This afternoon, Kuwait and Sweden have put a draft resolution into blue that would establish a month-long cessation of hostilities in Syria. Two rounds of negotiations were held on the draft, as well as intense bilateral negotiations between the penholders and Russia. At press time, it did not seem acceptable to Russia in its current form, but it was uncertain when the vote would take place. After the draft was put in blue, Russia requested an open meeting on Eastern Ghouta in order to allow all sides to “present their vision, their understanding of the situation and come up with ways of getting out of this situation,” according to its ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia. This meeting is expected to take place tomorrow at noon.
The initiative to propose the draft resolution follows a marked intensification of violence as the conflict nears its seventh anniversary. On 6 February, the Humanitarian Coordinator and other UN representatives in Syria called for a cessation of hostilities of at least one month to improve the humanitarian situation. In response to this call, Kuwait and Sweden requested a briefing from Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock under “any other business” on 9 February. At the briefing, he elaborated on the urgent need for an immediate cessation of hostilities of at least one month to enable the delivery of humanitarian aid and services, the evacuation of the critically sick and wounded, and the alleviation of people’s suffering. With this objective in mind, Kuwait and Sweden circulated a draft resolution on that same day.
The draft establishes a cessation of hostilities throughout Syria—except for military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Al Qaeda and Al-Nusra Front—for an initial period of 30 consecutive days, which is to start 72 hours after the adoption of the resolution. The draft also decides that 48 hours after the start of the cessation of hostilities, humanitarian convoys of the UN and their implementing partners are to be allowed safe, unimpeded and sustained access each week to all requested areas and populations, including hard-to-reach and besieged locations. At the same time, the UN and its implementing partners are to be allowed to undertake safe, unconditional medical evacuations, based on medical need and urgency.
Almost two weeks have elapsed since the circulation of the first draft. In the course of two rounds of negotiations and bilateral discussions, Russia expressed its opposition to the establishment of a cessation of hostilities that the Council would not able to enforce, proposing instead language urging the parties to agree to it themselves. A number of Russian proposals were incorporated into the draft, including references to humanitarian mine action and the exclusion from the cessation of hostilities of counter-terrorism operations against Council-listed terrorist groups. Also, references to building on existing arrangements to monitor the cessation of hostilities were added in an effort to address Russia’s concerns. However, at press time, it appears that the current draft is not acceptable to Russia.
As Council members negotiated the draft, the humanitarian situation in Syria continued to deteriorate. On 10 February, referring to deadly airstrikes leading to civilian casualties in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that “[t]he term ‘de-escalation area’ is becoming all too reminiscent of the so-called ‘safe areas’ in Bosnia, which proved anything but safe”. In a statement today, with the military offensive on Eastern Ghouta resulting in more than 1,200 civilian casualties since early February, he asked: “[h]ow much cruelty will it take before the international community can speak with one voice to say enough dead children, enough wrecked families, enough violence, and take resolute, concerted action to bring this monstrous campaign of annihilation to an end?”. Also today, the Secretary-General reminded all parties, particularly the guarantors of the Astana agreements—Iran, Russia and Turkey—of their commitments regarding de-escalation areas.
Council dynamics on Syria are characterised by increased polarisation, including with regard to humanitarian matters. The 10 February statement by the Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria and other UN officials highlighted how “[t]he humanitarian response has become a hostage to fighting and competing politics” in Syria and characterised this as a “shame for all”. It remains to be seen whether Council members will be able to preserve space for compromise on the Syria humanitarian track in the future.