What's In Blue

Posted Mon 25 Apr 2022

Syria: Political and Humanitarian Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (26 April), the Security Council will hold an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria. Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen is expected to brief on political developments, while Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya and a civil society representative will brief on the humanitarian track.

Political Briefing

Pedersen may emphasise the need to maintain a focus on Syria, at a time when the Council is preoccupied by other crises, notably the war in Ukraine. He may stress that the situation in Syria remains a significant threat to international peace and security, given the sporadic clashes between government forces and opposition groups, terrorist activities, and the ongoing presence of foreign troops in the country.

The Special Envoy is likely to reiterate that only a political solution can resolve the conflict in Syria in a sustainable way and may underscore the need for progress in the work of Syria’s Constitutional Committee. The seventh round of the Constitutional Committee was held between 21 and 25 March in Geneva. During the first four days of the latest session, the parties discussed four areas: “Basics of Governance”, “State Identity”, “State Symbols”, and “Structure and Functions of Public Authorities”. On the final day, they discussed their amendments to proposals on constitutional principles. Unlike in previous rounds, Pedersen did not hold a press conference at the session’s conclusion, instead only releasing a statement. In it, he said that some of the amendments proposed by the parties attempted “to reflect the content of the discussions and narrow differences”, while adding that he will do everything he can to bring the views of committee members closer together.

Security Council members may be interested in Pedersen’s assessment of whether the seventh round was constructive and of possible next steps for the committee. According to media reports, a spokesperson for Hadi AlBahra, the opposition co-chair, lamented that there had “been no meaningful progress” in the seventh round, and that the opposition has been “unsatisfied with the government’s engagement”. Nonetheless, it appears that planning is underway for an eighth round, which is expected to take place in late May; Pedersen may be able to confirm the dates.

While there is general support for the Constitutional Committee’s work, several Council members have expressed frustration with the lack of progress since its launch nearly two and a half years ago. Some members—such as Albania, Ireland and the P3 (France, the UK and the US)—tend to accuse the Syrian government of not engaging in the process in good faith. On the other hand, Russia, a close ally of the Syrian government, has cautioned against imposing artificial deadlines on the committee’s work.

As in past briefings, Pedersen may discuss his consultations with the conflict parties and key international stakeholders as part of his “step by step, step for step” approach, whereby he is asking interlocutors what concessions they are willing to 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; and the restoration of socio-economic conditions. During the Council’s latest meeting on Syria, which took place on 24 March, Pedersen maintained that “it should be possible to identify concrete, reciprocal, verifiable measures that could be taken in parallel and that could begin to shift conflict dynamics, and, in the process, to explore how a broader political process could be constructed”. Council members may express their support for the Special Envoy’s “step by step, step for step” approach at tomorrow’s meeting.

Humanitarian Briefing

Msuya is expected to discuss the negative effects of the fighting on civilian populations in Syria. According to the Secretary-General’s most recent 60-day report on the humanitarian situation in Syria, which was issued on 19 April, at least 92 civilians were killed and at least 113 were injured in February and March from airstrikes, ground attacks, the use of improvised explosives, and targeted killings, among other means. Msuya is likely to give an overview of the unprecedented situation in the country, where some 14.6 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to OCHA’s 2022 Humanitarian Needs Overview. This number, which is higher than at any time since the war in Syria started in 2011, represents an increase of 1.2 million in need this year compared with 2021.

Msuya may warn that the challenging economic situation in Syria is leading to rising food prices and, as a result, increased food insecurity in the country. Food insecurity affects roughly 12 million Syrians, with an additional 1.9 million at risk of becoming food insecure, according to the Secretary-General’s recent report. In his briefing to the Council on 24 March, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths noted that the war in Ukraine is causing increases in energy and food prices, which would have an especially negative effect on Syria. In this respect, members may be interested in Msuya’s analysis of the ripple effects of the conflict in Ukraine on Syria and how these rising costs have adversely affected the wellbeing of Syrians.

Some speakers may also express concern about the safety of inhabitants of the Al-Hol refugee camp in north-east Syria. Ninety-four percent of the camp’s 56,000-strong population are women and children, many of whom are associated with apprehended or deceased Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL\Da’esh) fighters. On 28 March, clashes broke out at Al-Hol between camp residents reportedly aligned with ISIL and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a largely Kurdish group opposing the Syrian government that oversees the camp. At least three people were killed and ten wounded in the incident.

In recent years, the overcrowded Al-Hol camp has been plagued by high levels of violence, including against children. Almost 8,000 of the camp’s residents are nationals of countries other than Syria and Iraq; their countries of origin have been criticised for an unwillingness to repatriate them. At the 24 March meeting, Kenya urged states to repatriate their citizens, especially women and children, from camps such as Al-Hol, in accordance with the standards of international humanitarian law. How to address the repatriation of FTFs and the women and children associated with them is a divisive issue in the Security Council, as several Council members (and many other member states) are hesitant about repatriating their nationals who are or have been associated with terrorist groups.

Msuya is likely to provide an update on cross-line humanitarian assistance (that is, across a domestic frontline from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control) and cross-border assistance from Turkey into Syria, as mandated by several Council resolutions, including resolution 2585 of 9 July 2021. She may note that the third cross-line delivery—consisting of food, medicine, and other supplies—occurred in late March. The two previous cross-line deliveries took place in August and December 2021. In addition, Msuya and several Council members may reiterate the fundamental importance of cross-border assistance to the health and welfare of Syrians. While most members have repeatedly emphasised that the cross-border aid mechanism is an essential humanitarian tool in Syria, China and Russia maintain that cross-line deliveries should ultimately supplant cross-border deliveries.

Msuya and some Council members may also 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. Members may be interested in an update from Msuya on efforts to scale up these activities.

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