersen discussed his ideas for the “step-for-step” approach with government officials and diplomats in New York, Washington, Berlin and Amman in September and October.
Civilians continue to pay a heavy price in the Syrian conflict, with deaths and injuries resulting from airstrikes, ground-based strikes, improvised explosive devices, explosive remnants of war, targeted killings, and armed skirmishes. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has determined that such incidents led to the deaths of at least 92 civilians and injuries to at least 80 civilians between 1 August and 27 September.
The humanitarian situation in Syria continues to deteriorate while the UN also reports funding shortfalls. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths noted in his 14 September Council briefing that 14.6 million people are in need of assistance—the highest number since the war’s outset. As at 30 September, the humanitarian response plan for Syria was 26.7 percent funded. In north-west Syria alone, OCHA estimates that 4.1 million of the area’s 4.6 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. In addition, 3.1 million people in the north-west are food insecure and 2.8 million people there have been internally displaced.
A cross-line delivery of humanitarian aid (that is, across domestic frontlines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control) was conducted on 22-23 October. This was the eighth cross-line delivery since the adoption of resolution 2585 in July 2021 encouraging efforts to improve such deliveries, with 18 trucks entering north-west Syria from Aleppo, carrying food, water, sanitation items, and other supplies expected to assist some 56,000 people.
Cholera rates continue to increase across the country. According to the World Health Organisation, as at 14 October, 68 deaths from cholera had been registered and 15,823 cases of the disease had been suspected across the country. An apparent factor in the spread of cholera has been decreased access to clean water resulting from damage to water infrastructure.
On 26 September, Security Council members held their first informal interactive dialogue on Syria in accordance with resolution 2642. 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.
On 25 October, the Security Council received briefings on political and humanitarian developments in Syria from Pedersen and OCHA Director of Operations and Advocacy Reena Ghelani, respectively. Pedersen noted that he was urging all stakeholders to engage in step-for-step confidence building measures to help move the political process forward. Ghelani urged donors to disburse pledged funds to deal with the growing cholera crisis and requested additional support for the humanitarian appeal for Syria. She emphasised the importance of continued cross-border aid delivery (through the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border) and the need to step up cross-line aid deliveries.
Also on 25 October, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu briefed the Council on the Syria chemical weapons track. As has been the case in her briefings to the Council for several years, Nakamitsu reiterated that gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies remain in Syria’s declaration of its chemical weapons stockpiles to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 51st session, the Human Rights Council held an interactive dialogue on 22 September with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria and considered its report (A/HRC/51/45) covering 1 January through 30 June. The report documents continuing grave violations of fundamental human rights and humanitarian law across the country, including arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment in incommunicado detention; appalling conditions in displacement camps in the north-west of the country; and deteriorating conditions faced by approximately 37,000 children in the Hawl and Rawj camps. The report also notes that Syria is facing “the worst economic and humanitarian crisis” since the conflict started.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is how to reinvigorate the political track in Syria. The deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country, which has been exacerbated by the cholera outbreak, is another ongoing issue of concern for Council members.
One option for the Council is to adopt a presidential statement that:
- supports Pedersen’s efforts to reinvigorate the political process;
- condemns attacks on civilians and underscores the need for the parties to the conflict to abide by international humanitarian law and human rights law; and
- encourages donors to enhance their support for the Syria humanitarian response plan and the efforts to address the cholera outbreak.
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 the 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.
There are strong divisions on the Council with regard to 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 humanitarian law and human rights law, arbitrarily detaining people, and not engaging meaningfully in political dialogue.
The government-nominated representatives to the Constitutional Committee have been unwilling to proceed with the talks in Geneva, in deference to Russia’s view that Switzerland should no longer be the venue for the Committee’s meetings. Russia has argued that Switzerland is not a neutral site, given Bern’s position on the war in Ukraine. Some members have maintained that this is a tactic to stall the political process, a perspective expressed by Albania, France and the UK at the 25 October Council meeting on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria. The Constitutional Committee has not met since early June.
Most Council members emphasise the importance of aid delivery through both cross-line and cross-border modalities in Syria, while underscoring that the cross-border aid mechanism, most recently renewed through resolution 2642 in July, is essential to saving lives in Syria. In contrast, China and Russia believe that cross-border deliveries are an extraordinary measure that undermines Syria’s sovereignty and should be supplanted by enhanced cross-line assistance as soon as possible.
Council members hold starkly different views on the chemical weapons track in Syria. Several members have expressed support for the OPCW’s work, maintaining that it is credible and essential, and have criticised Syria for not adhering to its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Russia, on the other hand, claims that the OPCW’s work is biased and politicised. Other members tend to be less critical of the OPCW and the Syrian authorities, emphasising the need for both sides to enhance their cooperation with one another.
UN Documents on Syria
|Security Council Resolutions|
|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.|
|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 October 2022S/2022/775||This was the 60-day report on the humanitarian situation in Syria.|