Expected Council Action
In July, the Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution extending the authorisation for the Syria cross-border aid mechanism, prior to its expiry on 10 July. The Security Council will also hold its monthly meetings on the political and humanitarian situations 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. In connection with the earthquake, approximately 6,000 people have died and more than 12,000 have been injured in Syria. An outbreak of cholera has compounded the already grim humanitarian situation in the country. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 18 June situation report on the cholera outbreak in Syria, 132,782 suspected cases, including 104 deaths attributed to the disease, were reported across the country between 25 August 2022 and 20 May.
Prior to the earthquake, humanitarian aid was delivered to northwest Syria from Türkiye through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. (Resolution 2672 of 9 January extended the authorisation through this crossing for six months without requiring the consent of the Syrian government.) Following the earthquake, starting on 13 February, the Syrian government opened two additional crossing points—Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee—from Türkiye to northwest Syria for an initial period of three months for the delivery of humanitarian aid. In a 13 May post on Twitter, the Permanent Representative of Syria to the UN, Bassam Sabbagh, said that the Syrian government had decided to extend the authorisation for the two border crossings for another three months, ending on 13 August.
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 3,260 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 (2,748 trucks), Bab al-Salam (433 trucks), and Al Ra’ee (79 trucks).
On 30 May, the Council convened its monthly meeting on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria. Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen, OCHA Deputy Director of Operations and Advocacy Ghada Eltahir Mudawi and Middle East Regional Program Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council Morgane Aveline briefed. Mudawi 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 called for a 12-month extension of the Security Council authorisation of the cross-border aid mechanism.
The EU-sponsored seventh Brussels Conference, titled “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region”, was convened on 14-15 June. The conference aimed at mobilising the international community in support of a comprehensive and credible political solution to the Syria conflict in line with resolution 2254 and addressing critical humanitarian issues. Conference participants pledged €5.6 billion, including €4.6 billion for 2023 and €1 billion for 2024 and future years. The funding aims to support people in Syria and neighbouring countries hosting Syrian refugees. The amount pledged was less than last year’s annual Brussels conference, where participants pledged €6.4 billion for 2022 and future years.
At the time of writing, although the flash appeal for earthquake relief in Syria ($397.6 million) was fully funded, the humanitarian response plan for 2023 ($5.41 billion) was only 11.6 percent funded.
In his remarks at the Brussels conference, Pedersen called for ensuring adequate funding for addressing essential needs and noted that swift disbursements of the funding are needed to support the Syrian people as well as host communities in the wider region. He added that he is engaging with relevant parties in a renewed effort to reconvene the Constitutional Committee in Geneva as soon as possible. He emphasised the need for a 12-month extension of the Council’s authorisation of the cross-border aid mechanism. In regard to the renewed political attention on Syria, he noted that “if this opportunity is seized and if players coordinate and work together, I am convinced that it is possible to move forward”. (For more on recent political developments in Syria, see our June Forecast.)
On 22 June, 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 third IID held since the 6 February earthquake. The meeting featured a briefing by Edem Wosornu, OCHA’s Director for Operations and Advocacy Division. Three other UN officials—UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria Adam Abdelmoula, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis Muhannad Ibrahim Ahmed Hadi, and Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis David Carden—were also on hand to respond to questions. In addition to Council members and Syria, interested regional parties (Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Türkiye) and donors (Canada, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and the EU) participated in the meeting.
Pedersen has continued to engage with stakeholders through the “step-for-step” initiative. Through this initiative, Pedersen is asking the Syrian government, the opposition, regional states, and other stakeholders what concessions they are willing to make in exchange for reciprocal actions on matters such as abductees, detainees, and missing persons; humanitarian assistance and early recovery projects; and conditions for dignified, safe, and voluntary refugee returns.
In a 2 June Twitter post, the Special Envoy’s office noted that Pedersen engaged constructively with the Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC) to discuss the latest developments and how to move the political process forward in line with resolution 2254. On 9 June, Pedersen met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for in-depth discussions on how to strengthen the Syrian political process in accordance with resolution 2254, considering recent international and regional developments. In the meeting, Pedersen also highlighted the need to reconvene the Constitutional Committee.
On 15 June, in an effort to advance the Syrian political process, Pedersen held discussions with numerous stakeholders, including Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Rashid Bouhabib, German Minister of State in the Federal Foreign Office Tobias Lindner, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, and European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič.
On 26 June, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In a Twitter post, Griffiths said that the meeting focused on issues of humanitarian assistance in Syria and avenues to engage the wider region around early recovery priorities. On the same day, Griffiths met Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad for a discussion on the humanitarian situation in the country.
Hostilities continue in some parts of Syria. On 25 June, Russian air strikes hit a market outside Jisr al-Shughour in Idlib governorate, killing at least 11 civilians, according to media reports. In a 26 June statement, Carden expressed deep concerns about an escalation of hostilities in northwest Syria, in light of the recent attacks in Idlib governorate. The statement called on all parties to the conflict to take all necessary measures to ensure that civilians and civilian infrastructure are protected, in accordance with international humanitarian law.
On 29 June, UN General Assembly adopted a resolution establishing an Independent Institution on Missing Persons in the Syrian Arab Republic, under the auspices of the UN. The mechanism aims “to clarify the fate and whereabouts of all missing persons in the Syrian Arab Republic and to provide adequate support to victims, survivors and the families of those missing, in close cooperation and complementarity with all relevant actors”. The resolution was adopted with 83 votes in favour, 11 against and 62 abstentions. Nine Council members voted in favour of the resolution (Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, UK and the US), whereas three abstained (Gabon, Ghana and the United Arab Emirates) and two voted against (China and Russia).
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a 19 June statement, several UN experts urged the General Assembly to establish a human rights body to address the issue of missing and forcibly disappeared persons in Syria. The statement noted that the proposed human rights body “must be guided by a victim and survivor-centred approach” and allow the families of those missing and disappeared to participate in all stages of the process, including in its establishment, design, implementation, evaluation, and decision-making. The experts emphasised the importance of a gender-sensitive approach in addressing enforced disappearances and further called for working towards accountability through the relevant mechanisms available at the national or international level.
Key Issues and Options
The key issue for the Council in July is the decision on the extension of the cross-border aid mechanism, which expires on 10 July. One option for the Council would be to adopt a resolution extending the mandate of the cross-border mechanism, allowing the humanitarian aid to continue flowing through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for 12 months.
Other options for the Council would be to adopt a resolution extending the authorisation for the cross-border mechanism for a shorter period, with the opportunity for further extension, similar to resolution 2642. Council members could also consider extending the authorisation for additional border crossings in the same resolution.
Another important and ongoing issue is how to alleviate the growing humanitarian needs in Syria. Periodic briefings from OCHA 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.
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. 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.)
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, arbitrarily detaining people, and not engaging meaningfully in political dialogue.
Most members emphasise that the cross-border aid mechanism is essential for 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.
At the 30 May Council briefing, several Council members expressed support for the extension of the cross-border mechanism’s authorisation, including Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, and the US. In its statement, the US said that it will work with Syria humanitarian penholders—Brazil and Switzerland—to seek a 12-month authorisation for all three border crossings—Bab al-Hawa, Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee. It further noted that such a resolution will provide confidence, predictability and support for humanitarian workers, the UN, and the Syrians. On the other hand, Russia noted that it sees “no reason at all to extend” the cross-border mechanism. It added that, with coordination and contact with the Syrian government, the UN could work without a Council resolution.
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 May 2023S/PV.9333||This was a briefing on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria.|