At London conference on Syria, UN chief calls for access for aid, protection for civilians
4 February 2016 – Heads of State and Government met in London today at an international conference on Syria, with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon laying out three main objectives: raising $7 billion in immediate humanitarian aid, mustering long-term support, and protecting civilians.
“The crisis in Syria is about to enter its sixth year. The international community bears a heavy responsibility for failing to end it,” he said of war that has killed over 250,000 people, sent over 4 million fleeing the country, displaced 6.5 million internally, and put 13.5 million people inside the country in urgent need of humanitarian aid.
“The situation is not sustainable. We cannot go on like this. There is no military solution. Only political dialogue, inclusive political dialogue, will rescue the Syrian people from their intolerable suffering,” he added, blaming lack of humanitarian access to besieged civilians and increased air raids and military activities for undermining UN-brokered peace talks.
He called on world powers to press the parties to engage seriously in negotiations.
The talks in Geneva between the Government and opposition, which are not face-to-face but indirect, involving 'close proximity diplomacy' with UN mediators envoy shuttling between the sides in different rooms, were suspended by UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura yesterday just two days after he declared their official start.
“It is deeply disturbing that the initial steps of the talks have been undermined by the continuous lack of sufficient humanitarian access, and by a sudden increase of aerial bombings and military activities within Syria,” Mr. Ban said of the talks, now scheduled to resume on 25 February. “The focus on the people of Syria is also being lost amid petty procedural matters.
“I agree fully with my Special Envoy that we should not have talks for the sake of talks. The coming days should be used to get back to the table, not to secure more gains on the battlefield,” he added, calling on the UN Security Council and the International Support Group for Syria (ISSG) to press the parties to engage seriously.
The ISSG - the International Syria Support Group comprising the Arab League, the European Union, the United Nations, and 17 countries including the United States and Russia – laid the groundwork for the Geneva talks at a meeting in November.
Laying out three objectives for today's meeting, Mr. Ban mentioned first the obligation to meet the enormous humanitarian needs – at least $7 billion for this year alone, twice as much as last year. “Despite the generosity of some donors, the international community has failed to keep pace with these needs,” he stressed.
Second, the international community must lay the foundations for long-term international support, since even if “by some miracle” the conflict ends tomorrow, the enormous humanitarian and development needs will continue for years and even decades.” The United Nations stands to lead and coordinate this effort,” he declared.
“Syrian and other refugees need the chance to work and provide for their families. Today, let us commit to getting all Syrian children into school, within months, not years. Offering hope is the best way to slow the exodus of educated Syrians and prevent the radicalization of a lost generation.”
Third, ways must be found to protect civilians. “All sides in this conflict are committing human rights abuses of a shocking scale and depravity. Palestinian refugees, already vulnerable, are doubly dispossessed and in a desperate position. We must end sieges and bring food to starving people,” Mr. Ban said.
“Today, let us change the narrative. Let us, by and with our solidarity and generosity, and compassionate leadership, bring true hope to the people of Syria and the region,” he concluded.