Expected Council Action
In December, the Council will hold its monthly meetings on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria, as well as on the use of chemical weapons in the country.
Resolution 2642 of 12 July renewed the Syria cross-border aid mechanism for six months, with a further six-month extension subject to a new resolution. Although the mechanism’s initial authorisation is set to expire on 10 January 2023, it is possible that an effort will be made to authorise the extension before the end of the year. (Through this mechanism, humanitarian assistance is delivered to Syria from Türkiye via the Bab al-Hawa crossing, without requiring the consent of the Syrian government.) In considering the authorisation, Council members will review the Secretary-General’s special report on humanitarian needs in Syria, which was mandated by resolution 2642 and is due no later than 10 December.
Key Recent Developments
The outbreak of cholera continues to exacerbate the dire humanitarian situation in Syria. According to OCHA, from 25 August to 5 November, 35,569 suspected cases of cholera were reported, including 92 fatalities that have been attributed to the disease.
On 15 November, two children were found dead in al-Hol refugee camp in north-east Syria. The camp, which is administered by Kurdish forces, is home to more than 50,000 people, many of whom are associated with apprehended or deceased Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL\Da’esh) fighters. Insecurity continues to be a major challenge at the camp. On 15 November, Deputy Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General Farhan Haq said: “[w]e’ve been drawing attention to the poor conditions at the al-Hol camp for some time now, and this is another extremely sad reminder of how bad the conditions are.” A 21 November Human Rights Watch report said that 38,000 foreign nationals, mostly children, remain in al-Hol and Roj (another refugee camp in north-east Syria) under “horrific conditions”.
On 13 November, a bomb attack in Istanbul killed six Turkish citizens and injured dozens. Türkiye has blamed the Syrian faction of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Türkiye considers a terrorist organisation, for carrying out the attack—an allegation that the PKK has denied.
Türkiye carried out airstrikes on Kurdish bases in northern Syria and northern Iraq on 20 November, claiming to have targeted sites such as ammunition depots, tunnels, and shelters. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in the UK, claimed that at least 31 people died in northern Syria from these strikes—including 18 members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (a predominantly Kurdish group opposing the Syrian government), 12 Syrian troops, and one journalist. On 21 November, Türkiye reported that two of its citizens were killed as a result of a cross-border mortar attack carried out by Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, following an earlier Turkish air raid on the fighters.
Early recovery projects—which are designed to increase access to basic services such as clean water, electricity, nutrition, health care, and education—continue to be implemented in Syria. According to OCHA, as at mid-November, such projects had been implemented in Syria’s 14 governates, supported by $517 million dollars of donor assistance.
On 21 November, Council members held an informal interactive dialogue (IID), in accordance with resolution 2642, which encouraged Security Council members to convene an IID every two months to review and follow up on the resolution’s implementation, including with regard to early recovery projects. The meeting featured a briefing by Tareq Talahma, OCHA’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. Two other UN officials—Muhannad Ibrahim Ahmed Hadi, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis; and El-Mostafa Benlamlih, the Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim for Syria—were also on hand to respond to questions. In addition to Council members and Syria, interested regional parties (Iran and Türkiye) and donors (Canada, Germany, Sweden, and the EU) also participated in the meeting. Among the questions raised was that of the distribution of humanitarian aid. The UN officials reportedly emphasised that humanitarian aid is delivered throughout Syria based on the needs of the population.
On 7 November, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu briefed the Council on the Syria chemical weapons file. Nakamitsu reiterated that gaps, inconsistencies, and discrepancies remain unresolved in Syria’s declaration of its chemical weapons program and that, as a result, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) cannot consider Syria’s obligations accurate and complete under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
A briefing on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria was held on 29 November, featuring briefings by Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths. Pedersen referred to increased mutual strikes in recent months in northern Syria between the SDF, on the one hand, and Türkiye, while noting reports of strikes inside Türkiye territory. With respect to these incidents, he observed that the Secretary-General had called for “all parties to exercise maximum restraint and avoid escalation”. He also expressed concern that the Syria Constitutional Committee had not met in six months and that, if and when it does reconvene, it is “important that there is some forward movement on the substance”. Griffiths lamented that the gap between needs and funds to address the humanitarian situation continues to grow. He spoke about the adverse humanitarian effects of cholera and high food prices on the Syrian people.
Key Issues and Options
Key issues for the Council are how to reinvigorate the political process in Syria and how to address the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country most effectively.
The Council could consider adopting a presidential statement that:
- expresses strong support for the efforts of the Special Envoy 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;
- encourages donors to enhance their support for the Syria humanitarian response plan, including early recovery efforts; and
- encourages efforts by foreign governments to repatriate their nationals in camps for internally displaced persons in north-east Syria.
In light of the dire situation of children in Syria, including those who reside in refugee camps such as al-Hol, Council members may consider inviting the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict or a high-level UNICEF representative to brief the Council at its next meeting on the humanitarian track in Syria. They can ask the briefer to provide recommendations for concrete steps that the Council can take to support efforts to alleviate the plight of Syrian children.
An additional option would be a Council visiting mission to the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syria-Türkiye border ahead of the expiry of the cross-border aid mechanism. 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 its inner workings and its role in addressing the country’s humanitarian crisis.
Strong divisions in the Council persist regarding 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 other likeminded members criticise the government for violating international humanitarian law and human rights law, arbitrarily detaining people, and not engaging meaningfully in political dialogue.
Council members appear to be focused on the upcoming negotiations on a resolution to reauthorise the cross-border humanitarian aid mechanism, given that a new resolution will be required by 10 January 2023. Informal discussions among several members on this issue had already begun at the time of writing. Most members emphasise that the cross-border aid mechanism is essential to saving lives in Syria, and strongly support its continuation. Other members, such as China and Russia, tend to argue that cross-border deliveries are an extraordinary measure that undermines Syria’s sovereignty and should be supplanted as soon as possible by enhanced cross-line assistance (that is, across domestic frontlines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control).
There are also contrasting 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 CWC. 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.
There are also differences of view on the frequency of the monthly meetings on the chemical weapons file. Some members believe that the frequency should be reduced, given that there is rarely new information to report; Brazil, China, Gabon, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates expressed this perspective at the 7 November Council meeting on the chemical weapons file. Other members—such as Albania, Ireland, the UK, and the US—believe that meetings on this issue every month are appropriate, as they provide an opportunity to highlight Syria’s lack of compliance with the CWC. It seems that during Council members’ consultations on November’s programme of work, Russia criticised the insistence of some Council members to hold monthly meetings on the Syria chemical weapons track, arguing that it is not an urgent issue. Russia apparently called on the Council to focus on other issues that it believes require constant attention, such as the situation in Libya, and requested a meeting on that matter, which was held on 15 November.
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.|
|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|
|7 November 2022S/PV.9184||This was a meeting on the chemical weapons track in Syria.|