World Community Has Failed Syrian People; Must Take Urgent, Concerted Action to Halt ‘Brutal Suppression’, Secretary General Tells General Assembly

2 March 2012
GA/11210

World Community Has Failed Syrian People; Must Take Urgent, Concerted Action to Halt ‘Brutal Suppression’, Secretary General Tells General Assembly

2 March 2012
General Assembly
GA/11210
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-sixth General Assembly

Plenary

99thMeeting (PM)

World Community Has Failed Syrian People; Must Take Urgent, Concerted Action

to Halt ‘Brutal Suppression’, Secretary General Tells General Assembly

 

Reports on Implementation of 15 February Resolution;

Syria Says Resolution ‘Erroneous’, Biased; Report Omits Reform Programme

Calling for urgent and concerted action to end months of violence in Syria, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today said the international community had failed the Syrian people, particularly the many innocent civilians trapped in the war-wracked cities Homs and Hama, where the Government was stepping up its systematic “atrocious assault”.

Indeed, the international community’s inaction seemed to have encouraged the Syrian authorities in their brutal suppression of their own citizens, the Secretary-General said, reporting to the General Assembly on implementation of a resolution adopted on 15 February.  That text, approved by a recorded vote 137 in favour to 12 against, with 17 abstentions, condemned “widespread and systematic” human rights violations by the Syrian authorities and demanded that the Government immediately cease all violence and protect its people.

Yet, despite the Assembly vote, he said:  “We have all watched the events in Syria this week with growing alarm.”  There had been heavy artillery shelling and tank fire in densely populated neighbourhoods across the country.  A major assault on Homs took place yesterday, with heavy civilian losses.  “We continue to receive grisly reports of summary executions, arbitrary detentions and torture,” he said, adding that in Homs, Hama and elsewhere, the brutal fighting had trapped civilians in their homes, without food, heat or electricity or medical care.

The Syrian Government had also failed to deliver on its responsibility to protect its people.  The Syrian authorities’ disproportionate use of force had driven what had been largely peaceful opposition forces to resort to take up arms in some cases.  “But let us be clear:  the opposition’s firepower appears to be minimal, compared to the heavy weapons being used by the Syrian army,” he said.

“The international community must urgently find unity in pressing the Syrian authorities and all other parties to stop the violence,” he said.  “It must insist, with one voice, that [those] authorities give access to international humanitarian workers as an essential first step towards a peaceful solution.”

He told the Assembly that newly appointed United Nations-League of Arab States Joint Special Envoy, Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary-General, would leave New York this evening, headed for the region.  Mr. Annan was expected to visit Cairo and other regional capitals, as well as Damascus, seeking a peaceful, politically negotiated solution to the crisis.  “My predecessor has taken on a difficult mission with immense challenges; he needs the full and undivided support of the international community,” the Secretary-General said.

Acknowledging that the way towards a peaceful solution “is difficult, but clear”, he said there should be an immediate end to the killings and violence; international relief workers must be allowed in; and a political dialogue must take place among all Syrian actors.  “The stakes are high, above all for the people of Syria — but also for the international community,” he declared, stressing that continued division emboldened the Syrian authorities in their “violent, dead-end path”, and continued violence risked a descent into full civil war and sectarian strife that could haunt the country for generations to come.

Taking the floor immediately after that presentation, Syria’s Ambassador rejected the Secretary-General’s assessment of the situation, saying that the crisis was being addressed with “extremely virulent rhetoric” that slandered his Government, based on opinions and hearsay from the opposition and those abroad who were open enemies of Syria and were bent on regime change.  Further, he called the Secretary-General’s claim that his Government had failed to protect its citizens a “double injustice”, since that was exactly what the Government had done, but relevant information to that effect was “being hidden”.

“ Syria considered [Assembly] resolution 66/253 as erroneous,” he declared.  It did not meet the minimum requirements of General Assembly procedures.  All negotiations and amendments were rejected and a biased, unilateral text resulted that was unrelated to what was happening on the ground, blind to the reform that was happening and the activities of armed groups.  Syria was now being openly targeted because of the resolution’s “enormous bias”.  The giving of an oral report — without an opportunity for his Government’s response to be considered — further exacerbated the situation, he added.

Syria, he said, had quickly put together a reform programme to respond to the legitimate demands of its people, crowned with the adoption of a new constitution for a democratic State and providing for an inclusive national dialogue.  The Secretary-General had omitted that important development, despite the details supplied by his Government.  “Reforms are not medication that can be given all in one dose,” he said.  And while he was not claiming there were no problems in Syria, the honest opposition was being harmed by opportunistic agendas.  Indeed, the representatives of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Libya said openly that they would arm opposition groups.  Israeli weaponry was found in Homs when it was liberated from such groups.

Addressing Secretary-General Ban, he said, “Come help Syria”, based on the United Nations Charter and international law, not by encouraging more bloodshed.  The opposition needed advice to participate in a constructive national dialogue and a partnership with other Syrians.  Each death saddened everyone in the country.  “Let us put an end to this sea of lies,” he said.

The representative of Saudi Arabia, speaking on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, said that his Government supported all efforts aimed at saving the Syrian people, and he hoped that the appointment of the Joint Special Envoy would lead to an end to their suffering, in accordance with the General Assembly resolution.  Because of the Security Council’s inability to act, he said that the Syrian regime had been given a “green light to snuff out the opposition movement”.

He called on the Council to play its proper role and take all measures to end the actions of the “Syrian killing machine”, allow humanitarian access and support the mission of the Joint Envoy in helping the Syrian people bring about a better union, according to the road map of the League of Arab States.  “History and your conscience will put you to account,” he said of those who obstructed Council action.

Also speaking were the representatives of Egypt and Iran.

The representative of Syria took the floor a second time to exercise the right of reply.

The General Assembly will reconvene at a date and time to be announced.

Background

The General Assembly met this afternoon under its agenda item on “prevention of armed conflict” to hear an oral report by the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 12 of Assembly resolution 66/253 of 16 February, on the situation in Syria.

By that resolution, the Assembly strongly condemned continued widespread and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities and called on both the Government and allied forces and armed groups “to stop all violence or reprisals immediately”.

The Arab-backed resolution, adopted by a recorded vote of 137 in favour to 12 against, with 17 abstentions, the Assembly expressed grave concern at the deteriorating situation in Syria, and condemned a raft of violations carried out by the authorities, such as the use of force against civilians, the killing and persecution of protestors and journalists, and sexual violence and ill-treatment, including against children.

The Assembly called on Syria to abide by its obligations under international law, and demanded that the Government, in line with the 2 November 2011 Action Plan of the League of Arab States, and its decisions of 22 January and 12 February 2012, without delay; stop all violence and protect its people; release all those detained during the unrest; withdraw all armed forces from cities and towns; guarantee peaceful demonstrations; and allow unhindered access for Arab League monitors and international media.  (For more information, see Press Release GA/11207/Rev.1.)

Oral Report by Secretary-General

BAN KI-MOON, United Nations Secretary-General, said the entire international community had watched the events in Syria this week with growing alarm.  “We have seen heavy artillery shelling and tank fire in densely populated neighbourhoods across the country.  A major assault on Homs took place yesterday.  Civilian losses have clearly been heavy.  We continue to receive grisly reports of summary executions, arbitrary detentions and torture.”

In Homs, Hama and elsewhere, the brutal fighting had trapped civilians in their homes, without food, heat or electricity or medical care; without any chance of evacuating the wounded or burying the dead.  He said that people had been reduced to melting snow for drinking water.  It was time for the international community to speak with one voice, loud and clear.

“This atrocious assault is all the more appalling for having been waged by the Government itself, systematically attacking its own people,” he said, adding:  “All agree we must act in the face of this escalating crisis.”  Yesterday, the Security Council had deplored the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation and demanded access for relief workers, he said, welcoming the Council’s clear and strong statement.  Further, the Geneva-based Human Rights Council had also yesterday condemned the “widespread and systematic” violations of human rights and demanded an immediate end to the violence.

He was extremely disappointed that Valerie Amos, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, had been unable to travel to Syria despite repeated assurances.  “I once again urge the authorities to allow her to visit as soon as possible so that humanitarian relief workers can reach the many thousands of people who desperately need assistance,” he said.  At the same time, he noted the International Red Crescent team had been permitted to enter Homs, but they were still awaiting access to Baba Amr.  It was essential that aid workers be allowed to help civilians in the most devastated areas of the city.

He recalled that the United Nations-League of Arab States Envoy, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, would leave New York this evening headed for the region.  Over the past two days, he had been intensively consulting with Member States, including members of the Security Council and the Arab league, as well as the Syrian Mission to the United Nations, among other stakeholders.  Mr. Annan planned to travel to Cairo next week to hold consultations with the Secretary-General of the Arab League.  That Envoy was also expected to visit a number of other regional capitals, including Damascus.  “My predecessor has taken on a difficult mission with immense challenges; he needs the full and undivided support of the international community, “speaking with one voice”.

Turning to the particulars of the situation, characterized by a deepening humanitarian crisis, increasingly worrying human rights picture, and looking forward to “the political process we all hope will chart the way ahead”, he said the Secretariat had sent a note verbale to the Syrian Mission requesting a response to the clear demands set out in the Assembly’s resolution.  A reply had been received yesterday.  In addition, as Secretary-General, he had been in close contact with the League of Arab States about what member States were doing to support that regional group’s initiative.

“The Syrian Government has failed to deliver on its responsibility to protect its people.  Civilian populations are under military assault in several cities,” he declared, adding that the disproportionate use of force by the Syrian authorities had driven what had largely been peaceful opposition forces to resort to take up arms in some cases.  “But let us be clear:  the opposition’s firepower appears to be minimal compared to the heavy weapons being used by the Syrian army.  He also stressed that armed extremist groups had opportunistically used the situation to carry out terrorist acts, in particular in Damascus and Aleppo.

While continuing lack of access made it impossible to verify specific casualty figures, credible reports suggested that the total number of people killed since March 2011 was well above 7,500, including many women and children. On several occasions, the daily death toll had exceeded 100.  He went on to say that approximately 25,000 refugees were now registered with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in neighbouring countries, with between 100,000 and 200,000 internally displaced.  Damascus had also resisted the Assembly’s demand for full and unhindered access for international media.  Journalists, too, had been killed or injured alongside the people whose plight they were to report.

As for the human rights situation, he recalled that the Assembly in its resolution had called for an immediate end to all rights violations and attacks against civilians.  Yet, it was clear that the civilian authorities had not done so.  The international Commission of Inquiry for Syria, in its 22 February report, had concluded that the Syrian Government had committed widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity, with the apparent knowledge of the highest levels of the Syrian State.

Freedom of expression also continued to be severely restricted and many human rights defenders, activists, and protesters throughout the country were being arrested and detained.  We are receiving widespread reports of torture under detention, even of children.  In response to the worsening situation, the Human Rights Council had yesterday adopted a resolution that strongly condemned the use of force against civilians, executions, killing and persecution of protesters, and arbitrary detention.

“We must do everything in our power to end the crisis.  We must help move towards a Syrian-Led political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system, as supported by this Assembly,” he said, adding:  “Yet to date, the international community has failed in its responsibility.”  In fact, the actions — indeed, inaction — of the international community seemed to have encouraged the Syrian authorities in their brutal suppression of their citizens.  Further militarization of the Syrian opposition was not the answer.

The international community must urgently find unity in pressing the Syrian authorities and all other parties to stop the violence.  It must insist, with one voice, that those authorities give access to international humanitarian workers as an essential first step towards a peaceful solution.  It was with that aim that Mr. Annan had been appointed:  to end the violence and human rights violations and promote a peaceful solution to the crisis.  It was important to ensure that there was only one track in the mediation process being undertaken by the international community, he said.

“The way towards a peaceful solution of the Syrian crisis is difficult but clear,” he said, stressing that first there should be an immediate end to the killings and violence.  International relief workers must be allowed in.  Further, there was a clear need for an inclusive political dialogue among all Syrian actors.  The international community must align itself with the process led by the Joint Envoy.  To succeed, he would need “our full and undivided support”.  “It is time for the international community to speak with one voice, loud and clear.”  Continued division emboldened the Syrian authorities in their violent, dead-end path.  Continued delay in the humanitarian effort caused more human suffering.  Continued violence on the ground risked a descent into full civil war and sectarian strife that could haunt the country for generations to come.

“The stakes are high, above all for the people of Syria — but also for the international community.  We must act, urgently and in concert,” he said.

Statements

Commenting on Mr. Ban’s report, BASHAR JA’AFARI ( Syria) stressed that he respected the Secretary-General personally and believed that his interest in the situation in his country stemmed from personal concern for human rights.  However, his report “leaned more toward increasing tensions than working toward a solution”.  The situation in Syria had been addressed with extremely virulent rhetoric that slandered his Government based on reports, opinions and hearsay from the opposition and those abroad who were open enemies of Syria and would like to change the State.  It was reminiscent of the way “banana republics” were dealt with in earlier decades.

He asked how that virulent slander could be reconciled with the fact that a person of Mr. Annan’s stature was being sent to the region to assist with reconciliation.  In addition, he asked how it could be claimed that the visit of Ms. Amos was rejected when the Syrian Government had accepted it on principle and proposed arranging it.  He called Mr. Ban’s claim that his Government had failed to protect his citizens a “double injustice”, since that was exactly what the Government had done.  He said information to that effect was being hidden.  In addition, foreign officials were openly affirming that they were supplying weapons and funding to armed opposition groups, and the Syrian people were suffering from sanctions.

No one was discussing that foreign combatants were being found in Syria and journalists had entered the country in a clandestine manner.  “Where is the respect for the law?” he asked, asking also why no one was taking into account all the foreign intervention in the country.  He asked, in addition, why opposition forces should be armed with firepower equal to the Government, and he wondered what the Secretary-General meant by increasing weaponization.  He worried that his words would be taken by the armed groups as a license to increase violence.  In regard to the Tunis meeting, he asked how the Secretariat could be present at an activity that was outside the framework of international law and openly hostile to a Member State.

“ Syria considered resolution 66/253 as erroneous”, he said.  It did not meet the minimum requirements of General Assembly procedures.  All negotiations and amendments were rejected and a biased, unilateral text resulted that was unrelated to what was happening on the ground, blind to the reform that was happening and the activities of armed groups.  Syria was now being openly targeted under this resolution, through “enormous bias”.  The giving of an oral report — without an opportunity for his Government’s response to be considered — further exacerbated the situation.  It showed that the pressure being brought to bear on Syria was “political, par excellence”.

Syria, he said, had quickly put together a reform programme to respond to the legitimate demands of its people, crowned with the adoption of a new constitution for a democratic State and providing for an inclusive national dialogue.  The Secretary-General had omitted that important development, despite the details supplied by his Government.  He did not claim there were no problems in Syria, but instead that the honest opposition was being harmed by opportunistic agendas.  Some countries in the region had pressured the opposition to not engage in dialogue or lay down arms.  Those countries were continuing to target his country through support of attacks on his country’s infrastructure and people.  The representatives of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Libya said openly that they would arm opposition groups. Israeli weaponry was found in Homs when it was liberated from such groups.

Most of Syria, he said, was living normally due to strong efforts by the Government to continue services.  He acknowledged that there had been a deterioration of services and supplies in the most troubled areas because of armed attacks, vandalism and illegal sanctions.  The Red Cross and Red Crescent were allowed into Homs and hampered by the armed opposition.  The States behind the General Assembly resolution were responsible for the deteriorating humanitarian situation and the increasing tensions and violence in the region.  The international community had waited for four years to rebuild schools in Gaza destroyed by Israeli aggression.  No one was rushing to bring pressure to bear on Israel for that, or its threats against other Member States.  “The law of the jungle seems even easier than the jungle in which we live today” because law had completely disappeared.

Addressing the Secretary-General, he said, “Come help Syria”, based on the Charter and international law, not by encouraging more bloodshed.  The opposition needed advice to participate in a constructive national dialogue and a partnership with other Syrians.  Each death saddened everyone in the country.  “Let us put an end to this sea of lies,” he said.

Following that statement, ABDALLAH AL-MOUALLIMI (Saudi Arabia), speaking on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, warmly welcomed the appointment of Joint Envoy Kofi Annan, and hoped it would lead to an end of the suffering of the Syrian people in accordance with the General Assembly resolution.  Because of the Security Council’s inability to act, he said that the Syrian regime had been given a green life to snuff out the opposition movement.

It was as if a new Srebrenica was being witnessed.  He called on the Council to play its proper role and take all measures to end the actions of the “Syrian killing machine”, allow humanitarian access and support the mission of the Joint Envoy in helping the Syrian people bring about a better union, according to the road map of the League of Arab States.  “History and your conscience will put you to account,” he said of those who obstructed Council action.

MAGED A. ABDELAZIZ ( Egypt) said the situation in Syria was becoming worse by the day, with grave political, social and economic consequences for Syria and the region.  Egypt supported the appointment of the Joint Special Envoy and urged that the work of that official be supported towards finding a peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria.  He also reaffirmed that a visit to the region by Mr. Annan, was in line with the steps outlined by the Assembly resolution and decisions of the Arab league.

He went on to say that the claim made by the Syrian Ambassador that Syria was not party to these resolutions was false.  Indeed, Syria had not opposed the Arab League’s decision to suspend Libya for its actions against civilians last year.  Moreover, Syria had not opposed the imposition of a no-fly zone on Libya under Security Council resolution 1973 (2011).  As such, the Syrian Ambassador “cannot come today and say [his delegation] was not a party to negotiations”.  He went on to say that the terms of reference of the Joint Special Envoy were clear, and Egypt called for an “immediate and actual” visit by Ms. Amos, as well as representatives of international relief organizations.  There was also a need to establish a dialogue among all Syrian people, including the opposition inside and outside the country.

Egypt agreed with the Secretary-General that further militarizing the situation would only make matters worse.  At the same time, the Syrian Government should not take the international community’s inaction as a license to continue the violence.  Egypt believed the report presented by the Secretary-General was clear depiction of the situation on the ground.  The problem was not who was carrying out the killing; it was that innocent civilians were dying in the streets every day.  The only thing those civilians had done was to live in a country where the Government did not respect the lives and rights of its people.  He requested that the Secretary-General present to the General Assembly and the Security Council future reports on the implementation of the resolution and the work of the Envoy.

MOHAMMAD KHAZAEE ( Iran) said he had already expressed his country’s position on the Assembly resolution during the world body’s 15 February meeting.  His delegation hoped that Special Envoy Annan would be carrying out the tasks that had been given “in the best interest of the Syrian people”.  Iran supported all efforts leading to a Syrian-led process that would bring an end to the violence.  It was regrettable, however, that since the very beginning of the crisis, some States had carried out provocative actions that pushed the country to civil war.

What was needed today was for all forms of foreign intervention, including the import of foreign arms, in Syria to end.  He said that the goal should be concentrated on devising a process that would lead to political negotiation and the security and stability of the Syrian people.  The goal of United Nations officials was to promote negotiations between the Syrian Government and the political opposition, while bearing in mind the slate of reforms outlined by the Syrian Government.  All Member States must support the work of Mr. Annan and not provoke the situation further.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, Mr. JA’AFARI (Syria) maintained that the representative of Saudi Arabia had said some “very dangerous things”, including using the expression “regime” in referring to his Government, which was inappropriate in diplomatic language.  In addition, his call for international forces to keep order in Syria ignored the existence of his Government.

Those who spoke about Syria with such great sadness were not an example of democracy or the protection or promotion of human rights.  He offered to send forces to protect Saudi citizens and called for the withdrawal of Saudi forces from Bahrain.  He advised no one to provoke Syria, because it had much it could say that could expose the depths inside and outside the Arab region.  Finally, he said that to liken the crisis in Homs to massacres around the world were misleading and served only Israel and the enemies of the Arabs.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.