Security Council Rejects Two Draft Resolutions Aimed at Renewing Cross-Border Humanitarian Operations in Syria’s North-West
The Security Council today failed to reauthorize use of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for the delivery of humanitarian aid into Syria, unable to pass either of two competing resolutions that would have kept open a critical lifeline to more than 4.1 million people in the country’s north-west, many of whom were forcibly displaced by violence during the 11-year war.
The first draft resolution — submitted by Norway and Ireland — was defeated owing to the veto cast by the Russian Federation in a vote that had otherwise garnered 13 votes in favour, with 1 abstention (China). Use of the veto triggers the convening of a formal General Assembly meeting on the situation within 10 working days. (Please see Press Release GA/12417).
Norway’s representative, introducing the draft, said it would offer a 6+6-month extension of the mechanism for cross-border humanitarian assistance in an effort to reach a fair compromise. She recalled that an initial draft had contemplated a 12-month extension and was supported by the vast majority of Security Council members.
In an effort to “not let the perfect be the enemy of the good”, the United States representative said her delegation would support the text, despite that it and many others had wanted a more expansive resolution that would have opened more border crossings. “A vote against this resolution is a death sentence,” she said, as Bab al-Hawa is the single most efficient way to get life-or-death assistance into north-west Syria.
The Russian Federation’s competing draft, which provided for a six-month extension, was rejected by a vote of 3 against (France, United Kingdom, United States) to 2 in favour (China, Russian Federation), with 10 abstentions.
Delegates expressed their dissatisfaction over the double rejection, with the Russian Federation’s delegate explaining that its warnings about the text drafted by Ireland and Norway were known to all. It ignores the interests of Damascus, he added, a point echoed by China’s representative who said there must be full respect for the sovereignty of Syria and leadership of its Government. Crossline relief should become the main channel for assistance, he stressed.
The representatives of France, the United Kingdom and the United States agreed that the 6-month renewal contemplated by the alternative Russian text would not allow for sufficient planning of humanitarian operations that require predictability and stability. The 6-month renewal would plunge Syrians into uncertainty in the dead of winter, right when in aid is most needed, France’s delegate said.
Representatives of the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Ghana and Brazil urged their colleagues to work towards a compromise, with Brazil’s delegate in particular suggesting his delegation’s readiness to explore a nine-month extension. At that proposal, Ireland’s representative requested a suspension of the meeting so that negotiations could continue.
At the meeting’s outset, Council members observed a moment of silence in memory of Shinzo Abe, former Prime Minister of Japan, and Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, former President of Angola.
The meeting began at 12:55 p.m. and ended at 2:06 p.m.
Statements before Vote on S/2022/538
MONA JUUL (Norway), emphasizing that the resolution to be voted on is guided solely by the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people, said that the first draft contemplated a 12-month extension that was supported by the vast majority of Security Council members. The amended text provides for a 6+6-month extension in an effort to reach compromise. The resolution would renew the border crossing at Bab al-Hawa, ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches those in need, facilitate further early recovery and encourage regular follow-up meetings on the text’s implementation. Stressing that the resolution represents a “fair compromise”, she urged all members to support it.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said that the Council is voting on a compromise, as her country and many other members wanted a more-expansive resolution that would open more border crossings. Reiterating that needs on the ground — and not politics — must drive humanitarian decisions, she said that her country is “not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good” and will vote in favour of this resolution. Recalling her recent visit to Bab al-Hawa, she underscored that the crossing is one of the most closely monitored and well-organized in the world. She said that a vote against this resolution is a vote against crossline aid and transparency and amounts to “a death sentence”. Adding that 4.1 million people are counting on the Council, she urged members to renew the mandate and, noting that there are 15 members, pointed out that each holds the fate of 270,000 people in his or her hands.
MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya), speaking for the E10, the elected members of the Council, in his capacity as its coordinator for July, said his delegation engaged in consultations this morning and welcomes the compromise text, which accommodates the legitimate concerns of Council members. He expressed support for a 12-month renewal, based on the core co-sponsors’ text. As coordinator, Kenya also consulted with the United Arab Emirates, whose delegation made clear that Arab countries want a renewal of the cross-border mechanism. The pressing interest of the E10 is to unite on behalf of Syrians, he explained, noting that his delegation will continue to make every effort to unite the Council.
By a vote of 1 against (Russian Federation) to 13 in favour, with 1 abstention (China), the Council failed to adopt the resolution, owing to the negative vote cast by a permanent member of the Council.
Statements after Vote
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), speaking also for Norway, expressed extreme disappointment over the failure to adopt the resolution. Having engaged carefully, Ireland and Norway put it forward as a “best effort” towards a compromise that could command support. It would have allowed for life-saving assistance to reach those in north-west Syria through cross-border and crossline deliveries, enhanced early recovery efforts and renewed the Mechanism for 12 months, unless the Council decided otherwise after six months. The humanitarian situation has only worsened over the last year, she said, notably due to rising food prices, expressing deep regret that the compromise was rejected through use of the veto. “We regret its existence, and we deeply regret its use today,” she said, stressing that what matters is delivering humanitarian aid to those in need. “We need to renew the mandate for cross-border aid,” she insisted.
Ms. THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), stressing that this is “a dark, dark day in the Security Council”, said that it is easy for those sitting in this ornate Chamber to lose sight of the consequences of their votes, which will be swift and dire for 4.1 million people 5,000 miles away. Due to the vote of one Council member, hospitals will have to turn people away, schools will have to close their doors, nutrition assistance will be cut off and shipments of vital therapeutics will cease. “People will die because of this vote and the country who shamelessly deployed the veto today,” she said, adding that it is “unfathomable” that one member — the Russian Federation — put political interests above the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people. Because of today’s vote, Syrians risk receiving less aid, more suffering and less of the transparency that one Council member claims to want. Underscoring that it is in no one’s interest — including the Russian Federation’s — to have resolution 2585 (2021) expire, she said that the United States is ready to discuss this issue to find a way to extend the cross-border mandate.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said that his country voted against the draft resolution extending the cross-border mandate by one year, expressing regret that efforts by Ireland and Norway were unable to find the best way to resolve this issue. The Russian Federation’s position is clear, it has not misled anyone and it has shown flexibility on other aspects. He emphasized, however, that Western colleagues’ desire to reach agreement was insufficient. The text ignored Damascus’ interests — who should be the main beneficiary of the resolution — and also ignored that, over the past year, the Council has not been able to establish in-country deliveries to north-west Syria, report on United Nations activities in the country or increase donor assistance for early-recovery projects. Noting that the statement by the representative of the United States might give the impression that the Russian Federation’s draft doesn’t allow for the extension of the cross-border mandate at all, he stressed that everything that representative listed is included in his country’s draft resolution. He expressed hope that those present will support the Russian Federation’s text because the alternative is the ultimate closure of the crossing, adding that such support would indicate the importance of the project, rather than that of “dubious political gains”.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) said it is deeply regrettable that the Russian Federation has again vetoed a humanitarian resolution on Syria. “This is a deeply irresponsible veto that will have a tragic impact,” she said, noting that the United Nations and humanitarian organizations have repeatedly described a 12-month renewal as essential to providing support to 4.1 million Syrians who desperately rely on the cross-border mechanism for assistance. The balanced text provided support for resilience and livelihood planning, among other issues. On the other hand, a renewal for six months will create challenges to the planning, procurement hiring, and ultimately sustainability of non-governmental organizations, she said, stressing that her delegation will not support the resolution tabled by the Russian Federation, which aims to “slice in half” the operational certainty provided to humanitarian operations.
ALICIA GUADALUPE BUENROSTRO MASSIEU (Mexico) expressed regret over the failure to adopt a resolution on the cross-border mechanism due to the veto, stressing that humanitarian assistance must not be held hostage to political considerations. The draft is strictly humanitarian in nature, aiming to inject certainty into humanitarian planning. Emphasizing that Syrians continue to suffer the crushing effects of 11 years of war, she pressed the Council to assume the responsibility conferred on it by the Charter of the United Nations and noted that the General Assembly will now debate the use of the veto.
ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania) said that today’s vote was “a sad day for the Council and the United Nations as a whole”, as members failed to find agreement on a basic matter like humanitarian aid, which should not be a point of discussion. It is also a tragic day for the 4.1 million Syrians who lost access to life-saving aid. “We have let the Syrian people down again,” she stressed, spotlighting the “devastating effects of the arbitrary use of the veto by a permanent member”. Questioning the Council’s purpose if it cannot rescue millions of Syrians in dire need of help, she underscored the need to return to consultations with renewed resolve to find a solution as soon as possible.
Statement before Vote on S/2022/541
Ms. THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said her delegation will vote against the draft because it fails to sufficiently meet needs on the ground and extends the mechanism only for six months, benefiting Syria’s regime more than the people of Syria. Aid workers have repeatedly cautioned that this would be “a disaster” for their supply lines, leaving them unable to secure the volume necessary to meet the needs of all those depending on cross-border deliveries. Moreover, supplies would be shut off in the dead of winter, when needs are at their highest. Humanitarian needs have only worsened since the Council voted in 2021 to support cross-border deliveries for a year, followed by a six-month extension, subject to the issuance of the Secretary-General’s report. She blamed the Russian Federation for circumventing the normal negotiation process that allows the entire Council to “weigh in” on a matter and ignoring the draft that the co-sponsors had put forward in good faith. The Russian Federation’s draft “does not do right by the Syrian people” or aid organizations, she said, stressing: “It is not the right way to conduct business in this Council.” The Russian Federation has highjacked the process and she called on other delegations to similarly reject the draft.
By a vote of 2 in favour (China, Russian Federation) to 3 against (France, United Kingdom, United States), with 10 abstentions, the resolution was not adopted, having failed to obtain the required number of votes.
Statements after Vote
Mr. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said today’s vote is more eloquent than any empty and cunning words spoken by Western colleagues, who have shown their real intentions related to Syrian needs. “You had the option to continue the cross-border mechanism for humanitarian assistance by one year in two stages,” should there be an improvement in humanitarian conditions, he said. People will suffer, “whatever you say” about the possibility of violence by terrorists in Idlib. “You had the choice, and you made the choice,” he said. “And now this page of history has finally been turned and cannot be turned back.” For its part, the Russian Federation will continue to provide assistance to Syria, with respect for its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Ms. JUUL (Norway) said that her country and Ireland abstained due to their shared belief that renewing the mandate for cross-border aid is essential. The Ireland-Norway draft was a fair, careful compromise that was unfortunately vetoed. Stressing that this is a practical issue — not a political one — for humanitarian organizations operating on the ground, she underscored that a predictable mandate is necessary for such organizations to be able to plan and implement a humanitarian response. The Russian Federation’s draft resolution amounts to a 6-month extension, which “is simply not enough”, she said, adding that the Council must secure continued humanitarian aid to north-west Syria and that Ireland and Norway will continue engaging all members towards this end.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) expressed regret that the Ireland-Norway draft was not adopted following the Russian Federation’s veto. This action jeopardizes international humanitarian support for Syria and the survival of millions of people, as cross-border humanitarian assistance remains vital. The Syrian regime continues to instrumentalize aid for political ends, and the 6-month renewal contemplated by the alternative Russian text would not allow for sufficient planning of operations that require predictability and stability. Such a 6-month renewal would plunge Syrians into uncertainty in the midst of winter — precisely the time when aid is most necessary — and this is the reason France voted against this draft resolution. He called on all Council members to demonstrate unity and responsibility by pursuing dialogue to renew the indispensable cross-border mechanism.
ZHANG JUN (China) said his delegation abstained from the vote on the first draft and voted in favour of the second, expressing regret that no consensus was reached. China has always supported the United Nations and international community in carrying out assistance in Syria, in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality, he said, noting that it provides assistance through various channels. China has several times reiterated that to resolve the humanitarian issue, there must be full respect for the sovereignty of Syria and leadership of the Government. Crossline relief should become the main channel for assistance. For its part, the Council should offer requirements for increasing its scale, as the cross-border mechanism is a temporary arrangement. The Council also should assess its effectiveness and applicability in a timely manner, in line with conditions on the ground, and adjust accordingly.
In addition, the Council should devise a timetable for ending cross-border deliveries, he said, and advance the transition to a crossline approach. The duration of the mandate extension should allow for the Council’s flexibility in making timely assessments. Noting that early recovery projects can bring self-generating impetus to Syria’s recovery, he called for increasing inputs in a targeted manner and urged donors to provide sufficient financial support. The Council must make efforts to this end. As unilateral sanctions have hampered Syria’s ability to carry out reconstruction, he urged countries to immediately lift these measures, allowing for humanitarian activities to take place. The Council should make a clear request in this regard. Noting that resolution 2585 (2021) expires on 10 July, he said “we still have some time”. He called on members to continue consultations, demonstrate greater mutual trust and flexibility, and to find practical solutions for arrangements after the mandate expires.
LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates) expressed deep regret that, despite immense efforts, the Council failed to adopt an extended mandate for the cross-border aid mechanism. Recalling that the E10 spoke with one voice on the need to fulfil the Council’s mandate, she expressed hope that this unity would allow the 15-member organ to redouble its efforts to reach agreement on extending the cross-border mechanism. The United Arab Emirates supported a 12-month renewal because of the clarity it provides to humanitarian actors, she said, adding: “we are ready to work with all parties on other options,” including a nine-month extension, to ensure the needs of Syrians are met during the winter and that the mechanism does not expire at that time. “The Council’s credibility is also at stake,” she said, underscoring its collective responsibility to ensure that Syrians are not left without critical supplies. “We believe it can and should be done,” she said.
Mr. KIMANI (Kenya), emphasizing that the Council’s lack of unity will have dire consequences, said that his country voted in favour of the Ireland-Norway text in solidarity with the millions of Syrians who require assistance. Expressing regret that this text failed to pass, he said Kenya is ready to explore further options, including a nine-month renewal of the cross-border mechanism. He urged the Council to demonstrate unity as there will be serious ramifications from both votes today, including a perception that the Council is struggling to address the challenges it is mandated to solve.
CAROLYN ABENA ANIMA OPPONG-NTIRI (Ghana) stressed that the Council must act in a manner that preserves the lives of every Syrian, welcoming the constructive approach by Ireland and Norway to receive input from all delegations. Ghana supported the Ireland-Norway text’s 12-month renewal, which is practical and affords humanitarian agencies enough time to plan and execute a humanitarian response. She welcomed further constructive engagement with all delegations to reach a consensus text that may include a compromise duration of nine months. She added that addressing Syria’s humanitarian needs is necessary because the international community has not worked hard enough to achieve a nationwide ceasefire and a political solution that enables Syrians to determine their future, stressing that this must be a priority going forward.
RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil), Council President for July, spoke in his national capacity to stress that humanitarian conditions continue to worsen in northern Syria, especially for those living in camps and informal settlements. They have not improved since July, when resolution 2585 (2021) was adopted. As crossline relief cannot yet match the scale and scope of the cross-border modality, which provides assistance to 4.1 million people, renewal of the authorization for cross-border operations is indispensable. Failure would mean cutting off life-saving aid at a time when needs are highest. A consensual resolution would show unity in addressing the plight of Syrians who did not choose to become part of a conflict, but who now must depend on aid.
“That is our responsibility,” he recalled. “We need to show the world that this Council is still capable to responding to those in desperate need of humanitarian assistance,” he stressed. In 2021, the Council added important elements to the cross-border resolution, he said, citing the need to increase crossline and early recovery and resilience initiatives aimed at restoring essential services. The requirement of keeping cross-border operations under close monitoring by the United Nations is another consensual point. “With these elements, we have 99 per cent of an agreement,” he said, noting that the Council also must agree on a timeline of extension for the operations. Brazil favours renewal of cross-border operations for 12 months, allowing for better fiscal and operational planning of humanitarian organizations, but it is prepared to explore a nine-month extension that would meet the humanitarian objectives.
BASSAM SABBAGH (Syria) said his country has made great efforts to meet the humanitarian needs of its people. In previous Council meetings, his delegation described the impediments imposed by Western countries that politicize humanitarian work. Since the start of negotiations on the text, Syria has adopted a “clear and constructive approach”, he said, by drawing attention to the threats posed by cross-border operations or by exposing the double standards related to promotion of access “from within”, and by detailing how implementation of early recovery projects was not serious.
He denounced the “wrong policies” of the United States, France and the United Kingdom, which continue to mislead. “We have seen that in their statements today,” he said, as they pretend to want to provide support to Syrians. Syria has been “very open” to genuine efforts to meet needs across the country, without politicization, discrimination or marginalization. His delegation has detailed the flaws within the resolution, as well as the catastrophic implications of unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union. It had called for ending those measures and instead providing genuine guarantees to ensure transparent implementation of the resolution’s provisions.
He went on to stress that early recovery efforts must include the electricity sector, as Syrians have suffered from a lack thereof due to the sanctions imposed by Western States. “Imagine living without electricity for one hour,” he said. He also had called for a reference to support demining and removal of explosive devices planted by terrorist organizations and for the creation of a monitoring, review and follow-up mechanism to ensure early recovery projects lead to positive outcomes. Efforts also must be taken to prevent assistance delivered through the cross-border mechanism from falling into the hands of terrorist groups. Syria had also called for extending the mandate not more than six months, to allow for a monitoring, review and follow-up process.
He welcomed the Russian Federation’s efforts to meet the needs of Syrians in a balanced and effective manner, by ensuring transparent implementation of a Council resolution. The United States, United Kingdom and France are fully responsible for implementing resolution 2585 (2021). He denounced their call for a vote on a draft that does not genuinely meet humanitarian needs or include changes to address Syria’s concerns, and which is unbalanced and discriminatory in nature. These three countries have chosen, for years, to violate Syria’s sovereignty, suffocate its economy, loot its resources and deprive its people of their basic needs. Their hostile practices must change. He commended the Russian Federation for tabling a draft that would improve humanitarian conditions by promoting early recovery projects and ensuring that assistance is delivered to all within the country. Syria is ready to engage in any constructive effort to alleviate suffering, in full respect of its sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity.
The meeting was then suspended, at the request of Ireland’s delegation.