Syria: Briefing and Consultations on political and humanitarian developments
Tomorrow (27 June), the Security Council expects to be briefed on political and humanitarian developments in Syria. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura will brief on political matters, while OCHA’s Director of Operations John Ging will brief on the humanitarian situation. Consultations will follow.
As military logic continues to drive developments in Syria, the ongoing fighting in “de-escalation” zones is expected to be a key focus of the meeting. In this regard, Council members might be interested in the efforts of de Mistura and the Secretary-General to prevent violations of the de-escalation agreements, including their conversations with regional and international actors in this regard.
The military escalation in the country’s southwest is expected to be high on tomorrow’s agenda. Although the area is supposed to be a de-escalation zone, as negotiated last year by Jordan, Russia and the US, the government started a military offensive there earlier this month with the support of Russia. On 22 June, Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement calling for an immediate end to the military escalation in the southwest and urging all stakeholders to respect their obligations under international law and international humanitarian law, including for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure. Despite the strategic importance of the area, which borders Israeli-occupied territory in addition to Jordan, the US has reportedly told Syrian rebels not to expect military support. Most Council members are expected to condemn the intensification of military operations and call for an immediate end to the violence in the southwest.
Against the backdrop of military escalation, Council members are also likely to be interested in de Mistura’s ideas for re-launching the UN-facilitated political process. In recent months, he has focused on facilitating the establishment of a constitutional committee, which was the main outcome of a January conference hosted in Sochi by Russia, along with Iran and Turkey. It was agreed at the meeting that the UN would help in forming a constitutional committee, including defining its mandate, terms of reference, powers, rules of procedure, and the selection criteria for its composition.
Although the Syrian government has repeatedly questioned the committee’s legitimacy, de Mistura announced at a press conference on 14 June that Syria had provided a list of 50 candidates to be members of the committee. He told reporters that opposition groups are working on providing their list as well. He also emphasised the importance of including civil society and the aspiration of having women make up 30 percent of the committee. On 18-19 June, de Mistura convened a meeting in Geneva with senior officials from Iran, Russia and Turkey to discuss the formation of the constitutional committee. On 25 June, he held a similar meeting with senior members of the so-called Small Group (France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UK and the US).
Ging will most likely emphasise that the humanitarian situation in Syria remains critical, as outlined in a 20 June report of the Secretary-General (S/2018/619). OCHA has repeatedly described how, after taking control of Eastern Ghouta and Yarmouk, the government has continued to prevent regular access by UN humanitarian actors, which is required in order for needs to be assessed and for assistance and protection to be scaled up. The difficult humanitarian situation in the southwest of Syria will most likely be underscored in the context of the military escalation there. Guterres noted in his 22 June statement that attacks in this part of Syria have displaced thousands of civilians, the majority of whom are moving towards the Jordanian border. The situation in the Idlib governorate may also be discussed. Displaced civilians and militants have fled to Idlib, one of the “de-escalation” zones, to escape fighting. The UN has repeatedly warned of the impact that a military offensive would have in this region, which is overcrowded with vulnerable people.
Council members are also expected to discuss the review of the UN’s humanitarian cross-border operations, circulated as a 19 June Secretary-General’s report (S/2018/617). The review, which had been requested by Russia in the negotiation of resolution 2393 in December 2017, explains the processes in place to ensure accountable, effective and transparent cross-border operations, based on assessments of needs and with prior notification to the Syrian government. The review emphasises that there are 2.67 million people in need in areas accessed solely through cross-border operations and that these deliveries remain critical.
In December 2017, the adoption of resolution 2393, drafted by Egypt, Japan and Sweden, renewed for a year the authorisation of cross-border and cross-line humanitarian access to Syria. It was adopted with 12 affirmative votes and abstentions by Bolivia, China and Russia. In explaining their votes, China and Russia highlighted the importance of working through the government and eventually rolling back the provisions for cross-border humanitarian access that had been devised originally as a temporary measure.
Council members are likely to be interested in hearing China and Russia’s reactions to the review in anticipation of the negotiations to renew the authorisation of cross-border and cross-line humanitarian access before January 2019.