What's In Blue

Posted Wed 28 Aug 2019

Syria: Humanitarian and Political Briefing

Tomorrow (29 August), the Council will receive briefings on the humanitarian situation in Syria from Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock and on the political process from Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen.

The meeting is expected to focus on the recrudescence of the conflict in Idlib and neighbouring areas in north-western Syria since late April. At a 30 July briefing, Lowcock highlighted that “bombing and shelling by the Government of Syria, backed by the Russian Federation, has produced carnage in the so-called de-escalation zone of Idlib”. In mid-August, the Syrian army took control of the town of Khan Shaykhun, in Idlib province, which is strategically located along the Damascus-Aleppo M5 highway. According to OCHA, more than 400,000 people have fled their homes in the last four months, mostly relocating to densely populated areas close to the Turkish border where humanitarian assistance is already overstretched.

The offensive has included increasing attacks on health care facilities and personnel, most of whose coordinates the UN had “deconflicted”— that is, had shared with the parties in order to avoid attacks. The spate of attacks led ten Council members—Belgium, the Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Indonesia, Kuwait, Peru, Poland, the UK and the US—to meet with the Secretary-General on 27 July to request the launch of an investigation. On 1 August, the Secretariat announced the establishment of an internal UN Headquarters Board of Inquiry to investigate the “destruction of, or damage to facilities on the deconfliction list and UN-supported facilities” in north-western Syria. At the meeting, Council members are likely to convey their expectations regarding the work of the Board of Inquiry. It remains unclear whether it will identify perpetrators and make its conclusions public or even share them directly with the Council.

As has been the case in past meetings, Council members are likely to express divergent positions regarding the situation in north-western Syria and the humanitarian impact of ongoing military operations. While most Council members have stressed the need for accountability for attacks on health care, Russia has questioned the information provided by the UN.

Lowcock is also expected to touch upon other issues covered in the 21 August 2019 report of the Secretary-General on the humanitarian situation in Syria (S/2019/674). These include the dire conditions of the makeshift camp of Rukban near the Syrian-Jordanian border; the limited access to the Hawl camp in north-eastern Syria, which hosts thousands of foreign nationals of whom 94 per cent are women and children; and how cross-border assistance remains a vital part of the humanitarian response in Syria. (The cross-border assistance authorised by the Council most recently by resolution 2449 on 13 December 2018 is due to expire on 10 January 2020.)

Council members are likely to ask Pedersen about current efforts to prevent further escalation in north-western Syria. He is also expected to brief Council members on his discussions with the parties, as well as with the Astana guarantors (Iran, Russia and Turkey), on convening a credible, balanced and inclusive constitutional committee as soon as possible, and the potential of this becoming what he has described as a door-opener for the broader political process. In July he said that international discussions and cooperation could contribute to a broader political process and declared his intention to convene a meeting in Geneva to bring together all key international players, such as the Astana guarantors, the Small Group (Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UK and the US) and China. Some members may be interested in hearing whether any steps have been taken towards holding such a meeting.

An issue that may be raised by Pedersen and some Council members is the need for greater progress in the situation of detainees, abductees and missing persons in Syria. So far only 109 people have been released in four exchanges agreed to in the framework of a working group comprising Iran, Russia, Turkey and the UN, with the International Committee of the Red Cross as an observer. At a 7 August briefing, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo called for the parties to move beyond “one for one” exchanges and engage in unilateral releases.