What's In Blue

Posted Tue 13 Sep 2022

Syria: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (14 September), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on the political and humanitarian tracks in Syria. The expected briefers are Deputy Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria Najat Rochdi, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths, and a civil society representative.

Rochdi is likely to report that the political process in Syria remains at a standstill. The government delegation has refused to participate in a new round of talks of the Syria Constitutional Committee, apparently because of Russia’s concerns about the venue for the talks, which have been held at UN premises in Geneva, Switzerland, since the committee’s launch in 2019. For some months, Russia has been calling for a new venue for the talks because it does not view Switzerland—which has supported EU sanctions on Russia since its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February—as an impartial actor. Notwithstanding disagreements over the location of the committee’s meetings, at the 29 August Council briefing on Syria, Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen noted that the real problem with the committee is not the delay in convening it, but its “lack of progress on substance”.

While noting this ongoing political impasse, Rochdi may emphasise the need for a national ceasefire in Syria to create a conducive environment for constructive negotiations between the government and the opposition. She might highlight the ongoing adverse effects of the conflict on civilians throughout the country, including the casualties that resulted in August from airstrikes in the north-west and clashes between pro-government gangs and local residents in the southern Sweida province.

The briefers and Council members may underscore their concerns about the high number of civilian casualties caused by the detonation of unexploded ordnance. In a 6 September statement, the humanitarian organisation Save the Children said that at least 22 people, including seven children, had reportedly lost their lives from the explosion of landmines and other ordnance in the previous four months. In this regard, three children were killed by a landmine on farmland in Homs on 4 September, and another four children died when ordnance detonated in an abandoned apartment in Idlib on 5 September.

Rochdi may also describe her interactions with the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board (WAB) during its 29 August to 2 September meeting in Geneva. The board, which was established in 2016 by the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, aims to promote women’s perspectives and gender equality issues in the Syria political process. In a 2 September tweet, Rochdi said that during the meeting, the WAB “worked wholeheartedly on the interests of Syrians and the status and rights of Syrian women” and expressed her appreciation for the board’s “bold advice and commitment”.

Missing persons in Syria is another issue that may be raised by the briefers and some members. This was the subject of a recent report of the Secretary-General to the General Assembly (A/76/890), which was submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution A/RES/76/228 of 24 December 2021. The report underscores the difficulties facing families in finding information about the status and whereabouts of relatives who have reportedly been arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared. The briefers might call for the implementation of the report’s recommendations. Among others, these include:

  • the need for the conflict parties to adhere to their obligations under international law and release arbitrarily detained persons;
  • the need for member states to increase efforts to support victims, survivors, and the families of the missing, including by establishing a trust fund; and
  • the establishment of a new entity through the General Assembly to “clarify the fate and whereabouts” of missing persons in Syria.

Griffiths may describe how the humanitarian crisis in Syria has been exacerbated by a poor harvest, high food prices, fuel shortages, and water scarcity. Griffiths and some Council members might underline that the economic crisis disproportionately affects women and children, while calling for enhanced funding by the international community to support the humanitarian needs of Syrian civilians. At the 29 August Council briefing, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya observed that the Syria Humanitarian Response Plan had received only 24 percent of the funds requested.

Griffiths is likely to provide an update on the delivery of humanitarian aid in Syria, both cross-line (that is, across domestic frontlines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control) and cross-border (through the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border). He may, along with some members, emphasise the need for aid to be delivered through all modalities to reach civilians in need. Russia, which has argued for a phasing out of the cross-border mechanism, may underscore the importance of stepping up cross-line humanitarian assistance.

Griffiths may share with members recent developments regarding early recovery projects in Syria. In resolution 2642 of 12 July—which re-authorised the cross-border aid mechanism in Syria—the Council urged humanitarian organisations to step up initiatives to “broaden the humanitarian activities in Syria, including water, sanitation, health, education, electricity where essential to restore access to basic services, and shelter early recovery projects”.

The stark divisions in the Council on Syria are likely to be evident at tomorrow’s meeting. China and Russia tend to emphasise the need to respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, while drawing connections between unilateral sanctions imposed by some member states on Syria and the challenging humanitarian situation in the country. On the other hand, the P3 members (France, the UK and the US) are highly critical of the Syrian government and have accused it of violating international human rights law and international humanitarian law, arbitrarily detaining people, and not engaging meaningfully in political dialogue.

Later this month, Council members are expected to hold an informal interactive dialogue to follow up on the implementation of resolution 2642, including regarding progress on early recovery projects. In that resolution, the Council encouraged the convening of such meetings every two months “with [the] participation of donors, interested regional parties and representatives of the international humanitarian agencies operating in Syria”. Informal interactive dialogues are closed meetings that allow for the participation of non-Council members.

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