What's In Blue

Posted Tue 11 Jul 2023

Syria: Vote on Reauthorisation of the Cross-Border Aid Mechanism*

This morning (11 July), the Security Council is scheduled to vote on the reauthorisation of the Syria cross-border humanitarian aid delivery mechanism authorised under resolution 2672 of 9 January. At the time of writing, it appears that Council members will be voting on two draft resolutions. One of the draft resolutions, which was tabled by Brazil and Switzerland, the co-penholders on the Syria humanitarian file, would authorise UN agencies and humanitarian partners to continue utilising the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syria-Türkiye border for nine months, until 10 April 2024.The second draft resolution, put in blue by Russia, would authorise the Bab al-Hawa crossing for six months, until 10 January 2024. At the time of writing, the outcome of the votes remains uncertain. The vote was initially scheduled to take place on 7 July but, due to continued disagreements, it was postponed to today to allow for further deliberations.


The Syria cross-border aid mechanism allows the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Syria from Türkiye without requiring the consent of the Syrian government. Negotiations on the authorisation of the mechanism have been difficult for several years. When the Council initially authorised the mechanism through resolution 2165 in July 2014, it approved four border crossings along Syria’s borders with Türkiye (two), Iraq (one), and Jordan (one); now there is only one approved crossing (Bab al-Hawa), which allows aid to enter north-west Syria from Türkiye.

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.

Following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck south-east Türkiye and northern Syria on 6 February, the Syrian government opened two additional crossing points—Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee—to allow delivery of humanitarian aid from Türkiye to north-west Syria. These crossings were opened starting from 13 February for an initial period of three months. In May, the Syrian government agreed to keep them open for an additional three months, until 13 August.

On 26 June, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In a 7 July press briefing, Griffiths noted that the meeting focused on the negotiations regarding the renewal of the Syria cross-border aid mechanism. In response to a question about the possibility that the Syrian government would continue extending the border crossings of Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee, Griffiths expressed “every hope that they will continue to be renewed”.

Most Council members, as well as the UN Secretariat, support the cross-border aid mechanism as an essential humanitarian tool in Syria. At the Council’s latest meeting on political and humanitarian developments in Syria, held on 29 June, several Council members voiced their support for the cross-border mechanism’s reauthorisation: the Council’s European members, the A3 members (Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique), Brazil, Ecuador, Japan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the US. Some members, including the P3 (France, the UK, and the US), would also prefer to see an expansion of the number of crossings beyond Bab al-Hawa, the one currently authorised by resolution 2672. In its remarks during the 29 June Council meeting, the US argued that “the best and most cost-effective option to provide certainty and flexibility for humanitarian operations is a 12-month extension” of all three border crossings. In a 3 July press conference, Ambassador Barbara Woodward (UK) similarly expressed support for authorising “at least three border crossings for at least 12 months”.

In contrast, China and Russia have repeatedly expressed reservations about the cross-border aid mechanism. These members 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 (that is, delivery of aid across domestic frontlines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control).

Addressing the Council on behalf of the A3 during the 29 June Council meeting, Mozambique underscored the need for existing humanitarian efforts to be expanded and urged the UN and its partners to step up funding for early recovery programmes and to increase cross-line assistance to supplement cross-border aid. It added that the A3 members are “hopeful that the cross-border resolution will be renewed in a way that gives the UN and its humanitarian partners ample time to plan and successfully execute the operation[s]”.

On 5 July, 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 called on the Council to renew the Syria cross-border aid mechanism for at least 12 months, noting that a six-month extension of the mechanism will only increase their operating costs. They said that “any and all avenues to deliver humanitarian assistance must be kept open and, indeed, expanded”, adding that cross-line deliveries “are an important complement…but they cannot match the scale or scope of cross-border operations”.

Both the Secretary-General’s 9 June special report on humanitarian needs in Syria and his regular 60-day report on the humanitarian situation in Syria, dated 22 June, note that cross-border assistance remains an essential part of the operation of the UN and its partners, reaching 4.1 million people, 80 percent of whom are women and children. Both reports say that a 12-month renewal of the cross-border aid mechanism is critical.


Today’s vote follows intense and difficult negotiations. Brazil and Switzerland circulated an initial draft of the resolution to Council members on 29 June and convened the first round of negotiations on the following day (30 June). After another round of negotiations with all Council members on 3 July, bilateral outreach with some members, and at least two revised drafts, the co-penholders placed a draft under silence procedure on 6 July. Russia broke silence the following day (7 July) and proposed an alternative text. The co-penholders then put an amended text in blue. Later that day, Russia also put its parallel text in blue. A vote was then scheduled to take place yesterday (10 July) but was postponed to today (11 July) to allow further time for negotiations. Yesterday, the co-penholders’ further amended their draft in blue.

It seems that the negotiations largely focused on issues concerning the timeline for the reauthorisation of the cross-border aid mechanism, language on cross-line assistance, the proposed expansion of humanitarian activities in Syria, and the prospect of authorising two additional border crossings (Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee) to the one currently authorised by the Council (Bab al-Hawa).

The initial draft proposed by the co-penholders called for a 12-month renewal of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. This differed from resolution 2672, which extended the cross-border mechanism’s authorisation for only six months, until 10 July.

During the negotiations, several Council members expressed support for a 12-month renewal of the cross-border mechanism. Some Council members, including the UK and the US, called for also authorising Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee. Some other Council members, including China and Russia, opposed authorising additional border crossings. It seems that these members believe that the Syrian government’s authorisation for the additional border crossings has allowed the UN to continue its operations unimpeded and thus does not require additional authorisation through a Council resolution. At the same time, Russia proposed a six-month extension of the Bab al-Hawa crossing, while China apparently maintained that a 12-month extension of the cross-border mechanism would not be reasonable without strengthening language on cross-line deliveries and early recovery efforts.

It seems that during the negotiations, China, Russia, and the UAE sought the addition of language expanding early recovery activities to include demining. Some Council members supported this proposal, while other members expressed reservations about this approach, arguing that demining is outside the scope of humanitarian activities. It seems that the US sought to replace the term “demining” with “mine action”, which purportedly encompasses broader activities, such as awareness-raising and education. The differences are reflected in the rival drafts of the penholders and Russia.

During the negotiations, Russia apparently called for strengthening or adding new language on various issues, such as cross-line deliveries, the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures, support for early recovery and livelihood activities and sustainable development projects which contribute to the return of refugees; and funding for humanitarian activities. It seems that Russia did not participate in the second round of negotiations organised by the co-penholders on 3 July.

The co-penholders circulated two revised draft texts, on 2 and 5 July, which attempted to strike a balance between the diverging opinions. They then placed an amended text under silence procedure on 6 July. That draft text calls for a 12-month authorisation of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, while introducing new language on several issues, such as improving cross-line deliveries, expanding the humanitarian activities to include humanitarian mine action, and acknowledging the scale of the displacement crisis in Syria.

Russia broke silence on 7 July and proposed an alternative text. Its draft calls for a six-month, rather than one year, reauthorisation of the Bab al-Hawa crossing and requests the Secretary-General to provide a special report on the impact of unilateral sanctions on the humanitrian situation and humanitarian needs in Syria by 10 December 2023. It proposes a new paragraph underscoring the imperative of maintaining unimpeded and sustainable cross-line access from Damascus to all parts of Syria and urging all relevant actors to undertake necessary measures in this regard. In addition, the text contains language urging further initiatives to broaden the humanitarian activities in Syria to include demining and sustainable development projects that contribute to the safe, voluntary, and dignified return of the Syrian refugees and internally displaced people to their places of origin. It also encourages Council members to convene informal interactive dialogues (IIDs) every two months to review and follow up on the implementation of the resolution’s provisions, including progress on early recovery projects and cross-line access.

The co-penholders subsequently revised their draft again and put it into blue on the same day (7 July). That draft resolution authorises the cross-border mechanism for 12 months and requests the Secretary-General to provide a special report on humanitarian needs in Syria by 10 June 2024. The draft text in blue demands that all parties allow and facilitate rapid and unhindered passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need. Moreover, it calls on all relevant parties to enable cross-line deliveries of humanitarian assistance to all parts of the country, including by providing timely security guarantees to ensure the safe passage of cross-line convoys and humanitarian personnel.

It calls for further expansion of humanitarian activities in Syria, including water, sanitation, health, education, electricity (where essential to restore access to basic services), humanitarian mine action, and shelter early recovery projects. In addition, the draft resolution in blue calls on member states to respond with practical steps to address the urgent needs of the Syrian people in light of the long-term negative consequences of the recent earthquakes, including through broadening the humanitarian activities and increased humanitarian funding. It also encourages Council members to convene IIDs every two months to review and follow up on the implementation of the resolution’s provisions, including progress on early recovery projects and cross-line access.

Shortly after the co-penholders put their text in blue, Russia also put in blue the rival draft text that it circulated to Council members on 7 July. The Council was scheduled to vote on both texts yesterday (10 July), but the vote was postponed due to continued disagreements. The Council’s elected members (E10) held a meeting yesterday to discuss a potential compromise solution. Later that day, the co-penholders revised their draft in blue, which now authorises the Bab al-Hawa crossing for nine months and requests the Secretary-General to provide a special report on humanitarian needs in Syria by 10 March 2024. Apart from these amendments, the penholders’ draft remains the same as the one placed in blue on 7 July. It seems that Russia did not withdraw or amend the draft that it placed in blue on 7 July. At the time of writing, additional developments related to the draft texts in blue are still possible.


*Post-script: On 11 July, the Council failed to reauthorise the Syria cross-border humanitarian aid delivery mechanism, which expired on 10 July. A draft resolution (S/2023/506) proposed by the penholders on the Syria humanitarian file, Brazil and Switzerland, was vetoed by Russia. That draft received 13 votes in favour and one abstention (China). Another draft initiated by Russia (S/2023/507) failed to be adopted because it did not receive the requisite votes. Two members voted in favour (China and Russia), three against (France, the UK, and the US) and the remaining ten members abstained. (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.)

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