posted on Thu 13 Dec 2018 1:23 PM
Syria: Resolution on Cross-border Humanitarian Access and Humanitarian Briefing

Later today (13 December), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution prepared by Sweden and Kuwait renewing the authorisation for cross-border and cross-line humanitarian access to Syria. There were two rounds of negotiations with all Council members, and further negotiations with Russia and China after they broke silence yesterday, as well as with the P3. The draft was put in blue yesterday evening.

Following the vote, the Council is scheduled to receive its regular briefing from Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

The draft renews the authorisation to use four border crossings with notification to the Syrian authorities, and routes across conflict lines, in order to deliver humanitarian assistance. Through this authorisation, first established by the Council in resolution 2165 in July 2014, UN actors and implementing partners have been able to deliver lifesaving humanitarian assistance to millions of civilians.

Ahead of the negotiations, there were concerns that it would be difficult to obtain agreement on a draft renewing the authorisation. In the last authorisation in December 2017, Bolivia, China and Russia abstained. In explaining their vote, China and Russia highlighted the importance of working through the government and eventually rolling back a provision originally devised as a temporary measure. Russia’s position has been more nuanced in recent months. At a 29 November briefing, Russia’s Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy, while raising concerns about insufficient transparency regarding cross-border deliveries and the need to reflect significant changes in the situation on the ground, merely called for a commensurate adjustment of the cross-border mechanism. Given the joint work of Turkey and Russia regarding Idlib, the role of Turkey, from whose territory most of the cross-border aid is delivered, is believed to have been critical in making the case for renewing the authorisation, as was the case in 2017.

The draft in blue was presented as a technical rollover by the penholders, with the factual updating of some preambular paragraphs; it maintains the provisions of the authorisation intact.

Russia proposed decreasing the periodicity of monthly reports that the Council receives on the humanitarian situation in Syria. The draft in blue maintains the request for monthly briefings to the Council on the humanitarian situation, but the written reports will now be received bimonthly. Even though Russia pushed for a six-month renewal of the authorisation and wanted to specify that it would not apply to the border crossing of Al Ramtha (between Syria and Jordan) which neighbours territory retaken by the Syrian government this year, these elements were not incorporated in the draft in blue.

As a result of additions proposed by a couple of Council members, the draft calls for humanitarian mine action to be accelerated as a matter of urgency throughout Syria, and recognises the efforts by the Office of the UN Special Envoy and the international community, including within the Astana framework.

Among the areas Russia focused on in the negotiations of this draft was the inclusion of a reference welcoming the safe and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) and calling upon the international community to increase their assistance to Syria by providing additional humanitarian aid and restoring humanitarian infrastructure assets. Elected members Kuwait and Sweden, the penholders on this issue, were able to act as a bridge between the P3 and Russia in exploring possible compromises in their positions. In the end the final draft recalls “the need to create conditions throughout the country and facilitate the safe, voluntary and dignified return of refugees and IDPs to their home areas in Syria, in accordance with international law”. It also calls upon the international community to increase its assistance to Syria by providing additional humanitarian aid.

In the negotiations, Russia advocated for the UN to identify the UN humanitarian partners carrying out aid deliveries, as they reiterated their concerns about possible misappropriation. Although this was not directly included, the draft stresses the need to ensure that the delivery of humanitarian aid and services, including at the stage of distribution, is impartial, non-discriminatory and needs-based, and that those most in need are beneficiaries of such aid and services, without misappropriation.

Russia also proposed that the draft condemn unilateral coercive measures and request the Secretary-General to consider the recommendations contained in the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights in Syria, but these references were not included in the draft in blue. At press time, it was still unclear if the adoption of the resolution will be unanimous.

After the vote, Lowcock, who is expected to welcome the renewal of the authorisation, will convey the highlights of the 11 December report of the Secretary-General on the humanitarian situation in Syria (S/2018/1104). Among the issues that he is expected to raise are the critical situation in Idlib, in which the fate of some 3 million people continues to depend on the restraint exercised by the government of Syria and its allies. He is expected to discuss the limitations encountered by the UN and its partners regarding humanitarian access, even from within Syria, as well as update the Council on the situation in places such as Rukban, Deir ez-Zor and the north-east, among others.