Expected Council Action
In August, the Security Council is expected to hold meetings on the political process, the humanitarian situation, and the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Key Recent Developments
On 11 July, the Security Council failed to reauthorise the Syria cross-border humanitarian aid delivery mechanism, which expired on 10 July and had allowed the delivery of humanitarian assistance from Türkiye to Syria without requiring the consent of the Syrian government. A draft resolution (S/2023/506) proposed by the penholders on the Syria humanitarian file (Brazil and Switzerland), which would have reauthorised the delivery of aid through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for nine months, received 13 votes in favour and one abstention (China) but was vetoed by Russia. Another draft initiated by Russia (S/2023/507), which would have reauthorised the same crossing for six months, failed to be adopted because it did not receive the requisite votes. Two members voted in favour (China and Russia), three against (France, the UK, and the US) and the remaining ten members abstained. (For more, see What’s in Blue story of 11 July.) In the ensuing days, the penholders continued to engage with other Council members in a bid to find a compromise on the divisive issues which could lead to a Council resolution reauthorising the Syria cross-border aid mechanism.
Prior to the 6 February earthquake that struck southeast Türkiye and north Syria, humanitarian aid was being delivered to northwest Syria from Türkiye through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. From 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. The Syrian government’s authorisation for the additional border crossings expires on 13 August.
At the time of writing, the humanitarian operations through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing remain suspended. Since the expiry of the cross-border mechanism on 10 July, 21 trucks have crossed into northwest Syria from Türkiye through the Bab al-Salam border crossings. In contrast, on 10 July, 99 trucks crossed into northwest Syria from Türkiye: Bab al-Hawa (79 trucks) and Bab al-Salam (20 trucks). The Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric said on 11 July that, approximately 85 percent of the aid that reached northwest Syria from Türkiye by trucks, before the expiry of cross-border mechanism on 10 July, went through the Bab al-Hawa crossing.
Following Russia’s veto, the General Assembly discussed the situation of Syria in a plenary session on 19 July. This was in accordance with General Assembly resolution A/RES/76/262, which states that the General Assembly is expected to convene “within 10 working days of the casting of a veto by one or more permanent members of the Security Council…a debate on the situation as to which the veto was cast”. During the session, Russian Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy said that “Russia has never hesitated and will never hesitate to use the veto right not only to protect our interests and those of our allies” but also in the interests of the UN partners. In her remarks, Ambassador Pascale Baeriswyl (Switzerland) stated that the penholders engaged inclusively, constructively, and in good faith, and further spared no effort to accommodate the different concerns in order to reach consensus on the draft resolution. The Russian veto “enabled a single member of the Security Council to call into question the extension of the cross-border aid mechanism, the objective of which is purely humanitarian”, she added.
On 13 July, Ambassador Bassam Sabbagh (Syria) sent a note verbale to the President of the Security Council transmitting a letter announcing the Syrian government’s decision to grant the UN and its specialised agencies permission to use the Bab al-Hawa crossing to deliver humanitarian aid to civilians in need in northwest Syria “in full cooperation and coordination with the Syrian Government” for six months, starting that day. The letter stressed that the UN, its representatives, and staff should not communicate with “terrorist organizations” along with “groups and their affiliated illegal administrative entities in northwestern Syria”. It reiterated the Syrian government’s demand that the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) be allowed to supervise and facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid in “areas controlled by terrorist organizations in northwest Syria”.
On 14 July, OCHA circulated a note to Council members that responded to the Syrian government’s 13 July letter. The note stated that the “Syrian Government’s permission can be a basis for the [UN] to lawfully conduct cross-border humanitarian operations via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for the specified duration”. However, it also said that the Syrian government’s letter contained two unacceptable conditions: that the UN should not communicate with entities designated as “terrorist”, and that the ICRC and the SARC should supervise and facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid in northwest Syria. In this regard, the OCHA note said that the UN and its implementing partners must continue to engage with relevant state and non-state parties as operationally necessary to carry out safe and unimpeded humanitarian operations in line with the mandate of the Emergency Relief Coordinator under the General Assembly resolution 46/182. It added that the demand that the ICRC and the SARC supervise and facilitate aid is neither consistent with the independence of the UN nor practical, as the ICRC and SARC are not present in northwest Syria.
On 17 July, the Security Council held a private meeting, followed by closed consultations, to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths briefed the Council. He reiterated the concerns shared by OCHA in its 14 July note circulated to Council members. Apparently, he also said that he will further engage with the Syrian authorities in a bid to clarify the provisions of the letter. It seems that during the meeting, some Council members emphasised the need for Council authorisation of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, while other members welcomed the Syrian government’s 13 July decision. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 16 July.)
On 24 July, the Council met on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria. OCHA Director of the Coordination Division Ramesh Rajasingham and the UN’s Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen briefed on the humanitarian and political situations, respectively. Rajasingham took note of the 13 July letter from the Syrian government and said that OCHA would continue to engage in regard to the terms outlined in the letter and the modalities fundamental to the humanitarian operations. Along with the other border crossings—Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee—”most of the UN Agencies are currently using the humanitarian aid items that had been strategically prepositioned inside north-west Syria prior to 10 July to ensure continuity of the humanitarian assistance”, he noted. On the political front, Pedersen said that “months of potentially significant diplomacy have not translated into concrete outcomes for Syrians on the ground”. He emphasised the need for sustainable calm in the country, which could lead to a nationwide ceasefire. He added that the threat posed by listed terrorist groups remains and must be addressed in a cooperative manner.
On 11 July, the Council convened a briefing, followed by consultations, on the Syria chemical weapons track. At the meeting, Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Adedeji Ebo updated the Council on the findings of the report of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Fact-Finding Mission (FFM), dated 28 June, regarding the alleged use of chemical weapons in Kharbit Massasneh on 7 July and 4 August 2017. The report concluded that the information obtained and analysed in line with the FFM’s mandate did not provide reasonable grounds for the FFM to determine that toxic chemicals were used as a weapon in the reported incidents.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a 21 July statement following her six-day visit to Syria, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, appealed to member states whose nationals are detained in northeast Syria to repatriate their nationals in line with their human rights obligations. She stated that “the dire conditions of detention for all categories men, women and especially children…make such returns absolutely imperative”. She added that the humanitarian conditions at the al-Hol refugee camp remain deplorable, particularly for women. In addition, she noted that “meaningful access to places of detention, including high-security sites, is essential to ensure that serious human rights violations are identified, reported, and prevented”.
On 11 July, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, cancelled his visit to Syria, citing a lack of cooperation from the Syrian government. In a statement issued on the same day, he stated that the preparations for the visit had been made in “full consideration of the sensitivities and realities on the ground, and in line with current practice for UN field missions in the country”. He expressed regret that the Syrian authorities had “failed to provide information and make steps necessary to allow the visit to take place”.
On 10 July, the Human Rights Council (HRC), during its 53rd session, adopted a resolution on the situation of human rights in Syria. Among other matters, the resolution demands that the Syrian government meet its responsibility to protect its population and to respect and protect the human rights of all persons within its jurisdiction, including persons in detention and their families; calls on the Syrian government to protect returning refugees and internally displaced persons, in particular women and children, from human rights violations and abuses and to help create the conditions necessary for the return of refugees; condemns all acts of sexual and gender-based violence and abuse in Syria; and reaffirms the need to end impunity through the prosecution of perpetrators of crimes under national and international law.
Women, Peace and Security
On 12 June, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic published a policy paper entitled “Gendered Impact of the Conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic on Women and Girls”. In a context where pre-existing patterns of discrimination have worsened as a consequence of the conflict, the paper highlights the concerning situation of “tens of thousands of women across Syria” whose family members are missing or have been subjected to forcible disappearance. The paper says that “[t]he wives and family members left behind remain in a legal limbo” facing challenges in, for instance, accessing housing and property. It also notes that children in women-headed households in Syria face an exacerbated risk of statelessness and that early and forced marriages have reportedly increased in the country, primarily affecting girls. Among other recommendations, the Commission of Inquiry called on the Syrian government to “[c]ease all forms of incommunicado detention and enforced disappearances” and recommended that UN member states establish an independent institution “to coordinate and consolidate claims regarding missing persons, including persons subjected to enforced disappearance, and provide appropriate support for the families of the missing and disappeared”. On 29 June, the General Assembly adopted a resolution creating the Independent Institution on Missing Persons in the Syrian Arab Republic which is mandated to “clarify the fate and whereabouts of all missing persons” in Syria and to “provide adequate support to victims, survivors and the families of those missing”.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is to ensure the continued flow of humanitarian aid to those in need in northwest Syria. The Council could consider holding a private meeting with Griffiths and a Syrian government representative for an update on their bilateral discussions regarding the potential modalities for continuing the delivery of aid through the Bab al-Hawa crossing. (A private meeting is a closed, formal meeting format; unlike closed consultations, non-Council member states are allowed to participate in this format.)
A related and broader 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 and expanding aid delivery mechanisms, including early recovery projects, 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 Pedersen and other member states with influence over the parties in Syria to discuss recent developments in his “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.
Over the years, Syria has been one of the most divisive files on the Council’s agenda. 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.
Council members hold divergent views in regard to the future course of action in the aftermath of the Syrian government’s decision to open the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with certain conditions. In a 13 July statement, Ambassador Barbara Woodward (UK) noted that “under the UN mandate, Bab al-Hawa had gold standard aid monitoring, to ensure aid was not misused”. She pointed out that without UN monitoring, control of the cross-border mechanism remains in the hands of the Syrian government. The priority, she said, needed to be “getting aid flowing again, fast, to the people who need it—and then getting certainty over its future”, adding that the UK will not hesitate to bring this matter back to the Security Council. In a Twitter post the same day, Polyanskiy said that, following the Syrian government’s permission for the UN to use the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, there was no need for a Council resolution. He noted that “efforts to put another draft to vote will constitute nothing but political games”. In addition, he said that the “cross-border mechanism which violated sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria is officially dead”.
Council members also hold divergent views about normalising ties with the Syrian government. In the 27 April Council briefing, the US noted that it will not normalise relations with Syria and has discouraged other member states from doing so. It added that the US will not lift sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or support reconstruction in the absence of “genuine, comprehensive and enduring reforms and progress on the political process”. The European members of the Council hold a similar view. On the other hand, some Council members, including Russia, China, and the United Arab Emirates, support the normalisation of ties with the Syrian government.
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|
|11 July 2023S/PV.9371||This was the meeting when the Council voted on competing draft resolutions reauthorising the Syria cross-border humanitarian aid delivery mechanism, neither of which were adopted.|
|11 July 2023S/PV.9372||This was a meeting on the chemical weapons track in Syria.|
|Security Council Letters|
|14 July 2023S/2023/526||This was a letter dated 13 July from the Permanent Representative of Syria to the UN addressed to the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council.|
|11 July 2023S/2023/506||This was the draft resolution proposed by the penholders on the Syria humanitarian file (Brazil and Switzerland) and vetoed by Russia, which would have reauthorised the delivery of aid through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for nine months.|
|11 July 2023S/2023/507||This was the draft resolution proposed by Russia which would have reauthorised the delivery of aid through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for six months but failed to garner the necessary votes to pass.|