Expected Council Action
In May, 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
Syria continues to grapple with the devastating humanitarian consequences of the 6 February earthquake and its aftershocks. According to UNICEF’s 18 April situation report, approximately 6,000 people were killed and more than 12,000 injured in Syria. An outbreak of cholera has further compounded the already dire humanitarian situation in the country. According to OCHA’s 3 April situation report on the cholera outbreak in Syria, 105,959 suspected cases, including 104 deaths attributed to the disease, were reported across the country between 25 August 2022 and 19 March.
Prior to the earthquake, humanitarian aid was delivered to northwest Syria from Türkiye through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. The opening of two additional border crossings in northwest Syria, Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee, has allowed the UN and other humanitarian organisations to accelerate aid delivery. According to OCHA data, at the time of writing, a total of 1,506 trucks carrying humanitarian supplies from seven UN agencies have crossed to northwest Syria from Türkiye since 9 February through the three border crossings: Bab al-Hawa (1,181 trucks), Bab al-Salam (273 trucks), and Al Ra’ee (52 trucks).
On 26 April, Security Council members held an informal interactive dialogue (IID), in accordance with resolution 2672 of 9 January, which encouraged Council members to convene IIDs every two months “with participation of donors, interested regional parties and representatives of the international humanitarian agencies operating in Syria”. This was the second IID held since the 6 February earthquake. The meeting featured a briefing by Tareq Talahma, OCHA’s Acting Director for Operations and Advocacy. Three other UN officials—UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim for Syria El-Mostafa Benlamlih, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis Muhannad Ibrahim Ahmed Hadi, and Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria crisis ad interim on surge to Türkiye David Carden—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, Norway, Sweden, and the EU) also participated in the meeting.
In recent months, securing funding for the myriad of new and ongoing humanitarian challenges in the country has continued to be difficult. At the time of writing, although the flash appeal for earthquake relief in Syria was 96.6 percent funded, the humanitarian response plan for 2023 was only 7.5 percent funded. According to OCHA’s 20 April situation report, the Syria Cross-border Humanitarian Fund (SCHF) has allocated $36.1 million in its first phase of the reserve allocation, funding 58 projects in the country. Following the 6 February earthquake, SCHF launched a series of reserve allocations, aimed at releasing at least $50 million in two phases. The first phase is proposed to focus on providing immediate lifesaving response, whereas the second phase will concentrate on sustaining the medium-term response.
On 12-13 April, Syrian Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad visited Saudi Arabia, where he met Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud in Jeddah. This was the first high-level visit between the two countries since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis in 2011. According to the joint statement released following the meeting, the delegations discussed efforts to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis that “preserves Syria’s unity, security, stability, Arab identity, and territorial integrity”. It added that, during the meeting, the delegations stressed the need to “support the institutions of the Syrian state to extend its control over its territories to end the presence of armed militias and external interference in the Syrian internal affairs”. Both sides also welcomed the start of procedures for resuming consular services and flights between the two countries.
On 14 April, Saudi Arabia hosted a high-level meeting of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates [UAE]), Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq to discuss the possibility of normalising relations with Syria and its readmission to the Arab League. According to a 15 April Financial Times article, officials with knowledge of the meeting said that there was sharp pushback against Saudi Arabia’s rapprochement efforts with Syria from several countries, including Qatar, Kuwait, and Jordan.
On 18 April, bin Farhan met with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus, marking the first high-level visit from Saudi Arabia to Syria since 2011. According to a press release following the meeting, the two leaders discussed the “necessary steps to achieve a comprehensive political settlement of the Syrian crisis that would end all its repercussions, achieve national reconciliation, and contribute to the return of Syria to its Arab surroundings and the resumption of its natural role in the Arab world”. During the meeting, bin Farhan stressed, among other things, the importance of ensuring a suitable environment for aid to reach all regions in Syria.
On 27 April, Pedersen and OCHA Director for Humanitarian Financing and Resource Mobilization Division, Lisa Doughton briefed the Council on the recent political and humanitarian developments in Syria, respectively. Pedersen noted that there has been a rise in shelling, rocket fire, cross-line raids by terrorist groups, air strikes attributed to Israel and sporadic attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). He added that renewed engagement on Syria, particularly from the region, could assist in advancing a political solution to this conflict, in line with resolution 2254. Doughton provided an overview of the increasingly dire humanitarian situation in the country and described the recent efforts of the UN and other actors to deliver humanitarian aid in Syria. She noted that the UN and other humanitarian partners continue to use all three available border crossings and that the UN hopes that such modalities will be extended for facilitation of urgent humanitarian operations.
Earlier, on 28 March, the US circulated a letter to the President of the Security Council, noting that, on 23 March, it had conducted targeted strikes in eastern Syria directed against facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for command and control, munitions storage, and other purposes. The 23 March US airstrike came as a response to an attack, purportedly conducted by Iran, earlier the same day on a US military base that killed one American contractor and injured six others, including five US service members. In a 3 April statement, the US Army Central Command (CENTCOM) noted that it had conducted a unilateral strike in northwest Syria that killed an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) senior leader, Khalid ‘Aydd Ahmad al-Jabouri.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 4 April, during its 52nd session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution on the situation of human rights in Syria. Among other things, the resolution called on all parties, particularly the Syrian authorities, to maintain rapid, unhindered, safe and sustainable humanitarian access; reiterated the call for an immediate and nationwide ceasefire throughout Syria; extended the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) for one year; and requested the COI to present an oral update during an interactive dialogue at its 53rd session and present an updated report during its 54th and 55th sessions. The resolution was adopted with 26 votes in favour, five against, and 16 abstentions. Security Council members France, Gabon, the UK, and the US voted in favour, whereas the UAE abstained, and China voted against the resolution.
Women, Peace and Security
On 13 March, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria (COI) released its latest report, covering the period from 1 July to 31 December 2022. Among other issues, the report provided an update on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the country. The report says that the COI found that rape and other forms of sexual violence taking place in government-controlled detention facilities amount to crimes against humanity and that members of armed groups, such as the Syrian National Army and Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham, have committed the war crime of rape and other forms of sexual violence. The report notes that SGBV continues to be perpetrated “countrywide, against the framework of national legislation that fails to effectively criminalize domestic violence, marital rape and other forms of gender-based violence”. According to the report, UN representatives in Syria estimated that as many as 7.3 million people, overwhelmingly women and girls, are in need of services related to gender-based violence.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Security Council is how to alleviate the growing humanitarian needs in Syria. Periodic briefings from Griffiths and other OCHA officials have helped keep the Council informed of the humanitarian situation on the ground. Council members could also consider inviting representatives of Syrian humanitarian aid organisations to engage with them to explore avenues for improving aid delivery mechanisms in Syria.
A related issue is ensuring the continued flow of humanitarian aid into northwest Syria.
Another key long-standing issue is finding a way to break the political impasse in Syria and to provide political support for the Special Envoy’s efforts in this regard.
The Council could consider adopting a presidential statement that:
- expresses strong concern about the growing humanitarian needs in the country;
- expresses strong support for the efforts of the UN and humanitarian actors on the ground;
- 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 Syrian humanitarian response plan;
- urges the Syrian government to facilitate unimpeded humanitarian access for the UN and other humanitarian agencies in the earthquake-affected areas; and
- expresses strong support for the Special Envoy’s efforts to reinvigorate the political process.
Strong divisions persist among Council members on the Syria file. 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 dire humanitarian situation in the country. On the other hand, 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, 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, continue 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.
Brazil and Switzerland are the penholders on Syria humanitarian issues.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SYRIA
|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.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|30 November 1962 S/PV.9314||was a briefing on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria.|