Syria: Briefing on Political and Humanitarian Developments
Tomorrow (24 March), the Security Council expects to receive a briefing on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria. Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen is expected to brief via videoconference on political developments, while Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths will brief in person on the humanitarian situation. Hossam Zaki, Assistant Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, is also expected to brief in person.
The briefers and Council members may note that this month marks the 11th anniversary of the Syria conflict. They may mark this occasion by reflecting on the hardship and destruction caused by the war and reiterating the urgency of finding a political solution that reflects the will of the Syrian people.
Pedersen is likely to brief on his efforts to promote a “step by step” approach to build confidence between the conflict parties in Syria to help facilitate constructive political dialogue. Briefing the Council on 25 February, Pedersen said that this approach focusses on identifying areas of potential agreement on mutual confidence-building measures that might be conducted incrementally by the parties. Pedersen has previously noted that confidence-building measures could focus on matters such as: abductees, detainees, and missing persons; humanitarian assistance and early recovery; conditions for dignified, safe and voluntary refugee returns; and the restoration of socio-economic conditions. As in past briefings, several members are expected to express their support for Pedersen’s approach.
The seventh round of the Syria Constitutional Committee, which is convening this week (21 – 25 March), is another expected topic of discussion. On 20 March, ahead of the current round, Pedersen said that four principles would be discussed during the session— “Basics of Governance”, “State Identity”, “State Symbols”, and “Structure and Functions of Public Authorities”—with one day to be spent on each principle. On the final day, the parties are expected to discuss their amendments to proposals on constitutional principles. Of this final day, Pedersen said that the parties “wanted…a better mechanism when it comes to revisions of proposed constitutional texts and there is now an agreement with the two co-chairs [representing the government side and the opposition side, respectively] on how this should be done”.
This final day—when amendments are discussed—was problematic during the sixth session of the Constitutional Committee in October 2021. At the conclusion of the committee’s sixth round of talks on 22 October, Pedersen told the media that while there had been both positive and negative developments throughout the week, the final day had been a “big disappointment”. At the time, he said that 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”.
Pedersen will be briefing the Council before the final day of the seventh session of the Constitutional Committee. Members will be interested in learning about developments that have unfolded during the week and may also want to know more about the substance of the agreement reached by the co-chairs on the drafting process envisioned for Friday (25 March). It would be a small measure of progress if the parties discuss their amendments to proposals on constitutional principles that day. Council members will be eager for the Special Envoy’s assessment of whether he believes this benchmark will be met.
While there is general support for the work of the Constitutional Committee, several Council members have expressed deep frustration with its lack of progress since being launched nearly two and a half years ago. Some members, such as Albania, the P3 (France, the UK and the US) and Ireland, tend to accuse the Syrian government of not engaging in the process in good faith. For example, at the Council’s 25 February meeting on Syria, Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason (Ireland) said that the committee “must achieve substantive progress but cannot do so without meaningful engagement on texts, especially by the Syrian authorities”. Other members, such as Brazil and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), are more neutral in their views, urging the parties to break the impasse in the committee’s work. Meanwhile, Russia, a close ally of the Syrian government, has cautioned against imposing artificial deadlines on the committee’s work.
Reflecting on the 11th anniversary of the war, Griffiths is expected to reiterate the devastating toll that the conflict has wrought and continues to take on the Syrian people. He may refer to ongoing fighting in the country that led to the deaths of at least 92 civilians and injuries to at least 117 civilians between 1 December 2021 and 27 January, according to the Secretary-General’s 21 February report on the humanitarian situation in Syria (S/2022/135). Griffiths might note that 14.6 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria, and that some 6.9 million have been internally displaced.
Griffiths is likely to give an update on the delivery of humanitarian assistance across the border from Turkey into Syria (as mandated by several Council resolutions, including resolution 2585 of 9 July 2021) as well as cross-line (that is, across a domestic frontline from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control). He may urge that progress be made in the delivery of cross-line assistance, by calling on the parties to the conflict to provide the required security guarantees to promote the safe and timely delivery of such aid. He is also likely to emphasise the importance of cross-border assistance through the Bab al-Hawa crossing, underscoring that this aid reaches millions of people in need. In an 11 March statement commemorating the 11th anniversary of the start of the war in Syria, Secretary-General António Guterres called the re-authorisation later this year of the provisions of resolution 2585—which authorises the delivery of cross-border humanitarian aid and welcomes early recovery projects in Syria—“a moral and humanitarian imperative”. (Resolution 2585 expires in July.) While most members have repeatedly emphasised that the cross-border aid mechanism is an essential humanitarian tool in Syria, China and Russia maintained in their explanations of vote on resolution 2585 that cross-line deliveries should ultimately supplant cross-border deliveries.
The socio-economic crisis in Syria and its adverse effects on the humanitarian situation in the country are also likely to be addressed during the meeting. As the Secretary-General noted in his 21 February report, “[i]t is harder every month for people to afford food, livelihood opportunities are scarce and access to basic services continues to diminish”. The Syria Humanitarian Needs Overview for 2022, issued by OCHA in February, also reported that an estimated 12 million Syrians (54 percent of the population) are food insecure amid significantly rising food prices. Griffiths and Council members may raise concerns that the effects of the war in Ukraine on the global economy, including rising energy and wheat prices, could exacerbate the already dire humanitarian conditions facing Syrians.
Griffiths and some Council members may emphasise that early recovery projects are an important part of the humanitarian response in Syria. Such activities, which are underway in the country, focus on the repair of civilian infrastructure, vocational training, and debris and waste removal, among other areas.