What's In Blue

Posted Mon 24 Jun 2024

Syria: Briefing and Consultations  

Tomorrow afternoon (25 June), UN Deputy Special Envoy for Syria Najat Rochdi and OCHA Head in Geneva and Director of the Coordination Division Ramesh Rajasingham are expected to brief the Council on political and humanitarian developments in Syria, respectively. Closed consultations are scheduled to follow the open briefing.

Council members last met to discuss the political and humanitarian situations in Syria on 30 May. In his remarks at that meeting, Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen said that there was no clear path emerging to implementing resolution 2254 of 18 December 2015—which focused on finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis, including through the reconvening of the Constitutional Committee—which is threatening prolonged division and despair. The Committee has not met since June 2022 because Russia, a close ally of Syria, opposed Geneva as the venue following Switzerland’s imposition of sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Pedersen reiterated his openness to any alternative venue that attracts consensus of both the Syrian parties and the host country. In the meantime, however, he appealed to the parties to resume the Committee’s work in Geneva as a bridging option and to “prepare on substance, including constitutional proposals”. Pedersen further underlined the importance of preparing for a new and more comprehensive approach, noting that there must be a political horizon for resolving complex conflicts instead of managing or containing them in perpetuity. Highlighting the lack of trust among the stakeholders, he said that only concrete engagement, coordination, and action could bring reciprocal and verifiable progress. (For background, see the Syria brief in our June 2024 Monthly Forecast.)

Tomorrow, Rochdi is likely to reiterate some of these messages, while describing Pedersen’s recent efforts to advance the political process, including through the “step-for-step” initiative. Through this initiative, the Special Envoy 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 such matters as abductees, detainees, and missing persons; humanitarian assistance and early recovery projects; and conditions for dignified, safe, and voluntary refugee return.

On 1 June, Pedersen met with US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara A. Leaf in Washington, DC. On 11 June, Pedersen met with representatives of the Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC)—which represents the political opposition to the government—and civil society participants in Geneva. According to a post on X (formerly Twitter) by the Office of the Special Envoy, the meeting focused on some key priorities, including de-escalation on the ground, reconvening the Constitutional Committee, and developing a comprehensive approach to implementing resolution 2254. Later that day, Pedersen also met with the representatives on Syria of France, Germany, the UK, the US, and the EU in Geneva.

Rajasingham is expected to focus on the economic crisis in Syria and its adverse effects on the humanitarian situation in the country. According to the World Bank’s Spring 2024 Syria Economic Monitor, published on 24 May, Syria’s gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to contract by 1.5 percent this year, continuing the downward trend of the 1.2 percent decline in 2023. The report said that inflation is anticipated to remain high in 2024 because of currency depreciation, along with persistent shortages and potential subsidy cuts on food and fuel. It forecasted a 116.8 percent year-on-year increase in the World Food Programme (WFP) minimum food basket price this year. The report also described drug manufacturing and trafficking activities originating from Syria. It reported that revenue generated from trade in the Captagon drug amounts to an estimated $0.6 to $1.9 billion annually, while Syria’s legal exports in 2023 were valued at approximately $960 million.

At tomorrow’s meeting, the briefers and several Council members are likely to emphasise the need for unhindered humanitarian access through all modalities, including cross-border from Türkiye and cross-line—that is, across domestic conflict lines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control. They are expected to call on the Syrian government to extend its authorisation for the Bab al-Hawa border crossing on the Syria-Türkiye border—used by UN agencies and partners to conduct humanitarian operations—which is set to expire on 13 July. China and Russia might emphasise that there has been a lack of progress in the cross-line delivery of aid and may also draw connections between unilateral sanctions imposed by some member states on Syria and the challenging humanitarian and economic situation in the country.

The briefers are also expected to bring to the Council’s attention the funding challenges that humanitarian agencies face in Syria, highlighting the rising needs throughout the country. They may appeal for enhanced international support to address the grave humanitarian situation. At the time of writing, Syria’s 2024 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), requiring $4.07 billion, was only 13.4 percent funded. The EU-sponsored eighth Brussels Conference, which was held in May, secured pledges worth €7.5 billion, including €5 billion in grants and €2.5 billion of loans for 2024 and future years.

The briefers and several members are likely to voice alarm about the continuing hostilities on multiple fronts in Syria, while calling on the relevant parties to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure and to agree to an immediate nationwide ceasefire. They are also expected to reiterate their concerns about ongoing regional tensions and their spillover effects on Syria and call on the relevant actors to respect and uphold international humanitarian law. Russia may use this opportunity to criticise the presence of US forces in Syria and accuse them of destabilising the country. Washington maintains that its deployment of forces in the country remains focused on fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). (For background and more information, see the Syria brief in our June 2024 Monthly Forecast.)

On 20 June, Rochdi convened the International Syria Support Group Humanitarian Task Force in Geneva. According to a post on X, Rochdi urged all parties to the conflict to prioritise protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure and to adhere to international humanitarian law. She warned about the spiralling conditions across the country, noting that funding to support the vulnerable remains critically low. Rochdi further called on stakeholders to support efforts for predictable and consistent delivery of aid and on all parties to provide necessary approvals and security guarantees for cross-line assistance throughout Syria.

Some members may also reference the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, dated 3 June, which expressed concern about the high number of grave violations against children in Syria. (The six grave violations, as determined by the Security Council, are child recruitment and use; killing and maiming; rape and other forms of sexual violence; attacks on schools and hospitals; abductions; and the denial of humanitarian access.) The report verified 1,574 grave violations against 1,549 children in Syria, including 1,385 boys and 118 girls. At the end of 2023, the report said, over 800 children, including foreign children, reportedly remained detained for alleged association with armed groups, mainly Da’esh, and approximately 29,000 children with suspected family ties to Da’esh continued to be deprived of liberty in the al-Hol and al-Roj refugee camps in north-eastern Syria.

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