What's In Blue

Syria Humanitarian Briefing

Tomorrow (27 April), Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien will brief the Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria. Members are expected to make statements in the open chamber following the briefing, which takes place amidst ongoing fighting with continued displacement and serious hindrances to humanitarian access.

The briefing will focus on the impact of the deteriorating security situation on the humanitarian crisis with the intensification of the conflict heightening the number of casualties and displaced. O’Brien is expected to reiterate the need for a political solution to the crisis in order to end the suffering of the civilian population, a point frequently emphasised by Council members.

O’Brien will also most likely reiterate concerns related to evacuations from some towns, such as those covered by the 2015 “four towns agreement” (two besieged by armed opposition, Madaya and Zabadani, and two by government and Hezbollah militias, Foah and Kafraya), as well as Wadi Barada and Al-Waer, among other areas. During his briefing last month, O’Brien emphasised that any “evacuation of civilians must be safe, must be voluntary, and must be to a place of their choosing,” adding that those who are displaced must also be allowed to return home voluntarily, circumstances permitting. It seems that the head of the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Paulo Pinheiro, expressed similar concerns about “evacuation agreements” in the Arria formula meeting held with members on 21 April, maintaining that they often occur without appropriate consultation with the population, who are transferred to areas where they experience living conditions that are frequently more difficult than in the places they left. A number of Council members share these concerns; however, Russia in particular believes that these agreements are working and that they save lives. Council members may voice their concern about whether those who left the towns had done so voluntarily, and inquire about the fate of the civilian populations as result of these evacuation agreements. Some members may also raise the issue of forced transfers from besieged areas to Idlib and whether the potential exists for increased radicalisation.

O’Brien is also expected to focus on the ongoing difficulties with humanitarian access, especially to besieged and hard-to-reach areas, such as in eastern Ghutah and in parts of Homs, Hama and Idlib. The most recent Secretary-General’s report on humanitarian issues related to Syria noted that the “delivery of humanitarian assistance to people in need remained extremely challenging in many areas of the country as a result of active conflict, shifting conflict lines, administrative impediments and deliberate restrictions on the movement of people and goods by the parties to the conflict.” In addition to government imposed restrictions, armed opposition groups also continue to impose access restrictions, including by requesting non-governmental organisations to provide information on staffing and new registration requirements.

With the briefing by Pinheiro still fresh in their minds, some members may inquire about any possible UN follow-up to the report of the Commission of Inquiry that strongly suggested that the 19 September attack on a humanitarian convoy outside Aleppo was carried out by the Syrian air force to hinder the delivery of aid and target aid workers (A/HRC/34/64).

O’Brien may welcome the pledges made during the 4-5 April Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region. During the conference, member states pledged 6 billion dollars for 2017 in immediate and longer-term support. O’Brien may emphasise the importance of fulfilling these pledges; with regard to the Syria crisis, he recently noted “the needs have never been greater and the requirements have never been higher.”

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