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 the cross-border mechanism for the delivery of humanitarian aid into Syria, unable to reach consensus on either of two resolutions that would have kept open the critical lifeline to millions of people following the expiry of its mandate on 10 July.
The first draft — submitted by Brazil and Switzerland — would have extended use of the Bab al-Hawa crossing for another nine months, but was rejected 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. (For background, see Press Release GA/12417.)
Brazil’s representative said that his country and Switzerland, who both initially sought a 12-month extension, spared no effort as co-penholders to reach consensus by engaging all Council members and humanitarians on the ground. Their proposed text represented a renewed attempt at compromise, reflecting the positions of many, he said, expressing his country’s resolve to remain committed to seeking common ground.
Japan’s representative, speaking for the 10 elected Council members and urging support for the nine-month extension, said that, while a longer mandate authorization would have been preferable, there is utility in the Council upholding a unified position. The representative of Mozambique, supporting the consensual adoption of a resolution that would support the pressing humanitarian needs of Syria’s people, said that the nine-month mandate is the best available option to that end.
Following the veto, three permanent Council members — France, United States and the United Kingdom, Council President for July — joined forces in condemning the Russian Federation for blocking the nine-month extension. “This is a sad moment for the Syrian people and for this Council, save for one country,” said the representative of the United States, pointing out that Moscow will have to answer to the international community and the Syrian people to “justify the unjustifiable.”
The Russian Federation’s competing draft, which provided for a six-month extension, was defeated by a vote of 3 against (France, United Kingdom, United States) to 2 in favour (China, Russian Federation), with 10 abstentions (Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates).
Countering accusations against its use of veto, the Russian Federation’s delegate said that the resolution put forth by Brazil and Switzerland disregarded the interests of the Syrian people and was meant to provoke his country into using the veto. Warning that blessing the mechanism will only help terrorists, he stated that the text violates Syria’s sovereignty. The cross-border mechanism could still have been salvaged if the Council had supported his delegation’s draft, which contained measures to rectify that mechanism, he emphasized.
China’s delegate, expressing regret over the Council’s failure to reach consensus, recalled that the cross-border mechanism was a temporary arrangement, made under specific circumstances. He highlighted the need to phase out the mechanism, adding that — while China supports continuing cross-border arrangements — the Council must address the problems with the humanitarian-relief mechanism.
France’s delegate underscored that humanitarian operations require predictability and stability, pointing out that the six-month renewal proposed by the Russian Federation would have plunged Syria into uncertainty in winter. His counterparts from the United States and the United Kingdom echoed that, with the latter observing that the Russian Federation has chipped away at humanitarian lifelines since 2014. Her delegation, for its part, will put the needs of the Syrian people first, she stressed.
Syria’s representative, meanwhile, underlined the need to activate cross-line deliveries and enhance early recovery projects. Unilateral coercive measures imposed by the United States and the European Union impede humanitarian support, and he emphasized that a six-month mandate extension would allow for an evaluation process. The resolution tabled by the co-penholders did not reflect Syrians’ aspirations, he added, stating that the cross-border mechanism is being used to create political pressure and blackmail his country.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 11:04 a.m.
Statements before Vote on S/2023/506
SÉRGIO FRANÇA DANESE (Brazil) said that his delegation and that of Switzerland, as co-penholders, spared no effort to achieve consensus on cross-border humanitarian aid to Syria, engaging not only all Council members, but also governmental and non-governmental humanitarians over the past few weeks. The two delegations listened carefully to actors on the ground and recognized the need for a year-long extension of the cross-border aid mechanism to meet humanitarian needs in Syria. The amended text proposes a nine-month extension and represents a renewed attempt at compromise. It also reflects the positions of many — including operative paragraphs on cross-line aid, early recovery projects, more funding, mine action and safe, voluntary, informed and dignified return — he added, asking the Council to support the draft.
SHINO MITSUKO (Japan), speaking for the 10 elected Council members, expressed appreciation for the co-penholders’ extensive efforts to draft a balanced text that reflects the views and legitimate concerns of delegations, and more importantly, meets the pressing humanitarian needs of the Syrian people. The draft will guarantee the uninterrupted flow of aid to 4 million people in need of emergency humanitarian support in north-west Syria. Commending the efforts of all delegations — particularly those of Gabon, Ghana, Mozambique and the United Arab Emirates for their constructive proposals — she said that the 10 elected members would have preferred a longer mandate authorization. They, however, recognized the utility of upholding the Council’s unified position, she said, strongly urging all Council members to vote in favour of the draft.
PEDRO COMISSÁRIO AFONSO (Mozambique), speaking also for Gabon and Ghana, said the countries for whom he speaks had worked to adopt a balanced text. Expressing regret that the Council had before it two competing texts on the humanitarian situation in Syria, he supported the consensual adoption of a resolution that would support the pressing humanitarian needs of that country’s people. The nine-month mandate is the best available option to that end, and should solicit the Council’s consensus. He said that the countries for whom he speaks will vote in favour of the draft resolution supported by the Council’s 10 elected members, guided by the interests of the Syrian people.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said that her delegation will vote in favour of the compromise resolution, as it will extend vital humanitarian assistance. If the resolution is opposed, it will shutter a humanitarian lifeline. There is no time to waste, she underscored, noting that the Syrian people are counting on the Council. While the organ frequently faces contentious issues, this vote should not be controversial. The cross-border mechanism helps 2.7 million people every month, and after 12 years of war and recent devastating earthquakes, the humanitarian situation in Syria has been pushed to the brink. Nothing can replace the scope and scale of cross-border aid, she stressed, adding that the text is a compromise — a bare minimum — as it falls short of the needs on the ground and the Secretary-General’s request for a 12-month extension.
By a vote of 13 in favour to 1 against (Russian Federation), with 1 abstention (China), the Council failed to adopt the resolution, owing to the negative vote cast by a permanent member.
Statements after Vote
PASCALE CHRISTINE BAERISWYL (Switzerland) expressed disappointment that the Council did not adopt the resolution. Over the last week, Switzerland and Brazil engaged with all Council members and regional partners, sparing no effort to accommodate concerns and reach common ground. The text would have ensured that humanitarian assistance continues to reach those in need in north-west Syria, and a nine-month extension would have allowed humanitarian activities to bridge winter months. Expressing regret that this compromise was rejected through the use of one veto, she emphasized: “We will not let this veto cease our tireless efforts to find a solution”.
Ms. THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said: “This is a sad moment for the Syrian people and for this Council, save for one country.” Noting that a majority stood together to extend the humanitarian lifeline, she questioned: “I just have to ask why Russia has not lived up to its responsibility as a permanent member of this Council?” The text was a compromise and “the absolute minimum” that could be achieved, she added, noting that her delegation supported the resolution in that spirit. “And Russia cannot even do that,” she stressed, pointing out that the Russian Federation will have to answer to the international community and the Syrian people to “justify the unjustifiable”. In this context, she emphasized: “We must all urge Russia to come back to the table in good faith. There is no time to waste. Lives hang in the balance.”
Ms. SHINO (Japan) expressed deep regret over the Council’s failure to adopt the draft resolution. “We are extremely disappointed that a veto was cast today,” she said, adding that such action hinders the delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance to more than 4 million people in need. The result of this negative vote is a major disruption of humanitarian activities in Syria. Until an inclusive, comprehensive and sustainable political solution in line with resolution 2254 (2015) is achieved, “we must put the needs of the Syrian people at the top of our agenda”, she stressed.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania) noting that efforts led by the co-penholders were just wasted, described the failure to adopt the text as “a terrible setback” and a “sad day” for the Council, the United Nations and the entire humanitarian community. It is “a stab in the back to solidarity — one of the raisons d’être of the United Nations”, he added. Stressing the need for a 12-month extension to ensure predictability, preparedness and efficiency, he said that humanitarians on the ground see Bab al-Hawa as the most critical lifeline. The nine-month extension — while not ideal — would have provided necessary assistance to more than 4 million people who need it “not for comfort, but for survival”, he underscored, condemning the Russian Federation’s misuse of the veto.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) calling the vote a “show”, said that the resolution disregarded the interests of the Syrian people and was meant to provoke the Russian Federation into using the veto. Certain countries then want to accuse Moscow of killing the cross-border mechanism. Stressing that Western States want to present Syrians with “a whole lot of nothing in the end”, he questioned concessions by such countries. Characterizing a vote on the cross‑border mechanism as a life-and-death situation is disingenuous, as there are ways to help the Syrian people without it. The Syrian Government has opened two cross-border points that are working. Underscoring that this is not a compromise text, that blessing the mechanism will help terrorists and that Syria is being suffocated with inhumane sanctions, he stated that the resolution is a violation of Syria’s sovereignty.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom), Council President for July, spoke in her national capacity to point out that humanitarian officials and organizations on the ground in Syria have called for a 12-month mandate. This is a minimum — especially after the February earthquakes — but the Russian Federation has, again, used the veto to limit life-saving aid to the Syrian people. There is no rational or moral reason to veto this resolution, she stressed, noting that, since 2014, the Russian Federation has chipped away at humanitarian lifelines. Her delegation will put the needs of Syrian people first, she said.
Action on S/2023/507
By a vote of 3 against (France, United Kingdom, United States) to 2 in favour (China, Russian Federation), with 10 abstentions (Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates), the resolution was not adopted, having failed to obtain the required number of votes.
Statements after Vote
ZHANG JUN (China) expressed regret over the Council’s failure to reach consensus. Recalling that the cross-border mechanism was a temporary arrangement, made under specific circumstances, he underscored the need to phase out the mechanism. While China supports continuing cross-border arrangements, the Council must address the problems with the humanitarian-relief mechanism. To this end, practical measures should be taken to prevent the parties in de facto control of north-west Syria from obstructing relief. Also calling for mine action and adequate humanitarian funding, he urged the Council to eliminate unilateral sanctions. On the Council’s divisions, he said: “Dialogue and consultation is the only way of resolving differences and forging consensus.”
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said there is no alternative to the cross-border mechanism for providing assistance to 4 million people. Noting that a one-year renewal is necessary to plan humanitarian operations, he said that Moscow did not take account of Syria’s humanitarian needs in its resolution. He recalled that humanitarian aid to Damascus is funded — to the tune of 90 per cent — by the European Union, United States, Canada and Japan, while the Russian Federation provides almost no humanitarian assistance. Humanitarian operations require predictability and stability, he noted, pointing out that a six-month renewal would have plunged Syria into uncertainty in winter. He said that, for this reason, his delegation voted against the resolution proposed by the Russian Federation, adding: “That text has failed miserably.”
Ms. THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said that her country is committed to reauthorizing the cross-border mechanism as a moral and humanitarian imperative. “The Syrian people are counting on us to get this done,” she said, noting that her delegation could not support the text the Russian Federation forced on the Council. Moscow’s draft failed to ensure that aid would continue to reach the Syrian people during cold winter months. Both penholders made every effort to listen to all Council members and the 10 elected members were united, but the Russian Federation refused to meaningfully participate in negotiations. That country only demanded an ultimatum — like “a bully in the playground”, she observed. This is not responsible behaviour for a permanent Council member, she said, urging Moscow to reconsider its position.
Mr. DANESE (Brazil) said that his delegation abstained, noting that some elements of the Russian Federation draft were already included in the text proposed by his country and Switzerland. Pointing to the human and historical ties between his country and Syria, he expressed deep concern over the acute humanitarian situation that Syrians face, especially after the deadly earthquakes. The text proposed by his country and Switzerland is the best option and addresses the legitimate concerns expressed by Syria. Calling on Council members to put aside political differences and respond to calls for humanitarian aid, he stressed that his country will remain committed to seeking common ground and forging compromise.
Mr. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that the cross-border mechanism could still have been salvaged if the Council had supported his delegation’s draft, which contained measures to rectify that mechanism.
BASSAM SABBAGH (Syria) said that the earthquakes exacerbated the humanitarian situation in Syria and made it more important to provide basic services to the country’s people. Noting that his delegation worked transparently with the penholders, he stressed the need to activate cross-line deliveries and to enhance early recovery projects. Support for de-mining projects is also needed, as is the creation of conditions for refugees’ safe return. He also said that unilateral coercive measures imposed by the United States and the European Union impede humanitarian support, stressing that those who talk about life and death need to lift their sanctions.
He went on to say that a six-month mandate extension would allow for an evaluation process. While he appreciated the co-penholders’ efforts, he stated that their resolution did not reflect Syrians’ aspirations as the cross-border mechanism is being used to create political pressure and blackmail Syria. Thanking the Russian Federation’s delegation for its initiative and China’s delegation for its support thereof, he said that resolution is a sincere attempt to ensure the Council fulfils its responsibilities. The time has come for the Council to unite and meet the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people, he added.