Syria: Briefing and Consultations on Political and Humanitarian Developments
Tomorrow morning (25 January), Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen and OCHA Acting Director of Operations and Advocacy Ghada Eltahir Mudawi are expected to provide the monthly briefings on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria, respectively. Consultations are scheduled to follow.
Pedersen is likely to report that the political track in Syria remains at a standstill. The Syrian Constitutional Committee has not met since June 2022, and in his 21 December 2022 briefing to the Security Council, Pedersen noted that the UN “stands ready to resume Constitutional Committee meetings in Geneva as soon as readiness to do so from others exists”. At a media stakeout following the Council briefing, he indicated that Russia continues to have concerns about Geneva as the venue for the talks, questioning Switzerland’s impartiality because of its support for EU sanctions on Ukraine.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are expected to express support for Pedersen’s efforts to advance the Syrian political process. They may be interested in learning more about the Special Envoy’s recent engagement with regional stakeholders aimed at reconvening the Constitutional Committee and promoting his “step-for-step” initiative. Through this initiative, Pedersen 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. Some Council members are expected to call for enhancing the participation of women and civil society organisations in the political process.
Pedersen may refer to his recent engagement with UN member states regarding the implementation of resolution 2254 of 18 December 2015, which focused on a political solution to the conflict. On 16 January, Pedersen held a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, during which they discussed “regional developments and all aspects related to the crisis in Syria, including the need for a political solution” in line with resolution 2254, according to a tweet by the Special Envoy’s office. Pedersen met Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, in Davos on 18 January. In a Twitter post, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted that the meeting focused on reviewing the efforts of Saudi Arabia and the UN in achieving a “political solution to the Syrian crisis”. Today (24 January), Pedersen met the Syria envoys of the P3 Council members (France, the UK, and the US) and Germany in Geneva, where they discussed issues related to resolution 2254, including steps for building trust and confidence, according to a tweet by the Special Envoy’s office.
Council members may also want to hear more about Pedersen’s 24 January meeting in Geneva with Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC) President Badr Jamous and Hadi Albahra, an SNC member who serves as co-chair of the Syrian Constitutional Committee. (The SNC represents the political opposition to the government.) The meeting focused on the latest developments related to the Syrian crisis and “moving the political process forward” in line with resolution 2254, as noted in a tweet by the Special Envoy’s office.
Mudawi 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. 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. Some 15.3 million Syrians (over 69 percent of the population) will require humanitarian assistance in 2023, according to OCHA’s Syria humanitarian needs overview for 2023, which was issued in December 2022. According to the overview, 77 percent of Syrian households are not able to meet basic needs sufficiently, while eight percent of households are completely unable to do so.
Mudawi 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). She might mention that a UN inter-agency cross-line delivery was conducted on 8 January, comprising a convoy of 18 trucks carrying nearly 600 metric tons of humanitarian supplies—including food, water, sanitation items, health kits, medication, educational materials, and dignity kits—from Aleppo to Sarmada. This was the tenth cross-line delivery since the adoption of resolution 2585 in 2021.
Some Council members are expected to welcome the adoption of resolution 2672 of 9 January, which confirmed the extension of the authorisation for the Syria cross-border aid mechanism for an additional six months, until 10 July. According to OCHA, cross-border assistance remains essential in providing urgent aid to 4.1 million people in need in north-west Syria.
The briefers and Council members are likely to express concern about the conflict’s detrimental effects on civilians. OCHA’s humanitarian needs overview report notes that ongoing hostilities—including artillery shelling, air strikes, and land mines—continue to threaten civilian lives and disrupt the activities of humanitarian actors. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based human rights monitoring organisation, said that in December 2022, 133 civilians were killed in Syria, including 22 children and 15 women. Some members are also expected to express concern about reported incidences of sexual and gender-based violence. OCHA’s humanitarian needs overview report identifies key factors that expose the population to gender-based violence, highlighting the risks faced by females who are internally displaced and women who are the heads of households and are responsible for meeting the financial needs of their families.
Mudawi and some Council members might call for enhanced funding by the international community to support the humanitarian response in Syria, especially in light of the harsh winter conditions. At the 21 December 2022 Council briefing, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths said that the winterization response, which agencies deliver to respond to winter needs, was only 21 percent funded. As at the end of 2022, OCHA reported that the humanitarian response plan for Syria was only 47.5 percent funded.
Mudawi 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. At the 21 December 2022 Council briefing, Griffiths noted that since January 2022, 374 early recovery projects are being implemented in Syria’s 14 governates, and that donors have provided $517 million to support them.
There may be discussion at tomorrow’s meeting regarding how the spread of cholera in Syria exacerbates the country’s humanitarian challenges. According to OCHA’s latest situation report on the cholera outbreak in Syria, dated 15 January, 77,561 suspected cases were reported across the country between 25 August 2022 and 7 January, including 100 deaths attributed to the disease. In this context, Mudawi may describe the UN system’s support for efforts to curtail the spread of cholera in Syria.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Brazil and Switzerland—which replaced Ireland and Norway as co-penholders on the Syria humanitarian file on 1 January—are expected to make a joint statement. This has been the practice by the humanitarian co-penholders in the past several months.