Government, Opposition Missed Opportunity for Real Negotiations on Syria, Special Envoy Tells Security Council

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Originally published



Disappointed with the outcome of the just‑concluded eighth round of talks in Geneva, the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy for Syria told the Security Council today that the agenda had not moved forward and that the opportunity for real negotiations had been missed.

Introducing the report of the Secretary‑General (document S/2017/1057), Staffan de Mistura said the opposition delegation had come to Geneva directly from the Riyadh II Conference and had not been able to prepare. They had come to Geneva with positions, not preconditions, based on the Riyadh statement and were ready for direct or indirect negotiations. The delegation of the Syrian Government arrived on a different date and regarded the oppositions’ positions as preconditions, which was unacceptable to them. Their position was that, until Syrian sovereignty had been restored and there was no foreign or terrorist presence in Syria, movement on a constitution was not possible. They also called for withdrawal of the Riyadh statement, declined to negotiate directly or indirectly and did not want to explore any item on the agenda with him except the counter‑terrorism issue.

He said no progress had been made on the most urgent humanitarian issues or on the matter of detainees, abductees and missing people. He urged Iran, the Russian Federation and Turkey to address that issue during their next meeting in Astana. Despite the failure to negotiate, he said the “front‑loading” of the 12 principles remained the most feasible approach towards implementation of Council resolution 2254 (2015).

Turning to the constitutional and electoral issues, he said the Council resolution had expressed support for free and fair elections to pursue a new constitution under the auspices of the United Nations and with the involvement of members of the diaspora with respect for Syrian sovereignty. To hold free and fair elections there was a need for a clear timeline, establishment for a legal electorate framework and guarantees for equal participation of all.

He stressed that any review of the constitutional order under a United Nations‑facilitated process must be Syrian‑owned and –led. Scheduling must take place within the context of the intra‑Syrian talks, convened and facilitated by the Organization. The process could be guided by the principles of resolution 2254 (2015) and the Geneva communiqué. A constitutional drafting body would need to address how power should be exercised on national, provincial and local levels. He envisioned that a constitutional commission would draft the constitution and then refer it to a national conference, stressing that both bodies should have their mandate and rules of procedure agreed in United Nations‑facilitated negotiations. Furthermore, both must include opposition and Government representatives as well as participation by civil society, the diaspora and women. A favourable environment for the process would be enhanced by unhindered humanitarian access and action on detainees, abductees and missing people.

He said that in the past weeks, Syrians had made their voices heard. The women advisory board, civil society and the diaspora had provided input. He hoped that the parties and all Syrians could see implementation of resolution 2254 (2015) in 2018.

Also briefing the Council, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, said that in eastern Ghouta — a “de‑escalation zone” — increased fighting and lack of humanitarian access made life unbearable for an estimated 393,000 people. The United Nations and humanitarian partners had been allowed to reach only 7 per cent of those besieged in the area. Food shortages had led to many cases of severe acute malnutrition, including 12 per cent of children. More than 500 people in the area still required urgent medical evacuation. “All that is needed is the green light from the Syrian authorities for these people to go to hospitals just a few miles outside of eastern Ghouta,” he said, adding that little progress had also been made in Foah, Kefraya and Yarmouk.

He said humanitarian access continued to face restrictions in all besieged and hard‑to‑reach locations. Only 27 per cent of people in need of assistance had been reached each month of 2017. Bureaucratic impediments continued to be a significant factor in those delays, despite the creation of the tripartite coordination mechanism. In November, only five cross‑line convoys had reached 200,250 people in hard‑to‑reach locations and 28,700 people in besieged areas. In December, none of the convoys had made it to any of the besieged locations, and only two convoys had received authorizations for deployment to hard‑to‑reach areas.

During November, the United Nations and partners had reached millions of people in need through regular programming to Government of Syria‑controlled parts and cross‑border operations, including some 2.7 million people, he said. The overall humanitarian and protection situation for civilians displaced from Raqqa city remained of high concern. Contamination from explosive hazards, including improvised explosive devices, presented a major impediment to safe returns. Eighty per cent of all buildings in Raqqa city were severely damaged.

He said in Deir ez‑Zor Governorate, military offensives to retake the remaining Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Daesh)‑held areas had prompted more than 250,000 displacements in November. Government advances along the Euphrates River had displaced thousands, and military operations had reportedly resulted in more than 150 civilian casualties. The majority of internally displaced persons were suffering from shortage of shelter, food and safe water. People continued to suffer from the effects of conflict in other areas of the country, including in Hama, Idlib and Aleppo Governorates. October and November were the worst months of 2017 for displacement, with 815,000 people forced to move. That brought the total number of displaced in 2017 to around 2.6 million, or 7,700 displacements per day. Many had been displaced more than once.

Noting that the last time humanitarian assistance had been delivered to the Rukban camp located on the border with Jordan was in June 2017, he urged the Government of Syria to authorize as a matter of urgency inter‑agency deliveries of life‑saving humanitarian assistance from Damascus.

“The civilian population of Syria deserve to see a tangible improvement in their daily lives because they have always borne the brunt of this unrelenting conflict. I urge you to ensure that 2018 brings some relief to their suffering,” he said in conclusion.

Following those briefings, the representatives of Uruguay, Bolivia and Syria made statements.

Uruguay’s representative expressed deep regret that the crisis continued after nearly 100 meetings on the topic, with little progress in the political process. He called on the Special Envoy to continue his efforts, nevertheless, hoping for new strategies and a new dynamism. Welcoming the renewal of the authorization of cross‑border aid, he urged the Government to end all sieges, including in Ghouta, and allow aid to reach those who needed it, calling also for an end to attacks on humanitarian facilities. He urged countries that had influence on Syrian authorities to press for humanitarian law to be fully respected. He reiterated support for specific cases related to Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court. Also calling for ceasefires to be strengthened and the political process advanced, he hoped that 2018 would lead the population of Syria to a better future.

Bolivia’s representative, reiterating support for the efforts of the Special Envoy and the Humanitarian Coordinator, noted the progress made by the establishment of de‑escalation zones. Welcoming also the progress against terrorist groups, he said it was necessary to take measures to prevent their regrouping, although interventions that violated Syrian sovereignty were not acceptable. He called for reconciliation between the parties and advancement of inclusive intra‑Syrian dialogue through the Geneva process, in coordination with related initiatives, to relieve the humanitarian situation and bring about peace, in a manner that respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country. The Astana process was particularly important in that light, he added.

Syria’s representative said that the latest humanitarian report included recognition of improvements, including provision of United Nations aid with the assistance of his country’s Government. However, the report still required more balance and respect for Syria’s sovereignty. He regretted that the report used politicized sources that lacked credibility and did not take account of information provided by his Government. All possible facilitation of aid had been provided when arrangements were made in accordance with regulations, he maintained, adding that the Government remained open to any measure that could improve access. In addition, the creation of de‑escalation zones had allowed aid to move within the country.

Continuing, he said that adequate measures had not been established to ensure that aid got through to those who needed it and not to terrorist groups. He requested that the United Nations provide the names of Syrian partners in that light. Unauthorized humanitarian groups should not be employed because they could be supplying terrorist groups and/or selling supplies at high prices. The report did not address such problems.

On the political process, he said that the Government had rejected the documents provided by the Riyadh II meeting of opposition groups, but the Special Envoy welcomed the results of what he called a provocative assembly. That made the Envoy part of the aggravation of the crisis and allowed the preconditions of armed groups to impede the political process. His Government had participated in many initiatives that attempted to advance the process; no one could deny that it was not active in trying to end the bloodbath. The States that were the patrons of the opposition should influence them to participate in a constructive manner, he stressed.

The meeting started at 10:52 a.m. and ended at 12 p.m.

For information media. Not an official record.