February 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2023
Download Complete Forecast: PDF


Expected Council Action

In February, the Security Council will hold its monthly meetings on political and humanitarian developments in Syria and on the use of chemical weapons in the country.

Key Recent Developments

On 9 January, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2672, confirming the extension of the Syria cross-border aid mechanism for an additional six months until 10 July. (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.) The resolution encourages Council members to convene informal interactive dialogues every two months to review and follow up on the implementation of the resolution’s provisions, including progress on early recovery projects. It also requests the Secretary-General to produce a special report on humanitarian needs in Syria no later than 10 June, one month prior to the expiration of the authorisation. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 8 January 2023).

On 8 January, a UN inter-agency cross-line delivery (that is, across domestic conflict lines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control) was conducted. It involved a convoy of 18 trucks carrying nearly 600 metric tons of humanitarian supplies—including food, water, sanitation items, health kits, medicines, educational materials, and dignity kits—from Aleppo to Sarmada. This was the fifth cross-line delivery since the adoption of resolution 2642 in 2022 and the tenth since the adoption of resolution 2585 in 2021.

In his 21 December 2022 Council briefing, UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen called upon the parties to hold further dialogue towards identifying and implementing the “step-for-step” initiative. (Through this initiative, Pedersen 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 the voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees; and the restoration of better socioeconomic conditions).   At the media stakeout following the Council briefing, Pedersen indicated that Russia continues to express concerns about Geneva as the venue for the talks, questioning Switzerland’s impartiality because of its support for EU sanctions on Ukraine. At the time of writing, no progress had been reported in convening the next meeting of the Constitutional Committee.

On 28 December 2022, the defence ministers of Russia, Türkiye, and Syria held tripartite talks in Moscow. According to media reports, the meeting focused on “ways to resolve the Syrian crisis, the problem of refugees, and joint efforts to combat extremist groups in Syria”. The meeting was the first high-level meeting between Syria and Türkiye since the outbreak of war in Syria in 2011. According to a 12 January Reuters article, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced that he could meet with Syria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Faisal Mekdad in early February.

Russian President Vladimir Putin held a telephone conversation with Erdogan on 16 January. The press release subsequently circulated by the Executive Office of the Russian President noted that the presidents “discussed ways to normalise relations between Türkiye and Syria, including Ankara’s initiative to launch consultations with the participation of Russian, Turkish and Syrian representatives”. Also on 16 January, Pedersen met Çavuşoğlu. In a Twitter post, following the meeting, the Office of the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria said that they discussed “regional developments and all aspects related to the crisis in Syria, including the need for a political solution” in line with Council resolution 2254.

On 24 January, Pedersen met the Syria envoys of the P3 Council members (France, the UK, and the US) and Germany in Geneva. In a joint statement, released after  the meeting, the representatives of France, Germany, the UK, and the US expressed their intent to engage with the regional partners and opposition under the framework of resolution 2254, including step-for-step process.

On 24 January, Pedersen also met the Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC) President Badr Jamous and Hadi Albahra, an SNC member who serves as co-chair of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, in Geneva. (The SNC represents the political opposition to the government.) According to a tweet by the Special Envoy’s office, the meeting focused on the latest developments related to the Syrian crisis and “moving the political process forward” in line with resolution 2254.

The humanitarian and economic situations in Syria continue to deteriorate, and the humanitarian response plan for Syria remains significantly underfunded. According to OCHA, some 15.3 million Syrians (over 69 percent of the population) will require humanitarian assistance in 2023. OCHA reports that at the end of 2022, the humanitarian response plan for Syria was 47.5 percent funded.

An outbreak of cholera has exacerbated the already dire humanitarian situation. According to OCHA’s 15 January 2023 situation report, between 25 August 2022 and 7 January, 77,561 suspected cholera cases had been reported, including 100 deaths attributed to the disease. In addition, the report announced that a total of 6,561 suspected cases and seven associated deaths had been reported in camps for the internally displaced in northeast and northwest Syria.

Adedeji Ebo, Director of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs and Deputy to the High Representative, briefed the Council on the Syrian chemical weapons track on 5 January. Adedeji expressed regret that “all efforts by the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] Technical Secretariat to organize the next round of consultations between the DAT [Declaration Assessment Team] and the Syrian National Authority continue to be unsuccessful”. He also apprised the Council that the OPCW Technical Secretariat had shared its intention to send a reduced team “to conduct limited in-country activities” in Syria with the government, which he noted has welcomed this intention.

On 27 January, the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) of the OPCW released its third report, which provides the findings of the investigations conducted from January 2021 to December 2022 on the 7 April 2018 Douma incident. The report concluded that there are “reasonable grounds to believe that the Syrian Arab Air Forces were the perpetrators of the chemical weapons attack” in Douma on 7 April 2018.

On 25 January, the Council convened a briefing, followed by consultations, on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria. Pedersen and OCHA Acting Director of Operations and Advocacy Ghada Eltahir Mudawi briefed. Pedersen told the Council that in February he is scheduled to hold meetings with Mekdad and the Government nominated Co-Chair of the Constitutional Committee, Ahmad Nabil Kuzbari, in Syria. Mudawi highlighted the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country and called for enhanced donor support, including to respond to cholera and winterization needs.

Human Rights-Related Developments

In a 10 November statement following a 12-day visit to Syria, UN special rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures and human rights Alena Douhan called on sanctioning states to lift all unilateral sanctions against Syria “without authorization of the UN Security Council”, warning that their use was not justified under international law. In an 18 November press release, High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk “condemned the heinous killing of two young Egyptian girls” at Al-Hol camp, a displacement camp in northeastern Syria in an area controlled by Kurdish-led forces. According to the press release, the UN Human Rights Office has verified that since the start of 2022, at least 42 people have been killed at the Al-Hol camp, where at least 53,000 people are held, more than half of whom are children. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based human rights monitoring organisation, claims that in December 2022, 133 civilians were killed in Syria, including 22 children and 15 women.

Key Issues and Options

The key issue for the Council remains the impasse in the political process. One option for the Council would be 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 and encourages donors to enhance their support for the Syria humanitarian response plan.

A related issue is addressing the growing humanitarian needs in Syria.  Council members could consider inviting representatives of Syrian humanitarian aid organisations to engage with them to explore avenues for improving aid delivery mechanisms in Syria.

An additional option would be a Council visiting mission to the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syria-Türkiye border. During 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.

Council Dynamics

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 like-minded members criticise the government for violating international humanitarian law and human rights law and not engaging meaningfully in political dialogue.

In his explanation of vote following the Council’s unanimous adoption of resolution 2672, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia (Russia) noted that Russia’s affirmative vote should not be considered as support for the Syria cross-border humanitarian aid mechanism in its current form. He argued that the approach to humanitarian assistance had been politicised and that “a new six-month extension in July will be borne out only if the approach of the members of the Security Council towards the provision of humanitarian assistance to Syria changes fundamentally”. He also called the unilateral sanctions imposed on Syria by Western countries “criminal”.

Brazil and Switzerland are the penholders on humanitarian issues in Syria.

Sign up for SCR emails

Security Council Resolutions
9 January 2023S/RES/2672 This resolution extended the authorisation for the Syria cross-border aid mechanism for an additional six months, until 10 July 2023.
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.
Secretary-General’s Reports
12 December 2022S/2022/933 This was a special report on the humanitarian needs in Syria.
Security Council Meeting Records
25 January 2023S/PV.9248 This was a briefing on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria.
5 January 2023S/PV.9235 This was a meeting on the chemical weapons track in Syria.
21 December 2022S/PV.9230 This was a briefing on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria.