Expected Council Action
In January 2023, the Security Council will hold its monthly meetings on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria and on the use of chemical weapons in the country.
Resolution 2642 of 12 July 2022 renewed the Syria cross-border aid mechanism for six months with a further six-month extension subject to a new resolution. The Council will vote on a draft resolution to extend the mechanism’s initial authorisation, prior to its expiry on 10 January 2023. (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.)
Key Recent Developments
Progress on the political track in Syria remains at a standstill. The Syria Constitutional Committee has not met since June 2022, and in his 29 November 2022 briefing to the Security Council, UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen asserted that “there are no serious efforts to resolve the conflict politically”. He has, however, continued his efforts to promote the peace process.
On 6-7 December 2022, Pedersen met with Syrian government officials in Damascus to discuss his “step for step” initiative. Through this initiative, he is asking the Syrian government, the opposition, regional states, and other stakeholders what concessions they might make in exchange for reciprocal actions from others on such matters as abductees, detainees, and missing persons; humanitarian assistance and early recovery projects; conditions for voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees; and the restoration of better socioeconomic conditions.
On 9 December 2022, Pedersen met in Geneva with Badr Jamous, the president of the Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC), which represents the political opposition to the government. In a post on Twitter following the meeting, Pedersen said that they had discussed “steps all parties could take to help build trust and confidence and bring an end to the suffering of all Syrians”.
As the political process in Syria continues to falter, the humanitarian situation in the country is becoming increasingly dire, with more people in humanitarian need than at any time during Syria’s civil war, which started in 2011. Some 15.3 million Syrians (over 69 percent of the country’s population) will require humanitarian assistance in 2023, according to the Secretary-General’s special report on humanitarian needs in Syria, which was requested by the Council in resolution 2642 and released on 9 December 2022. The report noted that in 2022 donors provided $517.6 million to support early recovery projects in all 14 governates of Syria. These projects focused on the rebuilding of critical infrastructure, the removal of solid waste, and vocational training, among other areas. The report also described the recent efforts of the UN and other actors to deliver humanitarian aid in Syria, both cross-line (that is, across domestic frontlines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control) and cross-border (through the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syria-Türkiye border). It concluded, “While an important complement, the cross-line operation remains, at this time, unable to substitute [for] the size or scope of the massive United Nations cross-border operation”.
The spread of cholera in Syria compounds the country’s humanitarian challenges. OCHA recently announced that 56,879 suspected cases were reported across the country between 25 August and 3 December 2022, including 98 deaths attributed to the virus.
An informal interactive dialogue (IID, a closed format) was held on 16 December 2022 to review and follow up on the implementation of resolution 2642. Russia requested the meeting, which took place less than one month after the previous IID on Syria on 21 November. This timing contrasted with the meeting cycle set out in resolution 2642, which encouraged Security Council members to convene an IID every two months “with the participation of donors, interested regional parties and representatives of the international humanitarian agencies operating in Syria”.
Tareq Talehma, OCHA’s ad-interim Director of Operations and Advocacy, briefed at the IID. In addition to Council members and Syria, Canada, the EU, Germany, Sweden, and Türkiye also participated at the meeting. Talehma emphasised the importance of maintaining the cross-border aid mechanism, saying that it helps to meet the basic needs of Syrians. He added that limited funding has hampered OCHA’s ability to respond to the humanitarian situation in Syria.
On 4 December 2022, protesters in Suweida, a Druze-majority city in southern Syria, demonstrated against deteriorating living conditions and called for the downfall of the Assad government. The protesters set fire to a government building and clashed with police. One police officer and one protester reportedly died during the demonstration.
UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu briefed the Council on the Syria chemical weapons track on 5 December 2022. Nakamitsu noted that in November, Syria had submitted a document to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) titled “The General National Document Regarding the Cooperation of the Syrian Arab Republic with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Between 2013 and 2022”. She added that the OPCW would circulate the document once it had been analysed and translated. During her briefing, Nakamitsu also reiterated that gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies remain unresolved in Syria’s declaration of its chemical weapons stockpiles to the OPCW.
On 21 December 2022, the Council convened a briefing, followed by consultations, on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria. Pedersen and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths briefed. Pedersen referred to the need to resume and make more substantive meetings of the Constitutional Committee. Both Pedersen and Griffiths advocated the renewal of the cross-border aid mechanism.
Key Issues and Options
The key issue for the Council in January 2023 is the decision on the extension of the cross-border aid mechanism, which expires on 10 January. The most likely option would be for the Council to adopt a short resolution extending the mandate for six months.
Another important and ongoing issue remains the impasse in the political process. One option would be for the Council to hold a private meeting with Special Envoy Pedersen and other member states with influence over the parties in Syria to discuss recent developments in his “step-for-step” initiative. (A private meeting is a closed, formal meeting format; unlike closed consultations, non-Council member states are allowed to participate in this format.)
The Council could also consider adopting a presidential statement that expresses support for the Special Envoy’s efforts to reinvigorate the political process.
Syria remains a divisive file. China and Russia are supportive of the Syrian government, emphasising the need to respect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and drawing connections between unilateral coercive measures on Syria and the challenging humanitarian situation in the country. In contrast, 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.
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 extraordinary measures that undermine Syria’s sovereignty and should be supplanted as soon as possible by enhanced cross-line assistance.
Since the cross-border aid mechanism was initiated with the adoption of resolution 2165 in 2014, the Syria humanitarian file has always had two to three penholders from among the Council’s elected members. It appears that Brazil and Switzerland will serve as the penholders on the Syria humanitarian file in 2023, thus assuming the role played by Ireland and Norway in 2021-2022.
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.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|5 December 2022S/PV.9207||This was a meeting on the chemical weapons track in Syria.|
|29 November 2022S/PV.9204||This was a briefing on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria on 29 November 2022.|
|15 December 2022S/2022/956||This was the 60-day report on the implementation of resolution 2642.|
|12 December 2022S/2022/933||This was a special report on the humanitarian needs in Syria.|