Syria: Briefing and Consultations on Political and Humanitarian Developments
Tomorrow morning (21 December), Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths are expected to provide the monthly briefings on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria, respectively. Consultations are scheduled to follow.
The political track in Syria remains at a standstill. The Syrian Constitutional Committee has not met since June, and in his 29 November 2022 briefing to the Security Council, Pederson asserted that “there are no serious efforts to resolve the conflict politically”.
Council members may be interested in learning more about Pedersen’s recent engagement with the parties regarding his efforts to reconvene the Constitutional Committee and to promote his “step-for-step” initiative. Through this initiative, he is asking the Syrian government, the opposition, regional states, and other stakeholders 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 projects; and conditions for dignified, safe, and voluntary refugee returns. Members might be interested in Pedersen’s view on his meetings with Syrian government officials in Damascus on 6-7 December, where he discussed his “step-for-step” initiative. They may also want to hear more about his 9 December meeting in Geneva with Badr Jamous, the president of the Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC), which represents the political opposition to the government. In a post on Twitter following the meeting, Pedersen said that he and Jamous had discussed steps that “all parties could take to help build trust and confidence and bring an end to the suffering of all Syrians”.
Griffiths is expected to provide an overview of the increasingly dire humanitarian situation in the country and describe the efforts of OCHA and other humanitarian actors to address the needs of the Syrian people. Some 15.3 million Syrians (over 69 percent of the country’s population) will require humanitarian assistance in 2023, according to the Secretary-General’s special report on humanitarian needs in Syria, which was requested by the Council in resolution 2642 and released on 9 December. Ongoing conflict, a socio-economic crisis marked by rising food and fuel prices, and a cholera outbreak are among the factors contributing to the humanitarian crisis. Griffiths may describe recent efforts by the UN and other actors to deliver 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 Syria-Türkiye border without requiring the consent of the Syrian government).
He and Pedersen may underscore that it is necessary to maintain the cross-border aid delivery mechanism to meet the basic needs of people in northwest Syria. Both the Secretary-General’s 9 December special report on humanitarian needs in Syria and his regular 60-day report on the humanitarian situation in Syria, dated 12 December, emphasise that cross-line operations, while important, cannot currently replace the size and scope of the cross-border operation, which reaches 2.7 million people every month. This issue is especially critical at the current time, given the impending expiry of the cross-border aid mechanism on 10 January 2023 and the fact that humanitarian needs are especially acute in winter months. According to resolution 2642 of 12 July, the Council will need to adopt a resolution by that date to extend the mechanism for an additional six months.
While several Council members would apparently like to vote on the six-month extension before the end of the month, it appears that Russia would prefer to wait until early January 2023 before the Council makes a decision. Ireland and Norway, the current penholders on the Syria humanitarian file, leave the Council at the end of 2022. It is still uncertain who will replace them as the penholders in 2023. Several members emphasise that the cross-border aid mechanism is essential to saving lives in Syria, and strongly support its continuation. Other members, such as China and Russia, have argued that cross-border deliveries are an extraordinary measure that undermines Syria’s sovereignty and should be supplanted as soon as possible by enhanced cross-line assistance. China and Russia have also consistently emphasised that bilateral sanctions have a detrimental effect on the humanitarian situation in Syria. In his 9 December special report, he encouraged “relevant Member States and humanitarian actors to continue their technical dialogue regarding sanctions and humanitarian operations in the Syrian Arab Republic”.
Griffiths may also provide an update on early recovery projects in Syria. These projects focus on the rebuilding of critical infrastructure, the removal of solid waste, and vocational training, among other areas. According to the Secretary-General’s 9 December special report, in 2022, donors provided $517.6 million to support early recovery projects in Syria’s 14 governates. At the informal interactive dialogue (IID)—a closed informal meeting—held on 16 December to review and follow up on the implementation of resolution 2642, Council members such as Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, and the United Arab Emirates, apparently noted the importance of these projects in meeting the needs of the Syrian people.
There may also be discussion at tomorrow’s meeting regarding how the spread of cholera in Syria exacerbates the country’s humanitarian challenges. OCHA recently announced that 56,879 suspected cases were reported across the country between 25 August and 3 December, including 98 deaths attributed to the disease. In this context, Griffiths may describe the UN system’s support for efforts to curtail the spread of cholera in the country.