The situation in Syria is one of the most striking examples of a blocked Security Council, where the veto is regularly misused. Here is a timeline of the most recent showdown in July:

June 29th: The Security Council gets a briefing by Under-Secretary-General Lowcock, who describes the humanitarian situation in Syria. The economy is deteriorating, the number of people who are food insecure has reached a record high of 9.3 million and Covid-19 is on the rise and poses an enormous threat to the war-ridden health care system. The Secretary-General’s recent reports emphasize the necessity of the Bab al-Salaam and Bab al-Hawa border crossings which need reauthorization by June 10th. These border crossings have facilitated 1,781 trucks with humanitarian aid from Turkey into Syria in May. However, this is still not enough to meet the need of the people and while calling for a scale-up of the cross-border operation, Lowcock also warned that any efforts to further cut it would only cause more suffering and death.

Regarding the situation in the north-east of the country, some shipments have been sent by the WHO both overland and by air. However, since the Al‑Yarubiya crossing along the Iraq border was closed in January, most facilities that previously relied on it have not been able to receive any medical items. Lowcock says that a combination of both cross-border and cross-line aid is needed and that the Security Council will also need to authorize additional crossings if adequate steps to ensure deliveries from within Syria are not taken.

July 7th:  The Security Council votes on draft resolution S/2020/654, submitted by Belgium and Germany, which would renew the cross-border mechanism for Bab al-Salaam and Bab al-Hawa for 12 months. This draft already does not meet the need as described by the Secretary-General, since it does not re-authorize the Al‑Yarubiya crossing, but it would keep the status quo.

This draft resolution receives 13 votes in favor but is not adopted because of the vetoes cast by both Russia and China.

July 8th: The Security Council votes on draft resolution S/2020/658 submitted by Russia. This draft would reauthorize only the border crossing Bab al-Hawa for 6 months. The draft would further request a report on the humanitarian impact of “unilateral coercive measures” imposed on Syria. This relates to the sanctions that several countries including the USA and European states have imposed on Syria, however these countries say that humanitarian assistance is exempted from the sanctions.  Russian and Chinese want western countries to lift their sanctions on Syria in order to improve the humanitarian situation instead of continuing with the cross-border mechanism.

The draft resolution fails with only 4 positive votes, 7 votes against and 4 abstentions.

July 10th: The security Council votes on draft resolution S/2020/667 submitted by Belgium and Germany. This draft would renew the cross-border mechanism for both Bab al-Salaam and Bab al-Hawa, but only for 6 months. This would have bought some time to improve other routes of aid delivery before shutting down Bab al-Salaam.

This draft resolution receives 13 votes in favor but is not adopted because of the vetoes cast by both Russia and China.

Also July 10th: A second vote takes place on the same day on draft resolution  S/2020/683 submitted by Russia. Russia continues to insist that only the border crossing in Bab al-Hawa can remain open, but this draft resolution offers the “compromise” that it could be authorized for 12 months, instead of the 6 months that was proposed in Russia’s draft from July 8th. This draft still includes the request for a report on the “unilateral coercive measures”.

The draft resolution fails with only 4 positive votes, 7 votes against and 4 abstentions.

July 11th: The security Council votes on draft resolution S/2020/684 submitted by Belgium and Germany. This draft resolution follows Russia’s draft and includes an authorization only for Bab al-Hawa for 12 months. The difference to the previous proposal from Russia is that this draft does include the request for a report on unilateral coercive measures.

This minimal draft resolution finally passes with 12 votes in favor and 3 abstentions, including Russia and China.

Conclusion: After this long process, the Security Council finally succeeds in reauthorizing the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for 12 months. But at the same time millions of people lose access to humanitarian aid through the other border crossings. Without the veto, the Security Council would have been able to pass the first draft from 7th of July, which would have met the need of the Syrian people to a much larger degree. Or maybe they would have gone even further to reauthorize the border-crossing Al‑Yarubiya, which would have better addressed the need as it was outlined in the June 29th briefing.

As long as permanent members still use the veto to advance their own agenda, the Security Council will continue to deliver inadequate and disappointing results.