4 September 2012
General Assembly
GA/11268

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-sixth General Assembly

Plenary

126th Meeting (PM)


Humanitarian Situation in Syria Deteriorating, with 2.5 Million Urgently Needing


Relief, Says Secretary-General, Accusing Both Sides of Atrocities

 


President of General Assembly, New Joint Representative Brief Member States


With some 2.5 million people in Syria urgently needing assistance, the humanitarian situation was deteriorating, both in that strife-torn nation and in neighbouring countries affected by the nearly 19-month-old crisis, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, as he briefed the General Assembly on the latest political, security and human rights conditions characterizing the crisis.


Pointing out that his report — presented to the Assembly today in accordance with resolution 66/253 B of 3 August 2012 — reflected the situation as of 17 August, he stressed:  “It is much worse today”.  The conflict had taken a particularly brutal turn, with Government forces continuing their indiscriminate shelling of densely populated areas with heavy weapons, and opposition groups stepping up their military activities.  Civilians had borne the brunt of the violence and large-scale human rights violations were being reported, he said.


Prisoners on both sides had been subjected to harsh treatment, including torture, and there had been alarming reports of summary executions, he continued.  Government forces and the armed opposition had failed to protect civilians and respect international humanitarian law, while more than 1.2 million people had been displaced inside Syria.  The number of refugees registered in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq was rising above 225,000, he said.  While primary responsibility for ending the conflict lay with the parties — notably the Government — there was a collective duty to help Syrians resolve their differences peacefully.


With that in mind, he again urged the Government and armed opposition to abandon military activities, engage in dialogue, protect civilians and abide by their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.  The United Nations was committed to helping them come to the negotiating table and move towards a democratic, plural political system with equal rights for all.  “The Syrian people have waited too long,” he declared.


Echoing those calls, General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser (Qatar) said the Government of President Bashar al-Assad had not only failed to protect its own people, but had turned its guns against them, in total disregard of international norms and commitments.  The Assembly had chosen not to stay silent, having passed resolutions in February, June and August that strongly condemned the widespread and systemic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities, he said.  The President urged the Assembly now to “do all that it takes” under the United Nations Charter to help the Syrian people overcome the appalling political turmoil and terrible loss of lives.  Action had become all the more necessary due to the deadlock in the Security Council.  The killings must stop and those who had committed atrocities must be brought to justice, he emphasized.


Lakhdar Brahimi, addressing the Assembly for the first time since his appointment as Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, said he would soon travel to Cairo, Damascus and, when possible, to all countries in a position to help a Syrian-led political process become a reality, leading to a transition that would ensure respect for the legitimate aspiration of Syrians, and enable them democratically to determine their future.  “The future of Syria will be built by its own people and none other,” he said, stressing that international support would only be effective when all pulled in the same direction.


In the ensuing debate, speakers acknowledged that international efforts had thus far failed to address the crisis.  There was an urgent need for the parties to recommit to a Syrian-led political process.  Syria’s representative, affirming his country’s full cooperation with Mr. Brahimi, with “a view of bringing about the success of the Special Representative’s efforts”, said the resignation of Kofi Annan as Joint Special Envoy last month was no reason to keep away from his six-point plan for resolving the crisis.


Also speaking today were representatives of Brazil, Israel, India, Algeria, Iran, Pakistan and Canada.


Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of Syria, Lebanon and Israel.


In other business today, the Assembly considered the rotation of membership within the Group of Eastern European States in the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL).  Poland relinquished its seat to Croatia for a term beginning at the Commission’s forty-fifth session in June 2012 and expiring on the last day prior to the beginning of its forty-ninth session in 2016.


The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 5 September, to hold a thematic debate on the “Responsibility to Protect”.


Background


Before the Assembly was the report of the Secretary-General on Implementation of General Assembly resolution 66/253 B on the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic (document A/66/889), which provides an update on the political, security, humanitarian and human rights conditions and activities in that country from 3 to 17 August.


The report says the overall situation in Syria continued to deteriorate during the reporting period.  The Government refused to engage in any political dialogue, or to move forward with the promised implementation of the six-point plan unless the opposition laid down arms.  On the other hand, the armed opposition refused to accept the Government’s preconditions for dialogue. 


With the humanitarian situation continuing to deteriorate, the number of internally displaced persons is estimated to have surpassed the 1 million mark, the report states, adding that as at 17 August, more than 170,000 Syrians had sought refuge across international borders.  Both Government and opposition groups continued to commit gross human rights violations, and at the time of writing, United Nations agencies estimated that more than 2.5 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance, including 1.2 million internally displaced persons.


According to the report, the Secretary-General is concerned about reports of outside parties providing support and weaponry to the two sides.  Also, in a letter dated 27 July, he appeals to President Bashar al-Assad to refrain from the threat, use or transfer of chemical or biological weapons under any circumstances.  The Deputy Prime Minister points out in his response that Syria is a party to the Geneva Protocol of 17 June 1925 on the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare.


Reaffirming the commitment of the United Nations to assisting the Syrian people, through dialogue, towards a democratic, plural political system, the report says that the Organization’s humanitarian agencies will remain active and, despite conditions on the ground, its country team will continue its work.


The report concludes by noting that due to Kofi Annan’s decision to step down as Joint Special Envoy for Syria at the end of August 2012, Lakhdar Brahimi was appointed Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on 17 August.


Opening Remarks


NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER ( Qatar), President of the General Assembly, underscored the dire conditions under which millions of Syrians were currently living in their own country.  According to recent estimates by United Nations agencies, some 2.5 million Syrians were in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and thousands — the majority women and children — had been killed since the uprising started in March 2011.  Yet, despite the Organization’s best efforts, the violence continued to escalate.  “We are all now regularly confronted with reports and images of dead bodies of women, children and men, killed in Syrian towns and villages,” he said.  “Massacres, killings and gross human rights violations continue to take place in Syria.”


He went on to say that the Government of President Bashar al-Assad had not protected its own citizens, in total disregard of international norms and commitments, and had failed to implement the commitments it had made to the United Nations and the international community.  He called upon all parties to the conflict to “put the people of Syria first”, set aside all political differences and work with the world body and the wider international community to find a lasting solution to the crisis.


Heralding the establishment by the Security Council of a liaison office to support international efforts for a political solution, he described it as a crucial step towards consensus on the need for a United Nations presence in Damascus.  He also welcomed the appointment of Lakhdar Brahimi as the new Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for Syria, saying:  “He deserves the full support of all Member States of the United Nations.”


The President recalled the successful adoption of relevant and important resolutions over the past year that challenged the actions of the Syrian Government, and applauded the Assembly’s decision “not to stay silent” in the face of the ongoing killings, massacres and crisis.  However, it was now urgent that the Assembly do all it could under the United Nations Charter to help the Syrian people overcome their present circumstances, he emphasized.  “This has become all the more necessary because of a deadlock and lack of unity in the Security Council,” he stated, urging the General Assembly to continue demonstrating its role, relevance and legitimacy in that regard.


BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said he had just returned from Iran, where he had participated in the sixteenth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement.  While there, he had met with Syrian Prime Minister Wael Nader al-Halqui and Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, whom he had thanked for supporting Lakhdar Brahimi’s appointment as the new Joint United Nations and Arab League Special Representative for Syria.  He had also discussed with them the need for a small liaison office now that the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) was drawing down.  In addition, he had repeated his demand that all sides must cease all forms of violence, in particular the Government’s use of heavy weapons.


He went on to say he had voiced deep concerns about the humanitarian situation in Syria, and stressed the urgent need for the Government to authorize more international humanitarian organizations to work with the United Nations inside the country.  The world body’s agencies would also need to expand their presence.  “The humanitarian situation is grave and deteriorating, both in Syria and in neighbours affected by the crisis,” he said.  While humanitarian groups continued to scale up their response in both Government- and opposition-held areas, as well as in neighbouring countries, they were constrained by underfunding, he said, pointing out that the $180 million humanitarian response appeal was only half funded.


More than 2.5 million people in Syria needed assistance, he said, adding that more than 1.2 million people had been displaced inside the country, while the number of refugees registered in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq was over 225,000 and rising.  The Governments of those countries had generously opened their borders and urgently needed help, he said, noting that, just this weekend, Jordan had increased its appeal for funding to meet the growing demand.  Noting that the conflict was intensifying, he said the longer it continued, the more difficult it would be to contain, and the more difficult it would be to find a political solution and rebuild the economy.  It was in that context that Mr. Brahimi had taken up his duties.  “To succeed, he needs your united and effective support to help the warring parties realize that the solution will not come through arms, but through dialogue that respects the universal rights and freedoms of all Syrians,” the Secretary-General emphasized.


Pointing out that his report reflected the situation as of 17 August, he stressed:  “It is much worse today.”  The conflict had taken a particularly brutal turn, with Government forces continuing their indiscriminate shelling of densely populated areas with heavy weapons, while opposition groups had also stepped up their military activity.  Civilians bore the brunt of the violence, and large-scale human rights violations were being reported.  Prisoners on both sides had been subjected to harsh treatment and, often, torture, he said, adding that there had been alarming reports of summary executions on both sides.  Government forces and the armed opposition had failed to protect civilians and respect international humanitarian law, he continued.  “We must ensure that anyone, on any side, who violates international humanitarian law or human rights law is held to account,” he insisted.


He said the United Nations and its partners were doing all they could inside and outside Syria.  “But we have to ask if we have done enough, and if we have done the right thing.”  While primary responsibility for ending the conflict lay with the parties — notably the Government — there was also a collective duty to help Syrians end the violence and resolve their differences peacefully.  An end to the fighting must be facilitated, he said, appealing to all outside parties — especially countries in the region — to do all they could.  Those providing arms to either side were only contributing to the risk of unintended consequences.  Regional leaders had a key role to play in creating conditions conducive to a solution, as did the Security Council and the Assembly, which he urged to find common ground in helping Syrians chart a way towards an inclusive, peaceful and democratic political transition.


A number of initiatives to resolve the conflict had been advanced in Tehran, and others were on the horizon, he said.  Missing from all of them, however, was a unity of effort.  Resolving the crisis had become more complex each month, he noted, again urging the Government and the armed opposition to abandon military activities, engage in dialogue, protect civilians and abide by their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.  The United Nations would help all parties build a Syrian-led alternative to the use of force.


“We are committed to helping them determine a path, backed by the international community, to come to the negotiating table and move towards a democratic, plural political system, with equal rights for all,” he continued, adding that the Joint Special Representative would help facilitate such a solution.  He had consulted closely with the Security Council, and after today’s meeting, he would travel to Cairo for consultations with the Arab League.  He would then travel to Damascus as soon as possible.  “I appeal to you today to provide solid and unified support to his difficult and essential mission.”


LAKHDAR BRAHIMI, Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, said he would soon travel to Cairo to express his appreciation to the head of the League and to benefit from his guidance.  The grave situation prevailing in Syria was deteriorating steadily, and the death toll was staggering.  The destruction had reached catastrophic proportions and the people’s suffering was immense.


He went on to say that he looked forward to his visit to Damascus and, when possible, to all countries in a position to help a Syrian-led political process become a reality, leading to a transition that would ensure respect for the legitimate aspiration of Syrians, and enable them democratically to determine their future.  “The future of Syria will be built by its own people and none other,” he emphasized, stressing also that international support was indispensable and “very urgent”.  However, it would only be effective if all pulled in the same direction, he said, adding that he would spare no effort in his efforts to find peace for the people of Syria.


Statements


BASHAR JA’AFARI ( Syria), expressing support for Mr. Brahimi’s appointment, affirmed his country’s full cooperation, with “a view of bringing about the success” of the Special Representative’s efforts.  The resignation of Mr. Annan was no reason to keep away from the six-point plan, he said, calling upon all parties to support that plan and the new Joint Representative, notably those regional countries with influence on the armed groups, especially those that had refused to cooperate with Mr. Annan.  Opposition forces had disregarded all but “half a point” of the six-point plan, while the Government had cooperated with the former Joint Special Envoy and the former Chief Military Observer, General Robert Mood, with a view to bringing about the success of a Syrian-led political process.


However, the presence of terrorist groups in Syria had become “crystal clear”, even to the Secretary-General and senior Secretariat officials, he said.  It was also evident to Member States that terrorist groups were being fed by regional sources.  On more than one occasion, those groups had been referred to on an equal footing as the Syrian Government, a founding Member of the Organization, he noted.  Despite their destructive activities, coinciding with unprecedented sanctions against Syria, the Government was well aware of its responsibilities to its people, he said.  It had geared all its efforts towards ensuring protection for civilians, including the extension of facilities to all international humanitarian efforts.


Noting the work of the World Food Bank and the Red Crescent in the field, he said his country was cooperating fully with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  In that regard, he recalled the Secretary-General’s statement regarding the need for funding, emphasizing that weak funding impeded the response plan.  Only 39 per cent of the appeal was funded, he said, noting that no Islamic or Arab State had contributed.  Reaffirming his country’s full commitment to any “sincere international effort” to help Syrian citizens, he noted, however, the brazen external interference aimed at undermining Syria’s infrastructure and socio-economic achievements, made over decades.  Out of 30 hospitals, 13 were out of commission, and approximately 70 per cent of medicine-producing factories had been burned.  Telecommunication systems had been bombarded, and schools and places of worship plundered.  He called on the international community to support Syria’s reconstruction, urging that such efforts be protected from corruption, and that the Government be “protected from the outlaw”.


MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI (Brazil), saying she was appalled by the recent news of a mass killing of civilians in Daraya, joined the Secretary-General in calling for an end to the violence and engagement in effective negotiations.  The Government of Syria bore primary responsibility for initiating that process, but the armed opposition must reciprocate fully as well.  Noting the fifteenth anniversary of the Chemical Weapons Convention having entered into force, she called upon the Syrian Government to refrain from the use of such weapons under any circumstance.  She also expressed concern for neighbouring countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, that were sharing the burden of hosting the growing numbers of refugees, and urged the international community to unite in extending help to them.


RON PROSOR (Israel) said the daily slaughter in Syria represented the “dying breath” of a tyranny that dated back four decades.  The regime did not stand for human rights, democracy or pluralism.  Iran was the problem in Syria, providing President Bashar al-Assad with the tools of mass murder, he said, adding that Iranian revolutionary guards had been deployed on Syrian soil to sustain the regime and participate in the slaughter of the Syrian people.  Outside forces instrumental to Mr. Assad’s killing spree spoke with a Persian accent, he said.  Alongside Iran, the Hizbullah terrorist organization was the third member of President Assad’s “trio of terror”, he continued, noting that the group had “hijacked” the Government of Lebanon and transformed the south of that country into an Iranian “outpost of terror”.  The world could not ignore that Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons could soon be placed in the hands of Hizbullah, he said, warning that the people of Syria were the targets of a brutal regime that would commit any crime to cling to power.


HARDEEP SINGH PURI ( India), expressing his country’s unqualified support for the Joint Special Representative, said the situation in Syria had deteriorated since the Assembly’s last meeting on the matter.  The conflict had become more militarized and exploited by well-known terrorist groups, and gross human rights violations had been perpetrated by all sides.  The parties, rather than seriously starting a Syrian-led political process, had taken a military approach, while international efforts had failed to address the crisis, which had affected the whole region.  More than 2.5 million people needed humanitarian assistance, and there were increasing numbers of internally displaced persons and refugees.


Strongly condemning all violence, irrespective of the perpetrators, he called on all parties — Syrian as well as foreign — to disassociate themselves from terrorist forces.  There was an urgent need for the international community to send a united message telling the parties that they must recommit to a Syrian-led political process, he emphasized.  To address the crisis through a political dialogue, all parties must abide by their obligations under United Nations resolutions.  For its part, the United Nations must remain strongly engaged with the parties, he stressed, adding that India would support international efforts to bring about peace through dialogue.


MOURAD BENMEHIDI ( Algeria), welcoming Mr. Brahimi’s appointment, underscored the extremely important role of diplomacy in promoting a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria.  The continuing militarization and its grave humanitarian consequences were of great concern.  He expressed his support for the Secretary-General’s appeal to all parties involved in the conflict to end all military activities, engage in dialogue, protect civilians, and abide by their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.  Further, he called upon the international community to close ranks and send a unified message to all parties in Syria to end the violence.  An inclusive political process was the only sustainable peaceful solution, he stressed.


ESHAGH AL HABIB ( Iran) said he was pleased to see Mr. Brahimi take up his new position and expressed confidence that he would pursue a peaceful political settlement to the Syrian crisis.  Iran was ready to work closely with him, and supported an unbiased, impartial and Syrian-led political process.  Only through such a process would Syria’s broader political reconciliation and stability be maintained, he said, adding that the continuing violence would not provide solutions, but only inflame the situation.  Without measures to curtail it, there would be little chance for political solutions, he added.


There was a need for international and regional players with influence to express their interests and take action to find a Syrian-led political process, he continued.  Some countries were playing a destructive role, supporting armed groups and disregarding Syria’s territorial integrity.  Some sought regime change through illegal coercive measures, he noted, emphasizing that only the Syrian people could decide their own political fate.  He expressed deep concern about the disastrous consequences of foreign intervention in Syria, especially arms sent across its borders to rebels and terrorist groups.  Iran reiterated its readiness to host talks between the Syrian Government and opposition parties, he said.


RAZA BASHIR TARAR (Pakistan), emphasizing that all parties must ensure that relief was available to those most in need, said that efforts to provide it humanitarian relief would remain hamstrung in the absence of a Syrian-led political solution, which was critical to addressing the deteriorating security and humanitarian situations.  Pakistan was deeply concerned that violence in Syria was spiralling out of control, he said, noting that both sides must invest their energies in a political process, since it was only through inclusive dialogue that Syrians could chart a course towards a stable, secure and prosperous future.  The Government must also fulfil its commitments to create conditions conductive to starting such a process.  Pakistan advocated a peaceful Syrian-led resolution of the conflict, and the international community should approach the issue with an “open mind”, while moving away from established positions.  In sum, a revival of efforts aimed at political settlement was the need of the hour, he said.


GUILLERMO RISHCHYNSKI ( Canada) deplored the continuing violence in Syria, expressing concern over the mounting death toll and the impact of the crisis on neighbouring countries.  The violence would provide grounds for the expansion of terrorist networks, he warned, expressing hope that in such a highly volatile environment, chemical stockpiles would not be involved in promoting violence.  He urged the Russian Federation and China to abandon their efforts to shelter President Assad, work with the international community and use their influence to bring about a peaceful resolution to the crisis.  Canada hoped for a pluralistic Syria that respected human rights and the rule of law, he said, adding that his country would remain a leader in providing humanitarian assistance to Syrians, having already committed $18 million for that purpose.


Right of Reply


The representative of Syria, speaking in exercise of the right of reply,said that his Israeli counterpart had given the erroneous impression that he loved the Syrian people, forgetting that his country occupied the Syrian Golan.  Almost half a million Syrian people had been displaced from that area and were waiting to return to their homes.  Calling on the Israeli Government to withdraw from the Golan, as it had trampled international law and refused to participate in the peace process, he said Israel’s “insolence” at the United Nations would not have been possible without the support and backing of the protectors and sponsors of its terrorism and illegal practices.


The representative of Lebanon, also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said the numerous violations by Israel exemplified its hideous practices in the Syrian Golan and Palestine, among other places, stressing that international law gave people the right to self-determination.


The representative of Israel, also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said those attacks on his country were “another desperate attempt” to divert attention from events in Syria.  Israel shared the international community’s concern about the dire conditions in that country, he said, reaffirming his country’s commitment to work towards peace in the region.


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For information media • not an official record