Humanitarian Briefing on Syria
Friday morning (25 October) Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos will brief the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria, to be followed by closed consultations. While not confirmed, it is possible that some non-Council members may request to participate in the briefing under rule 37 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure of the Council. It seems that a press statement is a possible outcome, although this was not confirmed at press time.
There has been momentum for a humanitarian briefing in order to monitor whether there has been progress in gaining greater humanitarian access in Syria since the Council adopted its 2 October presidential statement on the issue (S/PRST/2013/15). However, the need for such a briefing grew more urgent amid increasingly dire reports regarding the siege of Moadamiyeh in the outskirts of Damascus.
In a press release on Saturday (19 October), Amos said that OCHA had been denied access to Moadamiyeh for months, and while 3,000 citizens had been evacuated, an equal number remained trapped amidst continued shelling and fighting. While Amos’s public remarks did not directly blame Syria for siege conditions around Moadamiyeh, media reports indicate that government troops have blocked food, medicine and supplies from entering the town for months with residents reporting that such conditions have lasted a year. Amos urged an “immediate pause in hostilities” to evacuate the remaining citizens. Amos also noted that thousands of civilians remained similarly trapped in other locations across Syria such as Nubil, Zahra, old Aleppo town, old Homs town and Hassakeh–indicating civilians under siege in both rebel and government controlled areas.
The need for a briefing was raised by the UK this morning (23 October) and there was no resistance to the proposal. Council members will likely be interested in having more clarity from Amos tomorrow on her plans to implement the 2 October presidential statement. The presidential statement urged all parties, in particular the government, to facilitate unhindered humanitarian access and paid particular attention to access for medical personnel and supplies amid reports that the government had deliberately denied access to medical care. The statement further urged the government to take immediate steps to lift its bureaucratic impediments and approve NGOs to undertake relief activities, allow additional humanitarian hubs, expedite predictable procedures to grant visas to humanitarian personnel as well as permits for convoys, and allow goods and equipment needed for humanitarian operations to be imported.
Council members will be keen to have an assessment from Amos on OCHA’s dialogue with the government following the adoption of the presidential statement and whether there has been any measurable improvement in humanitarian access in the interim. There have been indications that the government has not cooperated fully with OCHA in spite of the Council’s unanimous call for substantial, concrete and quantifiable steps to increase humanitarian access in Syria. Many Council members have pointed out that this apparent lack of robust cooperation stands in stark contrast to the government’s compliance with resolution 2118 on chemical weapons. Some Council members have attributed this to the government’s view that a presidential statement does not have the same binding weight as a resolution under international law. In addition, the government appears to be under no particular duress to change what they view as already compliant behavior vis-à-vis humanitarian issues. While Council members are pleased with Syria’s compliance with resolution 2118, there remains considerable consternation that the chemical weapons track seems to have distracted international attention away from the larger conflict, including the disastrous humanitarian situation.
The Council has already had five humanitarian briefings on Syria in 2013. Three briefings were in consultations on 18 January, 27 February and 20 June, while two others were public briefings on 18 April and 16 July. Council members are cognizant of the fact that, humanitarian access aside, Amos has in the past strongly argued that there is no humanitarian solution to the Syrian crisis and what is needed is a political solution to halt the increasing militarisation of the conflict. It is unclear whether the unconfirmed Geneva II peace talks, provisionally slated for late November, will be able to deliver such a political solution.