Tomorrow (27 March), the Security Council is expected to receive a briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock (via VTC), followed by consultations. The meeting will be chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Stef Blok.
Although Council members have just received the monthly report of the Secretary-General from February (S/2018/243) on the humanitarian situation in Syria, the main objective of the meeting will be to take stock of the implementation of resolution 2401. The resolution, which was adopted on 24 February, demanded a cessation of hostilities throughout Syria.
The situation in Eastern Ghouta in expected to feature prominently in the discussions. Throughout March, the government’s military offensive has persisted. It first succeeded in dividing rebel-held territory into three areas and has continued with the evacuation of thousands of civilians. Council members may ask Lowcock about the conditions in which these evacuations are taking place and the situation in the collective shelters to which civilians are arriving. OCHA has reiterated that mass evacuations of civilians should remain a last resort as per international humanitarian law, and has stressed the need to have guarantees regarding the safe and voluntary exit of civilians, including freedom of movement and their ability to return to their homes.
Lowcock is expected to brief the Council on the challenges to gaining humanitarian access. On 12 March, Secretary-General António Guterres told the Council that the delivery of humanitarian aid had not been safe, unimpeded or sustained, and that no sieges had been lifted. The direct security threats against the convoys of the UN and its partners, as well as the systematic removal of medical items by the government, have directly challenged resolution 2401. On 16 March, OCHA published reports of surgery taking place without anesthesia and suturing being done with household items.
The situation in Afrin is also expected to be discussed. The Turkish military offensive continued in March, and Turkey took full control of the region over the weekend. Yesterday, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that the offensive would continue towards YPG-held Tal Rifaat in northern Aleppo. Throughout the offensive in Afrin, the UN expressed alarm at its impact on civilians, threatened by airstrikes and ground-based attacks and prevented from escaping by Kurdish forces.
The situation in Idlib is also expected to be raised tomorrow. As in Eastern Ghouta and Afrin, there has been continuing violence, as the cessation of hostilities has not been implemented.
Another issue likely to be raised tomorrow is how to give adequate follow-up to the lack of implementation of 2401. Some Council members would like to see a monitoring mechanism established to provide regular updates on the implementation of resolution 2401, and may raise this during the meeting. While some Council members may prefer to preserve 2401, noting that for all of its limitations it received unanimous support, others may prioritise undertaking new initiatives to increase pressure on the parties. At the 12 March briefing, the US circulated a draft resolution imposing a cessation of hostilities on Eastern Ghouta and Damascus that appeared to be unacceptable to Russia. At the meeting, Ambassador Nikki Haley warned “any nation that is determined to impose its will through chemical attacks and inflicting human suffering” that the US “remains prepared to act if we must”.
Since then, in an attempt to increase pressure on Russia and Syria, the US, along with France, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Sweden and the UK, sent a letter on 16 March to the Council President. The letter said that if there is no implementation of 2401, “it is imperative that this Council immediately pursue decisive action to achieve a full cessation of hostilities throughout Syria, to facilitate humanitarian access, and to protect the Syrian people”.