Meetings on Syria
Two Security Council meetings are scheduled on Syria over the next two days. Tomorrow (18 April) the Council will hold an open briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria, to be followed by closed consultations. Then on 19 April, Council members will receive a briefing in consultations from UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi. There are currently four briefers scheduled for tomorrow’s humanitarian briefing: Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Bangura, and Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui. Syria and several of its neighbors are also expected to make statements at the open meeting. No outcome is expected from either meeting.
Humanitarian Briefing on Thursday 18 April
Although the Council has had two humanitarian briefings in consultations on Syria in 2013 (18 January and 27 February), this is the first public briefing on the humanitarian situation since 30 August 2012. (That meeting which was held during France’s presidency featured high-level representation from France, Jordan and Turkey and included briefings from Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson and Guterres.) It seems that the idea of a public humanitarian briefing had been raised by several Council members following the 27 February briefings by Amos, Bangura and Guterres and that Australia made the request for this public meeting. It appears that a number of Council members are hoping that the public format of this briefing will help to galvanise the international response to the deepening humanitarian crisis in Syria and the wider region.
A 15 April op-ed in the New York Times co-authored by Amos, Guterres, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme, Ertharin Cousin, the Executive Director of the UNICEF, Anthony Lake, and the Director General of the World Health Organisation, Margaret Chan painted a dire picture of the humanitarian situation in Syria and made a strong appeal for more funds but also for the international community to use its influence to save the Syrian people and the region from disaster. It is likely that a similarly strong message will be conveyed by a number of the briefers during tomorrow’s meeting.
Several Council members are also hoping that a public briefing will more widely highlight the scale of the humanitarian crisis. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees currently lists more than 1.3 million persons of concern who have fled the conflict in Syria, including more than 1 million registered refugees. Guterres is expected to provide an update on the refugee figures and possibly talk about the latest inter-agency aid convoy to Aleppo. He is also likely to warn of the political, economic and security impact on Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Of concern to many Council members is the poor funding of the UN’s humanitarian efforts and there is likely to be interest in hearing of any progress made in this area. At her 27 February briefing to Council members, Amos highlighted the fact that countries had not followed through on their pledges of humanitarian aid made at the end of January and that the UN’s humanitarian efforts were grossly underfunded. (At press time, slightly more than $500 million has been funded of the $1.5 billion OCHA has requested, or about 34 percent.)
Bangura is expected to highlight the findings from the recent Secretary-General’s report on sexual violence in conflict (S/2013/149) that identified Syrian government forces and its allied militia, the Shabbiha, as the main perpetrators of sexual violence against women, men and children and noted widening allegations of sexual violence being committed by all parties in the conflict. Bangura is also likely to underline that Syrian refugees have cited rape or the fear of rape by armed men as one of the main reasons why women and girls flee conflict-affected cities. She is also expected to reiterate that the government has agreed to having her office visit in 2013. (Syrian government forces and the Shabbiha were added to the annex of the 2013 Secretary-General’s report which lists parties credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for patterns of rape and other forms of sexual violence.)
Zerrougui, who will be briefing the Council for the first time on a country-specific situation related to children and armed conflict, is expected to highlight her office’s engagement with both the Syrian government and the opposition. (Syrian government forces were added to Annex I of the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict in 2012 for killing and maiming children as well as for attacks on schools and hospitals.) She may also provide information from her meetings with both the authorities and the armed opposition during her visit to Syria in December 2012. Some members may also be interested in progress on setting up a regional monitoring and reporting mechanism for the situation of children affected by the conflict in Syria.
Some Council members may also be interested in following up on findings contained in two recent reports, Syria’s Children: A Lost Generation? by UNICEF and Children under Fire by Save the Children, on the impact of the Syrian conflict on children. One of the findings in the Save the Children report is that children are being used by both sides in the conflict. Some Council members may be interested in any information Zerrougui might have on such violations.
It is unlikely that there will be any new Council decision on the humanitarian situation following tomorrow’s briefing, as the dynamic on the Council regarding Syria remains unchanged. (The issue of cross-border humanitarian access has been a particular sticking point for Council members, as Russia has previously rejected its inclusion in Council statements.)
Briefing by Brahimi on Friday 19 April
Considerably less is known about Brahimi’s motivations for requesting to brief Council members in closed consultations on 19 April. Brahimi last briefed the Council on 29 January, and at that time made quite clear that he would not be coming back until the Council made headway on agreeing on the interpretation of the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012.
Council members seem doubtful that Brahimi sees any hope for progress in the political track in the coming weeks. Some Council members feel that the decision of the Arab League on 26 March to seat the opposition Syrian National Coalition as the sole representative of conflict-torn Syria at its annual summit in Doha, Qatar was counter-productive in advancing a political solution. Some suspect that Brahimi’s briefing will raise similar concerns.
Many Council members may also be aware that statements made in these consultations may have an impact on a draft General Assembly resolution on Syria, drafted by Qatar with several Arab co-sponsors (though not the Arab Group as a whole) and which is expected to be voted on next week. Russia and like-minded countries have opposed the draft as being “one sided” in its opposition to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and in its perceived endorsement of the Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. It seems that the co-sponsors of the draft resolution are waiting for this week’s Council briefings before finalising the elements that will be added to a revised draft on Friday evening.