What's In Blue

Posted Tue 25 Jan 2022

Syria: Briefings and Consultations on Humanitarian and Political Developments

On Wednesday (26 January) and on Thursday (27 January), the Security Council will hold briefings, followed by consultations, on political and humanitarian developments in Syria, respectively. Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen is expected to brief on the political track and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths will brief on the humanitarian situation. Civil society representatives are also expected to brief both meetings.

Political Briefing

Pedersen may tell the Council that there have been no changes in the front lines of the conflict, while emphasising that there is no military solution to the war and that no current actor in the Syrian conflict is able to shift its outcome. It is in this context that Pedersen is likely to describe the most recent steps he has undertaken to advance his diplomatic initiative that would allow key states to take mutual and reciprocal actions to help resolve Syria’s conflict and implement resolution 2254 of December 2015. While this process is in a nascent stage and has not yet resulted in any marked changes in the conflict’s dynamics, Pedersen is likely to report that there has been some progress. During the Council’s latest Syria meeting, which took place on 20 December 2021, he said that he had sensed a “wider realization than before that political and economic steps are needed…step-by-step, step-for-step” in his diplomatic engagement with key states. At the same time, he noted that there is a high level of mistrust among these states.

Nonetheless, Pedersen has persisted in his efforts to build on this process. In this regard, he may update the Council on meetings he has held in recent weeks with officials from Germany, Iran, Qatar, Russia, Turkey, and the UK to discuss his initiative. Council members may also be interested in hearing Pedersen’s assessment of the most recent meeting of the members of the configuration referred to as the Astana guarantors (Russia, Turkey and Iran). The Special Envoy was represented at the meeting, which was held in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan on 21 and 22 December 2021, by his deputy, Khawla Matar. Several media sources reported serious mutual recriminations between Syrian opposition representatives and the Russian delegation at the meeting.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Pedersen is likely to update Council members on the status of the Constitutional Committee, which last met during the week of 18 October 2021. Although the Astana group’s joint statement, which was issued at the conclusion of its December 2021 meeting, affirmed the group’s support to the committee’s work and called for holding another round of the Constitutional Committee “as soon as possible with a constructive approach by the Syrian parties”, there appears to have been little progress in advancing these efforts. Pedersen is likely to tell Council members that he and his deputy travelled to Damascus several times in recent months but were unable to obtain commitments from the parties on ways to move forward with tabling and revising proposed constitutional texts. Media reports have strongly intimated that the Syrian government remains the main obstacle to advancing this process.

The precarious security situation in several parts of the country is another likely focus of tomorrow’s meeting. Pedersen may highlight the 1 January reports that Russian fighter jets bombed several towns in Syria’s northwest, near the opposition-held city of Idlib, as well as a water treatment plant that serves the city. In addition, some Council members may also reference the 28 December 2021 airstrikes on Latakia, Syria’s main commercial port, which were reportedly carried out by Israel.

Finally, Council members may seek more information about the situation of civilians in Al-Hasakeh in Syria’s northeast following reports that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) attacked a prison in the town in an attempt to free ISIL fighters being held there. Almost 300 people—mostly detainees—have reportedly been killed in and around the prison; the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, released a statement on 25 January conveying serious concern “for the welfare of close to 700 children” held at the prison. OCHA said on 23 January that some 45,000 people had been displaced from their homes because of the fighting.

Humanitarian Briefing

At Thursday’s meeting, Griffiths is likely to focus his briefing on the overall dire humanitarian situation in Syria. He may highlight the continuously worsening economic situation, rising food and fuel prices, increased unemployment, and growing COVID-19 cases. Griffiths told the Council on 20 December that according to the World Food Programme (WFP), the price of food is the highest it has been since WFP began monitoring such costs in 2013. Griffiths further said that many Syrian families now spend more than half of their incomes on basic items.

Council members may also wish to learn more from Griffiths about the possible humanitarian consequences of the current harsh winter conditions in Syria. Over the past week, heavy snowfall and unusually cold temperatures have hit Syria’s northwest, with severe conditions expected to continue. OCHA announced on 25 January that 227 sites housing over 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) had been damaged, resulting in the destruction of 545 tents and damage to a further 9,125 tents housing IDPs. Heavy snows have also blocked roads, creating further humanitarian access challenges. Press reports say that at least two children have died because of the weather conditions.

Griffiths is also likely to update Council members on the situation in the Al Hol camp—a refugee and IDP camp in Syria’s northeast housing both victims and relatives of ISIL members. On 11 January, a Syrian aid worker in the camp was killed in an armed attack carried out by two ISIL members. Violence in the camp remains widespread; according to reports received by the UN, 90 camp residents have been murdered in the past 12 months. Nearly 94 percent of the camp’s approximately 56,000 residents are women and children, and more than half are under 18.

Finally, Griffiths is likely to address the most recent developments around the delivery of humanitarian assistance both across the border from Turkey into Syria (as mandated by several Council resolutions, including resolution 2585 of 9 July 2021) and cross-line (that is, across a domestic frontline from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control). At his last Council briefing on 20 December 2021, Griffiths noted that two cross-line deliveries had occurred since late August 2021; three additional cross-line deliveries are reportedly in advanced planning stages. There are widely divergent views among Council members regarding the appropriate modalities for aid delivery in Syria; while Russia maintains that cross-line deliveries into Syria’s northwest can adequately provide assistance to those in need, most other Council members contend that even regular cross-line deliveries are insufficient in providing the level of humanitarian assistance offered by the cross-border operation.

Resolution 2585 authorised the cross-border mechanism for the delivery of humanitarian assistance until 10 January with an additional six months’ extension until 10 July subject to the issuance of the Secretary-General’s substantive report focusing on “transparency in operations, and progress on cross-line access in meeting humanitarian needs”. Because of the strong differences over the issue, there had been indications that some Council members, most notably Russia, might request a separate discussion of the matter or argue that a vote would be needed to extend the mandate beyond 10 January. However, the Secretary-General’s report, which was issued on 15 December 2021, appeared to meet the requirements for the mandate to continue for the additional six months; the deadline for automatically extending resolution 2585 for another six months passed on 10 January, ensuring that the mandate of the cross-border mechanism will continue until its next renewal in July.

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