Map of Syria (courtesy of Wiki Commons)
The Arab Spring, which began in 2010 with the Tunisian Revolution, saw a wave of protests sweep across Middle-Eastern countries. One such country was Syria, where there had been long-standing opposition against the undemocratic regime headed by President Bashar al-Assad (Al Jazeera, 2018). The key tipping point for these protests came in March 2011, when a group of youths were arrested and tortured by the police for writing the anti-government graffiti “The people want the regime to fall” (Time, 2011).
While many Syrians did not in fact want complete regime downfall at the outset of the protests, merely more freedoms and justice under the regime, such a revolutionary sentiment became increasingly commonplace as the government responded to the peaceful protests with brutal violence (BBC, 2013). Upwards of 1,000 civilians are purported to have been killed by the end of May 2011, with many more injured or detained (BBC, 2011). Indeed, a total of 27 “torture centres” belonging to Syrian intelligence agencies were later revealed by Human Rights Watch (Human Rights Watch, 2012).
As people turned against the government, armed opposition groups began to emerge, and the situation descended into civil war. This began with the Free Syrian Army, a group formed by defectors from the military in July 2011 (BBC, 2013). While this particular group diminished in 2012, a complex network of many other competing rebel groups have since been established. As many as 1,000 armed opposition groups were established in Syria in the first few years of the conflict alone (BBC, 2013).
Notably, jihadist groups utilised the instability of the conflict to expand into Syria, with the aim of overthrowing the Assad regime and establishing an Islamic state in its place. This initially began under the direction of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI, becoming ISIL in 2013), with the formation of an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Syria. This offshoot became known as the Al-Nusra Front in 2012 (Time, 2016). All three groups have since disassociated themselves from one another (Politico, 2014), and come into conflict with one another in Syria (Al Jazeera, 2015). The most influential of these groups has been ISIL, which at its height (in 2014/15) controlled large swathes of eastern and northern Syria (BBC, 2018).
Conflict surrounding Kurdish nationalism also adds another layer to the crisis in Syria. 2012 saw Kurdish nationalists establish de facto rule in northern parts of Syria as government forces withdrew due to the ongoing conflict (Guardian, 2012).
Both government and opposition forces have committed atrocities since the conflict began in 2011. Opposition groups have violated international humanitarian law and committed war crimes such as murder, torture, and hostage taking (UN Human Rights Council, 2014). Moreover, even when such groups are successfully expelled from an area, risks remain. A pertinent example of this is ISIL. While ISIL no longer controls any major territory in Syria, areas previously under its control are often littered with dangerous devices and explosives. Such is the case of Raqqah, as noted in a recent report from the UN (UNSC, 2018). This often contributes to the high number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Syria, as it is still too dangerous for many people to return home. However, despite this, in certain areas, namely eastern Ghutah, displaced people have returned, although the movement of people to areas which can provide for them (humanitarian organizations) is very restricted (UNSC, 2018). The figure stands at more than 6.5 million internally displaced civilians who are located inside the Syrian Arab Republic and more than 5.5 million refugees (UN General Assembly, 2018). The aid given by the UN has benefitted around 2.37million people (giving them food supplies) (UN Security Council, 2018). There is also evidence that pro-government forces have also carried out atrocities. In fact, it has be claimed that the Assad regime has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity as a matter of state policy (GCR2P, 2018). The Global Centre for R2P on Syria has deemed it imperative to provide unaffected humanitarian access to trapped or displaced civilians. (GCR2P,2018).
This includes crimes such as murder, rape, torture, and enforced disappearance (e.g. UN Human Rights Council, 2014). The government’s use of chemical weapons has also been a major issue in the conflict, with evidence showing that government forces used chemical weapons multiple times between 2014 and 2016 (UN Security Council, 2016). More recently, there is evidence to suggest that the Assad regime used chemical weaponry to attack the rebel-held city of Douma on 7 April 2018 (see e.g. WHO, 2018).
The situation which has resulted from this attack in Douma is characteristic of how resolving the broader crisis in Syria grows ever more complex as the international community becomes more directly involved in the conflict. In response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, the US, the UK and France, launched airstrikes against three military bases in Syria on 13 April 2018. The US has provided support to rebel groups in Syria since 2011, with 2017 marking the first instance of direct military action against the Assad regime (Guardian, 2017). Meanwhile, Russia remains a staunch supporter of the Assad regime, having been militarily involved in conflict since 2015. Iran also supports the Assad regime, referring to the airstrikes as launched against Syria as a “military crime” (Guardian, 2018). Intervening countries should prevent the Syrian Government so that crimes aren’t committed. Countries such as Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are required to hold back their support from certain groups that create tension and attack civilians. This is because the involvement of these countries deems them to be colluding and helping them in crimes against humanity (GCR2P, 2018).
At the individual level
Countless atrocities have been inflicted upon the population of Syria since the conflict began in 2011, resulting in a large scale humanitarian crisis. Indeed, recent figures have estimated that 13.1 million Syrians remain in need of humanitarian assistance (UNHCR, 2018). The use of civilians as human shields, sexual and gender-based violence, child soldiers, and the targeting of schools and hospitals are particularly crucial issues.
Such atrocities have caused over half of the Syrian population to flee their homes since the conflict began (UN OCHA 2018). In fact, the Syrian conflict has caused the largest refugee crisis in the world, with 5.6 million refugees and at least 6.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) as of September 2018 (GCR2P, 2018). This continued influx of IDPs into other areas adds further pressure to already overburdened host communities and camps (UNHCR, 2018).
At least 420,900 people remain trapped in 10 rebel-held communities, besieged by government forces. 94% of this number live in the city of Ghouta (GCR2P, 2018). As of February 2018, Ghouta has been the target of the government’s most recent series of airstrikes and shelling, in an attack many fear will “eclipse” any previous humanitarian atrocity in the Syrian crisis (Guardian, 2018). The UN Security Council has condemned this action, and called for a ceasefire (UN Security Council, 2018). However, this has not been respected and – as mentioned above – there is evidence to suggest that the Assad regime launched a chemical weapons attack against the city of Douma on 7 April 2018. It is purported that at least 75 people were killed in this attack, with over 500 others injured (Prime Minister’s Office, 2018).
At the state level
The Syrian government has failed in its responsibility to protect the Syrian population. Not only has the government failed to protect Syrian people from mass atrocities committed by opposition groups, but has committed mass atrocities itself. This makes the prospect of resolving the conflict more complex as peace negotiations with the Assad regime persistently fail. Speaking at the UN, a spokesperson for the Assad regime in April asserted that states who voted against Russia’s draft resolution S/2018/355 “are no longer partners of the Syrian Government in any political process” (UNSC, 2018). Those states were Côte d’Ivoire, France, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, the UK, and the US.
The prevalence of many different opposition groups throughout Syria again complicates the resolution of the conflict.
Relatedly, reconciling the population after such a brutal conflict is a crucial concern, and will likely require substantial support from the international community. The issue of creating social cohesion in such a fractured country seems even more difficult in the face of the destruction and trafficking of cultural heritage (UNESCO 2017).
The destruction of infrastructure and key institutions is also problematic for the country. In 2017, the World Bank estimated that the conflict had damaged or destroyed 27% of Syria’s housing stock, and about 50% of Syria’s medical and educational facilities. Moreover, it estimated that the crisis in Syria had cost the country’s economy $226 billion (Economic Times, 2017).
At the regional level
The Syrian crisis has done much to destabilise the region, and there is significant risk of the conflict spreading outside of Syria. As of September-October 2018, Jordan hosts around 671,919 registered refugees from Syria, while Egypt hosts over 131,504, Iraq hosts around 250,184, Lebanon hosts 952,562, and Turkey hosts around 3.6 million (UNHCR,2018). UNICEF notes that the presence of these refugees has put notable strain on the resources of many host countries (especially in Lebanon), which has in turn caused increased tensions among the local communities (UNICEF, 2018)
Iraq and Iran stand out as the only regional countries which support the Assad regime (Business Insider, 2013, Guardian, 2015). However, there is not unanimous support for opposition groups in the other regional countries. In January 2018, Turkey began the Afrin Offensive, targeting the Kurdish YPG. This is a US-backed opposition group in Syria, which Turkey labels as a terrorist organisation (BBC, 2018). In turn, the Syrian government provided the Kurdish forces with additional troops (Independent, 2018). Meanwhile, the Lebanon-based group Hezbollah continues to support the Assad regime (BBC, 2017).
At the global level
The ongoing crisis in Syria is significant on a global level in how it is damaging the authority of the UN. Particularly, the Security Council’s resolutions are repeatedly ignored. Seemingly, the international community cannot put an end to the crisis, and many organisations take the view that the international community has failed in its responsibility to protect in Syria. That is, while the international community has played a significant role in attempting to solve the crisis, everything from initiating peace talks and enforcing sanctions, to military intervention and humanitarian missions, this is often viewed as ineffective, and – essentially – too little, too late.
The number of Syrian refugees entering Europe has also played a significant role in the European refugee crisis, with Syrians making up the largest proportion of Mediterranean Sea arrivals in 2016 (UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 2016). The refugee crisis in Europe has also exacerbated the rise of Islamophobia across the continent, something which many states have failed to tackle adequately (Middle East Institute, 2017).
What has the international community done about it?
The United Nations
Crucially, the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria was established in April 2012. It aimed to monitor armed violence in Syria and offer support for the Joint Special Envoy’s six-point plan to help end the conflict. However, the Supervision Mission was terminated in August 2012 (United Nations, 2012).
Since then, the United Nations has taken a number of important measures in order to help combat the crisis in Syria. In January 2018, Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations announced that if the use of chemical weapons is once again determined in Syria, they will be held to account by the international community (United Nations, 2018). Regarding the recent allegations that such chemical weapons were used by the Assad regime in the city of Douma on 7 April 2018, the UN Secretary-General expressed his dismay that the Security Council has hitherto been unable to agree upon how to tackle the issue of chemical weapons in Syria, and went on to emphasise the importance of the Fact Finding Mission undertaken in Syria by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (UNSC, 2018). This Fact Finding Mission is reported to have returned from this mission of the 4th May 2018 (Reuters, 2018).
Building on this mention of fractured relations within the Security Council, the difficulty which the UN has faced when trying to address the issue of Syria has often been the result of Russia and China using their power of veto to stop key resolutions from being passed. Russia has used its veto eight times and China has used its six times. Most recently, Russia vetoed a resolution which condemned the gas attacks on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province and called for an international investigation into those who perpetrated the attacks (United Nations, 2018). In such action, the US has accused Russia in giving Syria the “green light” to use such “barbaric” weaponry (UNSC, 2018).
In April 2018, the UN and EU co-chaired the second Brussels Conference, an event which focused on supporting the future of Syria (see e.g. European Council, 2018). It was during this conference that UN officials warned that a humanitarian catastrophe might well develop in Idlib, the last major rebel-held territory.
The situation in Idlib has since escalated, whilst disagreements over the best course of action persist. In September 2018, the UN Security Council held five meetings on the situation in Syria, placing a large emphasis on Idlib. These meetings have not resulted in “concrete outcomes” but demonstrate the continued attempts by the UN Security Council to address the regional humanitarian crisis as it unfolds (UNSC, 2018).
The European Union
The EU has been actively involved in trying to resolve the crisis. It has taken restrictive measures against Syria as soon as May 2011 (European Commission, 2011). Since then, 20 more sanctions have been adopted, including an embargo on petrol, as well as economical and financial sanctions and prohibition to enter the European territory for 259 people and 67 entities (European External Action Service, 2018).
The EU believes that “there can be no military solution to the conflict” and has thus been developing an “EU strategy for Syria” in 2017 (EEAS, 2017). This strategy articulates itself around 6 major areas: the end of the civil war with the help of the UN, the shift towards a tangible transition for democracy, the providence of an effective humanitarian aid, the promotion of human rights, democracy and freedom of speech through civil societies organisations, the promotion of accountability for war crimes committed during the civil war, and the support that will be necessary help rebuild Syrian society.
The European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, described the (alleged) use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in the city of Douma on 7 April 2018 as “heinous”, and emphasised that the international community has a responsibility to bring accountability to those responsible (Guardian, 2018). In September, High Representative Federica Mogherini warned against military action in Idlib, highlighting the risk of “humanitarian catastrophe” if action were to be taken in the region (EEAS, 2018).
On a broader humanitarian level, the EU has been describing the situation as “one of the worst humanitarian crises the world has faced since World War II” and has therefore mobilised €10.4 billion since the start of the conflict. At the Brussels Conference for Syria, the EU also promised an additional €560 million in 2018 to support Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, especially to deal with the amount of refugees in neighbouring countries. At the same time, the EU also promised €4.8 billion of support for the period 2018-2020 (European Commission, 2018).
Aid workers have not been able to deliver humanitarian assistance in many parts of the country due to ongoing fighting, and 13 million people are still in need of humanitarian assistance. The restrictive measures against Syria and its government have been renewed until 01 June 2019 (EEAS, 2018).
The International Criminal Court
In January 2018, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court, citing violations of international crimes such as blocking aid deliveries and medical care (Sunday Morning Herald, 2018). The Government is said to have been restricting entry and exit of civilians from Qaboun, which goes against the notion to free civilians and prioritize freedom of movement (Humans Rights Watch, 2018). In February 2018, the UN High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stated that Syria is “crying out” to be referred to the International Criminal Court (UN News, 2018). Syria’s Law 10, which permits authorities to swiftly seize property, has been erradicated by the Government. This law would protect the property rights of many Syrian civilians from the Government. This, alongside many other laws, is a way for the Syrian Government to cease property and the freedom of Syrian civilians (Human Rights Watch, 2018).
This was followed by the announcement that the UN is setting up a unit which will analyse instances of, and prepare prosecutions of, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Syria. It is intended that these files can be used by the ICC, along with evidence collected since 2011 by a UN Commission of Inquiry (Reuters, 2018). In the words of a refugee, “they took our children, our blood and now our property,” symbolizing the effect that the Syrian Government has had on the lives of the Refugees (Human Rights Watch, 2018).
It has been suggested by that the ICC should also prosecute those responsible for the (currently alleged) use of chemical weapons in Douma on 7 April 2018 (Reuters, 2018). Also, Human Rights Watch has deemed it necessary for citizens to claim for their own property back (Human Rights Watch, 2018).
Key Declarations by the European Union and EU member states
Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 2018. “EU18 Security Council Joint Statement on Syria” Accessed 24 Oct 2018.
On 17 October, eight european countries released a joint statement “to show the continuity of the EU’s position on Syria”. The statement called for the continuation of the ceasefire in Idlib, and demonstrated EU support for the work of the UN Special Envoy for Syria in establishing a constitutional framework for the state. It is also stated that the EU will readily aid the reconstruction of Syria, on the condition that “comprehensive” political transitions take place.
France Diplomatie. 2018. “Syria – Joint Statement (New York, 27 september 2018)” Accessed 24 Oct 2018.
Seven states (including France, Germany, and the UK) made a joint statement in September calling upon the UN to convene a constitutional committee with the aim of drafting a Syrian constitution that would enable free and fair elections to take place. The statement also restated the condemnation of military action and called for a resolution to the conflict in agreement with UNSC Resolution 2254.
France Diplomatie. 2018. “Syria / OPCW – Joint Statement (26 april 2018)”. Accessed 4 May 2018.
This is a joint statement made by fourteen European countries, including the UK, France, and Germany (along with the US, Canada, and Australia). The statement concerns the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which has been investigating in Syria for two weeks, and the briefing held by Russia at OPCW headquarters on 26th April 2018. In the meeting, Russia intends to present “witnesses” who will attest to being hired to stage the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma on the 7th April 2018. The statement criticises Russia and Syria for hindering the work of the OPCW, and waging a propaganda campaign against the OPCW. Indeed, the statement goes on to criticise Russia more fully, arguing that this “so-called information meeting” is a “crude propaganda exercise” intended to give the impression that the OPCW has convened at Russia’s behest. Unlike Russia, the countries in this joint statement make it clear that, while it is currently impossible to authenticate all the allegations, there is an array of evidence suggesting that a chemical weapons attack did in fact occur.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 2018. “UK position on briefing by Russia and Syria at the OPCW: 26 April 2018”. Accessed 4 May 2018.
This press release details a statement made by the UK Permanent Representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), concerning the briefing given by Russia and Syria at the OPCW on the 26th April 2018. Syria and Russia refute allegations that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against the Syrian people in the city of Douma on the 7th April 2018, regarding the incident as “staged”. The UK criticises the briefing as a “stunt” and accuses Russia of treating the OPCW as a “theatre”. More still, that Russia and Syria show “utter disregard” for the suffering of the Syrian people. The UK also emphasises the importance of the OPCW’s Fact Finding Mission, and is concerned by reports of witness intimidation.
Council of the European Union. 2018. “Supporting the future of Syria and the region – Brussels conference, 24-25/04/2018”. Accessed 4 May 2018.
This webpage provides key information about the second Brussels Conference held on the 24th and 25th April 2018. This was co-chaired by the EU and UN, and focused on the future of Syria. The webpage summarises the major outcomes of the conference, such as the amount of humanitarian aid pledged ($4.4 billion for 2018, and multi-year pledges of $3.4 billion for 2019-2020). It also summarises the programme and side events, gives background information, and links to further information about the EU/Syria.
France Diplomatie. 2018. “Syria – France’s contribution to the Brussels II conference (Brussels, April 25)”. Accessed 4 May 2018.
This webpage discusses the French contribution to the Brussels II conference. This conference was chaired by the EU and UN, and focused on the future of Syria. It is announced that France will contribute more than €1 billion to support the Syrian people and host communities (e.g. Jordan, Lebanon) over the course of 2018-2020. €250 million will be in the form of grants, while the larger sum of €850 million will be in the form of loans. Also discussed is the need to bring accountability to those who have violated international law. Pertinently, the issue of chemical weapons is also discussed.
Federal Foreign Office. 2018. “More aid for Syria: Germany pledges one billion euros”. Accessed 4 May 2018.
This webpage discusses the German contribution to the Brussels II conference. Pertinently, that Germany has pledged €1 billion worth of humanitarian aid in Syria. It notes some key statistics, such as that 9.4 million Syrians are dependent on food aid. It also reiterates Germany’s commitment to finding a political solution to the crisis.
European Union External Action Service. 2018. “Snapshot: Impact of EU response to Syria crisis”. Accessed 4 May 2018.
This webpage summarises the EU’s response to the ongoing crisis in Syria. The page notes a number of ways in which the EU is providing assistance in Syria. For example, through its support of the UN-led intra-Syrian political negotiations and promoting accountability for war crimes. It also notes that the EU is active on the ground, providing €1.65 billion worth of humanitarian aid to millions of people throughout the region. Other things mentioned include the establishment of the Facility for Refugees in Turkey.
Department for International Development. 2018. “Syria Crisis Response Summary”. Accessed 24 October, 2018.
This is a fact sheet created by the UK government which gives an overview of the UK’s humanitarian response to the crisis in Syria. The factsheet gives a clear outline of agencies funded by the DFID and how their activities have helped to provide humanitarian support. The UK has given £2.71 Billion since 2012, and the DFID has given £910 Million to date, more than to any other country in crisis in the Middle-East, to help vulnerable groups and provide basic services to citizens.
Prime Minister’s Office. 2018. “Syria action – UK government legal position”. Accessed 4 May 2018.
Published on the 14th April 2018, this is a policy paper detailing the Government’s position regarding the legality of the UK’s military action taken in Syria following the (alleged) use chemical weapons against the Syrian people in the city of Douma by the Assad regime. It notes that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime amounts to a war crime and crime against humanity, and that humanitarian intervention was the legal basis for use of force.
Prime Minister’s Office. 2018. “PM’s press conference statement on Syria: 14 April 2018”. Accessed 4 May 2018.
This is a transcript of Prime Minister Theresa May’s statement to the press regarding the airstrikes launched (by the US, UK, and France) against military facilities in Syria the previous day. This action was taken in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in a “despicable and barbaric attack” in the city of Douma on the 7th April 2018. This attack saw at least 75 people lose their lives, with hundreds more injured. Prime Minister May goes on to state some of the reasons why the UK believes it was indeed a chemical weapons attack, and why the UK believes it was indeed committed by the Syrian government. Not least in this is the Syrian government’s previous use of chemical weapons. She asserts that this repeated use of chemical weapons “must be stopped”, something which the UK had tried to do through “every possible diplomatic channel”. In this, she remarks on Russia’s use of veto. Thus, military action was taken to alleviate the human suffering of the Syrian people.
GOV.UK. 2018. “Update: Airstrikes against the Daesh”. Accessed 7th February 2018.
This document provides detail into the UK’s recent airstrikes against the ISIL in Syria from the 15th to the 21st of January. Using reapers, the UK has targeted numerous lorry bombs, terrorists trucks, and ISIL-held buildings in eastern Syria, as well as many terrorist targets.
France Diplomatie. 2018. “Syria/Chemical weapons – Remarks to the Press by Mr. Francois Delattre”. Accessed 8th February 2018.
In this statement Francois Delattre, Ambassador of France to the United Nations calls upon the Security Council to take action, after the most recent use of chemical weapons in Syria. He emphasises the risk of degrading the non-proliferation regime if no action is taken, as well as the situation in Syria and enforces the Security Council’s responsibility over this.
GOV.UK. 2018. “Call for Accountability for Chemical Weapons use in Syria”. Accessed 7th February 2018.
This is a statement by Ambassador Jonathan Allen, Chargé d’Affaires, at the Security Council Briefing on Syria Chemical Weapons, in response to the reported chemical attacks in Eastern Ghouta and the alleged attacks in Idlib recently, which targeted innocent civilians. Difficulty has come in that Russia has three times vetoed investigation into these attacks in order to protect the Assad regime, therefore making it impossible to establish accountability for chemical weapon. Although a proposal produced by Russia clearly condemned the use of Chemical weapons by ISIL it allows the Syrian Regime to avoid accountability by suggesting evidence should be “beyond reasonable doubt” and demanding site visits. Allen therefore rejects this text, and cites at least 4 times that chemical attacks have taken place since 2014, urging the evaluation of Russia’s role in the Assad Regime’s compliance with the chemical weapons convention and calling for the accountability of these attacks to be enforced to ensure they do not happen again.
GOV.UK. 2018. “Alistair Burt: UK ‘deeply concerned’ by chlorine attack reports”. Accessed 7th February 2018.
In this press release Alistair Burt, minister for the Middle-East expresses his concern over the recent reports of chlorine attacks in east Ghouta, and speculates that Russia’s repeated vetoes risks sending the message that the Assad regime can use these methods with impunity. He expresses his intentions to address these issues and call on Russia to change its stance at the next UN Security council meeting.
France Diplomatie. 2018. “Syria – Humanitarian Situation (1st February 2018)”. Accessed 8th February 2018.
In this statement France condemns the bombings against a Doctors without Borders Hospital and a market in Saraqeb and Ariha. It urges Russia and Iran guarantors of the Astana process and allies of the Damascus regime to take the necessary steps to end the bombing and also presents concern for Turkey’s intervention in Afrin. France identifies these attacks as a violation of international humanitarian law and calls for the situation to be remedied, by the UN.
France Diplomatie. 2018. “Syria- Q&A- Excerpts from the daily press briefing (06.02.18)”. Accessed 7th February 2018.
In this statement the French government maintains its intentions to work closely with Turkey, and discuss the Syrian crisis with them, after France called upon Turkey to exercise restraint particularly regarding its operation underway in Afrin. It also outlines its concern over the recent allegations of chemical weapon use, emphasising its commitment to the chemical non-proliferation regime, but also stating it is unable to act until expert assessment has been provided.
GOV.UK. 2018. “Call for humanitarian access in Syria”. Accessed 7th February 2018.
This document is a transcript of the speech by Ambassador Jonathan Allen, Chargé d’Affaires, at the Security Council Briefing on Syria Humanitarian Issues. He describes the five clear asks the Under-Secretary General of the UN has set out to try and improve the humanitarian situation in Syria. However, although the UK supports these, the Council was unable to come to an agreement to ensure these. By emphasising how aid has failed to be delivered in previous years Allen calls for action to be taken.
GOV.UK. 2018. “Foreign Secretary meeting with Secretary Tillerson”. Accessed 7th February 2018.
This press release documents the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson’s, meeting with his American counterpart on the 22nd January, in which he expressed his support for Secretary Tillerson’s recent speech on the Syrian crisis and discussed how to adopt a political process that would bring the Assad regime to an end.
The Federal Government. 2018. “Pushing ahead with the Political Process”. Accessed 8th February 2018.
In this statement federal spokesperson Steffen Seibert calls for an end to the violence in Syria in reaction to the recent Turkish intervention and the current humanitarian situation. He argues that the best way to resolve the situation is the UN facilitated Geneva peace process. The Federal Foreign Office spokesperson Maria Adebahr also stressed that further military action is not the way forward, supported the United Nations Security Council’s impending review of Turkey’s actions.
European Commission. 2018. “European Civil Protection And Humanitarian Aid Operations”.
This document from the European Commission aims to give an overview of the humanitarian needs in Syria, and how the EU has been addressing the crisis so far. The report states that 13.1 million people are in need for humanitarian assistance inside Syria, with a further 5 million living as refugees in neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon. It explains that the European Union and its member states have given €10.4 billion to the crisis since its start. It also details how the money is being used in Syria and in the countries welcoming refugees.
GOV.UK. 2018. “Working together to persuade states not to obtain weapons of mass destruction”. Accessed 7th February 2018.
In this statement the Minister for Asia and the Pacific Minister Mark Field discusses the risk of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the need to stand united against this. This is a particular worry as the council has not been united on its response to Syria, as despite evidence of the repeated use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and the ISIL, Russia continues to veto intervention, hence risking future proliferation. He finishes by emphasising the UK’s readiness to work closely with all members of the Security Council to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
GOV.UK. 2018. “Girls’ education to be central pillar of UK foreign, development and defence policy”. Accessed 7th February 2018.
In this statement the UK government pledges to champion the education of girls in order to promote global stability, thereby changing the lives of women living amongst conflict, as they are among the most vulnerable. The Ministry of Defence has been training thousands of forces in Syria, among other countries in order to help combat sexual violence within conflict situations.
GOV.UK. 2018. “Minister for the Middle East statement following meeting with Syrian Opposition”. Accessed 7th February 2018.
This press release documents Alistair Burt’s meeting with the Syrian negotiation commission led by Nassir Hariri. Burt emphasised the UK’s major role in providing aid in response to the tragedy, and also his alarm at the fact that despite commitments to de-escalation, the Syrian regime continues to bomb opposition arias in eastern Ghouta and Idlib. He again emphasises the UK’s support for a UN meditated Geneva process as the best way to resolve the crisis, and commends recent engagement in this process by Nassir Hariri.
GOV.UK. 2017. “UK Aid helps clear lethal landmines in war-torn countries following generosity of British public”. Accessed 7th February 2018.
This press release commends the results of charity fund raising by the British Public to help with the demining work, and as a result of this International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt announced that Britain would extend its demining work to continue to save lives in various countries across the Middle-East including Syria. The MAG’S ‘Walk Without Fear’ Appeal raised over £200,000 which was matched by the UK government, allowing 120,000m of land to be cleared and allowing civilians and communities to live safely.
France Diplomatie. 2017. “Syria: seriousness of the humanitarian situation”. Accessed 9th February 2018.
In this statement Francois Delattre, permanent representative of France to the United Nations welcomes the adoption of resolution 2393 by the UN Security Council, which extends the year of the mandate of the cross- border relief system for Syria. Delattre explains the vote for this resolution by emphasising the still catastrophic situation in Syria, particularly in Eastern Ghouta, comparing the scale of the tragedy to that of Aleppo.
The Federal Government. 2017. “The Situation in Syria”. Accessed 8th February 2018.
In response to the drastic situation that remains in Syria the German government pledges to provide €120 million of humanitarian aid in Syria and the neighbouring countries, as well as Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel calling for a political solution to be found.
GOV.UK. 2017. “How Global Britain is helping to win the struggle against Islamist terror”. Accessed 7th February 2018.
In this speech Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson summarises the UK’s relationship with Islamic terror and how it is working to counter it in the Middle-East and all over the world. The speech looks critically over the UK’s intervention in Syria over the last few years, outlining its successes but also its failures. While there have been some victories over the ISIL, such as its defeat in Raqqa, the difficulty in overcoming an ideology is emphasised, as it can easily resurface in different forms. What’s more, the success in defeating the ISIL in Raqqa is questioned, with it being replaced by Assad’s regime, hence not necessarily a better alternative. The way extremism can be used to maintain the regimes power destructively is also demonstrated here, as Assad’s regime becomes the only alternative compared to extremist groups, although it does not constitute a healthy ruling. Johnson goes on to analyse the UK’s intervention in Syria, where although tactical air bombardment on Raqqa, they have done little to get rid of Assad, having allowed Russia to veto. Looking to the future Johnson promotes UK foreign policy and a social inclusivity to all religions as the overarching solution to overcome Islamic terrorism.
GOV.UK. 2017. “UK National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2014-17”. Accessed 7th February 2018.
This report to parliament outlines the progress that has taken place in delivering the commitments the UK government has taken to “improve gender equality, tackle sexual violence in conflict, and protect vulnerable people in conflict zones from sexual exploitation and abuse” in countries around the globe including Syria. The report documents numerous cases of SGBV and torture within regime detention facilities and a lack of resources to support survivors within the community. It describes how the UK has enabled NGO’s, grassroots organisations and UN agencies to support of these vulnerable women by providing clinical care, counselling and money to victims. The UK has provided a £29 million funding to the UNFPA in Syria since 2013 including a £25 million 3 year grant from 2015-18 aimed at reducing gender based violence. The UK has also done work to increase women’s political participation and education on a local and nationwide level. This work has educated over 175,000 girls and doubled the number of female white helmets.
GOV.UK. 2017. “UK Aid stops ‘untold horror’ of child pneumonia deaths in Syria this winter”. Accessed 7th February 2018.
This press release documents the International Development Secretary’s announcement of aid coming from the UK in order to try and support Syrian citizens, particularly children, during the severe winter. The aims of the aid are outlined, including providing 1.3 million health care consultations, 100,000 vaccines and 3000 secure shelters.
GOV.UK. 2017. “Joint Statement from the Ministerial discussion on Syria”. Accessed 7th February 2018.
This policy paper contains the key points concerning Syria agreed upon by 17 UN member states, to henceforth guide their united efforts, the key thought being that the reconstruction of Syria depends on a new credible political process supported by the majority of the population. This must be preceded by ceasefire agreements and de-escalation zones, the removal of any terrorist groups from Syria and progress made within the crisis in Iraq.
France Diplomatie. 2017. “Syria/JIM: today’s vote cannot be the final word”. Accessed 9th February 2018.
In this speech Francois Delattre, permanent representative of France at the United Nations describes France as “appalled” by Russia’s veto and the result of the vote. He argues this vote threatens to undermine the mechanics of the international chemical non-proliferation regime, and that the international community has already failed to identify and punish those responsible for using chemical weapons in Syria. He then expresses France’s conviction that this vote cannot be the final word, and that the country will pursue its efforts to combat impunity in Syria and elsewhere.
France Diplomatie. 2017. “Refugees: a comprehensive approach for an effective response”. Accessed 9th February 2018.
In this statement, briefed by the High-Commissioner for Refugees, Francois Delattre permanent representative of France at the United Nations expresses his worry over the humanitarian situation in Syria, where more than 11 million civilians have been uprooted, 6.3 million of whom are internally displaced and suffer limited access to humanitarian assistance. France thanks Syria’s neighbouring countries for taking a large majority of the international refugees and emphasises the obligation of the international community to do so. He also discusses the protection missions recently launched by France for the resettlement of refugees in Europe in the framework of the Central Mediterranean action plan adopted in August.
The Federal Government. 2017. “German Government condemns use of toxic gas”. Accessed 8th February 2018.
In this report the German government condemns the use of Sarin which has been confirmed to have been used on Khan Sheikun, killing around 100 people, with all evidence pointing to the Syrian Regime as responsible. The Federal Foreign Office spokesperson Martin Schäfer identifies the next step as to identify and condemn those responsible.
The Federal Government. 2017. “Merkel stresses need to push ahead with political process”. Accessed 9th February 2018.
In this report German Chancellor Angela Merkel describes the US’s missile strike against a Syrian Airbase, after the reported chemical attacks, as “understandable” and stresses the need for a political solution to the conflict, which can only be achieved by working with Russia in launching a political transition process that envisages a future without Assad as the country’s leader.
The Federal Government. 2017. “Joint Statement by Federal Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande of France following the airstrikes in Syria”. Accessed 9th February 2018.
This report documents the conversation between German chancellor Angela Merkel and then French President Francois Hollande as they discussed the poison gas attack on the 4th of April in Syria and the US’ military response. They blame President Assad for the bloodshed that has taken place, and call upon the international community to work towards a political transition in Syria with the UN.
The Federal Government. 2017. “War crimes must not go unpunished”. Accessed 9th February 2018.
In this report Germany responds to the recent chemical attacks that took place in Syria, and Angela Merkel describes the “disgrace” that the UN Security Council was unable to come to a resolution about the attacks. Deputy Government spokesperson Ulrike Demmer emphasises these attacks are a “war crime” that must be investigated and argues Russia and Iran share responsibility, as allies of the Assad regime. In response, Germany also has extended its support for Syrians, by €1.17 billion to help Syrians in need, with €800 million of that going to the education of refugees, on top of the €2.3 billion already pledged by Germany for the period of 2016-2019.
EEAS. 2018. “The EU And The Crisis In Syria – EEAS – European External Action Service – European Commission”. Accessed 24 October 2018
On the website page of the EEAS, the EU presents itself as the leading donor of the Syrian crisis. According to its reports, the EU and its member states have funded €10.4 billion to solve the crisis and bring humanitarian aid where needed.
More specifically, the European Commission has given €5.2 billion both in humanitarian assistance and non-humanitarian aid. Among this money, over 1 billion has been dedicated to displaced populations inside Syria. The international community plans to dedicate over €3.5 billion more to the crisis in the 2018-2020 period.
This report is from the European Commission and regroups all the restrictive measures from the EU in force. The section on Syria regroups all the 20 resolutions passed against the Syrian government and the terrorist groups operating in the area.
European Council. 2017. “Council Adopts EU Strategy On Syria”. Brussels.
This press release from the European Council declares the adoption of an EU strategy in Syria, emphasising that the crisis directly affects the EU. The strategy is organised around 6 major points; to end the civil war with the help of the UN, to help Syria to have a tangible transition towards a democratic regime, to provide an effective humanitarian aid, to promote democracy, human rights and freedom of speech through civil societies organisations, to promote accountability for war crimes committed, and to help rebuilding the Syrian society.
EEAS. 2017. “HRC34 – EU Intervention – Interactive Dialogue With The Commission Of Inquiry On The Syrian Arab Republic”.
The EU regularly condemns violence committed in Syria by the government and any UN terrorist listed group. In this extract from the Human Rights Council in Geneva , the EU “stresses out that deliberately attacking humanitarian relief personnel, denying humanitarian aid and attacking civilians, constitute serious violations of human rights”. It also deplores the constant failure of the Syrian government to protect its population and worries about the lack of protection of ethnic and religious minorities.
European Commission. 2017. “JOINT COMMUNICATION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND THE COUNCIL Elements For An EU Strategy For Syria”.
Conclusions, form the EU Strategy for Syria. The document goes through all the aspects of the crisis and the role the EU has played so far. It explains the Syrian crisis, recalls the financial help given by the EU since 2011, explains how the crisis if affecting the EU and its interest, and their objectives for Syria. There is an emphasis on the importance to think about how to rebuild Syria when the war ends.
European Union. 2017. “EU Actions To Counter Da’Esh”.
This report, produced by the European Union, regroups the EU actions undertaken against ISIL. It underlines the European commitment to fight terrorism both inside and outside the country. Most of the actions are focused on Iraq and Syria.
Official Journal of the European Union. 2016. “Imposing Additional Restrictive Measures Directed Against ISIL (Da’esh) And Al-Qaeda And Natural And Legal Persons, Entities Or Bodies Associated With Them”.
This council regulation imposes new restrictive measures to address the Syrian crisis, more specific to the crisis and ISIL. More specifically, it freezes funds and economical resources to any person, entity or body linked to ISIL in any way.
European Council. 2016. “Syria: EU Extends Sanctions Against The Regime By One Year”.
This press release announces the extension of the restrictive measures by the EU against Syria for another year from May 2016 to May 2017.
Council of the European Union. 2016. “Council conclusions on the EU regional strategy for Syria and Iraq as well as the da’esh threat.”
This report from the Council of the EU presents the conclusions of the EU regional strategy to face the ISIL threat in Syria and Iraq. In the report, the EU reaffirms its will to bring stability and peace in the area, as well as ending the human suffering. It also expresses the EU’s support to the United Nations actions, and its full support to all the parties trying to solve the crisis.
Organisation for the prohibition of Chemical Weapons. 2016. “European Union Donates €4.6 Million To OPCW Special Missions And The UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism”.
This resolution states that the European Union agreed to contribute of €4.6 million to “identify, to the greatest extent feasible, individuals, entities, groups or governments who were perpetrators, organisers, sponsors or otherwise involved in the use of chemicals, including chlorine or any other toxic chemical, as weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic”.
Council of the European Union. 2015. “Outline Of The Counter-Terrorism Strategy For Syria And Iraq, With Particular Focus On Foreign Fighters”.
This resolution is part of the European security policy towards Iraq and Syria, with a focus on counter terrorism. It aims to defeat ISIL, but in minimising the risks to Europe and its interests. The resolution emphasises one more time its refusal to work alongside the Syrian government to end the crisis, because of the violence used by the Assad government.
Council of the European Union. 2011. “Council conclusions on Syria”. Brussels
This document is the first sanction taken by the Council of the European Union against the Syrian government, as soon as May 2017. The Council emphasises its worry concerning the use of military violence against civilians, and urges the Syrian leadership to stop any persecution, and to give full access to humanitarian organisations when and where needed.
The document thus states that the European Union is taking restrictive measures against Syria and its leaders responsible for the deaths of civilians until a significant shift towards peace is made.
European Commission. 2011. “European Union Restrictive measures (sanctions) in force.”
This document regroups all the restrictive measures taken by the European Union. On the section about Syria can be found all the 20 resolutions passed since the start of the crisis in 2011. The main restrictive measures concern economical exchanges such as the interdiction to import Syrian oil in the EU.
Key statements and resolutions from the United Nations
United Nations Security Council. 2018. “Report of the Secretary-General”. Accessed 24 Oct 2018.
This report, published on 14th September 2018, is the most recent of the Secretary General’s monthly updates on the humanitarian situation in Syria. The report details the key events of August 2018. The secretary general expresses concern over the escalating situation in Idlib, where multiple attacks have been reported, whilst recognising the response of humanitarian organizations in the region. Further, the continued impact of conflict between ISIL and Syrian Democratic Forces is highlighted – reports suggest that over 20,000 people were displaced between July and August as a result of the fighting. Meanwhile, the relative recovery of eastern Ghutah is recognised, as people continue to return to the region. This is hindered somewhat by limited movement of services and assistance to returnees.
United Nations Security Council. 2018. “Report of the Secretary-General”. Accessed 1st May 2018.
Published on 19th April 2018, this is a report undertaken by the Secretary-General concerning the ongoing crisis in Syria. It details the month of March. It begins by outlining a number of key points and developments. Firstly, the continuance of hostilities by both government and non-state forces, in violation of resolution 2401 (2018). This particularly focuses on the military operations carried out in eastern Ghutah. Secondly, Turkish and non-state forces entering areas such as Afrin in north-western Syria, displacing over 137,000 people. Thirdly, the ongoing conflict and high number of IDPs in Idlib Governate. The fourth key point focuses on Raqqah city. There are many explosive hazards and other devices across Raqqah, which pose a considerable risk as many people return to the city. The final key point discusses humanitarian assistance. While millions of people have indeed received assistance, delivering aid to besieged and difficult to reach areas remains a significant challenge and, in this regard, there has been limited success. Only 162,100 people were reached in these areas. The report also includes an annex of incidents affecting civilians across Syria, as recorded by OHCHR.
United Nations Security Council. 2018. “8236th meeting”. Accessed 1st May 2018.
This is a record of the 8236th Security Council meeting, which took place on the 17th April 2018. The agenda is noted as “the situation in the Middle East”, and focuses on the humanitarian situation in Syria, particularly in Raqqa and Rukban, and the (alleged) use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. Along with a briefing given by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (Mark Lowcock), a representative of each state present gave a statement. States present included Russia, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, China, and Syria itself. Mr. Ja’afari, the representative for Syria, condemns the “aggression” shown towards his country by e.g. the United States, United Kingdom, and France. He also condemns the occupation of parts of Syria by the United States, Turkey, and Israel. He dismisses intelligence gathered by Doctors Without Borders, comparing the organisation to “smugglers without borders” and “terrorists without borders”.
United Nations Security Council. 2018. “8233rd meeting”. Accessed 2nd May 2018.
This is a record of the 8233rd Security Council meeting, which took place on the 14th April 2018. The agenda is recorded as “Threats to international peace and security” and “The situation in the Middle East”. The meeting was a briefing by Secretary-General Guterres following airstrikes launched against Syria by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France the previous day. These airstrikes were launched in response to the (alleged) use of chemical weapons in the city of Douma by the Syrian government. The cited intention of these airstrikes was to deter future use of chemical weapons. The airstrikes targeted three military locations in Syria, and the United States and Russia have indicated that there were no civilian casualties. Guterres emphasises that there can be no military solution to the conflict.
Russia refutes the allegations of chemical weapons being used by the Syrian government, arguing it was staged by foreign powers. Russia views the airstrikes as a violation of international law, and accuses the United States and her allies of undermining the Security Council, of leaning towards neo-colonialism, and of worsening the humanitarian situation in Syria.
The representative for the United States accuses Russia of disinformation and deflection, and argues that the airstrikes were launched in order to hold the Syrian regime responsible for its crimes against humanity. The representative goes on to say that, if these chemical weapon attacks are repeated, the United States is “locked and loaded”. They also criticise Russia’s use of veto regarding the attempted renewal of JIM as giving the Assad regime a “green light” to use chemical weapons against the Syrian population.
The Syrian representative denounces the “three aggressors” who launched the airstrikes as “compulsive liars” and “hypocrites”. Syria rejects the accusation that the Assad regime used chemical weapons, and sees the airstrikes as undermining international peace and security.
Russia’s draft resolution S/2018/355 fails to obtain enough votes. In response, the Syrian representative says “those who voted against it are no longer partners of the Syrian Government in any political process”.
It is pertinent to note that it is not just the states mentioned above which are have starkly different views. Documents such as this show the how the international community is more broadly divided in discussions about Syria. This may naturally influence the effectiveness of other organisations, such as the EU.
United Nations Security Council. 2018. “Russian Federation: draft resolution”. Accessed 1st May 2018.
This is a short draft resolution created by Russia. Russia condemns the “aggression” shown by the United States (and allies) towards the Syrian regime. Russia contends that this is in violation of international law and the UN Charter. Hence, Russia calls upon the United States and her allies to cease all such “aggression” and force. The draft resolution also suggests that this “aggression” may hamper the work of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Fact-Finding Mission team. This demonstrates the international community’s divided response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, and is indicative of Russia’s support for the Assad regime.
United Nations Security Council. 2018. “8231st meeting”. Accessed 2nd may 2018.
This is a record of the 8231st Security Council meeting, which took place on the 13th April 2018. The agenda is recorded as “Threats to international peace and security” and “The situation in the Middle East”. Guterres gave a briefing on the deteriorating situation in Syria. He likens the situation to a Gordian knot, describing the Middle East as being in such extreme “chaos” that it is threatening international peace and security.
United Nations Security Council. 2018. “Letter dated 11 April 2018 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council”. Accessed 1st May 2018.
This is a letter by António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. In the letter, Guterres expresses disappointment that the Security Council was unable to agree upon a dedicated mechanism to identify responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The use of chemical weapons, as has recently been alleged in Eastern Ghutah, is “abhorrent, reprehensible and a clear violation of international law”. Holding those responsible accountable for such actions is key to ensuring that they do not feel as though they can act with impunity. As such, an independent investigation must be undertaken. Guterres endorses the fact-finding mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. He ends by urging member states to act responsibly, and come to an agreement.
United Nations Human Rights Council. 2018. “Resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council on 5 March 2018”. Accessed 2nd Mat 2018.
This resolution concerns the deteriorating human rights situation in Eastern Ghouta, currently under siege from the Syrian authorities. The resolution condemns the various human rights abuses taking place in Syria. It also welcomes Resolution 2401, in which a cessation of hostilities is demanded for at least 30 days. It reminds the Syrian government of its responsibility to protect the Syrian population, as per international law. The need for all parties involved in the conflict to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure is also emphasised. It goes on to note that those who do violate such international law must be held accountable. It demands that humanitarian aid must be unimpeded, and requests that the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic conduct a review into the recent events in Ghouta.
United Nations General Assembly. 2018. “Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic”. Accessed 4 May 2018.
This document is a report from the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, from the 1st February 2018. The report notes that the Commission has documented human rights abuses and violations of international law in Syria for more than six years. Over half the population have fled their homes; there are at least 6.5 million IDPs in Syria (with many more people having left the country altogether). This is a result of the Syrian people being deliberately targeted by parties involved in the conflict, with widespread accounts of e.g. gender-based violence, unlawful detention, destruction of civilian infrastructure, and the denial of humanitarian aid. Along with discussing these issues in depth, the report also notes that the victims of such crimes have been “denied any modicum of justice”. Such justice must play a central role in any political solution to the conflict.
Guterres, António. “Remarks at Security Council session on non-proliferation and confidence-building measures”. Speech, Security Council, January 18, 2018. United Nations.
In this speech Guterres states that if the use of chemical weapons is once again determined in Syria, the international community has a responsibility to hold them to account. Failing in doing so would allow the use of chemical weapons to take place without restraint. Guterres thus calls for confidence building measures which support arms control as well as eliminate weapons of mass destruction. This includes increasing military budgets as well as changing outlooks on troop movements.
United Nations Security Council. 2017. “Resolution 2393”. Accessed 1st May 2018.
This is a Security Council resolution from 19th December 2017. Recalling a number of previous resolutions, this resolution renews the authorisation for cross-border and cross-line aid delivery. In particular, paragraphs 2 and 3 of resolution 2165 (2014) are renewed until 10th January 2019. In taking such action, the resolution details the severity of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, with more than 13.1 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Within this figure, 6.1 million are internally displaced and 2.9 million are living in difficult to reach areas. It also notes that some abuses violate international law and may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Thus, the resolution also, more broadly, emphasises the need for all parties involved in the conflict to comply with international humanitarian law and demands full implementation of previous Security Council resolutions. Particularly, it reiterates the “primary responsibility of the Syrian authorities to protect the population in Syria”. Another key facet of the resolution is its request for the Secretary-General to conduct an independent review of the UN’s humanitarian cross-border operations.
Guterres, António. “Remarks at Security Council debate on Trafficking in Persons in Conflict Situations”. Speech, Security Council, November, 21, 2017. United Nations.
Here Guterres discusses how according to a Global Report on Trafficking in Persons issued by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, there have been increasing numbers of people trafficked from Syria appearing in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The Security Council has therefore unanimously adopted Resolution 2331 to condemn all acts of trafficking. The UN also calls for the prevention of all financial aid to traffickers.
Guterres, António. “Speech at SOAS, University of London, on “Counter-terrorism and human rights: winning the fight while upholding our values”. Speech, London, November 16, 2017. United Nations.
Guterres details how in 2016 nearly three quarters of all deaths caused by terrorism were in just five states, one of which was Syria. He also acknowledges that whilst terrorists are losing physical ground in Syria and Iraq, they are gaining cyber power. He therefore calls for determined and coordinated global action in order to combat ISIL. Guterres outlines how violations of international human law derive from radicalisation and he therefore calls for a respect of international humanitarian law and human rights.
Guterres, António. “Remarks to the Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict”. Speech, Security Council, October, 31, 2017. United Nations.
The number of children recruited in Syria by terrorist organisations has doubled following a report in 2016. They have also been forced to leave their homes due to fighting. Guterres looks at how there has been progress, such as the fact that changing to the reporting process has allowed greater engagement with parties to implement more measures for better protection of children. He appeals to UN member states in order to work with the UN in order to protect the most vulnerable populations in Syria.
Guterres, António. “Remarks at the General Assembly meeting on Global Awareness of the Tragedies of Irregular Migrants in the Mediterranean Basin with Specific Emphasis on Syrian Asylum Seekers”. Speech, General Assembly, April, 7, 2017. United Nations.
In this speech, Maria Luisa Ribeiro Viotti, Chef de Cabinet explains that the UN is appalled at the suffering of the Syrian people, given 11 million Syrians have fled the country and more than 6 million are currently displaced.
Guterres, António. “Remarks to the opening plenary session at the Brussels Conference on supporting Syrians and the Region”. Speech, Brussels, April, 5, 2017. United Nations.
In this speech, Guterres emphasises that the need for humanitarian aid in Syria is greater than ever and has never been more necessary for any single crisis. He therefore emphasises the importance of using international support in order to aid negotiations amongst Syrians. He argues that the international budget should be increased in order to rebuild communities which have been devastated by the war as well as strengthening the refugee protection regime.
United Nations Security Council. 2016. “Resolution 2336”. Accessed 1st May 2018.
This is a Security Council resolution from 31st December 2016. It notes that Turkey and Russia have both made efforts to work towards ending the violence and establishing a ceasefire in Syria. The resolution also notes that peace must come about through a political process led by Syria itself, and reiterates the need for unhindered humanitarian access into the country.
United Nations. 2017. “Security Council- Quick Links”. Accessed 7th February 2018.
This site details all the times the veto has been used the Permanent Members of the UN. Russia has used its veto eight times and China has used its veto six times over the Syrian Civil War. The most recent resolution which Russia vetoed followed the gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province in 2017. The resolution which was draft condemned the attacks and so called for an international investigation into those who perpetrated the attacks. China abstained from this vote.
Ki-moon, Ban. “Briefing to the Security Council on the Situation in Aleppo, Syria”. Speech, Security Council, December, 13, 2016.
In this speech, Ban Ki-moon addresses the situation in Aleppo. He details how there has almost been a complete collapse of armed opposition on the front lines and as a consequence only 5% of original territory remains in the city. This has caused civilian deaths and injuries to continue at an alarming rate. Torture involves civilians being burnt in the street as well as women and children being rounded up and executed. The Security Council emphasizes the importance of early warning and prevention in order to combat the challenges of international peace and security. Ban Ki-moon condemns The Security Council for its failure to adopt three resolutions which could have enabled humanitarian aid in Aleppo.
Ki-moon, Ban. “Remarks to Informal Meeting of the General Assembly on the Situation in Syria”. Speech, General Assembly, October, 13, 2016.
Ban Ki-moon discusses how the conflict in Syria continues to reach new extremes. He expresses his anger that Syrian parties continue to use violence and suggests that there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. He argues that the Syrian Government must ground its air force over Aleppo. In addition to this there must be an isolation of extremist elements. He emphasizes that the most important issue is that there is a smooth political transition in order that the Syrian people can live in a democracy, with their sovereignty and independence protected.
United Nations. 2016. “Resolution 2268”. Accessed 7th February 2018.
The statement reaffirms the Security Council’s strong commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. It also reiterated a call on the parties to allow humanitarian agencies rapid access throughout Syria. It calls on states to use their influence upon the government of Syria to advance peace processes. It supports Syrian-led political processes facilitated by the UN and requests that the Secretary General resumes formal negotiations amongst the representatives of the Syrian government.
United Nations. 2015. “Security Council Press Statement on Attacks against Civilians in Syria”. Accessed 7th February 2018.
This press statement was issued by the President of the UN Security Council Ramlan Bin Ibrahim who condemns all the violence in Syria which was directed against civilians as well as civilian infrastructure. The Security Council expressed that the Syrian authorities have the responsibility to protect its people and that the political parties must do everything in its power to ensure that civilians are protected. Those in the Security Council also condemned the increased terrorist attacks by ISIL and stated that the Member States must make sure that they take as many measures as possibly in order to combat terrorism. The Security Council maintains that the only solution which will be sustainable is an inclusive and Syrian-led political process which aims to implement the Geneva Communiqué of June 2012.
United Nations Security Council. 2015. “Statement by the President of the Security Council”. Accessed 1st May 2018.
This is a presidential statement from 24th April 2015, discussing the impact of the Syrian crisis on neighbouring countries. The statement notes that the rapidly deteriorating situation in Syria has caused around half of the population to leave their homes. Of these Syrians, 3.9 million have fled to neighbouring countries. The statement calls on the international community to support these host countries in meeting the needs and addressing the challenges caused by this. Pertinent issues include security and safety concerns, as well as how to counter radicalisation. The statement notes that the international community “continues to fall short” in doing this.
United Nations. 2013. “Security Council Press Statement on Shelling against Russian Federation Embassy in Damascus”. Accessed 7th February 2018.
This press statement was issued by the Council President Liu Jieyi. In this statement the mortar shelling against the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Syria is greatly condemned and the Security Council sends its condolences to the family of the person who was killed. The Security Council emphasises its desire to combat threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist attacks.
United Nations. 2013. “Security Council Press Statement on Heavy Fighting in Al-Qusayr, Syria.”. Accessed 7th February 2018.
This Security Council press statement was issued by the Council president Mark Lyall Grant. In this statement the Security Council expressed their concern with regards to the humanitarian impact of the recent fighting in Al-Qusayr. The Security Council calls upon the Syrian government to allow immediate access for humanitarian access for civilians in Al-Qusayr, particularly those who are in urgent need of medical assistance. Furthermore, the Security Council calls upon all parties in Syria to protect civilians and avoid civilian casualties and that those who violate international law will be held accountable.
United Nations. 2013. “Security Council Press Statement Damascus Bombing”. Accessed 7th February 2018.
In this press statement the members of the Security Council condemned the terrorist attack on 21st March in a mosque in Damascus, Syria which caused over 40 deaths. The Security Council reiterated its determination in order to combat all forms of terrorism as well as acts of violence committed against civilian populations. States are reminded that they must ensure that the measures which they take in order to combat terrorism comply with all of their organisations under international law, particularly international human rights.
United Nations. 2012. “Six-Point Proposal of the Joint Special Envoy of the United nations and the League of Ara States”.
This document details the six-point plan which was made in order to help end the conflict in Syria. The six points are as follows: 1) Working with the Envoy in order to address the concerns of the Syrian people. 2) Terminating armed violence in all its forms. 3) Ensure that there is a provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas which have been affected by conflict. 4) Increase the pace of the release of detained persons, especially those who are vulnerable and involved in political activities which can be deemed peaceful. 5) Make freedom of movement possible for journalists. 6) The right to demonstrate freely should be respected.
United Nations. 2012. “UNSMIS United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria”.
The United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) was established in April 2012 in order to monitor all armed violence as well as to offer support for the Joint Special Envoy’s six-point plan in order to help end the conflict in Syria. UNSMIS was forced to suspend its activities following an increase in armed violence in Syria. The mission was extended for an extra 30 days in July 2012. Further extension would only be allowed “in the event that the Secretary-General reports and the Security Council confirms the cessation of the use of heavy weapons and a reduction in the level of violence sufficient by all sides”. Given these conditions were not met the UNSMIS mandate terminated on 19th August 2012.
To learn more
Hazak, Tanzeel, and Bessma Momani. 2016. “Syria.” In The Oxford Handbook of the Responsibility to Protect, edited by Alex J. Bellamy and Tim Dunne, 895-913. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
This chapter in the 2016 Oxford Handbook of the Responsibility to Protect focuses on the Syrian conflict. Whilst it started of peacefully as a civilian uprising, protesting the Assad dictatorship, it has now spiralled into a armed geopolitical war involving western states, international organisations and terrorist organisations. R2P has been perceived as a failure in Syria in the face of humanitarian catastrophe, by not gaining unanimous consent of the UN Security Council (UNSC). The chapter discusses different stages of the crisis, beginning with the pro-democracy demands of the Arab spring (2011). It then moves on to the Hezbollah involvement and chemical attacks (2013-2014); involving external actors, violent fighting and mass executions, the UN estimated death toll of over 100,000, and the US government’s condemnation of chemical weapons led to Russian monitored destruction of Syrian chemical weapons (with help of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons). The last phase of the chapter is ISIS involvement and the Presidential Elections (2014-Present); the High Commissioner revealed instances of war crimes and crimes against humanity, so UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon held peace talks between Syrian government and Syrian National Coalition. The situation remains tense and violent, and is a daunting challenge to R2P, despite evidence of Syrian systematic oppression and killing, successful invocation of R2P seems unlikely, because it has failed to gather support of the Security Council’s authorisation of humanitarian intervention.
Amnesty International. 2018. “Syria: 47 groups urge UN Secretary-General to act on Syria: joint statement”. Accessed 4 May 2018.
Dated from the 13th April 2013, this webpage provides a link to a joint statement made by many various human rights and humanitarian groups, which compels the UN Secretary-General to urgently investigate allegations that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against the population of Douma. Like many governments in the wake of these allegations, the report notes things such as Russia’s use of veto being a major hindrance to humanitarian assistance in Syria. The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect is one of the signatories.
Amnesty International. 2018. “Hypnosis Experiment: Through the Eyes of a Refugee.” Amnesty International. January 25. Accessed February 26, 2018.
This is an interesting video by Amnesty International aiming to highlight the dangerous journeys refugees are forced to make titled ‘Through the eyes of a refugee’. Joe Claus, a professional hypnotherapist, hypnotises five people from the Netherlands and Belgium to experience the journey of Marwa, a 29 Syria, as she made her way to the Netherlands. Marwa lives in a city besieged by war when shooting breaks out and her family is killed, so she is forced to flee alone, after facing a turbulent ride she finally makes it to a boat, in which many more die, before she arrives in the Netherlands. Claus paints an emotive picture which really affects the hypnotised participants and they scream and cry, as they feel they are experience the hardship inflict on refugees. This understanding could help shape future discussions of refugees and borders, as it humanises and grounds refugee struggle into reality.
Amnesty International . 2017. “JUSTICE FOR SYRIA After 6 years of crisis, victims deserve justice and reparation.” Amnesty International. Accessed February 26, 2018.
Following six years of conflict, this Amnesty International Report, marks the horror and bloodshed that has occured in Syria. Institutions and organisations repeatedly commit human rights abuses, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. The report has a chilling quote from former detainee Abu al-Najem ‘I was beaten with cables and told to kneel before a picture of Bashar al-Assad’. More than 250,000 are reported to have been killed, more than half of the population in Syria need humanitarian assistance, and 4.9 million refugees are now abroad. Amnesty International highlights three ‘pathways to justice for Syria’; international mechanism (established by UN general Assembly to investigate crimes under international law), universal jurisdiction (allows courts of states to prosecute for war crimes and crimes against humanities) and International criminal court (prosecute perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but was vetoed by Russia and China in 2014).
Human Rights Watch, 2017, World report Syria 2017/18.
This annual report by Human Rights Watch of Syria, highlights the biggest events of 2017. Conflicts between the government, surrounding countries and Russia to secure territory and consolidate gains following the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), resulted in immense violations of human rights. The World Bank has estimated a total of 400,000 deaths since the 2011 conflict, 5 million seeking refuge and 6 million internally displaced people.
Human Rights Watch, 2018, “World report Syria 2018” Accessed 24 Oct 2018
The global report displays gives a 9 page analysis on the recent development within Syria. It reveals the human rights violations of both state and non-state actors, whereby Assad’s regime has killed 446 civilians in airstrikes between September and October of 2018, in trying to regain control of opposition held parts of Aleppo. Additionally, human rights abuses are undertaken by non state actors such as ISIS and Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham, a breakaway group of Al-Qaeda. They have committed atrocities by focusing on those of a religious minority, alongside inconsistent detention of members of the society.
This brief was put together by the ECR2P interns Souraya Bureau, Sophie Murphy, Fiona O’Brien, Elsa Pearson, and Kathryn Priestley under the supervision and with the assistance of Dr Eglantine Staunton.
Last updated 15 November 2018 by ECR2P interns Finlay Slater, Lois Raines and Nicole Wendi.