Syria

Possibilities for Political Progress in Syria Must Be Explored, Special Envoy Tells Security Council, as Governments Trade Blame over Sources of Insecurity

SC/14744
8937TH MEETING (AM)

‘You Have Lost Your Way,’ Syrian-Born Paediatrician Warns, Urges Delegates to Ensure Accountability for Attacks against Humanitarian Workers

Amid a worsening humanitarian situation in Syria, the Security Council must focus on its stated aim of maintaining international peace and security instead of tending to political objectives and geopolitical rivalries, Syrian-born paediatrician Amani Ballour told its 15 members today, as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy called for a “step-by-step, step-for-step approach” to advancing the political process.

“You have lost your way,” Ballour told the Council in an impassioned address, urging members to refocus on steps to deliver humanitarian assistance and alleviate the suffering of Syrian people. Noting that her organization, the Syrian American Medical Society, operates 40 medical facilities in north-western and north-eastern Syria, she painted a dismal picture of a health care system ravaged by more than a decade of conflict, including the intentional targeting of hospitals by Syria’s Government and its allies.

Colleagues work 20-hour shifts without a break, examining as many as 100 patients a day under the constant shadow of aerial bombardment, kidnapping and torture by armed groups, she continued. More than 800 health-care workers have been killed, and many others have fled the country, she said, calling on certain Member States not to use the veto to block efforts at independent investigations seeking to promote accountability for such attacks. Ahead of the birth of her first son in February, she urged the Council to address Syria’s humanitarian situation with renewed urgency, adding: “I urge you to think of your own children during your negotiations on humanitarian access and accountability.”

Geir O. Pedersen, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General for Syria, briefing the Council via video teleconference, said 2021 was “a year of deepening suffering of the Syrian people”, marked by violence against civilians and systematic human rights abuses, as well as escalating hunger and poverty and an imploding economy. Against this backdrop, he said resolution 2254 (2015) is a long way from being implemented in a manner that could ease suffering and restore the country’s unity and sovereignty. However, possibilities for progress must be explored in 2022. To break free of the “unacceptable status quo”, political and economic steps must be taken together, “step-by-step, step-for-step”, he stressed.

While bilateral consultations with key stakeholders have conveyed a picture of “mistrust on all sides”, he noted that there is also an interest in testing what is possible through a wider political process, an approach which will be pursued in the new year. Noting that his deputy, Khawla Mattar, is today en route to Nur-Sultan, where she will meet with Russian, Turkish and Iranian officials and others in an Astana-format meeting, he expressed hope that efforts by his team will succeed in reconvening a seventh session of the Constitutional Committee. However, all delegations — including the one that has not done so yet — must be ready to not only table constitutional texts but also commit to revising them in light of discussions. “No one should expect miracles or quick solutions; the path forward will be necessarily incremental. But I hope that this coming year we can work on concrete steps towards the implementation of Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).”

Also briefing the Council was Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, who said efforts are being made to facilitate regular, predictable cross-line operations, currently reaching 1 million people every month in north-eastern Syria. However, these deliveries cannot replace massive cross-border operations that remain essential to support 3.4 million people in need in the north-west. He therefore called on all parties to facilitate implementation of the United Nations’ six-month plan for predictable, sustained humanitarian operations.

Noting that needs have grown while funding has shrunk, he emphasized: “We continue to fail the Syrian people.” Violence continues to kill and injure civilians, winter is setting in and the humanitarian operation does not have sufficient funds to provide basic shelter, heating and warm clothes to all those in need. Further, COVID‑19 is wreaking havoc across Syria — with vaccination rates below 5 per cent — and many families are forced to buy basic items on credit, he said, adding: “It should be obvious that this is simply not sustainable”.

In the ensuing debate, Council members expressed concern at the unsustainable situation, encompassing escalating humanitarian needs ahead of a bitter winter, the COVID‑19 pandemic spreading through an under-vaccinated population, continuing violence and insecurity, and a stalled peace process. Many delegates offered contrasting views on sanctions, with some saying they were damaging an already flailing economy, while others emphasized that their use was entirely justified, given Syria’s recalcitrance on political and humanitarian concerns. Many underscored the need to facilitate the safe, sustained delivery of humanitarian aid, ahead of winter.

The United States representative was among those underlining the importance of cross-border operations, which represent a “vital lifeline” that cannot be replaced by relatively resource-intensive cross-line convoys. He expressed concern about threats faced by humanitarian personnel, including through landmines and improvised explosive devices. Pointing out that if the Council is unified, aid can be delivered through all modalities, and closed cross-border points can be reopened, he expressed concern about the closure of Al Yarubiyah crossing, which has limited access to essential medical supplies, including COVID‑19 testing kits.

Offering a contrasting picture, China’s delegate stated that the cross-border mechanism is politically and legally controversial and should be adjusted in a timely manner according to developments on the ground, with a gradual transition to cross-line delivery of aid. Noting that local authorities with ties to terror groups make cross-border delivery complex, he expressed support for the United Nations six-month cross-line humanitarian relief plan in the north-west, urging Turkey to provide timely access and safety guarantees. He also called for steps to be taken to mitigate unilateral coercive measures on Syria, which have caused immeasurable harm.

The representative of the Russian Federation said there is no alternative to advancing a settlement process that is led by Syrians and supported by the United Nations, without external interference or the imposition of artificial deadlines. The Russian Federation intends to hold the next meeting of representatives of his country, Iran and Turkey on 21 and 22 December in Nur-Sultan, he said, adding that the problem of detained persons is a priority for the Astana Group.

Meanwhile, France’s delegate spotlighted the Syrian regime’s obstruction of the sixth meeting of the Constitutional Committee and the lack of any progress since 2018 on the fate of disappeared persons, adding that without progress, there is no justification for the normalization of relations with the Syrian regime and that France’s position on sanctions will remain unchanged. He also highlighted the regime’s grave human-rights violations committed against returning refugees.

Syria’s delegate said the Government is making all possible efforts to facilitate cross-line access for the United Nations and its competent agencies, in line with resolution 2585 (2021). He expressed disapproval of the exaggerated figures of needy people in northern Syria cited in the report, and stressed the importance of closing Rukban camp, which has no other purpose than to increase the suffering of Syrian citizens, and to support armed groups.

Turning to the blockade, which he described as illegal, immoral and inhumane, he said the report ignores the disastrous effects of such measures, imposed by the United States and the European Union. On the humanitarian situation, he said that any objective assessment would conclude that Turkey’s regime is the main driver of suffering and called for it to be held accountable for its actions.

To those claims, Turkey’s delegate said his country is committed to ensuring the safety of those involved in the distribution of cross-line aid, who are subjected to shelling and attacks by Syria’s regime and its backers.

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

The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 12:41 p.m.

Briefings

GEIR O. PEDERSEN, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, briefing the Council via video teleconference on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation (document S/2021/1029), summed up 2021 as “a year of deepening suffering of the Syrian people”, with violence against civilians, and systematic human rights abuses, including against women and girls, as well as escalating hunger and poverty levels amid an imploding economy. There are 14 million people in need, the highest number since the conflict began. Many tens of thousands remain detained, abducted or missing, and 13 million Syrians remain displaced inside and outside the country, he said, adding that there are no improvements in the prospects for their safe, dignified and voluntary return, which poses a challenge for Syria’s neighbours. Further, the increasingly fragmented country radiates instability and has become a haven for mercenaries, drug trafficking and terrorism.

Against this backdrop, he said Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) remains a long way from being implemented in a manner that could ease suffering and restore the country’s unity and sovereignty. He outlined possibilities for progress that should be explored in 2022, given the 21-month-long stalemate, the fact that a military solution remains an illusion, and because there are “grave risks and costs to all by simply trying to muddle through with the unacceptable status quo, especially given the humanitarian suffering, the continuing displacement crisis, the collapse of the economy,” among others. He said these dynamics have led him to believe, “with each passing month, that political and economic steps are needed, and can only happen together — step-by-step, step-for-step”.

He noted that his observation from his extensive official travels in the region — which include interactions with the Governments of Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon — is that there is still great mistrust on all sides. However, there is also interest in testing what is possible through a wider political process. To explore this, he has engaged in bilateral consultations with key stakeholders — Syrian and international, including the Russian Federation, the European Union, Turkey and Qatar — in Geneva, which will continue in the new year. Further, his deputy, Khawla Mattar, is today en route to Nur-Sultan, where she will meet with Russian, Turkish and Iranian officials and others participating in an Astana-format meeting. He expressed hope that these consultations will help identify and agree on “incremental, reciprocal, mutual, realistic, precise, and verifiable steps” that can advance the political process in line with Council resolution 2254 (2015).

Turning to the Working Group on the Release of Detainees/Abductees, the Handover of Bodies and the Identification of Missing Persons, he said his team will attend a meeting with them while in Nur-Sultan, to urge meaningful progress on the file, as well as review the Group’s most recent release operation, on 16 December, during which five persons from each side were simultaneously released in northern Syria.

He went on to outline attempts by his team to reconvene a seventh session of the Syrian-led, Syrian-owned, United Nations-facilitated Constitutional Committee, including his visit to Damascus a week ago to meet the Foreign Minister and the Co-Chair nominated by the Government, stressing the need for all delegations — including the delegation that has not yet done so — to not only table constitutional texts but also be ready to commit to revising them in light of discussions. “We need a productive drafting process according to the Committee’s mandate,” he emphasized, noting that he will brief the Civil Society Middle Third as soon as understandings are in place. He touched on his continuing engagement with Syrian women and civil society representatives, including the members of the Women’s Advisory Board, adding: “No one should expect miracles or quick solutions — the path forward will be necessarily incremental. But I hope that this coming year we can work on concrete steps towards the implementation of Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).”

MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the Secretary-General’s latest report on United Nations humanitarian operations in Syria (document S/2021/1030) describes the robust systems in place for needs assessments, due diligence, monitoring and risk management. The report also speaks to efforts to facilitate regular, predictable cross-line operations, which currently reach nearly 1 million people each month in north-eastern Syria. Additionally, two cross-line convoys have now deployed to the north-west, the second of which crossed conflict lines on 9 December carrying food and other humanitarian supplies for tens of thousands of people. The next convoy is planned for January. He also pointed out that on 16 December, distributions of food through a local World Food Programme (WFP) team commenced under a newly established distribution mechanism. Calling on all parties to facilitate implementation of the United Nations’ six-month plan for predictable, sustained humanitarian operations, he nevertheless stressed that cross-line deliveries cannot replace massive cross-border operations that remain essential to support 3.4 million people in need in the north-west.

Indeed, needs have grown while funding has shrunk, he said, emphasizing that “we continue to fail the Syrian people”. Violence continues to kill and injure civilians, winter is setting in and the humanitarian operation does not have sufficient funds to provide basic shelter, heating and warm clothes to all those in need. Further, COVID‑19 continues to wreak havoc across Syria — with vaccination rates below five per cent and women bearing the impact disproportionately. In northern Syria, over 5 million people lack sufficient, safe water. The economy meanwhile continues its downward trajectory, with food more expensive now than at any time since WFP started monitoring in 2013. Many families spend an average of 50 per cent more on basic items than they earn each month, forcing them to buy on credit. “It should be obvious”, he emphasized, “that this is simply not sustainable”.

Beyond immediate life-saving activities, he stressed that the international community must also help Syrians “chart their own course towards a better future”. Working at a local level, basic services can be provided in a manner that is equitable, responsive and accountable to affected populations. Spotlighting a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) project in rural Aleppo, which trained and equipped midwives to help nearly 800 pregnant women safely deliver their babies in 2021, he pointed out that this also allowed the midwives to earn a living and support their own families. “This is a story that can be — and should be — repeated throughout Syria”, he stressed. Noting that the Secretary-General’s report identifies increased focus on this part of the response, he said the United Nations is currently completing an allocation of $20 million for early recovery activities. While calling for civilian protection and greater support for life-saving aid, he underscored, however, that “it is only an end to this conflict that will really meet the needs of the people in Syria”.

AMANI BALLOUR, Syrian-born paediatrician and Program Advocacy Officer at the Syrian American Medical Society, noted her organization provides humanitarian assistance and operates 40 medical facilities in north-western and north-eastern Syria. Since her last briefing to the Council in March, the humanitarian situation is worse than ever. Instead of focusing on achieving the stated objective of maintaining international peace and security, too many Council members focus on their own political objectives and geopolitical rivalries. “You have lost your way,” she stated.

She urged the Council to refocus on steps to deliver humanitarian assistance and to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people. More than a decade of conflict — along with intentional targeting of hospitals by Syria’s Government and its allies — has devastated the health system throughout the country. Colleagues work 20-hour shifts without a break, sometimes examining as many as 100 patients and performing multiple surgeries per day, under constant threat of aerial bombardment, kidnapping and torture by armed groups. Needs continue to grow, she noted, with more than 1.7 million people living in internally displaced persons camps in the north-west, while recent rainstorms have literally washed some of their tents away.

There are greater rates of malnutrition, stunting and infant mortality, with more pregnant women suffering from anaemia and malnutrition. Without an increase in the number of incubators, she said doctors are forced to make the difficult decision of which baby to place in an incubator, and which to leave to die. “We should not accept this,” she stressed, calling for more long-term funding, donations of medicine and equipment, and continued cross-border assistance, which is providing life-saving aid to millions of civilians. The Council should also require the same level of transparency for humanitarian operations in Damascus and north-eastern Syria as it does in the north-west, and increase the capacity of the health system, through training new health workers — especially nurses and midwives, as well as specialized training programs for existing doctors, particularly for intensive care and paediatric oncology.

In recent months, Syria has faced a devastating COVID‑19 outbreak, pushing the health system to the brink of collapse. In the north-west, positivity rates are as high as 50 per cent, intensive care units at 100 per cent capacity, and hospitals facing severe shortages of oxygen. Only 110,000 people have received two doses of a vaccine, or only 2.5 per cent. “This is unacceptable,” she stated, pointing to the dire situation in Rukban camp, with no oxygen, no ventilators, and no doctors, leaving the civilian population completely exposed. Citing the overcrowding of camps, with 50 families sharing one bathroom, she called on the international community to provide the resources necessary for the health sector to prepare for the next wave.

Highlighting the severe risks to health-care workers, she said over 800 have been killed, and many others have fled the country. While the only way to stop these attacks is through accountability, she pointed out that previous efforts have all been blocked by the Council, calling on certain Member States not to use the veto to block efforts at independent investigations. If, as they say, there have only been crimes committed against health workers by terrorists, those members would have no problem investigating the allegations. The Council should make clear its support for independent investigative mechanisms, she said, with support for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and organizations like hers.

She urged the Council to take a fresh approach to the humanitarian situation. “Set aside your differences and look beyond your own political objectives,” she said, promising a year of new beginnings, with an emphasis on promoting human dignity. Noting the impending birth of her first son in February, she cited the suffering of children in Syria facing the threat of starvation under illegal sieges — fears that no mother should ever have for her child. “I urge you to think of your own children during your negotiations on humanitarian access and accountability,” she said.

Statements

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) speaking on behalf of the co-penholders of the Syrian humanitarian file, Norway and Ireland, said the cross-border humanitarian operation at Bab al-Hawa remains an absolutely critical lifeline, and an essential channel for the United Nations to provide life-saving assistance at the scale required to support the significant and growing needs of 3.4 million people in north-western Syria. The combination of hostilities, economic crisis, water shortages and COVID‑19 have driven humanitarian needs to some of the highest levels seen since the conflict began. These needs continue to grow as Syrians grapple with another bitter winter, leaving 4.5 million people requiring winterisation support, many without the essentials they need to survive.

Speaking next in her national capacity, she recalled that the Council has heard directly from Syrian women, including Rouba Mhaissen during Ireland’s Presidency. Yet far too often, these voices are silenced and marginalized by the Syrian authorities. She urged the Government to engage meaningfully with the opposition and civil society members of the Constitutional Committee and called on all parties to the conflict to refrain from violence, de-escalate tensions and exercise maximum restraint. She also called on parties, especially the Government, to release detainees and abductees, and to take meaningful action on missing persons.

DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said that there is no alternative to advancing a settlement process that is led by the Syrians themselves and supported by the United Nations, without external interference or the imposition of artificial deadlines. The Russian Federation intends to hold the next meeting of representatives of his country, Iran and Turkey, with the participation of interested parties on 21 and 22 December in Nur-Sultan, he said, adding that the problem of detained persons is among the important areas of work for the Astana Group. The general recovery of the situation in and around Syria is also facilitated by the resumption of natural ties with Arab neighbours, including on the economic front. Long-term peace and security can only be achieved through the full restoration of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, including the Government’s control over national borders and natural resources, while continuing to fight against terrorists. The Russian Federation has no doubt in general that the United Nations Monitoring Mechanism, which monitors the dispatch of humanitarian convoys exclusively to the border with Syria, is doing its job properly, he said. The concerns relate to what is happening directly in Idlib, which has been overrun by terrorists who have subjugated every aspect of people's lives, including their free movement. He emphasized the urgent need to reinforce the presence of United Nations international workers in the enclave, noting that only two humanitarian convoys have entered Idlib in six months — only 28 trucks. At the same time, 48,498 trucks passed through Bab al-Hawa into the de-escalation zone during the same period. There is plenty of room for cross-lining. He called on donors to reconsider their approaches to humanitarian assistance for the benefit of ordinary Syrians, including those returning to their homeland.

RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States) emphasized the need to use all modalities to deliver aid to Syria, echoing the Secretary-General’s observation that cross-line convoys can complement — but cannot replace — cross-border operations, which, he added, represent a “vital lifeline”. Calling for measures to enable humanitarian aid to be delivered in a predictable and safe manner, he expressed concerns about threats to the security of humanitarian personnel, including through landmines and improvised explosive devices, as well as the growing gap between humanitarian needs and donor funding. Noting that cross-line convoys are resource-intensive compared to the cross-border modality, he pointed out that if the Council is unified, aid can be delivered through all modalities, and closed cross-border points can be reopened. The closure of Al Yarubiyah crossing has impacted the health sector, limiting access to essential medical supplies, including COVID‑19 testing kits. Nonetheless, the cross-border mechanism remains robust, entailing multiple layers of checks and enabling the delivery of aid through 47,000 trucks since July 2014. On sanctions, he stated that in November, the United States Department of the Treasury expanded a general license for non-governmental organizations, which will not constrain them from working towards Syria’s early recovery. However, “aid treats the symptoms, not their cause”, he said, calling for a nationwide ceasefire and urging the Assad regime “to pursue all avenue to peace, including through the Constitutional Committee”.

NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France), reiterating the call for an immediate, nationwide ceasefire in Syria, stressed that the protection of civilians must remain an “absolute priority”. COVID‑19 is spreading throughout the country — where less than 5 per cent are vaccinated — and he underlined that “everything must be done” to speed up the vaccination campaign. Noting the United Nations’ plan for humanitarian operations, he pointed out that — even if fully implemented — it will not succeed without the cross-border mechanism for aid delivery, which is necessary so long as assistance does not reach all those in need. Recalling the unanimous adoption of resolution 2254 (2015), he said it remains the roadmap for a political solution to the conflict. If it is not fully implemented, there will be no lasting peace in Syria. Spotlighting the Syrian regime’s obstruction of the sixth meeting of the Constitutional Committee and the lack of any progress since 2018 on the fate of disappeared persons, he said that, without progress, there is no justification for the normalization of relations with the Syrian regime and that France’s position on sanctions will remain unchanged. He also highlighted the regime’s grave human rights violations committed against returning refugees.

PRATIK MATHUR (India) cautioned that imposing external solutions cannot resolve the conflict. Rather, it is for Syrians to determine and decide what is best for their country and their own future. He welcomed efforts by Syrian authorities to prioritize the return of displaced Syrians to their areas of origin, as well as the recent announcement of the opening of the border between Jordan and Syria. Expressing concern over ceasefire violations in the north-west, he called on all sides to desist from any actions, including military provocations. The growing influence of terrorist groups in camps such as Al-Rukban and Al-Hol must be urgently addressed, as must the repatriation of foreign citizens from these camp sites. A nationwide ceasefire is paramount to the interests of the Syrian people and will help extend cross-line aid operations. Noting that cross-line operations have become regular and sustained in the north-east, he encouraged the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations agencies to enhance cross-line operations. For its part, India continues to extend development assistance and human resource support to Syria through grants and credit lines, including for the supply of medicine and food, artificial limb fitment camps and capacity building training programmes.

MONA JUUL (Norway) urged all actors — including the Government — to contribute constructively to the process involving the Special Envoy’s recent consultations with key actors on a step-for-step approach. Despite the deep disagreements, there is still a shared interest in providing a better future for the Syrian people and ensuring stability in the region. The process should include such issues the release of detainees, the safe and dignified return of refugees, combating terrorism and inclusive political reform. However, the status quo on the ground, both in Government-controlled areas and elsewhere, is not sustainable. At the same time, the Constitutional Committee plays an important role both in and of itself and as a confidence-building measure. Norway fully supports the Special Envoy’s approach, she said, encouraging all parties to contribute constructively to the process in good faith and reiterating the need to fully implement resolution 2254 (2015) — including a nationwide ceasefire.

BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) said the Security Council has for years demanded implementation of resolution 2254 (2015), yet not only has the regime failed to engage genuinely in the process, but the issues that gave rise to and sustained the conflict continue — atrocities, human rights abuses, disregard for the rule of law and widespread corruption and economic mismanagement. Until there is a genuine willingness from Syria’s regime to engage in the Syrian-led and owned process endorsed by the Security Council, there is no prospect of a successful peace process. Pointing to the vast humanitarian needs currently exacerbated by winter’s approach and the lack of testing and treatment capabilities amid the pandemic’s continued spread, she said the Council must support the provision of assistance to Syrians. Nothing can replace the scale or scope of the United Nations-mandated cross-border mechanism for achieving this, she continued, welcoming reports on the Organization’s significant progress in scaling up cross-line assistance into north-western and north-eastern Syria. In this vein, the Council must continue to be guided by the United Nations objective and thorough reporting on the humanitarian situation. Noting the thirtieth anniversary of the “Global 16 Days” campaign on the gender-related killing of women, she said females continue to be acutely affected by the conflict. The Council must ensure continued humanitarian funding to counter gender-based violence, she said, highlighting the United Kingdom’s $34 million contribution to UNFPA to address this issue in Syria since 2019.

DINH QUY DANG (Viet Nam) said that despite the longest period of calm since the beginning of the conflict, all efforts should be devoted to finding a long-term political solution. To this end, he encouraged Syrian parties to engage constructively in negotiations within the Constitutional Committee. Commending the Special Envoy’s “step-for-step” approach, he voiced disappointment that the humanitarian situation continues to show no sign of improvement, due the impact of insecurity, economic crisis, food and water troubles and the COVID‑19 pandemic. It is vital to ensure access to enhance the humanitarian response, he emphasized, calling on the international community to support the Humanitarian Response Plan, particularly given the harsh winter and the severe COVID-19 developments facing Syrians.

DAI BING (China) observed that the Constitutional Committee has not yet determined dates for the next round of meetings, requiring all concerned to reach consensus. Ten years into the conflict, Syria remains mired in crisis, he said, calling on the international community to help maintain people’s livelihoods and hope. Expressing support for the United Nations and international agencies, based on the principles of humanitarian relief, he affirmed that all operations must respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The cross-border mechanism, which is politically and legally controversial, he observed, should be adjusted in a timely manner in light of developments on the ground, with a gradual transition to cross-line delivery of aid. He noted that cross-border delivery is complex, as local authorities in some areas have ties with terror groups, and misappropriation of supplies cannot be ruled out. He expressed support for the United Nations formation of a six-month cross-line humanitarian relief plan in the north-west, urging Turkey to provide timely access and safety guarantees for cross-line delivery. While welcoming United Nations early-recovery procedures, including cleaning debris and restoring critical infrastructure, he noted the scale is limited and called for stepped-up funding. The issue of Syria’s sovereignty must also be comprehensively addressed. Unilateral sanctions have brought immeasurable harm to the country, and Member States should take actions to mitigate their impact. The international community must also abandon double standards and eradicate terrorist forces at an early date.

STEPHANIE NGONYO MUIGAI (Kenya) said the situation in Syria is a test of the United Nations Charter’s promise to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. Appealing to the Council to rise out of its dormancy, she voiced regret about the lack of commitment to convene the seventh round of Constitutional Committee discussions. Urging parties to agree to this undertaking, she noted that progress on the political track is intimately linked to the humanitarian track. Recalling the practices of collective punishment meted out by colonial authorities throughout Africa in the last century, she said Syria’s Government must closely distinguish between civilians and terrorist insurgents, and avoid any collective punishment of groups or areas. Urging all Member States with leverage to update their approaches, she stressed that the cross-border mechanism, supported by cross-line deliveries, remains crucial for humanitarian assistance.

DIANI JIMESHA ARIANNE PRINCE (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines)said counter-terrorism operations are required for the protection of Syria’s people and its territorial integrity. However, military activities should never take precedence over the protection of civilians, which extends to those residing in displacement camps, such as Al-Hol, where insecurity persists. The economic crisis compounds the myriad challenges facing Syrians, with women and girls being disproportionately affected. With millions heavily dependent on humanitarian aid, “the cross-border mechanism is a lifeline,” she said. Cross-line deliveries are also necessary to complement the mechanism and ensure timely, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access, she said, noting that a second cross-line operation to the north-west took place in early December. Critically low water levels in the Euphrates, due partly to climate change, have generated a water crisis, and she called for a priority focus on finding a sustainable solution to issues around the Alouk water station. The politicization of the grave humanitarian situation must end, she asserted, underscoring the international community’s responsibility to support Syria and its people.

TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) called for a negotiated political settlement in accordance with resolution 2254 (2015) to preserve Syria’s unity and sovereignty, to end the external interventions and presence of terrorist groups and to bring the country back on the path of peace, stability and development. It is necessary to combine international efforts with those of the Security Council to create a positive political and economic impact, as was the case with the adoption of the central resolutions on the Syrian issue. He welcomed the start of aid distribution across lines in Sarmada on 16 December, stressing that priorities must centre on alleviating the suffering of Syrians, ensuring that aid reaches those who deserve it, through all available mechanisms without hindrance, and ending terrorism.

SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) welcomed the timely publication of the “2585 reports”, which focus on cross-line deliveries. There have been substantial improvements when it comes to the coordination between the parties on the ground. Stressing that cross-border aid remains the backbone of the United Nations humanitarian response, he said maintaining stable aid flow is crucial, as the war has not ended. In November, Estonia organized an Arria-formula meeting, where the United Nations-mandated International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism and Syrian civil society representatives gave a detailed overview on the question of accountability. These kinds of meetings do not stop atrocities in Syria, he acknowledged, but they do provide the international community with relevant information for acting against impunity. “The international community will never normalize its views on killings, torture, sexual violence and forced disappearances, which unfortunately continue in Syria on a daily basis,” he stressed.

JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico) recognized the Special Envoy’s efforts to promote dialogue between the Government and the opposition towards resuming the work of the Constitutional Committee. Welcoming the Secretary-General’s two detailed reports, he reiterated Mexico’s condemnation of the violence impacting civilians and attacks carried out in areas around humanitarian aid houses and distribution roots. He also welcomed the second cross-line humanitarian aid convoy deployed to the north-west. The recently adopted six-month plan is a tool to strengthen this mechanism and ensure regular operations, he explained, adding that its implementation will be followed closely and reiterating the importance of security guarantees. Warning about the challenges posed by the winter season, he welcomed that the report explains in detail the monitoring, risk management and early recovery projects that are in place. He also pointed to the devastating effects of the conflict on the economy, resulting in 90 per cent of people living in poverty, and stressed the importance of early recovery projects as a part of the humanitarian response.

ABDOU ABARRY (Niger), Council President for December, speaking in his national capacity, stated that “Syria needs us and needs us now.” Condemning hostilities, including the use of improvised explosive devices, air strikes and rockets targeting civilian areas, he said their immediate end is essential for peace and security. However, collective efforts in that domain and in addressing the pandemic should not divert attention from terrorist groups. He cited attacks by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), in the south and elsewhere, rearing its head yet again after defeat by the international coalition. A Syrian-led dialogue reflecting the will of the people is the only possible peaceful long-term solution in line with resolution 2254 (2015). Expressing disappointment over the dearth of progress by the bipartisan Constitutional Committee, he said it lacks understanding of how to advance efforts and develop a drafting process — indicating deadlock and the need for a radical shift in that body’s composition and working methods. External meddling in its affairs must end, with all external actors respecting Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. He also expressed support for internal and cross-border aid mechanisms, as the situation must not be allowed to further deteriorate. Addressing the pandemic, he said it is appalling that less than 3 per cent of the population has been vaccinated. As winter sets in, Syrians will need humanitarian assistance to reach them on time and in sufficient quantity. Citing water issues along the Euphrates River, he said that resource should be a source of cooperation, not a driver of discord. He also called for sanctions to be eased or suspended, as they gravely undermine ability to tackle pandemic and economic crisis, adding that the political and humanitarian tracks must be dealt with together.

BASSAM SABBAGH (Syria) said that in terms of enhancing cross-line access, the Government continues to make all possible efforts to provide the necessary facilities to the United Nations and its competent agencies to facilitate implementation of the mandate in ‎resolution 2585 (2021). Pointing to the report, which confirmed that humanitarian access to Rukban is still attainable, he stressed the importance of the complete closure of this notorious camp, which has no other purpose than to increase the suffering of Syrian citizens, and to support armed groups. He expressed disapproval of the exaggeration contained in the report regarding the numbers of needy people in the northern part of Syria.

Turning to early recovery projects, he expressed disappointment that some Western countries within the so-called donor community obstruct implementation of many projects. Some of the early recovery projects mentioned in the report have been implemented for years — even before the adoption of resolution 2585 (2021). Noting that the report ignores the disastrous effects of the illegal and immoral blockade, he also described the wall as inhumane, imposed by the United States and the European Union.‎ Any objective assessment of the complex humanitarian situation in Syria leads to one conclusion: the main driver of the suffering is Turkey’s regime, its practices and its tyranny. He called for this regime to be held accountable for its various ravages and attempts to hinder Syria from consolidating stability.

FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) said cross-border operations adhere to universally agreed United Nations principles, including transparency. They have no hidden agenda aside from saving lives. Turkey is committed to ensuring the safety of those involved in the distribution of cross-line aid, who are subjected to shelling and attacks by Syria’s regime and its backers. However, even with full implementation, cross-line convoys cannot replace the cross-border mechanism. While such operations are endeavouring to save lives now, only negotiations can assure sustained peace, in which “children can walk to school, carefree, with full bellies,” he said, adding that the next round of peace talks in Geneva must produce tangible results. He welcomed the Special Envoy’s “step-by-step initiative” in this regard and expressed hope that the new Constitution will adhere to the letter and spirit of Council resolution 2254 (2015).

While preserving Syria’s territorial integrity and unity is essential to a sustainable solution, he said ceasefire violations by Syria’s regime and its backers represent a hurdle to peace and harm civilians. The prolonged conflict affects security in the region, including Turkey, by providing a breeding ground for terrorists from the PKK/PYD [Kurdish Workers’ Party/Democratic Union Party] and its offshoot, the Syrian Democratic Forces, who target civilian facilities, wield violence against demonstrators and block the return of internally displaced persons by the threat of death. He cautioned those “rolling out the red carpet” to such forces in the fight against ISIL/Da’esh, stating: “Today’s crimson carpet can turn into a flow of blood.” On Syrian refugees, 4 million of whom now live in Turkey, he expressed hope that they will one day know their homeland. He pointed out that Council discussions, which repeatedly yield no results, represent the “last chance for Syrian people”, asking: “Is this the best we can come up with?” On the remarks of Syria’s delegate about Turkey, he said: “I won’t honour his delusional accusations with a response, and I do not consider him my legitimate counterpart; his presence is an affront to the millions of Syrians who have suffered due to the acts of his Government.”

ZAHRA ERSHADI (Iran) stressed the need to redouble efforts in finding a political solution to the conflict in Syria, especially considering the danger it poses to regional peace and security. Noting that humanitarian conditions are deteriorating, and significant civilian infrastructure has been destroyed, she underscored the need to bolster assistance to the country, including through the removal of unilateral sanctions, which have prolonged suffering and adversely affected international and national humanitarian work. Adding that early recovery efforts must be expanded, especially through implementation of resolution 2585 (2021), she stressed the importance of ensuring that aid entering Syria through cross-border operations reaches actual beneficiaries, rather than terrorist groups. Likewise calling for an increase in funding and humanitarian aid to cross-line operations, she expressed disappointment that only two deliveries have taken place so far, which have yet to be distributed. Moreover, foreign occupation of parts of Syria constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and the United Nations Charter, she said, emphasizing that all uninvited forces must leave the country without preconditions or further delay.

For information media. Not an official record.