What's In Blue

Posted Wed 25 Jun 2014

Briefing on Declining Humanitarian Access in Syria

Tomorrow morning (26 June), Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos will brief the Council on the fourth report since the adoption of resolution 2139 on humanitarian access in Syria (S/2014/427). The briefing will be followed by consultations. Besides updating Council members on the humanitarian situation, the briefing and consultations are likely to feed into current discussions among some Council members on a follow-up draft resolution on humanitarian access.

Council members expect Amos to report that there has been no progress in implementing any of the key demands in resolution 2139, such as authorising cross-border aid operations, allowing access to besieged or hard-to-reach areas, observing medical neutrality, ceasing aerial bombardments or easing administrative hurdles. In fact, since the adoption of resolution 2139 on 22 February 2014, those in need have increased from 9.3 million to 10.8 million and those in hard-to-reach areas have increased from 3.5 million to 4.7 million. Most alarmingly, while needs have increased, access continues to drop significantly due to even more arduous clearance and transport procedures put in place by the government over the course of the last two months.

Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kyung-wha Kang last briefed Council members on 29 May when she reported that the government was failing its responsibility to look after its own people and that its arbitrary denial of aid, in particular by not opening relevant border crossings, was a violation of resolution 2139 and international law. She reiterated calls on the Security Council to urgently consider next steps to ensure compliance with its demands.

On 27 May, in the lead up to Kang’s briefing, humanitarian leads Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg along with the P3 shared with China and Russia a draft resolution tightly focused on cross-border aid. In the interim there has been a month of intense and complex negotiations among the humanitarian leads and the P5, in consultation with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The initial draft was a short text that, under Chapter VII, would have permitted the UN to carry out cross-border aid operations in the absence of state consent. China and Russia, clearly uncomfortable with the prospect of casting a fifth veto on Syria, have been genuinely engaged in negotiations while firmly flagging their objection to a Chapter VII resolution challenging state sovereignty.

Early in the negotiations, Russia suggested that the draft resolution expand upon the suggestion in the 22 May report on humanitarian access (S/2014/365) that the UN stood ready to put in place a mechanism which ensured aid operations at border posts outside government control are conducted in a transparent way. Much of the negotiations since have been dedicated to working out what the modalities of such a monitoring mechanism would be while, in tandem, Russia sought buy-in from Syria. Some progress was made and it seems Syria has agreed in principle to the mechanism at four UN-identified priority border crossings outside government control. However, a fundamental obstacle remains. Syria has insisted that all such aid would need to be redistributed under the government’s authority, undermining the original intent of enabling aid to reach those in need via the most direct route possible.

With Amos expected to present a report tomorrow that clearly demonstrates that the regime has used the distribution of humanitarian aid as a tactic of war, the humanitarian leads and the P3 are unlikely to agree to a text which could potentially bolster this particular tool in Syria’s war strategy. The guiding principle for these members has been to come up with a formula in New York that will have a positive impact on the ground in Syria. In addition Syria’s letter to the Council on 18 June stating that the delivery of aid without consent constitutes an attack on Syria (S/2014/426) is a worrying development.

Council members outside of the current negotiations have been waiting for a draft to be circulated to the broader membership for weeks, and while there is some sense that tomorrow’s briefing could lead to a decision on what to do with the current draft, members have become hesitant to speculate further regarding the timing, let alone the substance, of the draft.

Besides tomorrow’s briefing and the draft resolution following up resolution 2139, the next key moment for Council members on Syria will be in early July when Special Coordinator of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-UN Joint Mission Sigrid Kaag will brief on the chemical weapons track and the recent announcement that all declared chemicals have been removed from Syria.

Finally, on the political track, Council members are anticipating the announcement of a new Special Representative to succeed Lakhdar Brahimi. In a 20 June public address the Secretary-General said he would make the announcement “soon”.