Syria Humanitarian Briefing
Tomorrow afternoon (26 February), Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kyung-wha Kang and High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres will brief the Council on the devastating humanitarian situation in Syria and neighbouring countries.
Tomorrow’s briefing will not be followed by consultations, as has been the practice since August 2014. Instead, Council members are expected to give their views in public interventions. This open format will allow Council members to publicly convey their positions on the humanitarian track as the civil war in Syria heads into its fifth year with a conservative estimate of 220,000 killed and overwhelming evidence that humanitarian aid has been instrumentalised by all sides for military gain.
Guterres will brief on the plight of the 3.8 million refugees who have fled Syria and the importance of supporting the funding needs of the UN’s 2015 Syria response plan at the annual Kuwait Donor Conference, to be held on 31 March. Council members also expect him to highlight the challenges to Syria’s neighbouring countries where the needs of Syrian refugees far outpace the ability of the host country to respond without significantly increased support from the international community. In addition, Guterres is likely to emphasise that the overwhelming needs and number of Syrian refugees have led Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to restrict the refugee influx due to concerns about the destabilising impact on their own security and economic situations. In that regard, he will likely urge other member states to shoulder their share of the responsibility to provide safe haven for refugees. It seems a draft press statement that would address the refugee crisis and reiterate Council members’ support for the Kuwait Donor Conference is being considered. Such support was previously signalled by Council members in 28 January press elements drafted by humanitarian leads Jordan, New Zealand and Spain. At press time, however, the timing and substance of any potential press statement remained unclear.
Kang will present the Secretary-General’s latest report on the humanitarian situation (S/2015/124). Council members expect her to elaborate on five areas that the report identified as needing urgent progress to improve the humanitarian situation in Syria: lifting the siege on the 212,000 people besieged in different parts of the country largely by government forces, ensuring that medical and surgical supplies reach all parts of the country, ending the practice of denying key services as a weapon of war, rebuilding the education system and ending relentless and indiscriminate attacks, including the use of barrel bombs.
Some Council members expect these five priority areas to set the stage for a reinvigorated Council discussion of the humanitarian challenges in Syria. In particular, it may be a catalyst for Council members to engage more deeply and focus on these priority areas, one at a time, in future monthly humanitarian briefings. The government’s use of barrel bombs in violation of resolution 2139, allegations that chlorine has been weaponised in barrel bombs and the centrality of ceasing aerial bombardment to the success of any UN-mediated freeze of hostilities in Aleppo are all developments that have led some Council members to the conclusion that a focus on ending indiscriminate attacks might be a good place to begin such in-depth discussions. (Human Rights Watch, which is regularly cited in the monthly humanitarian reports, has evidence of 1,450 sites that the government struck in 2014, the overwhelming majority in Aleppo.)
Council members expect that Kang’s briefing will also reference Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura’s announcement that Syria had indicated a willingness to halt all aerial bombardment over the city for a period of six weeks and—if a start date is agreed between the government and the opposition—for a humanitarian surge in the UN-identified district of Salah al-Din in Aleppo. (At press time, de Mistura was in the region and some Council members were expecting an imminent announcement.) Given the government’s use of siege and starvation tactics to secure ceasefires in other opposition-held areas, several Council members are likely to reiterate that any freeze be scrupulously implemented in adherence to international humanitarian law.
Finally, Kang will update Council members on the 66 cross-border aid deliveries that have occurred while reiterating that cross-line deliveries within Syria remain difficult. Those requiring humanitarian assistance in Syria number 12.2 million. Of those needing assistance, 7.6 million are internally displaced, 4.8 million are in hard-to-reach areas and 212,000 are besieged.
Looking ahead, Council members expect to receive their next briefing on the chemical weapons track on 5 March. The P5 have been negotiating a draft resolution on chemical weapons, specifically on the issue of chlorine bombs, but it is unclear when, or if, they will reach agreement on such a text for circulation to the broader membership.