What's In Blue

Posted Thu 24 Feb 2022

Syria: Meeting on Political and Humanitarian Issues

Tomorrow (25 February), the Security Council will hold a briefing, followed by consultations, on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria. Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen is expected to brief via videoconference on the political situation, while Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya will brief on the humanitarian track.

Political Briefing

Pedersen will most likely announce plans for the convening of a seventh round of the Syria Constitutional Committee during the week of 21 March. He may note that he has spoken with the government side and the Syrian Negotiations Commission (that is, the opposition) on the need for discussions on proposed revisions to the draft constitutional document during the final day of the session. The Constitutional Committee held its sixth round of meetings from 18-22 October 2021. At the conclusion of that round, Pedersen told the media that while there had been both positive and negative developments throughout the week, the committee lacked both “a proper understanding on how to move [the] process forward” and a vision for how to develop a “substantial drafting process”.

The Council remains divided on the work of the Constitutional Committee, and these differing views may be reflected in members’ intervention tomorrow. Some Council members, such as Russia and China, have argued that the committee’s work should proceed at its own pace without outside influence. Other Council members, however, have raised concerns that the committee has not produced any concrete results and bemoan the limited progress on the political track and on the implementation of resolution 2254.

Pedersen is also expected to update the Council on his consultations with various key stakeholders in Geneva in recent months—including the Syrian government, the Syrian Negotiations Commission, the EU, France, Germany, Italy, the League of Arab States, Qatar, Russia, Turkey, the UK, and the US—on his “step by step, step for step” strategy for the political process. Through this approach, he is asking interlocutors what concessions they might make in exchange for reciprocal actions from others on matters such as:

  • abductees, detainees, and missing persons;
  • humanitarian assistance and early recovery;
  • conditions for dignified, safe and voluntary refugee returns;
  • the restoration of socio-economic conditions; and
  • diplomatic issues.

At the 26 January briefing, several Council members expressed support for Pedersen’s “step by step, step for step” approach. These views are likely to be reiterated at tomorrow’s meeting.

Members may also express their alarm at the ongoing activities of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant in Syria, especially in north-eastern Syria. On 20 January, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants raided the Ghuwayran/Al-Sina’a prison in al-Hasekeh in northeast Syria in an effort to free fellow ISIL fighters. Fighting ensued in and around the prison between ISIL extremists and the Syrian Defence Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-led group that operates the prison. While the SDF retook control of the prison after several days, the violence in the area led to the displacement of nearly 45,000 people, mainly children and women, according to UNICEF.

Humanitarian Briefing

Msuya is expected to emphasise the growing humanitarian needs facing Syria. She is likely to refer to data and analysis from OCHA’s 2022 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Syria, which was released on 22 February and which states that 14.6 million people in the country require humanitarian assistance (1.2 million more than in 2021). The overview asserts that “[t]he combined effects of currency depreciation, soaring prices, reduced fiscal revenue and increasing domestic debt and widespread losses in livelihoods have plunged additional segments of the population into humanitarian need”.

Msuya is further expected to highlight the importance of unfettered humanitarian access through both cross-border (through the Bab al-Hawa crossing with Turkey) and cross-line delivery mechanisms. In his 21 February report on the humanitarian situation in Syria, the Secretary-General stated that the cross-border operations “remain critical to ensuring that life-saving aid can reach millions in need” and underscored the importance of “safe, regular and predictable” cross-line delivery within Syria. Several Council members may echo these views.

Msuya may describe the importance of early recovery projects in Syria. In his 21 February report, the Secretary-General said that “early recovery and livelihood activities represent a core pillar of the humanitarian response” in Syria and that they aim to enable “people in need to regain their way of life by reconnecting them with essential services and livelihood opportunities”. Such activities focus on the repair of civilian infrastructure, vocational training, and debris and waste removal, among other areas. In resolution 2585, which renewed the mandate of the cross-border aid delivery mechanism in Syria, the Council recognised that humanitarian activities are broader than meeting the “immediate needs of the affected population and should include support to essential services through…early recovery projects”.

The briefers, and several members, may raise ongoing concerns about violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in the Syria conflict. They may reiterate calls for arbitrarily detained individuals to be released and for a nationwide ceasefire.

There may also be discussion during the meeting about the status of children in detention facilities. The violence in and around the Ghuwayran/Al-Sina’a prison in January focused enhanced attention on this issue, with some children detained at the facility dying in the fighting. On 25 January, then UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore released a statement in which she asserted that the nearly 850 children held at the prison and at other similar facilities in north-east Syria had not been “charged with any crime under national or international law”. She added: “These children should never have been held in military detention in the first place. The violence they are subjected to may amount to war crimes.”

After tomorrow’s session, the Council is scheduled to hold one more meeting this month on Syria. A briefing, followed by consultations, on the Syria chemical weapons track is planned for Monday (28 February).

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