posted on TUE 26 FEB 2013 3:20 PM
Syria Briefing on the Humanitarian Situation

Tomorrow (27 February) Council members expect to receive a briefing in consultations from Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, on the humanitarian situation in Syria. Amos is likely to reiterate her appeal for Council action to address the burgeoning humanitarian crisis inside Syria. In addition the High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, and Zainab Hawa Bangura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence are also expected to brief. It seems the UK requested the briefing.

Since Amos’s last briefing on 18 January, the humanitarian situation has continued to deteriorate with the numbers of internally displaced in Syria and refugees in neighbouring countries rising quickly. (When Amos last briefed, she reported that there were 4 million in need within Syria and 650,000 Syrian refugees in neighboring countries and highlighted the indiscriminate nature of the violence, reports of sexual violence and the need for unhindered humanitarian access, including across Syria’s border with Turkey.) Guterres and Bangura are likely to provide an update on the refugee situation and incidences of sexual violence respectively.

Council members are also likely to be interested in hearing more about the problems of limited access and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ (OCHA) efforts to deliver aid in spite of the constraints on their activities imposed by the government of Syria. However, it seems unlikely that there will be any action taken as Council members remain divided in their approach to pressuring the Bashar al-Assad regime on humanitarian issues.

This was made clear when France proposed a press statement on 1 February on the humanitarian situation. The key elements in the draft press statement apparently were to welcome a donor’s conference on humanitarian aid held in Kuwait on 30 January at which the UN reached its goal of $1.5 billion in aid pledges and call for greater humanitarian access, including cross-border access to areas under opposition control. Russia, however, appeared to have a problem with the Council making a public statement on the cross-border issue. It seems that while Russia is supportive of Amos’s efforts, it has been discussing humanitarian issues bilaterally with Damascus in an effort to increase access and appears to believe that the situation would be better served by these bilateral efforts.

Council members also failed to reach consensus on a press statement proposed by Russia on 21 February following a series of bombings in downtown Damascus. It seems that although the US accepted Russia’s proposal for a statement, it believed that the draft lacked balance and suggested language on attacks on civilians perpetrated by the government of Syria. It seems this was unacceptable to Russia and the draft text was withdrawn.

Council members also considered the situation in Syria on 29 January, when the UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, briefed them in consultations on his progress towards achieving a political solution to the Syrian conflict. Brahimi apparently urged the Council to take the lead in finding a solution based on the Geneva Communiqué of June 2012. He also urged the Council to do more to address accusations that war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed by both sides in the Syrian conflict and suggested establishing an inquiry into such crimes to complement the work of the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry.

Outside of the Council, a flurry of meetings among key actors in the Syrian situation took place in February. On 25 February, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with the Foreign Minister of Syria, Walid al-Muallem. Lavrov had previously met with Sheik Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, President of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the primary Syrian opposition group, on 2 February, on the sidelines of a conference in Munich on the international response to both Syria and Mali that also included US Vice President Joe Biden and Brahimi. On 17 February, the new US Secretary of State, John Kerry, held his first conversation with Lavrov on the Syria crisis. Kerry is also scheduled to meet with Lavrov again today, 26 February, in advance of a meeting of the Friends of Syria scheduled for 28 February in Rome. While it is unclear if any of these activities will lead to Syria coming onto the Council’s programme of work in March, during the Russian presidency, it seems that efforts to find a political solution are continuing to be discussed actively in various international fora.