Security Council Extends Use of Border Crossing for Humanitarian Aid into Syria, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2585 (2021)
The Security Council — acting in a rare moment of unanimity on the complex, decade-long Syrian conflict — today adopted a compromise resolution extending the use of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for the delivery of humanitarian aid for six months, with the expectation of a subsequent renewal for another six months, until 10 July 2022.
Unanimously adopting resolution 2585 (2021), the 15-member Council extended its previous authorization of the Bab al-Hawa crossing point, on Syria’s border with Turkey, which was first laid out in paragraphs 2 and 3 of resolution 2165 (2014). Those authorizations apply only to Bab al-Hawa, and not to several other crossing points whose use was previously curtailed by the Council. The second six-month extension remains pending, subject to the issuance of a substantive report by the Secretary-General on transparency in aid delivery operations and progress on cross-line access, but is anticipated according to today’s resolution.
Also by the terms of the text, the Council demanded the full and immediate implementation of all its previous relevant resolutions. It called upon Member States to respond with practical steps to address the urgent needs of Syria’s people in light of the profound socioeconomic and humanitarian impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and requested the Secretary-General to brief members monthly and provide regular reports, at least every 60 days, on the implementation of its resolutions and compliance by the parties.
It further requested the Secretary-General to include in his reports overall trends in United Nations cross-line operations — in particular on the implementation of efforts to improve all modalities of humanitarian deliveries inside Syria and early recovery projects — as well as detailed information on the humanitarian assistance delivered through United Nations humanitarian cross-border operations. That should include details on the distribution mechanism, the number of beneficiaries, operating partners, locations of aid deliveries and the volume and nature of items delivered.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield (United States), speaking following the adoption, said millions of Syrian civilians can breathe a sigh of relief and parents can sleep tonight, knowing that, for the next 12 months, their children will be fed. Describing today’s vote as an important moment for Syria and for the global community as it recovers from the pandemic — as vaccines will also be able to flow into Syria — she welcomed the fact that her country and the Russian Federation were able to come together on a crucial matter long debated in the Council. The compromise is also important for the broader United Nations, showing that “we can do more than just talk”. The Organization can now get back to its core business of delivering necessary aid to those who need it most, she said, adding: “Today, we averted a catastrophe for a population that has already suffered too much.”
Vassily A. Nebenzia (Russian Federation) said his delegation is satisfied that the Council managed to reach an important point of convergence on such a complex topic. “We are grateful for this,” he said, thanking the United States delegation for working in the spirit of the commitments achieved during the recent summit held between Presidents Vladimir V. Putin and Joseph R. Biden. The compromise text stresses, for the first time, the need to enhance cross-line aid deliveries, in line with the United Nations core humanitarian principles. Through its adoption, the Council has given the green light for the ultimate replacement of the cross-border mechanism with cross-line aid deliveries. Noting that his delegation intends to follow matters closely over the next six months and awaits the Secretary-General’s report on the cross-border system, he said today’s agreement nevertheless marks a historic turning point.
Sven Jürgenson (Estonia), Mona Juul (Norway) and Jayne Jepkorir Toroitich (Kenya) each welcomed the compromise resolution’s adoption, with the latter reiterating her delegation’s long‑standing position that modalities for humanitarian aid delivery in Syria should be underpinned by the most practical means to ensure that needs are met.
Adel Ben Lagha (Tunisia), also welcoming the unanimous adoption, thanked Council members for their positive engagement during negotiations that preserved the unity of the Council and allowed it to speak in one voice on the humanitarian situation in Syria. He expressed hope that the resolution will serve the main goal of easing the suffering of the Syrian people — especially in light of the COVID-19 crisis — and welcomed language pertaining to cross-line delivery in line with the principle of achieving that goal by any means possible.
Several delegates, however, voiced concerns about the resolution’s contents or expressed regret that it does not go far enough to address the vast humanitarian crisis still spiralling across Syria after more than a decade of war.
Barbara Woodward (United Kingdom), stressing that the needs of Syria’s people would not be met without the resolution’s successful renewal of the cross‑border mechanism for a full 12 months, described the text as “the minimum necessary to meet the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people”. While welcoming the significant compromise achieved, she nevertheless emphasized that the country remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for humanitarian workers, and called for maximum efforts to ensure that any additional reporting on the ground does not put their safety at further risk.
Alicia Guadalupe Buenrostro Massieu (Mexico), while welcoming the text, said that the outcome was not ideal as a more ambitious draft would have been preferable. However, renewal of the Bab al-Hawa crossing will afford certainty to the planning and budgeting for humanitarian action. While the resolution should have made a more general reference to humanitarian actors, without reference to specific organizations, Mexico voted in favour based on the humanitarian needs of the Syrian population, on which all discussions must focus.
Nicolas de Rivière (France), Council President for July, spoke in his national capacity to express relief that the cross-border mechanism has been renewed for 12 months, as there is currently no alternative method to provide daily, vital assistance to thousands of people. Noting that the Syrian regime continues to use the issue of humanitarian assistance for political ends, he stressed that the mechanism just renewed will be inadequate to respond to the population’s humanitarian needs and expressed regret that the Bab al-Salam and Al Yarubiyah crossings were not reopened despite increasing need. France and its European partners will not finance reconstruction or lift sanctions if a credible political process is not launched pursuant to resolution 2254 (2015). He agreed with several other speakers that it serves no one’s interest that the resolution mentions specific humanitarian organizations in such a politicized context.
T.S. Tirumurti (India), noting the precarious situation in Syria — once “a fulcrum of Arab culture” and a leading voice in the region — called for enhanced assistance to all its citizens without discrimination, preconditions or politicization. Today’s resolution will reassure the 3.4 million living in north‑west Syria, but the Council must also reflect on the humanitarian situation in the rest of the country as urgent action is needed to address reconstruction needs. He stressed that long-term stability in the country will only be achieved by preserving its sovereignty and territorial integrity, expressing concern over the involvement of external actors that is making the situation worse.
Zhang Jun (China) agreed that all humanitarian assistance to Syria must be premised on full respect for that country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The cross-border mechanism is a special arrangement — conceived under specific circumstances — and must be subject to timely assessments to ensure its continued propriety, with a view towards transitioning from cross-border to cross-line delivery of humanitarian aid. He also stressed that unilateral sanctions are the main obstacle to improving the country’s humanitarian situation, adding that cross-line aid should be the dominant channel for the delivery of humanitarian assistance as the cross-border mechanism is controversial both politically and legally.
Bassam Sabbagh (Syria), meanwhile, noted that the delegations of the Russian Federation and China brought to light important aspects of the humanitarian situation in his country — including the effects of COVID-19, the need to lift unilateral sanctions and the importance of providing humanitarian aid beyond the emergency needs of affected populations. Western States ignore these aspects, instead focusing on the cross-border mechanism “to serve their needs without any regard for the suffering of the Syrian people or the sovereignty of the Syrian State”. Describing the cross-border mechanism as a “lifeline” is an exaggeration that plays with the sentiment of public opinion and constitutes “emotional blackmail”, he stressed, reaffirmed his country’s rejection of that politicized mechanism which constitutes a flagrant violation of Syria’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.
The meeting began at 11:23 a.m. and ended at 12:01 p.m.