Briefing by Humanitarian Chief on Access in Syria
Tomorrow morning (28 March), Emergency Relief Coordinator and head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Valerie Amos will brief Council members in consultations on the first report (S/2014/208) since the adoption of resolution 2139 on humanitarian access in Syria. Her briefing will likely influence the approach of many Council members to any possible next steps in assessing compliance with the resolution.
In her last briefing to Council members on 13 February, Amos reported that the conflict was intensifying due to the continued use of siege as a weapon of war, denial of humanitarian assistance and aerial bombardment. Stressing that the Security Council had a responsibility to act, Amos also reported that the limited progress achieved has been uneven and painstakingly slow and that sporadic aid deliveries are not enough. On 22 February, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2139, requesting monthly reporting and expressing its intent to take further action if Syria does not comply.
The situation in Syria continues to be devastating, with a death toll that is conservatively estimated at 146,000, with over 680,000 injured since the conflict began. According to UN sources, there are almost 2.6 million refugees, 6.5 million internally displaced persons, 9.3 million needing humanitarian assistance, and almost 220,000 living in besieged areas. There are a further 3.5 million in areas rarely accessed by humanitarian workers—an increase of 1 million since the beginning of 2014.
Tomorrow, Council members will be interested in more details about the aerial bombardment of civilian areas, conditions in siege and hard-to-reach areas, where cross-border access has been granted, and if administrative procedures regarding humanitarian access have been streamlined. A majority of Council members are disappointed that Syria has not done more to implement resolution 2139 as only incremental progress was described in the Secretary-General’s report.
Council members expect Amos to expand on this most recent report which covers the period from 22 February to 21 March. It describes continuing aerial bombardments by the government and increasing use of car bombs and suicide attacks by extremist groups. During this period, no new ceasefires were negotiated to gain access to besieged areas and male evacuees from the February Homs evacuation were still being held by the government. There had also been no progress in the easing of administrative hurdles put in place by the government in order for the UN and partners to gain access. Despite the Council’s demand for medical neutrality, the government has demanded that all delivery of medical supplies be negotiated on a case by case basis.
Regarding cross-border access, two crossings on the Turkish border that would allow access to 3.35 million people remained a red-line for the government since the crossings were in opposition-held areas. The government did approve the opening of the Nusaybin crossing on the Turkish border, which is in a Kurdish controlled area—but access to this crossing only addresses a fraction of the needs. Council members may ask how many other border crossings OCHA has requested use of but remain off-limits, thereby depriving OCHA and partners of the shortest route possible to reach those in greatest need.
Council members will also be seeking information from Amos on which opposition groups are blocking access. Media reports indicate this is largely being done by Islamic extremist groups such as the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. Council members will want clarification to avoid grouping all opposition groups together as an obstacle to granting humanitarian access, in particular as they assess compliance with how parties on the ground are implementing resolution 2139.
Most Council members are frustrated that resolution 2139 has not led to appreciably improved humanitarian access given the nearly apocalyptic situation on the ground. Nevertheless, there are no expectations that there will be a discussion about imposing measures under Chapter VII for non-compliance this month.
However, many Council members, in particular the P3, Australia and Luxembourg, will be seeking more detailed information from Amos tomorrow to aid their on-going assessment of compliance with resolution 2139. A few Council members think the second 2139 implementation report may be more determinative of the Council’s next steps.