September 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 August 2023
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Expected Council Action  

In September, 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 was last authorised by resolution 2672 of 9 January until 10 July. It had allowed for the delivery of humanitarian assistance to north-west Syria from Türkiye through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing without requiring the consent of the Syrian government. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 11 July and the In Hindsight in our August Monthly Forecast.)  

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 north-west Syria “in full cooperation and coordination with the Syrian Government” for six months, starting that day. In a 14 July note to Council members, OCHA responded to the Syrian government’s 13 July letter, saying 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 Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) should supervise and facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid in north-west 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 to Council members. Apparently, he also said that he would engage further with the Syrian authorities in a bid to clarify the provisions of the letter. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 16 July.)  

Following weeks of bilateral engagement, the UN and the Syrian government reached an understanding on the continued use of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing to deliver humanitarian aid into north-west Syria, formalised through an exchange of letters (S/2023/603). In a 5 August letter addressed to Sabbagh, Griffiths noted that “[c]ooperation and coordination with the Syrian government to facilitate cross-border assistance can be undertaken in a manner consistent with the core principles and current structure and practice that comprise the UN’s humanitarian response in Syria”. It further stated that a version of the UN Monitoring Mechanism (UNMM) should operate to monitor UN humanitarian assistance prior to its entry into Syria. The letter added that “[t]hese arrangements can be reviewed or enhanced through the involvement of others, in close coordination between the relevant sides”. The letter further stated that, although neither ICRC nor SARC has a presence in north-west Syria, “their involvement in this process may be explored when circumstances permit”.  

In a 6 August letter, Sabbagh responded, reiterating the Syrian government’s 13 July decision to open the Bab al-Hawa border for a period of six months. It further announced the government’s decision to extend its authorisation for the use of the Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee border crossings until 13 November. It also approved the use of the Sarmada and Saraqib crossings for cross-line operations—that is, across domestic conflict lines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control—for a six-month period, until 1 February 2024. Sabbagh’s letter took note of the UN’s desire to “use a version of the stringent and independent monitoring arrangements for aid consignments at the borders”. It said that the Syrian government would continue to engage with the UN about the possible involvement of the ICRC and the SARC in the ongoing humanitarian operations.   

On 21 August, the Council again held a private meeting, followed by closed consultations, to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria, at which Griffiths briefed. He apparently provided an update on OCHA’s engagement with the other stakeholders in north-west Syria about the delivery of humanitarian aid. It appears that several Council members emphasised the importance of continued reporting on humanitarian developments and an oversight mechanism for the delivery of humanitarian aid. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 18 August.) 

On 15 August, the Arab ministerial liaison committee that was established following Syria’s readmission into the League of Arab States (LAS) on 7 May to liaise with the Syrian government and seek a solution to the Syrian crisis through reciprocal steps—comprising Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and LAS Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit—met with the Syrian foreign minister, in Cairo. In a press statement circulated after the meeting, the leaders expressed the hope that the next meeting of the Constitutional Committee would convene in Oman with UN facilitation before the end of this year. They stressed the need to address the refugee crisis and strengthen cooperation between the Syrian government and countries hosting refugees from Syria to facilitate refugees’ voluntary and safe return in cooperation with the relevant UN agencies. They further expressed their aim to continue and intensify cooperation between Syria and regional countries to combat drug manufacturing and smuggling in the region.  

On 21 August, Pedersen spoke by telephone with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi. In a Twitter post following the conversation, Safadi noted that the discussion focused on efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis in accordance with resolution 2254 of 18 December 2015 through Arab and UN tracks. During the conversation, both sides agreed to maintain coordination for bringing an end to the conflict and addressing its consequences. The next day, Pedersen spoke to Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. They discussed the outcomes of the 15 August meeting of the Arab ministerial liaison committee and exchanged views on the efforts being undertaken to address the Syrian crisis, according to media reports 

On 23 August, the Council met on the political situation in Syria. UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen and Deputy Director of Women Now for Development Lubna Alkanawati briefed. In his briefing, Pedersen gave a detailed account of the continued hostilities within Syria and called for a sustained calm to build a nationwide ceasefire and address the threats posed by “proscribed terrorist groups”. He welcomed the fact that reconvening the Constitutional Committee is a point of consensus among several key actors. He emphasised the importance of resuming the Constitutional Committee’s work and said that he “continue[s] to seek to facilitate consensus to overcome the issues that have prevented the Constitutional Committee from meeting in Geneva”. 

The continuing hostilities in parts of Syria include Russian air strikes that hit the western outskirts of Idlib governorate on 21 August, targeting a Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) military base. (HTS is an armed opposition group that is designated by the Security Council as a terrorist organisation and that controls parts of Syria’s north-west.) According to media reports, the attack killed at least eight HTS fighters and wounded several others. Later the same day, the Israel Defence Forces conducted airstrikes in the vicinity of Damascus, wounding one soldier and causing material damage, according to media reports 

Human Rights-Related Developments 

During its 54th session, the Human Rights Council is expected to hold an interactive dialogue on 22 September with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria and consider its report, which was not yet available at the time of writing (A/HRC/54/58).  

Women, Peace and Security  

On 2 May, the Informal Experts Group (IEG) on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) met on the situation in Syria. Pedersen and the Deputy Director of OCHA’s Operations and Advocacy Division, Heli Uusikyla, briefed. According to the summary of the meeting issued on 3 August by Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as the IEG co-chairs, together with the UK as the penholder on WPS, Council members asked questions on the humanitarian situation in the wake of the February 2023 earthquakes; gaps in humanitarian aid for women and girls, including their access to sexual and reproductive health and rights; and barriers to women’s participation in conflict resolution and humanitarian planning, among other issues. UN Women, as the IEG Secretariat, recommended that in any upcoming resolution or presidential statement the Council should consider urging greater investment in local women’s organisations to support grassroots peacebuilding efforts and humanitarian aid delivery, as well as the full, equal, and meaningful participation of diverse Syrian women in peace negotiations, political dialogues, discussions on confidence-building measures and national consultations on Syria’s future. UN Women also recommended urging the international community to fully fund the Humanitarian Response Plan 2023, with special attention to, among other matters, addressing all forms of gender-based violence and discrimination against women and girls, and ensuring women’s participation and leadership in decision-making at all levels of the humanitarian response and throughout the humanitarian programme cycle. 

Key Issues and Options  

A key issue for the Council is to ensure the continued flow of humanitarian aid to those in need in north-west Syria. A related and broader issue is how to alleviate the growing humanitarian needs in Syria. The deteriorating socioeconomic conditions are also an issue of concern. At the 23 August Council briefing, Pedersen noted that the Syrian pound has lost over 80 percent of its value in the past three months.  

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 option for Council members is to continue holding informal interactive dialogues (IIDs) with donor countries, interested regional parties, and representatives of the international humanitarian agencies operating in Syria to review the progress on the cross-border and cross-line delivery of humanitarian aid and early recovery projects. (The IID is a closed format that, unlike consultations, allows for the participation of non-UN officials and briefers.) 

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 interested member states with influence over the parties in Syria to discuss recent developments in his “step-for-step” initiative.  

Council Dynamics  

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 differing opinions on whether the provision for monthly Council briefings on humanitarian developments in Syria and the reporting requirements set out by resolution 2672 remain in effect. It appears that Russia takes the position that the absence of a resolution reauthorising the cross-border aid mechanism nullifies the effect of all provisions contained in previous resolutions, including the reporting requirements. Some other Council members apparently take the view that the provision reauthorising the cross-border mechanism, and the remainder of resolution 2672, are mutually exclusive—that all provisions except the cross-border mechanism are open-ended, and thus still applicable. It seems some Council members have also argued that the reporting requirements as outlined in resolution 2139 remain in effect; these included reporting on access to besieged and hard-to-reach areas and humanitarian access for the UN and its implementing partners across conflict lines and borders.  

The P3 and E10 (elected) members appear to support continued Council engagement on humanitarian developments in Syria. On the other hand, Russia seems to oppose any further Council engagement on Syrian humanitarian issues. 

Council members also hold diverging views on 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, other Council members, including Russia, China, and the United Arab Emirates, support the normalisation of ties with the Syrian government.  

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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
23 August 2023S/PV.9403 This was a briefing on the political situation in Syria.
Security Council Letters
15 August 2023S/2023/603 This was a letter from the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council, transmitting the exchange of letters between OCHA and the Syrian government.
13 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.

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