Attempting a second time this year to ease the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria as a result of its three-year civil war and no political solution in sight, the United Nations Security Council has displayed a rare unified front on the matter by passing a resolution to better ensure that aid can get through conflict lines as well as four designated border crossings — from neighboring Turkey, Iraq and Jordan — into the country without Syria’s consent.
At least 10.8 million people urgently need help, with almost half of them subsisting in hard-to-reach zones, the UN says.
“This resolution is aimed at getting aid through the four border crossings specified to nearly three million people who have not had secure food supplies or access to basic healthcare for many months,” Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said.
The resolution requires that UN personnel monitor the content of aid convoys passing through the four identified cross-border zones, which remain out of the Syrian government’s control, to ensure that only lifesaving goods get inside the country and nothing militaristic. The monitors must report to the council in six months regarding their work.
Resolution 2165 was sponsored by Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg, all elected council members, who negotiated the draft with the permanent members over five weeks, representing a hard-won gain despite extensive back-and-forth discussions with Russia, Syria’s closest national ally and a veto power. It is not an enforceable resolution, however, with Chapter VII mandates allowing sanctions, if necessary, or the use of force.
A previous resolution, No. 2139, passed in February, was also meant to assure that humanitarian aid got to people in besieged and other blocked areas of Syria unhindered, but it contained no enforcement steps and deliveries had to be approved by the Syrian government, which took advantage of the resolution’s weaknesses by virtually stopping the flow of basic food staples and medical supplies across border regions. Ban called such action a violation of international humanitarian law.
The problem with some of the new designated border crossings, Syria contended, is that they are controlled by extremist forces, like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is operating in parts of Iraq and could complicate the passage of humanitarian goods. The UN monitoring team being put in place is supposed to address this concern, but it could be difficult, since Syria says the team will have to work with ISIS.
High hopes abound for the resolution’s success, nevertheless, as it should begin to resolve the “greatest humanitarian crisis this century,” Gary Quinlan, the Australian ambassador to the UN, said after the unanimous vote on July 14. He and other ambassadors from Western-leaning countries on the Security Council stressed that Resolution 2165 should never have been required, given that the one passed in February was supposed to achieve similar results.
But that resolution, Quinlan said, had been “ignored” by the Syrian government and the situation just grew worse, with an additional million people or so eking out a fragile existence in ever-more-dire conditions. The sentiment that the second resolution had not been necessary if the earlier one had not been flouted by Syria was echoed by Britain and the United States, both permanent members of the council, as well as by Chile, Luxembourg, South Korea and others.
Many council members, including Russia, urged the refrain of their time: for a political solution to end Syria’s war. They enthusiastically referred to the recent appointment of a new UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, last week. The naming of de Mistura seems to have given new impetus to the council’s ability to come together on Syria.
Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Bashar al-Jaafari, spoke to the council after the vote. As if summoned from a twilight zone, he began his speech not focused on his country’s own grave problems but by “condemning” Israel for its recent aerial assaults “against Gaza and the Palestinian people.”