|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Conflict in Syria Takes Brutal Turn, Engulfing Region, Secretary-General Tells
General Assembly, Urging Solid, Unifying Support for New Envoy’s Mission
Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks on Syria to the General Assembly, in New York, 4 September:
I thank you for this opportunity to report on the situation in Syria and the implementation of General Assembly resolution 66/253 B, adopted on 3 August.
It is also our first opportunity to welcome the new Joint United Nations and Arab League Special Representative for Syria, Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi. I know he is counting on your collective support for his difficult mission. We also welcome the appointment of Mr. Nasser Al-Kidwa as his Deputy.
I have just returned from Iran, where I took part in the Sixteenth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement. I engaged in frank dialogue with the Iranian leadership on a number of important issues, including the situation in Syria.
I also had in-depth discussions with Nabil ElAraby, Secretary General of the League of Arab States, and met with Prime Minister [Wael Nader] al-Halqui and Foreign Minister [Walid] al-Moualem of Syria. I thanked them for the Syrian Government’s support for Mr. Brahimi’s appointment, and we discussed the need for a small liaison office now that UNSMIS [United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria] is drawing down. I thanked all the countries who contributed personnel. They performed with courage and dedication in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances.
While in Tehran, I repeated my consistent demand that all sides must cease all forms of violence. In particular, the Government must halt its use of heavy weapons. I also expressed my deep concern about the humanitarian situation, and stressed the urgent need for the Syrian Government to authorize more international humanitarian organizations to work with us inside the country. United Nations agencies will need to expand their presence in Syria, too.
The humanitarian situation is grave and deteriorating, both in Syria and in neighbours affected by the crisis. Humanitarian organizations continue to scale up their response in both Government and opposition-held areas, and in neighbouring countries. However, we are constrained by underfunding. The $180 million Humanitarian Response Plan is only half-funded. Some critical sectors have received almost no funding at all, while overall needs are growing.
The most pressing needs are water and sanitation, shelter, essential items such as blankets and hygiene kits, as well as emergency medical assistance. More than 2.5 million people in Syria need assistance, including Palestinian and Iraqi refugees. More than 1.2 million people are displaced inside the country. The number of Syrian refugees registered in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq is now more than 225,000 and rising. These Governments have generously opened their borders and accepted their responsibility to shelter those who have sought refuge. They urgently need support. Just this weekend Jordan increased its appeal for funding to meet the growing demands.
We also have to recognize the risk that violence could spill over into neighbouring countries. The conflict is intensifying. The longer it goes on, the more difficult it will be to contain. The more difficult it will be to find a political solution. The more challenging it will be to rebuild the country and the economy.
This is the context in which Lakhdar Brahimi takes up his duties. I thank him for taking on this task. It is daunting but not insurmountable. 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.
My report reflects the situation as of 17 August. It is much worse today. We have since witnessed another mass killing, in the town of Daraya. This crime must be fully and independently investigated. The conflict has taken a particularly brutal turn. Syrian Government forces continue indiscriminate shelling of densely populated areas with heavy weapons, tanks and air assets. Opposition groups have stepped up military activity.
Civilians bear the brunt of the violence. Even people in line for bread have been attacked. Large-scale human rights violations are being reported. Prisoners on both sides are subject to harsh treatment and, often, torture. There have been alarming reports of summary executions on both sides. Government forces and the armed opposition have clearly failed to protect civilians and respect the rules of international humanitarian law. We must ensure that anyone, on any side, who violates international humanitarian law or human rights law is held to account.
The United Nations and its partners are doing all we can inside and outside of Syria. But we have to ask if we have done enough, and if we have done the right thing. The first responsibility to end the conflict lies with the parties, and in particular, with the Government. But we, too, have a collective responsibility to find ways to help the Syrians to end the violence and resolve their differences through peaceful means. All elements of Syria’s rich and diverse society need to be reassured that their rights and freedoms will be respected. Fears of sectarian retribution must be alleviated.
But first, we need to facilitate an end to the fighting. The continuing militarization of the conflict is deeply tragic and highly dangerous. I appeal to all outside parties, especially the countries in the region, to do all they can to end this trend. Those who provide arms to either side are only contributing to further misery — and the risk of unintended consequences as the fighting intensifies and spreads. Regional leaders have a key role to play in creating the conditions conducive to a solution.
I call, too, on the Security Council and this Assembly to find common ground so we can help the Syrian people to start charting a way towards an inclusive, peaceful and democratic political transition that will be decided by Syrians themselves. A number of initiatives to resolve the conflict were put forward in Tehran. Other initiatives and meetings are on the horizon. But missing in all of them is a unity of effort that will have an impact on the ground.
How many more will be killed and wounded, their lives shattered, before President Bashar [al-]Assad and his advisers are persuaded to change course? How can we convince armed groups that a better future lies not in fighting, but in building the foundations of a new political and social contract that guarantees freedom and justice? How many children will attend the funerals of their parents, how many parents will weep at the funerals of their children, before all parties agree to end the violence and destruction?
The Syrian people have waited too long. And now the entire region is being engulfed by the complex dynamics of the conflict. Solving this crisis was never going to be easy. But it has become more complex with each passing month.
I once again urge 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 will assist all parties to 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.
Joint Special Representative Mr. Brahimi will help to facilitate such a political solution and transition, as called for by the resolutions of this Assembly, the Security Council and the League of Arab States. He has already been working diligently, consulting closely with the members of the Security Council. After this meeting he will go to Cairo for further consultations with the League of Arab States before proceeding as soon as possible to Damascus.
I appeal to you today to provide solid and unified support to his difficult and essential mission. Thank you.
* *** *