What's In Blue

Posted Fri 14 Dec 2012

Briefing on Syrian Humanitarian Situation

On Monday (17 December), Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, will brief Council members in consultations on the humanitarian situation in Syria and on improving humanitarian access following her anticipated visit this Saturday (15 December) to Damascus where she hopes to be able to meet with the Syrian foreign minister to discuss the delivery of humanitarian aid. In her briefing she is also likely to cover her visit to Syrian refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon from 26 to 28 November. (Amos’s last briefing to Council members on Syria was on 13 March following a visit to the country from 7 – 9 March.) The Council last met specifically on the humanitarian situation in Syria on 30 August in a high-level meeting chaired by the foreign minister of France (S/PV.6826). No outcome from the Council is expected on Monday.

Briefing Council members on 29 November, UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi asserted that the cooperation of the government of Syria with the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross had improved since the beginning of 2012, when the government denied that any need for humanitarian assistance existed. (Nonetheless, during her visit to the region at the end of November, Amos accused Syrian forces of using mortar fire to prevent refugees from crossing the border with Jordan.) In his briefing, Brahimi also estimated that there are currently two million internally displaced persons in Syria and four million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Issues of humanitarian access, security, the aid-delivery capacities of local partners and significant humanitarian funding shortfalls all remain significant problems. The onset of winter has further exacerbated the situation. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that more than 500,000 refugees have registered or were awaiting registration as of 12 December. During his briefing, Brahimi also alluded to Amos’s upcoming visit and her hopes to further improve the conditions for the delivery of aid. Council members are likely to be looking for updates on these issues from Amos.

It is possible that discussions between Council members on Monday will drift beyond the scope of the humanitarian situation in Syria to include recent political developments. On Wednesday (12 December) the Friends of Syria, a group of more than 100 nations, including the US, formally recognised the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as “the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.” Also on 12 December, Russia circulated a draft press statement condemning the 11 December Aqrab attack in Syria, and placed it under silence until noon on Thursday (13 December). However, silence was broken because of concerns over characterisation of the incident and the draft was not adopted.

Parallel to these developments, Brahimi has been meeting with Russia and the US, first with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on 6 December, and then with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns on 9 December. In remarks to the press following those meetings, Brahimi described them as constructive. Council members may be interested discussing these meetings and any prospects for positive developments from them.

Although there has been increased diplomatic activity on Syria, the Council is likely to maintain a low-profile on the issue until there is a fundamental change in the situation. While Brahimi has been focusing his efforts on getting the major players at the international level to increase pressure on the key players on the ground, he made it clear during his 29 November briefing to Council members that a political solution to the Syrian crisis, in his view, would need to be founded upon a new Security Council resolution based on the Action Group for Syria’s 30 June Geneva Communiqué. (The Communiqué identified steps for a “Syrian-led political process leading to a transition”.) However, at this point Council members appear to agree that that there is no point in bringing a draft resolution to the Council only to have it vetoed by one or more permanent members. This means that further Council involvement is likely only if there is a fundamental shift in the Council dynamics and agreement in principle among the P5, in particular Russia and the US, on the way forward.

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