Syria: Vote on an Aleppo Draft Resolution
Tomorrow morning (18 December), the Security Council will hold consultations to discuss the situation in Syria and is expected to vote on a draft resolution circulated by France on Friday. The draft demands that all parties provide the UN with safe, immediate and unimpeded access to monitor evacuations from besieged parts of Aleppo, and to monitor the protection of civilians inside Aleppo. It requests the Secretary-General to report back to the Council within five days.
Heavy aerial bombardment of eastern rebel-held Aleppo accompanied by a government ground offensive, supported by allied Shi’a militias from Iraq and Lebanon, resulted in the government retaking approximately 95 percent of eastern Aleppo from armed opposition groups by Friday (16 December). As the government advanced into eastern Aleppo, reports emerged of government-allied militias executing opposition fighters’ family members, men between the ages of 18 and 40 being disappeared, and men being inducted into government forces against their will.
Earlier this week, Turkey and Russia reached an agreement for the evacuation of fighters and civilians from what remained of rebel-held eastern Aleppo. The evacuations began, but quickly stalled amid reports of evacuation convoys coming under fire, evacuation routes being cut off by government-allied militias, individuals being removed from buses leaving eastern Aleppo, summary executions, and an additional government demand, not part of the original agreement, that evacuations from eastern Aleppo would be conditioned on prior evacuations from two rebel-besieged villages: Foah and Kefraya.
It is believed that tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped in what is a now a very small and densely populated area under siege and are being subjected to government air strikes. On 14 December, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein said that he was “appalled” that the deal enabling the evacuation of thousands of civilians from the remaining opposition-held area of eastern Aleppo had collapsed, and that the resumption of heavy aerial bombardment by Syrian government forces and their allies on an area packed with civilians most likely constitutes war crimes.
Against this backdrop, OCHA head Stephen O’Brien briefed Council members under “any other business” on Friday (16 December). He reiterated that the UN stands ready to help but that it had only been granted very limited access to eastern Aleppo. He reported that the UN was waiting for the Syrian government to approve additional UN staff to be deployed to Aleppo and for permission for the UN to access all affected areas there.
France put a draft resolution in blue following O’Brien’s briefing. It seems that most Council members are supportive of the draft which is tightly focused on the protection of civilians in Aleppo, the need for evacuations to be carried out in line with international humanitarian law, and the importance of direct observation, independent monitoring of and reporting on the evacuations and the situation of civilians inside eastern Aleppo.
It seems that France held bi-lateral discussions with Russia today, but it is unclear if all of Russia’s concerns have been adequately addressed. Tomorrow’s vote follows the 8 October Russian veto of a draft resolution penned by France and Spain calling for an end to all military flights over Aleppo, and a veto by both China and Russia on 5 December of a draft resolution put forward by Egypt, New Zealand and Spain calling for an end to all attacks in Aleppo for seven days.
Meanwhile, the US has indicated that it is willing to table a Security Council resolution calling for an emergency special session of the General Assembly under the “uniting for peace” formula if the situation in eastern Aleppo does not demonstrably improve. The vote on such a resolution would be considered a procedural one and therefore not subject to the veto. Resolution 337 A (V), adopted on 3 November 1950, which became known as the “Uniting for Peace” resolution, states that when the Council fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security because of a lack of agreement of the permanent members, the General Assembly can consider the matter and make recommendations for collective measures. Members are uncertain if the possibility of a “uniting for peace” resolution will influence Russia’s vote tomorrow morning.
Postscript: During the consultations preceding the scheduled vote on Sunday, 18 December 2016, Russia raised objections regarding UN access to eastern Aleppo and made clear that it would veto the French draft. After three hours of negotiations between France, Russia and the US, a deal was reached. Following the incorporation of amendments from Russia, resolution 2328 was adopted unanimously on Monday, 19 December.