Civilians in Syria Killed on ‘Horrific Scale’, Conflict Spilling across Borders, Threatening Regional Stability, Special Envoy Warns Security Council

Report
from UN Security Council
Published on 14 Feb 2018 View Original

With Syrian civilians being killed on a horrific scale and displaced in large numbers, the United Nations top representative for Syria warned the Security Council today of the grave risks posed by the recent string of dangerous and worrying escalations of violence in the country.

After having served in his current position for more than four years, Staffan de Mistura, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, warned the Council: “This is as violent and worrying and dangerous a moment as any that I have seen in my time as Special Envoy.”

Recent developments in Syria raised questions about the sustainability of the Astana de-escalation arrangements, he said, expressing concern about the recent tensions inside the de-escalation zones established by Iran, Russian Federation and Turkey — the guarantors of talks in Astana aimed at implementing a lasting ceasefire agreement — as well as outside the zones.

Reports suggested that more than 1,000 people had been killed in the first week of February alone, he stressed, adding that strikes continued to hit hospitals, schools and markets, and there were several allegations of chlorine attacks. At least 320,000 people had been displaced due to fighting in the northern city of Idlib in just two months, while there were reports of heavy mortar shelling falling across residential Damascus, wounding and killing civilians and damaging infrastructure.

He said the conflict was now spilling over Syria’s borders and there was increased military intervention from multiple sources. “The last several weeks have seen a new cross-border conflict in Afrin with yet no clear end in sight,” he said, pointing to reports of exchanges of fire between Turkish and Syrian Government forces, and also between the United States-led coalition and pro‑Syrian Government forces, with major loss of life. Those developments raised questions about the sustainability of the Astana de-escalation arrangements and threatened wider regional stability.

Underscoring that citizens were also being deprived of humanitarian assistance, he pointed out that there had not been a single United Nations humanitarian convoy to reach any besieged area since the end of November 2017.

He said that, since the Vienna and Sochi meetings in late January, he had consulted closely with a wide array of Syrians and key States on the establishment of a constitutional committee and holding of intra-Syria talks. A secure, calm and neutral environment must be created if any constitutional progress was to unfold. He said he intended to strike “while the iron is hot” and move the dialogue process forward. The Syrian people needed the Council’s support now more than ever.

Following the briefing, several delegations took the floor to welcome the fact that the parties to the conflict were showing greater focus on substantive aspects of the crisis, including the holding of elections and dealing with constitutional issues, while also expressing concern about the worsening violence and troubling humanitarian situation on the ground.

The representative of the United States said the regime was starving, bombing and gassing civilians, and advisers from Iran and Hizbullah were directing the atrocities. Peace was urgently needed, but support for peace could not be offered while ignoring that the chief sponsor for terrorism in the Middle East, and its terrorist militia, were digging in. The United States was committed to fully implementing Security Council resolution 2254 (2015), which included a framework to end the war. But, the Syrian regime did not want peace unless it was on its terms and every person who opposed the regime was starved, imprisoned or forced to leave the country. The Russian Federation could push the regime to commit to seek a real peace, she said.

The Russian Federation’s representative said that the Sochi Congress, which brought together more than 1,500 Syrian representatives, was a success and showed that the Syrians themselves must decide the future of their own country without dictates from abroad. Among the 12 principles set forth in the Final Statement — the Congress’ outcome — was respect for Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. He was troubled by the disrespect of some international and regional players for principle.

The representative of Syria stressed that his country had the right to question what the Security Council had done to ensure that the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter were carried out. Syria was not the first country to be victimized due to breaches of the Charter by Council members.

Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) had entrenched its presence in the region with protection provided by the United States, which reflected the real role Washington, D.C., was playing, he underlined. The United States-led coalition had deliberately destroyed 90 per cent of the city of Raqqa and had allowed terrorist attacks to be carried out. Yet, there was no discussion about the United States and Turkish occupation of his country, or the aggression that was being carried out in Afrin.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Equatorial Guinea, Peru, China, Côte d’Ivoire and Bolivia.

The meeting started at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 11:22 a.m.

Briefing

STAFFAN DE MISTURA, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, said that there had been a string of dangerous and worrying escalations in the country, including inside the de-escalation zones established by Iran, Russian Federation and Turkey — the guarantors of talks in Astana aimed at implementing a lasting ceasefire agreement — as well as outside the zones. There had been a gradual return to back-and-forth competition over territory in Idlib and Hama, as well as heavy and sustained airstrikes across the north-west and in besieged Eastern Ghouta. Civilians had been killed on a horrific scale, with reports suggesting more than 1,000 people had been killed in the first week of February alone. Strikes continued to hit hospitals, schools and markets, and there were several allegations of chlorine attacks.

At least 320,000 people had been displaced due to fighting in Idlib in just two months, while there were reports of heavy mortar shelling falling across residential Damascus, wounding and killing civilians and damaging infrastructure, he said. The conflict was now spilling over Syria’s borders and there was increased military intervention from multiple sources. “The last several weeks have seen a new cross-border conflict in Afrin with yet no clear end in sight,” he said, pointing to reports of exchanges of fire between Turkish and Syrian Government forces, and also between the United States-led coalition and pro‑Syrian Government forces, with major loss of life. Those developments raised questions about the sustainability of the Astana de-escalation arrangements and threatened wider regional stability, he said.

After having served in his current position for more than four years, he warned: “This is as violent and worrying and dangerous a moment as any that I have seen in my time as Special Envoy.” Not only were Syrian civilians being killed and displaced in large numbers, they were also being deprived of the humanitarian assistance they needed. There had not been a single United Nations humanitarian convoy to reach any besieged area since the end of November 2017. He called for urgent action to ensure immediate and unfettered humanitarian access to besieged and hard-to-reach areas. “We urgently need genuine de-escalation [of the violence] to protect civilians, evacuate the sick and wounded and allow humanitarian aid to reach nearly 3 million people in hard‑to-reach areas,” he said. What was taking place in Syria not only imperilled the de-escalation arrangements and regional stability, it also undermined efforts for a political solution, he said, adding, that the Geneva process was the only sustainable path towards that solution.

He said he convened the ninth round of intra-Syria talks on 25 and 26 January in Vienna focused specifically on the constitutional basket, and attended the Congress of National Dialogue that followed in Sochi. After consultations with the Syrian parties and key States, he made a final statement stressing that the composition, mandate and terms of reference of a constitutional committee to be formed must be agreed in Geneva. The Russian Federation had affirmed that the outcome of the Sochi Congress, held on 30 January, would contribute to the talks in Geneva, in line with Council resolution 2254 (2015).

The Final Statement produced as the outcome of the discussions in Sochi affirmed that a constitutional committee should be formed, comprising the Government, opposition representatives in the intra-Syrian talks, experts, civil society, independents, tribal leaders and women, he said. The Final Statement noted that care should be taken to ensure adequate representation of Syria’s ethnic and religious components and made clear that final arrangement on the mandate, terms of reference, powers, rules of procedures and selection criteria for the composition of the constitutional committee was to be reached in Geneva, with assistance from the United Nations. His team continued to be in touch with a wide array of Syrians and engaged in the development of the committee. A secure, calm and neutral environment must be created if any constitutional progress was to unfold. He intended to strike “while the iron is hot” and move the Geneva process ahead, but needed the Security Council and all stakeholders to work towards de-escalation, the protections of civilians and humanitarian access. The Syrian people needed the Council’s support now more than ever.

Statements

NIKKI R. HALEY (United States) supported the Special Envoy’s initiative to bring the parties back to Geneva and to start work on a new constitutional committee. When Iranian-backed militia in southern Syria launched a drone into Israeli territory, Iran was risking conflict and testing the will of its neighbours. Israel rightly defended itself, and the United States would stand by its ally after provocations from Iran. Actors were engaging in a dangerous game of pushing boundaries. The Bashar al-Assad regime had become a front for Iran, Hizbullah and their allies to advance a dangerous agenda for the Middle East. The regime was starving civilians, and advisors from Iran and Hezbollah were directing the atrocities. The drone flight was a wake-up call, as Iran and Hizbullah were making plans to stay in Syria. Peace was urgently needed in Syria, but support for peace could not be offered while ignoring that the chief sponsor for terrorism in the Middle East, and its terrorist militia, were digging in. Violence was also happening in de-escalation zones, and the regime continued to bomb, starve and gas civilians. Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) included a framework to end the war, and the United States was committed to the full implementation of that resolution. The Syrian regime did not want peace unless it was on its terms, and every person who opposed the regime was starved, imprisoned or forced to leave the country. The Russian Federation could push the regime to commit to seeking a real peace in Syria, she said.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that the Sochi Congress was a success and a step had been taken towards peace in Syria. It brought together over 1,500 representatives of domestic political forces, as well as many external forces. One third of the representatives were there in their personal capacity. It was unprecedented and showed that the Syrians themselves must decide the future of their own country without dictates from abroad. The final statement contained 12 principles for a renewed Syria. The Syrian people agreed to establish a constitutional committee, he said, noting that decisions on all issues around state structure, including the Constitution, would be made by the Syrian people themselves, without external pressure. Among the 12 principles, what remained vital was respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, as well as the right of its people to determine their own future. He was troubled by the disrespect of some international and regional players regarding Syrian sovereignty. Concerning the incident in eastern Syria, he said that it was an unprovoked attack. The reasons for each of the specific humanitarian situations in Syria differed, and each needed to be addressed with a unique approach. He noted that he was not even going to talk about the baseless allegations of Damascus using chemical weapons.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said that the worsening violence in Syria was affecting not only millions of Syrians, but also jeopardizing the international community’s shared political and humanitarian commitment. The only certainty was that another humanitarian disaster was looming. The parties to the conflict must strictly comply with their obligations under international law and their actions must be framed by Security Council resolutions. Attacks against staff, installations, materials or vehicles used for humanitarian assistance was considered a war crime, he said, calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities to allow humanitarian assistance to reach those most in need. A negotiated solution was required, he stressed, adding that, if a political agreement was to be achieved, there must be direct, frank and inclusive negotiations. The Sochi Congress was noteworthy, including the outcome that was aimed at establishing a constitutional committee. Despite all those efforts, it was necessary to ensure that the terrorists were removed from Syria, as a matter of international priority.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) welcomed the fact that the parties were showing greater focus on substantive aspects of the crisis, including the holding of elections and dealing with constitutional issues. He was deeply concerned about the absence of tangible results following the latest talks held in Geneva and Vienna, and believed it was necessary for the stakeholders to focus on the specifics that would be required to establish a constitutional committee. It was of great importance to enable greater participation of women and youth and strengthen civil society organizations in any political process moving forward.

MA ZHAOXU (China) said that major progress had been made recently at the Sochi Congress and that it had provided impetus for the resumption of the Geneva talks. He praised the Russian Federation and other countries for holding the dialogue. Political settlement remained the only way forward on the question of Syria, and the international community should support the Geneva peace talks. The process should be Syrian-led and Syrian-owned, with all parties finding an acceptable solution that accommodated all concerns. During the process, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria should be respected. China had been striving to play a constructive role in bolstering a political solution to the problem. Lately, turmoil had erupted in many parts of Syria and his country was concerned about that.

BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Cote d’Ivoire) said that situation was becoming more troubling, both militarily and on the humanitarian front. He welcomed the holding of intra-Syrian peace talks in Vienna and the political dialogue of the Geneva process. He encouraged the various initiatives that had been undertaken in Sochi with a view to arrive at an enduring peace in Syria. He deplored the fact that, despite the demonstrated willingness of various actors, the recent activities undertaken in dialogue with the Syrian parties had not led to progress on the ground. There had been a military escalation and a relapse into violence, and if the requisite measures were not taken it was liable to lead to a spillover of the conflict. He called for a ceasefire, noting that otherwise there would be an even greater humanitarian disaster.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) said that he was deeply concerned about the need to progress on the political track and stressed the need for significant steps forward in that regard. The establishment of the constitutional committee was an important step forward, as was including the participation of a wide range of stakeholders in that process with the United Nations directly involved. He regretted the critical situation facing Syrians given the recent upsurge in violence, which showed that there was a lot of ground that must be covered. The Security Council must bring the relevant stakeholders together to ensure they commit to a political process based on dialogue and consensus.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) stressed that his country had the right to question what the Security Council had done to ensure that the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter were carried out. Syria was not the first country to be victimized due to breaches of the Charter by Council members. His country was suffering because of the silence that prevailed despite those violations. Syria was engaged in a global war against terrorism. Some States had manipulated the media and used the United Nations to distort realities and tell lies to sway public opinion. Terrorist groups used civilians as human shields in Syria, targeting hospitals and schools, while also creating training grounds and using those areas as detention centres for those that had been abducted.

The United States had spent billions of dollars in an effort to change the Government in Syria, he said. Some countries had endowed armed terrorist groups with toxic chemical substances to be used against civilians and used false pretexts to accuse his Government of carrying out those attacks despite that there was no documented proof of his Government having used toxic chemicals. Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) had entrenched its presence in the region with protection provided by the United States, which reflected the real role Washington, D.C., was playing. The United States-led coalition had deliberately destroyed 90 per cent of the city of Raqqa and had allowed terrorist attacks to be carried out. Yet, there was no discussion about the United States and Turkish occupation of his country, or the aggression that was being carried out in Afrin. Those States manipulated the purposes and principles of the Charter when they opposed the condemnation of terrorist attacks and the launch of 1,000 missiles and mortars targeting cities, diplomatic missions and places of worship in Damascus, resulting in hundreds of causalities, including women and children. His country had always supported the pursuit of a political settlement to the crisis in a manner that respected the sovereignty and independence of the country that would uphold the right of the Syrian people to decide their future through intra-Syrian dialogue.

For information media. Not an official record.