Syria: Vote on Draft Resolution Reauthorising the Cross-Border Aid Mechanism*
Tomorrow (12 July) at 9 am EST, the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution reauthorising cross-border humanitarian aid deliveries through the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border for an additional six months, until 10 January 2023. This authorisation, which was most recently renewed through resolution 2585 of 9 July 2021, expired yesterday (10 July). The draft resolution states that an additional six-month extension will require a separate Security Council resolution.
The draft, which is likely to be adopted, was produced by the humanitarian penholders on Syria, Ireland and Norway. Tomorrow’s vote follows intense, difficult negotiations, during which the main point of contention was the length of the mechanism’s authorisation. On Friday (8 July), the Council failed to adopt two draft resolutions which would have renewed the mechanism: one proposed by the penholders that was vetoed by Russia, and another initiated by Russia that received only two affirmative votes (China and Russia). (Absent a veto by one of the Council’s permanent members, a draft resolution on substantive matters requires nine or more affirmative votes to be adopted.)
Negotiations on the cross-border aid mechanism have been difficult for some years. When the Council initially authorised this mechanism through resolution 2165 in July 2014, it approved four border crossings; in January 2020, only two crossings were renewed through resolution 2504, and since resolution 2533 of July 2020, a single crossing point (Bab al-Hawa) has been authorised for humanitarian deliveries. Most Council members support the cross-border aid mechanism as an essential humanitarian tool in Syria. Several members, including the P3 (France, the UK and the US), would also prefer to see an expansion of the number of crossings beyond the one currently authorised. However, China and Russia have expressed concerns about cross-border aid being manipulated by terrorist groups and have argued that this mechanism is an extraordinary measure that should be supplanted by enhanced cross-line assistance. (Cross-line aid is delivered across domestic frontlines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control.)
In recent weeks, different groups of Council members have reiterated their long-standing positions on the issue. At the most recent Council meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria, which took place on 20 June, several members emphasised the need for cross-border aid in Syria, arguing that that cross-line assistance alone cannot address the scope of humanitarian needs in Syria. In contrast, Russia argued that it is possible to organise the delivery of aid in coordination with the Syrian government to all parts of Syria (that is, cross-line).
Additionally, several senior UN officials—including Secretary-General António Guterres and the UN’s humanitarian principals—emphasised the importance of cross-border humanitarian assistance in Syria, arguing for a one-year renewal of resolution 2585. In a 16 June joint statement, the UN’s humanitarian principals noted that 2.4 million people received humanitarian aid through the mechanism during the past year.
Negotiations on the Draft Resolution
The penholders, Ireland and Norway, circulated an initial draft resolution on 27 June. The draft called for a 12-month renewal of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. This differed from resolution 2585, which renewed the cross-border mechanism for an initial six months, with an extension of an additional six months “subject to the issuance of the Secretary-General’s substantive report, with particular focus on transparency in operations, and progress on cross-line access in meeting humanitarian needs”.
During the first round of negotiations, which was held on 30 June, some members apparently emphasised the importance of renewing the mandate for 12 months (as opposed to a shorter period), and one member also called for strengthened language on early recovery efforts. However, it appears that there was little engagement on the substance of the text, as some members reportedly said that they had yet to receive instructions from capital. No member submitted comments on the text following the first round of negotiations and the penholders placed the text under silence on 1 July, until 5 July, last Tuesday. Russia broke silence on 5 July and proposed an alternative text.
There were two fundamental differences between the Russian text and the text proposed by the penholders. First, the Russian draft called for a six-month renewal of the authorisation, rather than one year. Second, it called for the establishment of a special working group comprising concerned Council members, major donors, interested regional parties and representatives of international humanitarian agencies operating in Syria. According to the Russian draft, the working group would regularly review and follow up on the implementation of the resolution, with relevant information to be incorporated in the 60-day reports of the Secretary-General on the humanitarian situation in Syria. The Russian draft text also called for increased ongoing efforts “to ensure full, safe and unhindered cross-line deliveries of humanitarian assistance to all parts of Syria” and urged increased international efforts to broaden humanitarian efforts in Syria, including early recovery projects.
The penholders subsequently incorporated some elements of the Russian draft into their own text, which they put into blue the same day (Tuesday, 5 July). For example, they included language on electricity in the preambular part as an area of early recovery, which had not been in their initial draft. In an apparent nod to Russia’s desire for an enhanced focus on cross-line aid deliveries, they added language calling on all parties to ensure the full, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid, including across conflict lines. However, the penholders maintained their call for a 12-month renewal of the mechanism, as opposed to a six-month renewal, and did not include Russia’s proposal for a special working group in their draft in blue.
It seems that several members believed that it was important to maintain a 12-month authorisation period to allow humanitarian actors to plan more adequately to meet humanitarian needs in Syria. They also felt that the longer authorisation would promote continuity of assistance during the winter months. Additionally, some members apparently questioned the need for a special working group to review and follow up on the implementation of the resolution. Some believed that there was a lack of clarity regarding which members would be among the “concerned” Security Council members in the working group.
On Wednesday (6 July), Russia put its parallel text into blue. The vote, which was originally scheduled for Thursday (7 July), was postponed several times on that day, as there were now two competing drafts in blue. On Thursday, the penholders held separate meetings with the P5 (the permanent members) and the E10 (the elected members) before all Council members met for consultations. The fundamental differences of view on the length of the mandate coloured the discussions in the P5 meeting. In the E10 meeting, a determination was voiced to continue the negotiations. By this point, the idea of holding Informal Interactive Dialogues (IIDs)—a closed informal Council meeting format—rather than establishing a special working group, had emerged out of the negotiations, although the periodicity of these meetings was not agreed.
During the consultations on Thursday (7 July), the penholders presented a revised draft, which they subsequently placed in blue. This version called for a six-month reauthorisation of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, with an extension of an additional six months, unless the Council were to decide otherwise and subject to the issuance of a report by the Secretary-General focusing on transparency in operations, as well as progress on cross-line access and early recovery projects. This draft also encouraged the Council to convene an IID every six months; according to the draft, the dialogues would include the participation of donors, interested regional parties and representatives of international humanitarian agencies working in Syria to review and follow up on the resolution’s implementation, including with regard to early recovery projects.
Russia in turn announced on Thursday that it had made changes to its earlier draft in blue. This revised Russian draft, which was the second text that Russia put into blue, called for a reauthorisation of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for six months, with a view to a further six-month extension requiring approval through a separate resolution. Like the penholders’ draft, it omitted the idea of a working group, instead calling for the convening of IIDs; however, it requested that such dialogues be held every two months, rather than six-monthly as proposed in the penholders’ draft.
Unable to break the impasse, the Council convened on Friday (8 July) to vote on the two drafts. Russia vetoed the Ireland-Norway draft that received 13 affirmative votes and one abstention (China). The Russian draft received two affirmative votes (China and Russia), three votes against (P3 members) and ten abstentions. Members’ explanations of vote indicated that the main source of disagreement remained the length of the authorisation, with most Council members preferring a 12-month renewal and Russia supporting a six-month renewal (with an additional resolution required to extend the mandate to one year). Brazil, Kenya and the United Arab Emirates proposed a nine-month mandate renewal as a possible compromise solution in their explanations of vote.
Following the 8 July vote, members continued to negotiate the resolution over the weekend (9 and 10 July) and early today (11 July). During an E10 meeting this afternoon, the penholders announced that a compromise had been reached on a new text. The penholders subsequently placed the new text into blue this afternoon.
The Draft Text in Blue
The text in blue to be voted on tomorrow reflects many of the core elements of the Russian 8 July draft that was not adopted. It seems that in recent days, Russia has expressed clear red lines that have limited the space for flexibility in the negotiations. The final draft in blue, which was presented by the penholders, reauthorises the cross-border aid mechanism for six months, until 10 January 2023, and requires a separate resolution to extend the mandate for an additional six months, until 10 July 2023. It also encourages the convening of an IID every two months to review and follow up on the implementation of the resolution, as in the 8 July Russian draft. Furthermore, the draft in blue includes additional language drawn from the 8 July Russian draft that urges efforts to step up initiatives related to electricity, where it is essential to restore access to basic services.
The draft to be voted on tomorrow requests the Secretary-General to submit a special report on the humanitarian needs in Syria no later than 10 December. This represents the one significant departure from the Russian draft, which did not include such a provision.
Following Russia’s veto last Friday (8 July), the General Assembly is scheduled to hold a session on Syria on 21 July. This is in accordance with General Assembly resolution A/RES/76/262, adopted earlier this year, which states that the General Assembly is expected to convene “within 10 working days of the casting of a veto by one or more permanent members of the Security Council, to hold a debate on the situation as to which the veto was cast”.
*Post-script: On 12 July, the Security Council adopted resolution 2642 reauthorising the cross-border humanitarian aid mechanism in Syria for six months, until 10 January 2023, and requiring a separate resolution to extend the mandate for an additional six months, until 10 July 2023. The resolution received 12 votes in favour, and three abstentions (France, the UK, and the US). In their explanations of vote, the members that abstained said that they would have strongly preferred a 12-month reauthorisation.