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Following 12 Years Filled with War, Sanctions, Syria Faces Worsening Humanitarian, Economic Crisis of ‘Epic Proportions’, Special Envoy Tells Security Council

Twelve years filled with destruction and war, corruption, sanctions and the Lebanese financial collapse, as well as the recent COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, have contributed to “a twin humanitarian and economic crisis of epic proportions”, the Special Envoy for Syria told the Council today, giving a detailed report on the embattled country.Nonetheless, Japan’s representative, Council President for January, speaking in his national capacity, expressed his hope that 2023 will bring new momentum in Syria.  Praising the Council’s unanimity in renewing the cross-border aid mechanism earlier in January, he said he also hoped that solidarity would continue, including when it comes time to renew that mechanism again in July.  “There are no winners in this conflict,” he emphasized, but added that history has proven that conflicts eventually end and that it is possible to rebuild.  To that end, he urged all the parties — especially the Syrian authorities — to engage meaningfully in an inclusive, United Nations-facilitated political process in line with resolution 2254 (2015). The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 12:06 p.m. In the ensuing debate, Council members voiced support for the recent unanimous adoption of resolution 2672 (2023) allowing for the continuation of life-saving cross-border humanitarian assistance for millions in the battered country, with several speakers expressing concern about foreign intervention, while others pointed to the lack of response by the Syrian Government. Geir O. Pedersen, Special Envoy for Syria, recounted a profound humanitarian, political, military, security, economic and human rights crisis of “great complexity and almost unimaginable scale” in a country that remains de facto divided into several parts, with five foreign armies, multiple Syrian armed groups and Security Council-listed terrorists all active on the ground. The representative of Ecuador, also voicing support for the Constitutional Committee in Geneva, encouraged parties to renew their commitment to drafting a new social pact which is consistent with the Syrian reality.  Appealing for renewed commitments for political dialogue, he underscored that “the empty chairs around the tables of Syrian families are a testament to the painfully high human and social cost of this protracted war”. MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates) said that, over the past 12 years of the crisis, Syria’s territories have been used for political and military theatre, which has tragically impacted the lives of the Syrian people.  On the Council’s renewal of the cross-border mechanism earlier this month, he said “a bandage will not heal a deep wound”.  These efforts do not address the underlying causes of the Syrian crisis, he said, underlining the need to move from managing the Syrian crisis to resolving it through intensifying political communication, dialogue and diplomatic efforts.  In this context, he reaffirmed the importance of finding “Arab solutions for Arab crises”.  He described the Constitutional Committee as the only platform where Syrians can constructively engage in a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned national dialogue to move the political process forward without foreign interferences.  Regarding the humanitarian situation, he commended the United Nations efforts to increase cross-line deliveries.  Further, he voiced deep concern over the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the camps, especially during the harsh winter when the camps lack basic infrastructure.  This threatens the lives of millions of people, including women and children, he said. The representative of the Russian Federation warned that the illegal foreign military presence in Syria’s north-east and south, the continued threat of military operations in the north and Israeli attacks against Damascus could lead to renewed terrorist activity.  Syrian authorities are trying to do everything they can for the Syrian people, he emphasized. “There can be no prosperity for the vast majority of people in Syria within the current socioeconomic context,” she continued, adding that every aspect of life has been impacted by severe fuel shortages and reduced access to electricity.  Therefore, cross-border aid is a matter of life and death for millions of people in north-west Syria, she stressed, adding that a six-month extension poses challenges to the Office’s operations and disrupts its humanitarian logistics. Turning to the humanitarian front, he welcomed the unanimous adoption of resolution 2672 (2023) earlier this month, allowing for the continuation of life-saving cross-border humanitarian assistance for millions in Syria, albeit for six months.  He sounded the alarm over record poverty and food insecurity, basic services breaking down and an economic crisis, noting that needs in displacement camps remain the most urgent.  Meanwhile, infrastructure remains on the brink, with frequent power outages against a backdrop of dwindling fuel supplies. On the increasingly dire humanitarian situation in Syria, he welcomed the unanimous adoption of resolution 2672 (2023) but stressed that the cross-border Mechanism is only temporary in nature.  With a new extension coming up in July, Syria’s legitimate concerns must be addressed, along with identified gaps and challenges.  In implementing that resolution, the focus should be on improving early recovery projects for the rebuilding of critical infrastructure, enhancing cross-line aid operations and supplying electricity.  He also called for the lifting of unilateral coercive measures imposed on Syria, particularly those targeting ordinary people and patients in the health sector. This situation is not only a source of tragedy for Syrians, but a driver of instability across the region, including against a backdrop of growing reports of illicit drug trade, he reported.  With an aim towards a comprehensive political solution, he was continuing to engage the Syrian parties to the conflict and — in parallel — with key international players.  In this context, the Syrian and Turkish Defence Ministers met with the Russian Federation Defence Minister in Moscow on 28 December 2022.  Further, to facilitate progress, it is necessary to step back from escalation and restore calm, he asserted, adding that a nationwide ceasefire remains essential to resolving the conflict.  Describing periods of relative calm and periods of escalation, he pointed to fewer air strikes in the north-west in recent months and reduction of the intense military escalation in the north-east. DAI BING (China), calling for a Syria-led and Syria-owned political process, pointed to tripartite talks among the Russian Federation, Türkiye and Damascus that demonstrated willingness to promote the restoration of peace and stability in the country.  The joint efforts of the three countries will bring about fundamental improvement of the situation in northern Syria.  The counter-terrorism situation in Syria remains complicated, he recalled, adding that the international community should abide by international law, combat all terrorists in Syria with zero tolerance and cease politically exploiting terrorist forces.  The sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria must be fully respected, he asserted, underscoring that the illegal presence of foreign troops and their illegal military operations in the country must end.  Similarly, he continued, the illegal plundering of natural resources by foreign troops must stop immediately.  Welcoming resolution 2672 (2023) on the extension of the authorization for the Syria cross-border aid mechanism, he described cross-border aid as a temporary arrangement, made under special circumstances.  He urged for gradual transition, allowing for cross-line delivery to become the main channel for humanitarian assistance to Syria.  Unilateral coercive measures and the resulting overcompliance run counter to the efforts of the Council to improve humanitarian access, he said, calling on relevant countries to immediately lift unilateral sanctions against Syria. Emphasizing that the Constitutional Committee should make more substantive progress in Geneva, he also commended the establishment of a missing persons’ institution — as recommended by the Secretary-General — stressing that substantive steps must be taken to ensure the protection and rights of detainees.  Moreover, a wide range of actions will be essential to the safe, voluntary and dignified return of refugees and internally displaced persons.  Highlighting the importance of dialogue with Syrians across the board, he said the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board continues to advise him and Deputy Special Envoy Najat Rochdi.  He is also continuing to engage Syrian civil society activists on a broad range of issues related to the political process, as well as ongoing protection concerns, he added. VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), noting that the main challenges remain the illegal foreign military presence in Syria’s north-east and south, the continued threat of military operations in the north and Israeli attacks against Damascus, stressed that such tensions could lead to renewed terrorist activity.  Ensuring the national safety of neighbouring countries should not be pursued at the expense of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Further, there is no alternative to a Syrian-led and -owned political process in line with resolution 2254 (2015).  On that point, he underscored that Syrians — without external pressure or ready-made formulae — should come to an agreement regarding the future of their country.  He expressed disappointment that the Special Envoy noted five foreign armies and terrorist groups as factors contributing to violence — without making a distinction among them — and that the Envoy cited links to the crisis in Ukraine.  The humanitarian situation in Syria is worsening, but this has nothing to do with either the action or inaction of Syrian authorities or the crisis in Ukraine.  Syrian authorities are trying to do everything they can for the Syrian people, but Western sanctions are increasing the number of those in need and affecting access to, and the cost of, basic goods.  Against that backdrop, he said that his country supports the United Nations country team’s decision to prepare a report concerning sanctions’ influence on the humanitarian situation, which is expected to be published by the end of January. ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan), Council President for January, speaking in his national capacity, expressed his hope that 2023 will bring new momentum in Syria.  Praising the Council’s unanimity in renewing the cross-border aid mechanism earlier in January, he said he also hoped that solidarity would continue, including when it comes time to renew that mechanism again in July.  “There are no winners in this conflict,” he stressed, describing Syria as shattered and suffering.  Nevertheless, history has proven that conflicts eventually end and that it is possible to rebuild.  To that end, he urged all the parties — especially the Syrian authorities — to engage meaningfully in an inclusive, United Nations-facilitated political process in line with resolution 2254 (2015).  The Council must support the Special Envoy and work to ensure that the Constitutional Committee makes real progress, he said, noting the proposal to establish a new mechanism to discover the fate of the missing in Syria and provide support to victims, survivors and their families. Nonetheless, the United Arab Emirates’ delegate said that Syria’s territories have been used for political and military theatre, which has tragically impacted the lives of the Syrian people.  There should be a shift from managing the Syrian crisis to resolving it through intensifying political communication and diplomatic efforts.  The Syrian Constitutional Committee is the only platform where a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned national dialogue can move the political process forward without foreign interferences. He also said that the Government of Syria dealt responsibly with all the challenges it faced, including combating terrorism, supporting paths of political settlements, establishing national reconciliations and implementing its legal obligations under international conventions.  The final solution to the crisis must include ending the illegal foreign presences and the immediate lifting of the measures of economic terrorism and collective punishment imposed on the Syrian people, he stressed. He pointed out that, during these difficult years, the Government of Syria dealt responsibly with all the challenges it faced, including combating terrorism, supporting paths of political settlements, establishing national reconciliations and implementing its legal obligations under international conventions.  He went on to detail the requirements for the final solution to the crisis in Syria:  ceasing the systematic Israeli acts of aggression; ending the illegal foreign presence on the Syrian territories in the north-east and north-west, along with the affiliated terrorist organizations and separatist militias; the immediate lifting of the measures of economic terrorism and collective punishment imposed on the Syrian people; donors fulfilling their commitments they made regarding the humanitarian response plan; and increasing and expanding early recovery projects in quantity and quality. GHADA ELTAHIR MUDAWI, Deputy Director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, underscored that the people of Syria need joy and peace more than at any time since the conflict began, adding that they rightfully expect the support of the international community to make that wish come true.  Having endured 12 years of conflict and humanitarian crisis, they face the worst year yet with 15.3 million people — nearly 70 per cent of Syria’s population in need of humanitarian assistance.  “It is hard to imagine such levels of distress,” she stressed.  The country is experiencing a harsh winter amidst rain, flooding, rigid temperatures and an ongoing cholera outbreak.  In the north-west alone, 1.8 million people live in camps and overcrowded sites in tents in temperatures below 0°C, with limited or no access to water, health services and electricity.  Some have been uprooted multiple times, while others have lived in the same tents for more than a decade. Türkiye’s delegate welcomed the unanimous adoption of resolution 2672 (2023) and underscored that the humanitarian crisis and the preservation of regional stability necessitate long-term maintenance of the Organization’s cross-border mechanism.  The Council must do what is right and provide that support, he said, pledging his Government’s continued support, including through facilitating cross-line aid deliveries.  He also reiterated the need for his country to ensure the security of its borders and protect Syria’s territorial integrity and unity. In this regard, the humanitarian efforts remain 78 per cent underfunded in north-west Syria and at an equally poor level of funding of 29 per cent for the entire country.  Only 1.4 million individuals have been reached as of the end of December 2022 through available resources, leaving 2.8 million vulnerable people without adequate emergency shelter or non-food items to protect against harsh conditions.  There must be more donor support, she insisted, noting that the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan had only been 47.2 per cent funded, the lowest level ever.  Further, the cholera outbreak continues to spread across the country with suspected cases in all 14 governorates.  Two million doses of oral cholera vaccines arrived in Syria and 1.7 million in north-west Syria.  Immunizations have wrapped up in Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa, Aleppo and Al-Hassakeh, with a vaccination campaign about to start imminently in the north-west.  She called for strong support to enable this response to continue, including through funding for health facilities — as several in north-west Syria have closed — and on water and sanitation to address root causes. Against the backdrop of record poverty and food insecurity, basic services breaking down and an economic crisis, he commended the unanimous adoption of resolution 2672 (2023), while highlighted the importance of dialogue with Syrians across the board, including the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board and the civil society.  In that regard, he urged the Constitutional Committee to make more substantive progress in Geneva. She called for more donor support, pointing out that the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan had only been 47.2 per cent funded — the lowest level ever.  With the cholera outbreak spreading across the country, increased funding for health facilities were needed to support the vaccination campaign. Statements FERIT HOXHA (Albania) stressed that there is “no doubt” that the Assad regime bears primary responsibility for the tragedy in Syria, as it has shown consistently and defiantly that the only language it knows is the severe repression of its own citizens.  For 12 years, the international community has witnessed the tragic, living proof of the disrespect for human rights and life the regime “generates and worships, built upon mass graves and unfathomable depravity”, he said.  It continues to ignore the persistent, urgent calls of families across Syria seeking to clarify the fates and whereabouts of their missing loved ones, and serious action is needed to end the despicable practices of arbitrary detention, forced disappearance and extrajudicial killing and hold the perpetrators to account.  On that point, he supported the creation of a new mechanism for missing persons in Syria, as well as the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism, calling on all States, civil society and the United Nations system to provide relevant information in support of accountability in Syria.  He went on to deplore the continued obstruction of the Constitutional Committee’s work to start a political transition towards a democratic Syria, stressing that, “when all indicators are red and flashing”, doing so is equal to “committing a crime against people and their hope”. Citing a nationwide ceasefire as essential to resolving the conflict, he described periods of relative calm and periods of escalation.  Still, despite fewer air strikes in the north-west in recent months and reduction of the intense military escalation in the north-east, “the picture remains as dire as ever”, he observed, with shelling, rocket fire and intermittent clashes continuing along all contact lines. Addressing the country’s political situation in his national capacity, he went on to praise the work of the Special Envoy — in particular his tireless efforts to foster step-by-step confidence‑building measures among the parties.  Calling for renewed political will and urging the parties to exercise maximum restraint, he underlined the need to respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  All attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure must also immediately cease in respect to international humanitarian law.  That applies to counter-terrorism activities, as well.  Against that backdrop, he reaffirmed his country’s commitment to a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned process, in line with resolution 2254 (2015), as a means to ensure a political resolution of the long-lasting conflict. MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon), also speaking on behalf of Ghana and Mozambique, joined other speakers in voicing concern that Syria’s humanitarian needs are only growing in 2023.  Also noting the country’s severe economic crisis and the ongoing COVID-19 and cholera outbreaks, he said the population in the north-west is among the most vulnerable and most reliant on the United Nations cross-border aid delivery mechanism.  Against the backdrop of limited humanitarian funding, he said meeting those ever-growing needs requires stronger international solidarity.  He also called for the lifting of sanctions imposed on access to essential medical equipment.  Noting that hostilities continue across Syria with many civilian victims, he urged all the parties to comply with international law distinction, including the principles of proportionality and caution, and to ensure that civilians are spared in the course of military operations.  He also voiced support for the Special Envoy’s efforts to build confidence between the parties and to reconvene the Constitutional Committee, while praising both the Council’s recent renewal of the cross-border aid delivery mechanism and efforts to ramp up cross-line aid deliveries. However, in other ways, he noted that “the picture remains as dire as ever”, with shelling, rocket fire and intermittent clashes continuing along all contact lines. Such activities involve a wide spectrum of actors — including the Government, the armed opposition and the Council-listed terrorist group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, who have launched several cross-line attacks last month.  Turkish drone strikes were reported in the north-east and Israeli strikes were reported in rural Damascus and on Damascus Airport.  In addition, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Da’esh, remains active, with sleeper cells killing military personnel and civilians. AMIR SAEID IRAVANI (Iran) said that, to create conducive grounds for ending the crisis in Syria, all uninvited foreign forces must leave that country without precondition or delay.  Further, the Council must compel the Israeli regime to immediately end all acts of aggression against Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as it continues to commit internationally wrongful acts despite Syria’s repeated requests for the Council to explicitly condemn such crimes.  He voiced his support for the Constitutional Committee’s work — which must continue in accordance with its procedures and without foreign interference or artificially imposed timelines — and expressed hope that the Committee’s next meeting will be held soon.  BASSAM SABBAGH (Syria) voiced his rejection of the pattern of monthly recurring Council meetings on Syria without any pertaining developments.  The policies pursued by the United States in Syria have led to destabilizing security and destroying the developmental achievements that have been attained over decades.  “The policy of creative chaos” adopted in the region by successive United States Administrations has worked to fabricate problems to ignite tensions and then conflicts, including by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on suspicious media outlets.  Moreover, the policy has led to the emergence of terrorist organizations, including ISIL/Da’esh and Al-Nusra Front.  The United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies invented various pretexts to intervene directly in Syria, manipulating the provisions of international law to justify their illegal military presence on Syrian territory.  This contributed to threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, as well as the theft of the Syrian national resources and wealth — primarily oil, wheat and gas worth more than 0 billion. JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom), welcoming the recent adoption of resolution 2672 (2023), stressed that six months is not a sufficient timeline within which humanitarians can effectively operate.  The humanitarian community has consistently warned that shorter mandate renewals force the Organization’s agencies and non-governmental organizations to direct much of their effort to contingency planning, thereby limiting their capacity to help.  With humanitarian needs growing each year, the Assad regime continues to profit from the production and trafficking of narcotics, most prominently captagon [fenethylline], which provides it with billions of dollars annually.  Turning Syria into a “narco-State” arms its people and adds to regional instability, he pointed out, urging partners in the international community to clearly condemn this and continue their support for those affected by the captagon trade.  Turning to the Special Envoy’s efforts to continue engaging with Damascus and countries both in the region and beyond, he pledged his country’s willingness to support a political process.  “We must guard against any process that does not deliver on the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and which will not contribute to a lasting and sustainable peace,” he emphasized, urging the Russian Federation to stop stalling what ought to be a Syrian-led and -owned process. PASCALE CHRISTINE BAERISWYL (Switzerland), speaking in her national capacity, expressed concern over the continuing violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law and called on all parties to respect their international obligations.  “The way out of the conflict in Syria is clear:  it can and must be achieved only through a political solution,” she stressed, commending the Special Envoy’s recent consultations as crucial for building confidence between parties and maintaining the momentum.  She offered her country’s best possible guarantees for the continuation of the peace process in Geneva, the Organization’s main headquarters in Europe.  Recalling that resolution 2254 (2015) calls for the expectations of the Syrian people to be taken into account, she reiterated her country’s support for civil society organizations.  She also encouraged the Council to remain seized of the issue of detained or missing persons and called on all parties to put an end to the practices of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances.  Allowing specialized humanitarian organizations access to all places of detention is an essential step in this direction, she emphasized, adding:  “Experience shows that trust cannot be restored in a society until the families of the missing get answers about the fate of their loved ones.  Women and tens of thousands of orphans across the country are waiting to hear from a husband, mother or brother to take their fate into their own hands again.” RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States) said that the unanimous adoption of resolution 2672 (2023) was a necessary step to aid and reduce the suffering of the Syrian people.  Joining the Deputy Director’s call for States to contribute generously to the United Nations Humanitarian Response Plan for Syria, he also urged donors to increase support for Syrian refugees and their host communities.  Expressing concern over the dire need for assistance in Rukban, he pointed out that no aid has reached the region from Damascus since 2019 — which calls into question the reliability of cross-line aid.  Several Council members that profess support for such aid refuse to acknowledge that the primary impediment to increased cross-line deliveries is the insecurity created by the Assad regime’s reckless conflict.  He therefore called on the same to cease its assault on the Syrian people and to cooperate with the Special Envoy’s efforts to convene good‑faith discussions to reach a political solution to the conflict in line with resolution 2254 (2015).  He added that, after waging 12 years of brutal war on the Syrian people, the Assad regime has yet to take any meaningful steps towards a political solution — instead casting blame on others for the war it started.  Given this obstinance, he underscored that the United States opposes any measure of normalization with the Assad regime. Ghada Eltahir Mudawi, Deputy Director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, informed the Council that 15.3 million people — nearly 70 per cent of the population — are in need of humanitarian assistance.  Amidst a harsh winter and a cholera outbreak, in the north-west alone, 1.8 million people live in camps and overcrowded sites in tents in temperatures below 0°C, with limited or no access to water, health services and electricity. The representative of Syria, pointing to the United States “policy of creative chaos”, said that country and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies manipulated international law to justify their illegal military presence on Syrian territory.  That destructive behaviour of the United States has brought millions of Syrians to a state of insecurity, turned a large part of them into refugees and displaced persons, and placed them in difficult humanitarian conditions, he declared. Briefings VANESSA FRAZIER (Malta) encouraged the continuation and expansion of assistance via cross-line aid convoys in the north-west of Syria.  Since these operations cannot substitute for the cross-border mechanism at Bab al-Hawa, her Government supports the use of all modalities to meet the needs of the country’s millions.  “The Syria of today is one where mothers are skipping meals to feed their children,” she emphasized, stressing the importance of supporting primary health-care services and strengthening maternal health care and nutrition programmes.  She urged the Constitutional Committee in Geneva to swiftly reconvene, called upon the Syrian Government to engage in good faith and highlighted the importance of ensuring full, equal and meaningful participation of women in all stages of the political process with the agreed 30 per cent threshold as the minimum.  As time is of the essence, all parties must work towards a nationwide ceasefire and the Council must remain guided by the needs of the Syrian people.  She then reiterated her country’s support for the implementation of targeted sanctions and for the International, Impartial and Integrated Mechanism on Syria to ensure accountability.  The Government must ensure the immediate, transparent and verifiable release of all those detained arbitrarily and provide information on the whereabouts and fate of the missing, she added. “There can be no prosperity for the vast majority of people in Syria within the current socioeconomic context,” she stressed, noting that life is increasingly unaffordable especially with the sharp drop of the Syrian pound in December 2022.  With skyrocketing prices for basic commodities, 12 million people are food insecure and families’ resilience to withstand shocks continues to erode.  Every aspect of life has been impacted by severe fuel shortages and reduced access to electricity.  The acute fuel crisis is affecting humanitarian operations, leading to fewer field missions and more project delays with life-saving sectors such as water and sanitation, health and shelter among the most severely impacted.  Mobile teams have been suspended leading to the reduction of protection services by some of the Office’s protection partners.  Electricity blackouts and the lack of fuel have severely limited water pumping station operations; critical maintenance work has been put on hold as authorities struggle to secure transportation; and the most vulnerable and marginalized people struggle even more to access essential services. HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador), echoing the call for the resumption of the meetings of the Syrian Constitutional Committee in Geneva, encouraged parties to renew their commitment to this mechanism which was created to support the inclusive process of drafting a new social pact which is consistent with the Syrian reality.  This is one of the steps that will lead to a new stage of governance by incorporating all social, political and religious sectors, he stressed.  In spotlighting the results which were achieved through early recovery and livelihoods projects in 2022, he called on the international community to continue its financial support to consolidate progress.  Doing so will enable the relief of the most basic needs of Syria’s population to electricity, water, health and education, at least in the short-term.  On the Council’s unanimous adoption of resolution 2672 (2023), he highlighted the role of the co-drafters and the organ’s elected members, called on it to ensure greater predictability on the timing of humanitarian border crossing renewals and encouraged it to authorize in July an extension for at least 12 months.  He then appealed for renewed commitments for political dialogue, emphasizing that “the empty chairs around the tables of Syrian families are a testament to the painfully high human and social cost of this protracted war”. Stressing that impunity for Israel prevented the Council from assuming its responsibilities regarding the country’s repeated acts of aggression against Syria’s sovereignty, he pointed to the latest attack on Damascus International Airport at the beginning of 2023.  Moreover, he condemned unilateral coercive measures imposed on the Syrian people.  These illegitimate and inhuman measures have exacerbated the suffering of Syrians inside and outside Syria.  The destructive behaviour of the United States in Syria has brought millions of Syrians to a state of insecurity, turned a large part of them into refugees and displaced persons, and placed them in difficult humanitarian conditions, he asserted. Disputing that, the representative of the United States stressed that, after waging 12 years of brutal war on the Syrian people, the Assad regime has yet to take any meaningful steps towards a political solution — instead casting blame on others for the war it started.  Against this backdrop, he voiced his opposition to any measure of normalization with the Assad regime. Hostilities leave people in fear of attacks and at risk of new displacement, she said, detailing the continued killing and injury of civilians in Idleb and Western Aleppo due to air strikes, shelling and unexploded ordnance.  In north-west Syria alone last year, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported at least 145 civilian deaths, 58 of which were children, and 249 civilian injuries, which included 97 children.  Such attacks have also continued sporadically throughout northern Syria, resulting in civilian casualties, damaged civilian infrastructure, displacement and the suspension of humanitarian activities and key services.  While there has been notable process on mine action programmes, namely the clearing of 1 million square metres of agricultural land in rural Damascus last year, more must be done as this work is critical for the Office’s ability to implement other projects especially early recovery ones.  She urged all parties to respect the fundamental obligation of international humanitarian law to spare civilians and civilian objects throughout their military operations. Türkiye’s priorities are clear and intact, he emphasized, including ensuring the security of its borders and protecting Syria’s territorial integrity and unity.  As well, those priorities also include eliminating all terrorist organizations from that country, ensuring a successful political process and creating the appropriate conditions for the safe, voluntary and dignified return of the displaced.  A lasting solution to the conflict can only be achieved through a political process, he said, calling for the ninth round of the Constitutional Committee to be held as soon as possible and for it to deliver concrete results.  In reiterating his commitment to resolution 2254 (2015) and the United Nations principles on the return of refugees, his Government would continue to work closely with the Organization and its agencies in creating the necessary conditions and implementing and monitoring returns.  Regarding the Kurdistan Workers’ Party/Kurdish People’s Protection Units [PKK/YPG], he spotlighted its separatist agenda, adding that his country is determined to do whatever is necessary to eliminate this terrorist threat.  The international community must step up its efforts for a Syrian-led political solution, he said, stressing that it cannot allow nor afford for the crisis to be a frozen conflict. NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) expressed his regret over the regime’s absence of openness to negotiate.  Despite the Special Envoy’s efforts, the Constitutional Committee has never been able to produce a single line of constitutional text and no longer meets at all.  He called on the regime to engage with the Special Envoy’s “step-for-step” approach and stressed that the French and European positions on the lifting of sanctions, normalization and reconstruction are conditional upon its commitment to a credible and inclusive political process.  That regime is solely and fully responsible for the humanitarian disaster facing the Syrian people, he emphasized, adding that its repression and the brutality of the conflict have prompted one of the largest movements of people of the century.  He pledged that France, along with other European nations, will continue their side-by-side engagement with the Syrian people to save lives, fight sexual and gender-based violence, combat the risk of starvation and meet medical needs.  It is up to the Syrian regime to create the necessary conditions for the return of refugees by ensuring security and respect for their human rights.  As peace cannot be built without justice, he said his Government will continue to fight tirelessly to hold those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. GEIR O. PEDERSEN, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, said the Syrian people remain trapped in a profound humanitarian, political, military, security, economic and “human rights crisis of great complexity and almost unimaginable scale”.  The country remains de facto divided into several parts, with five foreign armies, multiple Syrian armed groups and Security Council-listed terrorists all active on the ground.  Serious abuses and violations of international humanitarian law and human rights continue across Syria.  More than a decade of destruction, war and conflict, corruption and mismanagement, sanctions, the Lebanese financial collapse, COVID-19 and its aftermath, and the war in Ukraine have contributed to “a twin humanitarian and economic crisis of epic proportions”.  Roughly half the pre-war population remains displaced — the largest displacement crisis in the world and one of the largest since the Second World War. FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Türkiye), welcoming the unanimous adoption of resolution 2672 (2023), underscored that the scale of the humanitarian crisis and the preservation of regional stability necessitate the long-term maintenance of the Organization’s cross-border mechanism.  As such, he renewed his call on the Council to do what is right and provide that support.  This should be a needs-based decision and not a time-bound one, he noted, pledging his Government’s continued support, including through facilitating cross-line aid deliveries.  Turning to the reports of the people and children who lost their lives in camps for internally displaced people and the thousands of tents which were damaged due to harsh winter conditions or fires, he underlined the need for lasting shelter conditions.  He also voiced support for the efforts of the United Nations and its partners in replacing short-term and easily damaged tents with more durable and dignified shelters, similar to those that Türkiye uses.  In this regard, international stakeholders and donors should prioritize the funding of such projects. Turning to the Council’s indispensable extension of the Organization’s cross-border humanitarian operations, she emphasized that cross-border aid is a matter of life and death for millions of people in north-west Syria.  The Office will continue to facilitate progress in all areas covered by Council resolution 2672 (2023) which includes enhancing cross-line operations and early recovery programming.  A six-month extension, however, poses challenges to the Office’s operations and funding and disrupts its humanitarian logistics and procurement.  As Syria is one of the most complex humanitarian and protection emergencies in the world, the Office needs renewed commitment from all parties; better access; sustained donor generosity; and rapid, substantial and unearmarked pledges, she pointed out, expressing her hope that the Council will uphold its moral duty to support people in Syria. RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil), also speaking for Switzerland as co-penholders on Syria’s humanitarian file, stressed that, behind Syria’s statistics are always human beings, who should have been spared of the consequences of the country’s hostilities.  Welcoming the Council’s unanimous adoption of resolution 2672 (2023) renewing the cross-border aid mechanism, he nevertheless outlined many severe challenges that continue unaddressed on the ground.  Voicing concern over the chronic underfunding of the United Nations humanitarian response plan, he warned that lives are being put at risk amid winter, a cholera outbreak and a fuel crisis.  Switzerland and Brazil support the use of all modalities in order to ensure rapid, unimpeded and sustainable humanitarian access to all people in need — including both cross-border aid and efforts to expand cross-line aid from within Syria, he stressed. Also speaking were representatives of Brazil (also speaking for Switzerland), China, Gabon (also speaking for Ghana and Mozambique), United Kingdom, Albania, France, Switzerland, Malta and Iran.

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