Syria: Vote on Fifth Draft Resolution on Cross-Border Humanitarian Access*
Today (11 July), the Security Council will again vote on a draft resolution circulated by the humanitarian co-penholders (Germany and Belgium) authorising cross-border and cross-line humanitarian access in Syria. The announcement of the results on the draft resolution, which will be at 1730 hours today, follows the announcement earlier today of the results of the voting on three amendments to the draft text: one put forward by China and two by Russia. None of these amendments received the required nine votes to be adopted. The current draft resolution is the fifth this week on the Syria cross-border/cross-line mechanism; given the intensity of the negotiations and what appear to be continuing divisions on several aspects of the draft, the outcome of the vote is uncertain. The previous authorisation for cross-border and cross-line humanitarian access in Syria under resolution 2504 expired at midnight yesterday, US Eastern Standard Time.
The draft resolution calls for the re-authorisation of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Syria and Turkey for 12 months. China unsuccessfully proposed that the text be amended to include language from resolution 2532 on COVID-19 from 1 July that “recogniz[es] efforts and measures proposed by the Secretary-General concerning the response to the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to conflict-affected countries”. This has been interpreted as a reference to the Secretary-General’s March call to “waiv[e] sanctions imposed on countries to ensure access to food, essential health supplies, and COVID-19 medical support”. Russia requested, also without success, that the text include language reflecting “improvements of cross-line deliveries of UN humanitarian assistance” as well as language requesting that the Secretary-General report on “the humanitarian impact of unilateral coercive measures” (that is, unilateral sanctions).
This draft resolution currently in blue was circulated after the second Russian draft resolution this week failed to be adopted yesterday evening, as only four Council members supported it. This Russian draft, like the previous one, was proposed as an alternative to the Belgian-German draft that Russia vetoed jointly with China. It would have re-authorised a single border crossing — the Bab al-Hawa crossing between Syria and Turkey — for 12 months. It also would have requested the Secretary-General to provide a report by the end of August on the “direct and indirect impact of unilateral coercive measures imposed on Syria on its socio-economic situation and humanitarian deliveries from outside Syria”; and to “continue to include in his reports the humanitarian impact of unilateral coercive measures”.
After the third draft resolution on Syria this week failed to be adopted yesterday, Council members held a closed videoconference (VTC) meeting at 1400 hours. Following the meeting, it emerged that Council members had agreed to a written voting procedure on the Russian draft resolution between 1600 and 1800 hours yesterday, with an announcement of the results immediately thereafter. As the Russian draft had been circulated a day earlier, Council members had already sought instructions from their respective capitals and were able to use a dramatically shortened voting procedure. With the Russian draft resolution having failed to be adopted, it seems that the penholders envisioned a new draft resolution that would include the re-authorisation of the Bab al-Hawa crossing for 12 months and the Bab al-Salam crossing for three months. Following further negotiations, however, they decided to circulate a draft that did not include a re-authorisation of Bab al-Salam, which is the current draft that is being voted one today.
The vote today on the current draft resolution follows six days that saw the Council fail to adopt a resolution on the delivery of cross-border humanitarian aid in Syria on four separate occasions:
- On Tuesday (7 July), a draft resolution put forward by the humanitarian co-penholders (Germany and Belgium) which would have re-authorised the Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa border crossings for 12 months was vetoed by Russia and China, with all other members in support of the text.
- On Wednesday (8 July), a draft resolution circulated by Russia and calling for re-authorisation of one border crossing, at Bab al-Hawa, for six months was not adopted having received only four votes in favour (Russia, China, Viet Nam and South Africa), with seven against (Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States) and four abstentions (Indonesia, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Tunisia).
- On Friday morning (10 July), a third draft resolution by the co-penholders, calling for the re-authorisation of the Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa border crossings for six months, was again vetoed by Russia and China, with all other Council members supporting the text.
- On Friday evening (10 July), the second Russian draft resolution described above was voted down. China and Russia were again joined by South Africa and Viet Nam in supporting the text. Seven members voted against (Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States) and four abstained (Indonesia, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Tunisia.
As has been widely reported, two main points of contention have stood in the way of a Council agreement on a resolution: the mechanism itself (its duration and the number of border crossings to be authorised), and the impact of sanctions. The question of the number of border crossings to be authorised and the duration of the mechanism has been a long-standing issue. On 10 January 2020, resolution 2504 – which was adopted after contentious negotiations by a vote of 11 in favour, none against, and four abstentions (China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) – re-authorised two border crossings (Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa) for six months, but did not re-authorise two other crossings that had previously been in the mandate: al-Ramtha (Syria/Jordan border) and Al Yarubiyah (Syria/Iraq border). Russia has regularly argued against the ongoing need for the cross-border aid delivery mechanism, which was established by resolution 2165 (2014). In its Explanation of Vote for its most recently cast veto, posted to its Mission’s website, Russia noted that the “mechanism was established in 2014 as an urgent and temporary exceptional measure…” and that its “position on the mechanism has always been clear – the gradual closure of the crossing points and phasing out of the whole mechanism based on the assessment of the situation in the country”.
The second contentious issue has been the impact of unilateral sanctions on Syria. Russia and China, in particular, have strongly reiterated the Secretary-General’s call in March for the “waiving of sanctions imposed on countries to ensure access to food, essential health supplies, and COVID-19 medical support”. In the course of the negotiations, they have stated that sanctions have had a severe negative impact on the humanitarian situation. The US, and European members of the Council, maintain that critical humanitarian goods and medical supplies are exempt from sanctions.
Both the Secretary-General and OCHA have recently made clear their assessment that two crossings in Syria’s north-west are needed. On 13 May, the Secretary-General submitted his review of the UN’s humanitarian cross-line and cross-border operations, which was requested in resolution 2504. This review noted that “there is no alternative that can match the scale and scope of the current cross-border operations”, while Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock stated on 19 May that “meeting the enormous humanitarian needs in the north-west requires a renewal of the cross-border authorisation for the Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa border crossings for an additional 12 months”.
In Syria’s north-east, although cross-line air shipments of health supplies have been ongoing, Lowcock also noted on 19 May that since the Council failed to renew the authorisation for the Al Yarubiyah crossing (Syria/Iraq) as part of the cross-border aid mechanism in January, “supplies [have] reached only 31 percent of the medical facilities that had previously been supported by cross-border deliveries from Al Yarubiyah”. He added that a “combination of more cross-border and cross-line access is required to sustain, and preferably increase, humanitarian assistance”. On 10 July, the Syria International NGO Regional Forum, which includes a number of leading humanitarian non-governmental organisations, stated that a failure to adopt a resolution urgently “will result in the denial of humanitarian assistance to millions, mostly women and children, and in a time where a scale up in the response to COVID-19 is so urgently needed”.
*Post-script: On 11 July 2020, the Security Council adopted resolution 2533 renewing the Bab al-Hawa border crossing (Syria/Turkey) until 10 July 2021. Twelve members voted in favour of the resolution, while three members (China, the Dominican Republic and Russia) abstained.