Syria

Amid Grim Humanitarian Situation in Syria, Special Envoy, Briefing Security Council, Says Constitutional Committee Must Continue its Work with Urgency, Purpose

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Amid a dire and worsening humanitarian and security situation, constructive diplomacy is urgently needed to help save lives and bring the 10‑year‑long conflict in Syria to an end, the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy for that country told the Security Council today, as speakers expressed disappointment that the much‑anticipated negotiations geared towards drafting a fresh constitution appeared to have run aground.

Geir O. Pedersen, briefing the Council on the sixth session of the Small Drafting Body of the Constitutional Committee held from 18 to 22 October in Geneva — bringing together delegates appointed by the Government, opposition and civil society — said that despite “frank, open and businesslike” interactions between the parties, by the final day, the 45 members of the body were unable to progress to a productive textual drafting process. Further, he noted that a commitment on meeting twice before the year‑end was “regrettably not possible”.

Nonetheless, he emphasized that it is important for the Committee to continue its work with urgency and purpose. “I remain convinced that progress on the Constitutional Committee could, if done the right way, help to build some trust and confidence,” he stated, adding: ”But let me stress that this requires real determination and the political will to try to build some common ground.” He also noted that on the sidelines of these meetings, he raised the need to expedite collective efforts on the file of detainees, abductees and missing persons with the three Astana guarantor States — Iran, Russian Federation and Turkey — and will convene more meetings in this regard, pointing out that tens of thousands of people remain detained, abducted or missing.

Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, also briefed the Council, painting a dire picture of daily life in Syria, where more than 90 per cent of the population now lives below the poverty line, and is grappling with an acute water crisis, food insecurity and a resurging COVID‑19 pandemic.

Observing that many people make very difficult choices to make ends meet, he called for the expansion of early recovery programmes to sustainably address needs. While pooled funds have increased support for early recovery activities, much more is needed, he said, adding that he will continue to urge donors and agencies to enable communities to access basic social services and rebuild dignified lives. Noting that the World Food Programme’s (WFP) cross‑line delivery of food aid had reached Idlib Governorate, he said the Council must now ensure that aid is distributed swiftly, and for concerned parties to agree on a suitable distribution modality. “When it comes to delivering life‑saving aid, all channels should be made, and kept, available,” he said.

Also addressing the Council was Mounerfah Albarouki, General Coordinator of the Syrian National Conference, which is composed of Syrian women and men within the Syrian territories and abroad who belong to various independent political and civil currents. She said the group considers the Geneva Communique and Council resolution 2554 (2015) as the base road map for a way out of the tragic situation in Syria, adding that the political process was restricted to the constitutional track, and neglected all confidence‑building measures cited by the resolution. She called for the inclusion of the issue of forced displacement, housing, land and property ownership in the Special Envoy’s negotiations with Syrian stakeholders, also calling for a reconsideration of the so‑called “smart” sanctions, which she pointed out do not allow Syrian doctors in the diaspora to establish free, remote examinations for families in Syria.

In the ensuing debate, Council members discussed the Secretary‑General’s latest report on the situation (document S/2021/890), echoing its concerns over intensifying violence, lack of access to safe water, and abysmally low COVID‑19 vaccination rates amid intensifying transmission. Many speakers called for an immediate nationwide ceasefire, while some renewed their calls for an end to sanctions.

The Russian Federation’s delegate said it is important to ensure that the work of the Constitutional Committee remains led and implemented by the Syrians themselves, without outside interference or the imposition of artificial time frames. However, he stated that the success of such efforts will depend on the diplomatic skills of the Special Envoy, who must be in constant contact with the Syrians to resolve mutual mistrust and find mutually acceptable solutions.

The representative of the United States expressed disappointment over the stymied efforts of the Committee in Geneva and called on all parties to participate in the political process in good faith and change their unproductive behaviour. He expressed concern over reports that refugee returnees had been met with violence and torture at the hands of the Assad Government and associated militias, and pointed out that it is not surprising, in this light, that voluntary returns of refugees remain the lowest since 2016. On sanctions, he said the United States is committed to working with parties to ensure such measures are finely tailored and do not impede humanitarian aid and early recovery efforts.

France’s delegate, likewise, said that in the absence of a political solution, and when international human rights continue to be “trampled”, it is not possible to lift sanctions or facilitate the voluntary return of refugees. Noting that Council resolution 2254 (2015) provides a road map for a political solution to the conflict, she said the violent events of 20 October demonstrate that there will be no lasting peace without the resolution’s full implementation.

The representative of Norway, meanwhile, highlighted the importance of making progress on other parts of the resolution, notably on the release of arbitrarily detained persons. Noting that she had hoped for a more optimistic conclusion to the open discussions in Geneva, she urged all sides, especially the Syrian Government, to make the efforts required to advance the constitutional process.

Syria’s delegate emphasized his Government’s commitment to a Syrian‑led political solution, adding that drafting the constitution is an internal affair. External parties must not interfere with the work of the Constitutional Committee, or attempt to impose artificial timetables or predetermined conclusions, he said. Further, he said that Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected, warning against the illegal presence of United States and Turkish forces in his country. He observed that the 20 October attack in Damascus coincided with the Committee meeting, characterizing it as a clear attempt by terrorist organizations and their external sponsors to undermine the efforts of his Government.

Turning to sanctions, he called for them to be immediately and unconditionally lifted, stating that such coercive measures by the United States and the European Union are stifling Syrians and depriving them of food, medicine, health care, electricity and fuel.

Also speaking were the representatives of Ireland, China, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Mexico, Estonia, United Kingdom, Tunisia, Niger, India, Viet Nam, Kenya (as Council President for October), Turkey and Iran.

The meeting began at 3:03 p.m. and ended at 5:27 p.m.

Briefings

GEIR O. PEDERSEN, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General for Syria, outlined the activities of the sixth session of the Small Body of the Syrian‑led, Syrian‑owned, United Nations‑facilitated Constitutional Committee, held from 18 to 22 October, before which titles of constitutional principles were submitted by the three delegations: the Government of Syria, Syrian Negotiations Commission and the Middle Third civil society delegation.

With United Nations facilitation, he said, Co-Chairs’ interactions were “frank, open and businesslike”, leading to a meeting with the civil society delegation and an agreement on how titles would be selected and discussed during the next four days. Accordingly, draft constitutional texts on four titles - including Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and the rule of law - were presented in advance of each meeting, he said, adding that the Co‑Chairs had agreed on the proceedings. However, on the final day, they were not able to agree on the mechanism to proceed the discussion further. During the meeting, the delegation nominated by the Government stated that it had no revisions to present of its draft constitutional texts and did not see any common ground, he said, although the other groups presented revised versions of their respective draft constitutional texts, as attempts to build common ground.

Recalling that the Committee’s mandate is to prepare and draft for popular approval a constitutional reform and that it may amend the current Constitution or draft a new one, he said in the absence of an agreed mechanism to revise the drafts, the 45 members of the body were not able to progress to a productive textual drafting process. Further, a commitment to meet twice before the end of the year was “regrettably not possible,” he said. Still, it is important that the Committee continues to work with urgency and purpose. “I remain convinced that progress on the Constitutional Committee could, if done the right way, help to build some trust and confidence,” he stressed, adding: ”But let me stress that this requires real determination and the political will to try to build some common ground.”

Noting that 30 per cent of the Committee members are women, and that women comprise half of the civil society delegation, he underlined his continuing commitment to ensure that peacekeeping efforts include the meaningful participation of Syrian women in all facets of the political process. Alongside these activities with the Committee, he also raised the need to expedite collective efforts on the file of detainees, abductees and missing persons with the three Astana guarantor States – Iran, Russian Federation and Turkey - and convene more meetings in this regard, adding that tens of thousands of people remain detained, abducted or missing.

Turning to the security situation, he said that the ongoing violence, including terrorist attacks and air strikes, underline the constant risks of regional escalation. “The violence must stop,” he said, calling for a nationwide ceasefire and reiterating his call for international cooperation to counter terrorist groups in a manner that strictly adheres to international humanitarian law. “The current trajectory of developments in Syria is deeply concerning,” he said, adding: ”We have to break out of this dynamic.” To ensure this, he said he will continue to ask key States to work with him in exploratory discussions on concrete and reciprocal steps defined with realism and precision. Constructive diplomacy is needed to help save lives, ease suffering, and further the implementation of resolution 2254 (2015), he said.

MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the humanitarian crisis in Syria continues to worsen and, without a change of course, this will remain true. Ten years into the conflict life remains difficult for millions of Syrians and increasingly difficult for many. Stressing that violence continues to kill innocent civilians, including women and children, he said all parties must respect civilians and civilian infrastructure as required by international law.

He went on to say that daily life in Syria is becoming less and less affordable, with over 90 per cent of the population now living below the poverty line. Many people are forced to make very difficult choices to make ends meet and thus face greater risk of exploitation. In that regard, the expansion of early recovery programmes must be central in efforts to address needs in a sustainable way. Although pooled funds have increased support for early recovery activities, much more is needed. He said he will continue to urge donors, agencies and implementing partners to enable communities to access basic social services and rebuild dignified lives.

In addition to increased poverty, the water crisis and worsening food insecurity, people in Syria are also facing a resurgence of COVID‑19, he said. Cases are surging, intensive care units are at full capacity and the vaccination rate remains at below 2 per cent. Exhausted by years of conflict, poverty and the pandemic, Syrians are about to face another bitter winter. As temperatures start to drop, rain, cold and winter conditions will compound hardship for millions of people. Close to 2 million people in the north‑west, mostly women and children, live in camps, often in overcrowded and flimsy shelters, in valleys that flood, or on rocky hillsides exposed to the elements.

Noting that the World Food Programme (WFP)’s cross‑line delivery of food aid reaching Idlib Governorate is a vital step towards expanding humanitarian assistance, he said the Council must now ensure that aid is distributed swiftly. Beyond that, the United Nations has developed a plan for a series of regular and predictable inter‑agency cross‑line operations to deliver multisectoral assistance in the coming six months. He urged all concerned parties to ensure that cross‑line missions and aid distributions proceed without delays, stressing the need for agreement on a suitable distribution modality that is acceptable to the relevant parties and security guarantees from parties on the ground. “When it comes to delivering life‑saving aid, all channels should be made, and kept, available,” he said, adding: ”Cross‑border assistance remains the central part of the humanitarian response to ensure aid effectively and transparently reaches millions of people in need in north‑west Syria.”

MOUNERFAH ALBAROUKI, General Coordinator of the Syrian National Conference, said her organization comprises Syrian women and men within the Syrian territories and abroad who belong to various independent political and civil currents. The group considers the Geneva Communique and Council resolution 2254 (2015) as the base road map for a way out of the tragic situation in Syria. Pointing out that the political process in Syria was limited to the constitutional track - almost completely neglecting everything related to confidence‑building measures cited in the resolution – she called for the inclusion of the issue of forced displacement, housing, land and property ownership in the negotiations and deliberations of the Special Envoy with the various Syrian stakeholders.

Noting efforts to build networks of protection, interaction and assistance for people back home, she said there are hundreds of thousands of families inside Syria who, without financial support from a refugee relative, are unable to survive. It is unfortunate that what the United Nations once called “smart” or “targeted” sanctions do not allow Syrian doctors in the diaspora to establish free, remote examinations for families in Syria, she said, calling for unilateral sanctions imposed on the country to be reconsidered. It is also unfortunate that international institutions do not give the necessary attention to the issue of arbitrary arrests and missing persons. Syrian authorities are inhumane towards Syrian detainees, treating them as hostages and as a bargaining chip. The Security Council and the United Nations must give the Syria issue the focus and attention that is commensurate with the scale of the tragedy, she stressed. In addition, regional and international organizations should place Syria in the right and feasible place. “The marginalization of the Syrian issue has severe consequences on the regional and international security,” she warned.

Statements

RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States) said he shared Special Envoy Pedersen’s frustration and disappointment, stating that the recent events he described represent yet another missed opportunity by the Syrian Government to show its sincere commitment to reaching a solution. He called on all parties to participate in the political process in good faith and change their unproductive behavior, and reiterated calls for a nationwide ceasefire. On sanctions, “which have been targeted at the Assad regime”, he said the United States is committed to working with parties to ensure such measures are finely tailored so they do not impede humanitarian aid and early recovery efforts. Noting that the Syrian vaccination rate remains the lowest in the world, he said the United States Agency for International Development will provide $108 million in health assistance for Syria. He expressed concern over reports by Amnesty International of abuses, violence, torture and forced disappearance of refugees who have returned, associated with the Assad Government and affiliated militias, adding that it is not surprising, in this light, that voluntary returns of refugees remain the lowest since 2016.

DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said it is important to ensure that the work of the Constitutional Committee remains led and implemented by the Syrians themselves, without outside interference or the imposition of artificial time frames. His Government will continue to work with all interested parties in order to progress on the constitutional track. However, much will depend on the diplomatic skills of the Special Envoy, he said, who must be in constant contact with the Syrians, to resolve mutual mistrust and find mutually acceptable solutions. Despite the general stabilization of the military and political situation in Syria, the risks of escalation of tensions remain, especially in territories not under Government control. He reiterated the importance of promoting intra-Syrian dialogue with a view to restoring Syria’s unity, territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence.

Turning to the Secretary-General’s report on the humanitarian situation in Syria, he noted a significant difference compared to previous reports in terms of statistics on authorization given to the United Nations for humanitarian operations. Noting that it appears that almost all requests made by the United Nations were satisfied, he said Damascus is fulfilling its obligations and hopes that the Council will take note. On delivery of humanitarian supplies, he noted that food continued to be stored in Sarmada and said the modalities of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) humanitarian operation mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report require further explanation. He asked about the criteria for cross‑line delivery as his Government understands that nothing was delivered cross‑line.

JIM KELLY (Ireland) deplored the recent uptick in hostilities in Syria, particularly in the north‑west, which have resulted in over 100 civilian deaths since June, adding: ”This flagrant disregard for the lives of Syrians is frankly unacceptable.” He urged all parties to the conflict to fully respect and implement their international humanitarian law obligations and called on all States with direct influence over parties to the conflict to take any possible proactive steps that may lead to increased protection of the civilian population in Syria. Turning to the humanitarian situation, he noted that many of the 2.8 million displaced persons in the north‑west live in difficult conditions, and have been exposed to calamities, including storms, fires and flooding. Further, the harsh winter conditions coincide with rising fuel prices and food scarcity. Against this backdrop, he called for the continued provision of humanitarian access and adequate funding for the winterization response. He expressed concern about the deteriorating security situation at the Al‑Hol camp, and said it is critical that security provided in the camp does not endanger residents or restrict humanitarian access.

GENG SHUANG (China) welcomed the holding of the Constitutional Committee meeting but noted it did not achieve the expected outcome. Describing the “hiccups” of the Constitutional Committee as “not surprising”, he said all parties must reach a common understanding. Calling for continued engagement with the Special Envoy, he said the parties must start from the areas where consensus exists, such as counter‑terrorism, and then gradually build trust. The humanitarian situation described by the Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs is worrying. Turkey illegally invaded Syria’s north‑east and cut off water supplies, he said, urging that Turkey abide by international law and guarantee humanitarian access for the United Nations. He also called for the lifting of unilateral sanctions against Syria.

DIANI JIMESHA ARIANNE PRINCE (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) expressed concern about alarming reports of recent hostilities in Syria, which compounded an already dire humanitarian crisis. She condemned all acts of violence, including recent attacks in Damascus and Idlib, imploring parties to exercise restraint and commit to a nationwide ceasefire. Reiterating that parties must protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, she added that such protection extends to those residing in camps for the displaced, such as Al‑Hol, where insecurity persists. The economic and water crises which compound food insecurity and shortage of other commodities demand immediate, sustained attention, she said, stressing that unilateral coercive measures adversely impact the civilian population and hamper the work of humanitarian actors. The rehabilitation and reconstruction of civilian infrastructural is critical and will help encourage the return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their places of origin. Noting with concern the outcome of the Constitutional Committee’s sixth session, she reiterated her support for the Special Envoy to support the Committee as well as the wider political process, and called for confidence‑building measures to encourage national reconciliation.

ALICIA GUADALUPE BUENROSTRO MASSIEU (Mexico), stressing that the human cost of the Syrian conflict is unacceptable, noted that more than 350,000 people have died over the past decade of conflict. She expressed regret that progress on drafting the constitution has been limited, calling on the delegation nominated by the Government to participate in an earnest manner, as the Committee’s work could lay the foundation for building durable peace. Noting the Special Envoy’s recent meeting with the Syrian Women’s Advisory board, she said it is important to ensure full, equal and meaningful participation of women, young people, and minorities at all stages of the political discussion. She urged the release of detained persons and the prompt clarification of cases of disappearances. She expressed concern about the rise in COVID‑19 cases, noting that only 1.6 per cent of the population has been vaccinated. The vaccine should be considered a global public good and universal access to it should be guaranteed, she stressed. Access to humanitarian aid is crucial as the winter season approaches. Stressing that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria, she called for a nationwide ceasefire, as well as a redoubling of efforts to advance a political solution that prioritizes the urgent humanitarian needs of the country.

ANDRE LIPAND (Estonia), condemning last week’s acts of violence across Syria, including missile attacks in Ariha on 20 October, which killed 10 civilians, including four children, reiterated his call for a nationwide ceasefire, which is a precondition for a peaceful dialogue, based on Council resolution 2254 (2015). Noting that the violence highlights the unfortunate fact that the war is far from over, he reiterated that the return of refugees must be voluntary, safe and dignified. Turning to humanitarian aid, he commended the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for reaching 5 million people in August and September, noting that such support is crucial as overall living standards continue to deteriorate due to corruption and warlordism. He expressed concern over the Syrian Government’s currency manipulation, which has forced international aid agencies to use a distorted exchange rate. On the Constitutional Committee talks, he said the Committee has failed the Syrian people by engaging in delaying tactics and empty promises, adding that the Special Envoy can explore confidence‑building measures to help to mediate conflicting interests.

Ms. FARREY (United Kingdom) said even with the steady increase in the level and nature of violence in Syria, the United Kingdom was hopeful last month for substantive progress on the resolution 2254 (2015) political process, particularly during the sixth round of Constitutional Committee talks this month. A political solution pursuant to resolution 2254 (2015) remains the only clear path out of the conflict. Without substantive progress towards a sustainable end to the conflict, the United Kingdom reaffirms its position that it will not provide funding for reconstruction. Nor will others. His Government remains committed to doing what it can to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people, including restricting resources available to those seeking to perpetuate or profit from the conflict, and to provide assistance to Syrians. Since the conflict’s beginning, the United Kingdom has committed more than $5 billion in humanitarian aid to Syrians. In 2020‑2021 alone, the Government provided more than $2 million worth of food, clean water, medical consultations, education and more than 200,000 vaccines. Helping those most vulnerable in Syria, using every possible route, remains the Government’s priority. The United Kingdom welcomes the development of a six‑month plan for cross‑line assistance to explore in more detail the potential for increased cross‑line access, she said.

NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France) condemned the recent uptick in violence in Syria, including the indiscriminate bombardment by the Syrian regime, and expressed regret that no date has been set for the next meeting of the Constitutional Committee. Observing that two years of such efforts have yielded “no tangible results”, she called for the Syrian Government to participate in good faith. Noting that Council resolution 2254 (2015) provides a road map for a political solution to the conflict, she said the events of 20 October demonstrate that there will be no lasting peace without the resolution’s full implementation. Reiterating that in the absence of a political solution, it is not possible to lift sanctions or facilitate the voluntary return of refugees, she stated that the humanitarian situation remains catastrophic, and that international humanitarian law continues to be trampled. She welcomed the cross‑line convoy assistance in the north‑west mentioned in the Secretary‑General’s report, adding that this aid cannot replace cross‑border support. Such cross‑border convoys need to be intensified by the United Nations as winter approaches, she said.

ADEL BEN LAGHA (Tunisia) reiterated his country’s ongoing position that there is no military solution to the crisis, which indeed requires finding a Syrian‑led and Syrian‑owned political settlement facilitated by the United Nations in accordance with resolution 2254 (2015). On the Constitutional Committee, he urged the Syrian parties to exert more effort to find common denominators and make necessary concessions while strengthening confidence‑building measures. Tunisia is satisfied that the Syrian parties adhered to the principle of the unity of Syria despite the failure to achieve the desired progress on constitution drafting. Calling for increased cross‑line humanitarian operations, he said the distribution of humanitarian aid in Sarmada must be completed.

NIANDOU AOUGI (Niger) deplored the bomb attacks in Damascus as well as air strikes that led to death and injuries, and called on all parties to abstain from actions that could further exacerbate tensions. A resolution to the Syrian crisis will not come through weapons but through dialogue and negotiations. Expressing disappointment that the Constitutional Committee finds it difficult to find common ground for drafting a constitution, he said it was “high time” that parties pulled themselves together and showed a minimum of compromise to break through the stalemate. He also called for actions that increase mutual trust by, for example, freeing detainees en masse and providing information to families with respect to disappeared persons. The Government of Syria should continue to cooperate with the United Nations and its partners to strengthen aid delivery and information‑sharing. He called as well for the easing or suspension of unilateral economic sanctions, which weigh heavily on the capacity of Syrians to address the pandemic and the current economic crisis. All those who need aid should be able to receive it, irrespective of where they are or who they are. Stressing the importance of withdrawal of foreign interference, particularly as it relates to support to armed groups, he said the sovereignty of Syria must be respected.

RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India), welcoming recent regional high‑level engagements and the opening of the Jordanian‑Syrian border, expressed concern about the overall security situation in Syria, including recent ceasefire violations in the north‑west. He condemned the terrorist attack in Damascus on 20 October, which killed 14 people and injured several more. Stressing the importance of a nationwide comprehensive ceasefire to maintain positive developments, including the first cross‑line humanitarian aid operation from Aleppo to Idlib in August, he pointed out that the humanitarian crisis in Syria has not improved, with over 13 million people in urgent need of aid, compounded by dire food insecurity and drought conditions. COVID‑19 cases are increasing, particularly in the north‑west, he said, noting that vaccination levels remain very low. He underscored India’s continued support to Syria, including through grants and lines of credits for development projects, medicine and food, artificial limb fitment camps and capacity‑building training programmes.

HAI ANH PHAM (Viet Nam), reiterating his support for a Syrian‑led and Syrian‑owned political solution facilitated by the United Nations, noted that despite the resumption of talks within the framework of the Constitutional Committee, desired outcomes have not been achieved. In this regard, he encouraged the concerned parties to engage constructively in dialogue to realize peace, for which trust must be rebuilt and constantly consolidated among the Syrian interlocutors as well as international actors. On the volatile security situation, he expressed concern over the attack in Damascus on 20 October and intensified violence in the north‑west, and called on all parties to exercise maximum restraint and facilitate ongoing dialogue. Efforts must also continue to combat terrorist groups designated by the Security Council, he said, also calling for the waiver of sanctions that hinder humanitarian response.

TRINE SKARBOEVIK HEIMERBACK (Norway) said the open discussions in Geneva and that the parties presented texts were a step forward, however she had hoped for more concrete results and a more optimistic conclusion. She urged all sides, particularly the Syrian Government, to make the efforts needed to advance the constitutional process. Noting that Council resolution 2254 (2015) remains the framework for a political solution in Syria, she reiterated the importance of consulting with the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board, and Civil Society Support Room in these efforts. Highlighting the importance of making progress on other parts of resolution 2254 (2015), not least the release of arbitrarily detained persons, she expressed concern about the ongoing violence in several places in Syria, including in the north and in Damascus, pointing out the urgent need for a nationwide ceasefire. Encouraging de‑escalation, she reminded parties of their obligation to protect civilians. The continued fight against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) remains important as Syria is still used as a base for terrorist activities.

MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya), Council President for October, called on all members of the Constitutional Committee’s sixth session to remain focused. He encouraged the body to convene additional rounds to maintain momentum and expedite a political resolution for the conflict. It is imperative that the voices of civil society, the Women’s Advisory Board and youth and minority groups are heard. The unresolved plight of detainees and missing persons also needs to be addressed to build confidence and trust in the political process. He called on the Council to renew its efforts to combat Council‑listed terrorist groups and hold accountable those responsible for heinous crimes.

Turning to humanitarian issues, he said Kenya is concerned that as COVID‑19 cases increase, only 1.6 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated. The international community must do much more to ensure the equitable distribution of vaccines to all Syrians. He commended the United Nations humanitarian response through the early recovery and livelihoods activities, which represent “a promise of hope for recovery towards normalcy”. He encouraged the cross‑border aid mechanism - a crucial avenue for humanitarian assistance while supporting the continued cross‑line deliveries – also encouraging future agreements with partners to ensure consistent deliveries to the north‑west.

BASSAM SABBAGH (Syria) said the sixth meeting of the Constitutional Committee showed the serious engagement by his country’s national team in line with the aspirations of the Syrian people. Reaffirming the Government’s commitment to a Syrian‑led political solution, he said drafting the constitution is an internal affair. He urged external parties to refrain from interfering with the work of the Constitutional Committee, or from attempting to impose artificial timetables or predetermined conclusions. Respect for the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria have been confirmed by all Security Council resolutions, he said, warning against the illegal presence of United States and Turkish forces in Syria. The 20 October terrorist attack in Damascus coincided with the holding of the Constitutional Committee meeting, he pointed out, describing it as a clear attempt by terrorist organizations and their external sponsors to undermine the efforts of the Syrian Government.

It is unfortunate that some Western members blocked the Council’s adoption of the Russian Federation‑sponsored press statement condemning this terrorist attack, he said. Syria also condemns the aggressive actions of the Israeli occupation forces. Turning to the letter he sent to both the Security Council and the Secretary‑General, he urged Council members to read it as it corrects the errors and misinformation contained in the Secretary‑General’s report. It has been more than three and a half months since the Council adopted resolution 2585 (2021), but the Turkish occupation forces and foreign proxies are still obstructing humanitarian access from inside Syria. The same Governments have been obstructing the adoption of the strategic framework of cooperation between the United Nations and the Syrian Government, which would enable United Nations agencies to relaunch development programs. Noting that coercive measures by the United States and the European Union are stifling Syrians and depriving them of food, medicine, health care, electricity and fuel, he called for the immediate and unconditional lifting of these unilateral measures.

FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) outlined the dire situation in Syria, where after 10 years of atrocities, as many as 12 million Syrians experience food insecurity, and where the raging pandemic has led to hospitals lacking critical supplies being occupied to the extent of 93 per cent. Further, despite the United Nations calls for vaccine equity, only 1.8 per cent of Syrians in the north‑west have received one dose of the COVID‑19 vaccine. With winter approaching, he called for cross‑border assistance to be expanded, to facilitate the administering of vaccines and humanitarian aid. Noting that as many as 9 million Syrian refugees are under Turkey’s protection, he stressed: ”We do not need any lectures from those who violate international humanitarian law.” On the matter of the Alouk water station, he said that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), People’s Protection Units and the Syrian regime are “abusing the issue for their ill‑minded agendas”.

Turning to the sixth meeting of the Constitutional Committee, he said the uncompromising stance of the Syrian Government was disappointing, adding that there was no agreement on the date of the following session due to the Syrian Government’s intransigence. Noting the violence that occurred in Idlib on 20 October while the discussions were on, which killed 13 people, including four children, appeared to target children and teachers, he pointed out that it is “abundantly clear” that such attacks are not part of the Syrian Government’s counter‑terrorism efforts; they are intended to bring about the submission of the Syrian people. Noting that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had recently estimated the death toll of the 10‑year‑conflict at 350,000, which it acknowledged is a conservative estimate, he stressed: ”The onus is upon us to hold the regime to account.” Further, he said he would not respond to the comments of the representative of Syria, adding that his presence in the Council is an affront to the millions of Syrians who have suffered due to the actions of his Government.

MAJID TAKHT RAVANCHI (Iran) said the Constitutional Committee must continue its work without any external interference or pressure, adding that setting artificial deadlines will negatively impact its work and must therefore be avoided. He said the Committee’s work must be complemented by other efforts, including by putting an end to the occupation of Syria by foreign forces. In this regard, he said the Council must compel Israel to end its occupation of the Syrian Golan and its aggressions against Syria, and went on to condemn the assassination of a Syrian citizen, Midhat Salih, on 16 October by Israeli snipers in the occupied Golan. He condemned the terrorist attack in Damascus on 20 October, pointing out that such acts underscore the need to continue to fight against all terrorist groups, adding that he rejected “separatist activities and self‑rule initiatives” in Syria and condemned efforts to support them. He called for the lifting of sanctions and for the allocation of more aid to the cross‑line mechanism, as well as for steps to be taken to ensure that the aid does not fall into the hands of terrorist groups.

SYRIA

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