Syria: Vote on Draft Resolution Confirming the Cross-Border Aid Mechanism Extension*
Tomorrow morning (9 January), the Security Council is scheduled to vote on a draft resolution extending the authorisation for the Syria cross-border aid mechanism for an additional six months, until 10 July. (The authorisation allows the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Syria from Türkiye via the Bab al-Hawa crossing without requiring the consent of the Syrian government.) Resolution 2642 of 12 July 2022, which renewed the mechanism until 10 January 2023, stipulated that a further six-month extension will require a new resolution. As such, members have been referring to the draft text in blue as a “confirmation” of the extension envisaged in resolution 2642.
Former Council members Ireland and Norway, co-penholders on the Syria humanitarian file during their 2021-2022 Council term, authored the text in December 2022.
The draft resolution in blue contains the same elements as resolution 2642, in addition to confirming the extension of the cross-border aid mechanism. It encourages efforts to improve the cross-line delivery of humanitarian assistance (that is, aid delivered across domestic frontlines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control.) The draft text urges efforts to enhance initiatives to broaden early recovery projects related to water, sanitation, health, education, electricity (where essential to restore access to basic services), and shelter. It encourages Council members to convene informal interactive dialogues every 60 days to review and follow up on the implementation of the resolution’s provisions, including progress on early recovery projects. The draft resolution in blue also requests the Secretary-General to produce a special report on the humanitarian needs in Syria no later than 10 June (that is, one month prior to the expiration of the authorisation).
Negotiations on the authorisation of the Syria cross-border aid delivery mechanism have been controversial for several years. When the Council initially authorised the mechanism through resolution 2165 in July 2014, it approved four border crossings; now there is only one. The adoption of resolution 2393 in December 2017 marked the first time that the cross-border aid mechanism was renewed through a non-unanimous vote. Since then, abstentions (often by China and Russia) have been common on the resolutions on this mechanism. There have also been four vetoed draft resolutions prior to successful adoptions on this issue since 2019, including a draft text vetoed by Russia in July 2022, just four days prior to the adoption of resolution 2642. One significant difference with resolution 2642 was that the vetoed draft would have renewed the mechanism until 10 January 2023 with a further six-month extension “unless the Council decides otherwise”, without requiring a separate resolution to confirm the extension.
Most Council members, as well as the UN Secretariat, strongly support the cross-border mechanism and consistently reiterate that it is an essential tool for the humanitarian efforts in Syria. During the 21 December 2022 Council meeting on political and humanitarian developments in Syria, Ambassador Fergal Mythen of Ireland, co-penholder on Syria at the time, called the cross-border aid mechanism “a lifeline for millions of people” and a “moral and humanitarian imperative”. On 2 January, the heads of the UN’s humanitarian entities—OCHA, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA)—issued a statement in which they said that failure to extend the mechanism would be “catastrophic for 4.1 million people in non-Government-controlled areas”.
In contrast, China and Russia have repeatedly expressed reservations about the mechanism. They believe that cross-border deliveries are extraordinary measures that undermine Syria’s sovereignty and should be supplanted as soon as possible by enhanced cross-line assistance. During the 21 December 2022 Council meeting, Russia’s Permanent Representative, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, argued that the cross-border aid mechanism lacks transparency and maintained that early recovery projects are applied in a politicised manner, implying that they focus disproportionately on opposition areas. China’s Deputy Permanent Representative, Ambassador Geng Shuang, reiterated China’s view at the meeting that cross-border aid was only designed to be an interim measure that should eventually give way to cross-line assistance. He asserted that the international community “must advance cross-line aid with the same vigour afforded to cross-border aid”.
Notwithstanding the strong differences in view among member states on this issue, the negotiations on the draft resolution appear to have gone relatively smoothly. One potential explanation could be that the text is a “confirmation” of an existing authorisation delineated in resolution 2642, rather than a renewal. In addition, Ireland and Norway consulted comprehensively on the draft text with all members, as well as with regional stakeholders. Engagement with Council members intensified following the 16 December 2022 informal interactive dialogue on Syria.
Throughout the negotiations in late 2022, the elected members (E10) and the incoming five members (I5)—Ecuador, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, and Switzerland—expressed their support for confirming the extension of the authorisation. This appears to be a continuation of the unity that elected members demonstrated for renewing the cross-border aid mechanism in the lead-up to the adoption of resolution 2642 in July 2022. On 29 December 2022, Brazil, in its capacity as the E10 coordinator that month, distributed an email on behalf of the E10 and the I5 to the permanent members of the Council (P5) emphasising their unity in support of the draft resolution.
On 29 December 2022, while the draft was under silence procedure, Syria submitted a letter to the Security Council outlining elements that it believed should be included in the resolution. Among other things, the letter requested that the resolution include mine action and unexploded ordnance removal among the early recovery projects in Syria, a reference to the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on humanitarian work in Syria, and a call for donors to fulfil their pledges to the Syria Humanitarian Response Plan.
Notwithstanding Syria’s requests, the resolution passed silence without changes on 30 December. It seems that the 2021-2022 penholders had Council members’ tacit agreement to the text, and handed it over to the new penholders (and the new Council) for adoption in early 2023. On 1 January, Brazil and Switzerland assumed the penholdership of the Syria humanitarian file. They asked for the draft to be put in blue on 4 January, one day after the Council’s adoption of the monthly programme of work and after having had the opportunity to introduce themselves to other Council members as the new penholders on the issue.
When the Council’s permanent representatives convened on 3 January for their monthly breakfast to discuss the programme of work, they decided to schedule the adoption of the resolution for the morning of 9 January, whereas the vote had originally been expected that afternoon. Some members interpreted the earlier vote, albeit by only a matter of hours, as an indication that last-minute disputes over the text were not anticipated.
At the time of writing, it remains unclear whether there will be any additional developments related to the draft text in blue. It appears that there is agreement on the text, although there could be one or more abstentions during the vote. A 4 January Reuters article stated that Russia has indicated that it is likely to permit the adoption of the resolution; at the same time, it quoted Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s Deputy Permanent Representative, as saying that Russia was “still weighing pros and cons” and that the implementation of resolution 2642 was “far from our expectations”.
*Post-script: On 9 January, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2672, confirming the extension of the authorisation for the Syria cross-border aid mechanism for an additional six months, until 10 July. The resolution requests the Secretary-General to produce a special report on humanitarian needs in Syria no later than 10 June. Although the resolution was adopted unanimously, Russia noted that its affirmative vote should not be considered as a change of its “principled position on the Syrian cross-border humanitarian mechanism”, adding that the “resolution in its current form does not reflect the aspirations of the Syria people”.