June 2024 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 June 2024
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Expected Council Action

In June, the Council expects to hold two meetings on Syria: one on political and humanitarian issues and another on the chemical weapons track.

Key Recent Developments

Syria remains entrenched in a devastating civil war, now in its 14th year, marked by ongoing battles on multiple fronts and a lack of progress on the political process. According to OCHA, approximately 16.7 million people—nearly 70 percent of Syria’s population—remain in dire need of humanitarian assistance, with 15.4 million people facing acute food insecurity. This is the highest recorded number of people requiring humanitarian assistance at any time during Syria’s civil war. Since 2011, over 14 million Syrians have been displaced, including 7.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), according to UNHCR.

On 25 April, UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen and OCHA Head in Geneva and Director of the Coordination Division Ramesh Rajasingham briefed the Council on the political and humanitarian tracks in Syria, respectively. Pedersen described the continuing hostilities in the country, including missile and drone strikes by pro-government forces and attacks by the Security Council-listed terrorist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in the north-west; sustained attacks by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh); and Turkish drone strikes and growing insurgency by some tribal elements against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a primarily Kurdish group opposing the Syrian government, in the north-east. He warned that “Syria is [being] treated by many as a sort of free-for-all space for settling scores”, adding that “any temptation to ignore or merely contain the Syrian conflict itself would be a mistake”. Pedersen also stressed the need for regional de-escalation, starting with an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

With regard to the resumption of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, Pedersen said that despite intense efforts, there has not been any progress. (The Constitutional Committee has not met since June 2022 because Russia, a close ally of Syria, opposed Geneva as the venue following Switzerland’s imposition of sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine in 2022.) He expressed his openness to any alternative venue that attracts consensus of both the Syrian parties and the host country, while noting that he is continuing engagements in this regard. In the meantime, however, he appealed to the parties to resume the Committee’s work in Geneva as a bridging option. He also stressed the need for exploring a new and comprehensive approach to addressing the wide range of issues facing Syria. (For background, see our What’s in Blue story of 24 April.)

In his remarks, Rajasingham provided an overview of the increasingly dire humanitarian situation in the country and the devastating consequences of the persisting insecurity on civilians. He also described the continuing threat posed by explosive ordnance, noting that Syria witnessed more civilian casualties in 2023 from landmines, explosive remnants of war, and improvised explosive devices than any other country. He underscored that funding shortages for relief efforts had significantly curtailed the ability of humanitarian organisations to provide assistance in the country. He said that hundreds of medical facilities and mobile health teams are at risk of closing in the coming months because of funding constraints, which could affect access to life-saving care for millions, including urgently needed maternal, sexual and reproductive care for 4.1 million women and girls of reproductive age. (For background and more information, see the Syria brief in our May Monthly Forecast.)

According to the 16 May OCHA situation report, Syria’s 2024 Humanitarian Response Plan, which calls for $4.07 billion, was only six percent funded. At the same time, the Syria Cross-Border Humanitarian Fund—a multi-donor country-based pooled fund facilitating delivery of humanitarian assistance across border and conflict lines—had received only $9 million in contributions this year, as at 15 May, which is $92 million less than the fund had received during the same period in 2023.

The ministerial session of the EU-sponsored eighth Brussels Conference, titled “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region”, was convened on 27 May. The conference aimed at deepening engagement among the relevant stakeholders in the Syrian conflict and garnering financial support for Syrians in need inside Syria as well as in neighbouring countries as refugees. The donor community pledged €7.5 billion, including €5 billion in grants and €2.5 billion of loan for 2024 and future years.

In a 10 May press release, OCHA welcomed the Syrian government’s decision to extend its authorisation for the use of the Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee border crossings at the Syria-Türkiye border—used by UN humanitarian agencies and their partners for conducting cross-border humanitarian operations—until 13 August. Humanitarian operations have also continued through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing at the Syria-Türkiye border, which, according to OCHA, is an essential lifeline for reaching millions of Syrians in north-west Syria who remain in dire need of humanitarian assistance, including food, nutrition, health, shelter, protection, education, and other critical support.

Heavy flooding in several parts of north-west Syria has further exacerbated the humanitarian situation. According to the 16 May OCHA situation report, heavy rainfall and flooding that struck areas in Idlib and northern Aleppo on 1 May affected more than 12,600 people. Due to the flooding, over 2,500 tents and 200 shelters were damaged at 33 displacement camps, mostly in Idlib. The report added that on 6 May, an OCHA team completed a cross-border mission from Türkiye to Idlib to assess the impact of the floods. Following the visit, the OCHA team held a meeting with the focal points of the clusters to take stock of the response and address the remaining gaps. Since the first inter-agency visit to Idlib on 14 February 2023 in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes that struck south-east Türkiye and northern Syria on 6 February 2023, the UN has conducted 469 cross-border missions to north-west Syria, as at 14 May. The report said that most cross-border missions in 2024 have been carried out to conduct monitoring, assessment, and engagements with partners and communities.

World Health Organization Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Hanan Balkhy visited Syria from 14 to 18 May. She met with senior Syrian government officials in Damascus and travelled to Homs, Hama, and Aleppo governorates, where she held discussions with local health authorities. In discussions with Syrian officials, she emphasised the importance of enhancing multi-sectoral coordination and the urgency of obtaining updated health data to inform prioritised response planning. She expressed concern about the crippled health system in the country, noting that only 65 percent of hospitals and 62 percent of primary healthcare centres are currently fully operational.

On 4 March, 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 members on the 26th round of consultations between the Declaration Assessment Team (DAT) of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the Syrian authorities, which took place from 23 January to 1 February. During this round, Ebo said that the DAT stressed the need for “for tangible, scientifically plausible and verifiable explanations, amendments and documents to resolve [outstanding] issues”. The DAT also discussed the results of analysis of samples it collected between 2019 and 2023, focusing on the “unexpected presence of indicators of potentially undeclared activities involving research and development on, and the production, storage and/or weaponization of unknown quantities of chemical weapons”. He added that considering the identified gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies that remain unresolved, the declaration submitted by Syria cannot be considered accurate and complete in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. The 27th round of consultations was ongoing, at the time of writing.

On 22 February, the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) released its fourth report, based on investigations conducted from January 2023 to February 2024. The report concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that units of ISIL were responsible for the chemical weapons attack on 1 September 2015 in Marea, Syria. It added that all remnants and munitions observed at the sites were conventional artillery projectiles modified to disperse a liquid payload. The report identified four individuals as perpetrators and two ISIL members as the primary drivers of ISIL’s chemical weapons programme.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue for Council members is the ongoing hostilities in Syria. Continuing violence and the lack of accountability threaten to destabilise the country further. ISIL/Da’esh remains one of the key security threats in Syria.

Determining how the Council can address the spillover effects of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and de-escalate rising tensions in the region, including in Syria, is another important issue for the Council.

One option would be for the co-chairs of the Informal Expert Group on the Protection of Civilians (Switzerland and the UK) to hold a meeting on the situation in Syria to receive briefings from relevant UN entities about the impact of the conflict on civilians.

Another important issue for the Council is maintaining international attention on the situation in Syria when the focus has largely shifted to other crises, such as those in Gaza and Ukraine.

As well, a key issue is how to alleviate the growing humanitarian needs throughout the country. Council members could consider adopting a press statement calling on the international community to scale up the humanitarian response in Syria, including additional funding.

The need to break the underlying political impasse in Syria and support the Special Envoy’s work in this regard is another key issue. The Council could consider holding a private meeting with relevant stakeholders to discuss the impediments to the resumption of the Constitutional Committee, including the issue of venue, and support Pedersen’s efforts to reinvigorate the political process. (A private meeting is a closed, formal meeting format; unlike closed consultations, non-Council member states are allowed to participate in this format.)

Council Dynamics

Syria remains 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.

With regard to the chemical weapons track, Council members have displayed starkly different views over the years on a range of related issues, including responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the credibility of the work of the OPCW, and numerous procedural aspects of the OPCW’s decision-making bodies. While several members have consistently expressed support for the OPCW’s work, maintaining that it is credible and essential, other members, such as China and Russia, claim that its work is biased and politicised.

Switzerland is the penholder on the Syria humanitarian file.

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Security Council Resolutions
18 December 2015S/RES/2254 This was the first resolution focused exclusively on a political solution to the Syrian crisis. It was adopted unanimously.
Security Council Meeting Records
25 April 2024S/PV.9618 This was a briefing on the political and humanitarian situation in Syria.
4 March 2024S/PV.9562 This was a briefing on the Syria chemical weapons track.

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