Protecting Civilians, Providing Unimpeded Humanitarian Aid Must Remain Focus of International Efforts, Security Council Told during Briefings on Syria

SC/12123
16 November 2015
7560th Meeting (PM)

Protecting Civilians, Providing Unimpeded Humanitarian Aid Must Remain Focus of International Efforts, Security Council Told during Briefings on Syria

Political Solution Must Be First Step in Resolving Situation, Delegations Stress

As the international community approached a critical juncture in the five-year-long Syrian crisis, its focus must remain on protecting civilians and ensuring they enjoyed unimpeded access to humanitarian aid, senior United Nations officials emphasized as they briefed the Security Council today.

“Parties to the conflict continue to commit unthinkable atrocities on a daily basis, plunging Syria and its citizens deeper into darkness,” said Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, as he addressed the 15-member body.  Describing the crisis as a “chronicle of missed opportunities” for the international community, he nonetheless welcomed recent international talks in Vienna and called on stakeholders to seize that momentum towards a negotiated political solution.

He went on to note that, to date, the conflict had cost an estimated 250,000 people their lives, given rise to extremist and terrorist groups, and reduced much of Syria to rubble.  The fighting had also propelled the world’s largest humanitarian crisis of the twenty-first century — with some 13.5 million people in Syria needing some form of humanitarian assistance — and driven more than four million people to seek refuge outside their home country.  Medicine and medical supplies continued to be prevented from reaching those who desperately needed them, he said, adding that only a small portion of the 4.5 million needy people in hard-to-reach areas had been reached in 2015.  He called upon the Syrian authorities urgently to approve humanitarian convoys, and on non-State armed opposition groups, as well as listed terrorist groups, to allow passage for the deliveries they were blocking.

Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said women and girls caught up in the Syrian conflict were under assault every day and at every point of their lives.  Sexual violence had been perpetrated by most of the belligerent parties as a tactic of war aimed at advancing extremist and strategic objectives.  Stressing that the response to such crimes must go beyond security and military considerations — to encompass legislative and service-delivery dimensions — she underscored the importance of commitment by leaders at the regional, national and local levels.  Services were also needed for survivors of sexual violence in Syria and neighbouring countries, she added.

Also briefing the Council was Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, who said that most of the children killed or injured had been the victims of indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas by all parties to the conflict.  Aerial bombardments by Syrian Government forces, including the use of barrel bombs and successive air strikes, continued to cause a significant proportion of verified child causalities in 2015, she noted.  A continuing feature of the conflict was the widespread recruitment and use of children by all non-State armed groups, she continued, adding that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al‑Nusra Front had used children to perpetrate acts of extreme violence.  Reports indicated that children as young as seven years of age had been recruited by armed groups, and ISIL had allegedly recruited up to 400 children in the first quarter of 2015.

As the floor was opened for statements by Council members, a number of speakers underlined the need to capitalize on the political momentum sparked by the recent international talks in Vienna, describing the talks — aimed at producing a timetable for a political transition and elections in Syria — as a critical opportunity that must not be squandered.

Justine Greening, Secretary of State for International Development of the United Kingdom — who presided over today’s meeting — said the generosity of Syria’s neighbouring States had not been matched by the international community at large.  United Nations appeals for the country were only 45 per cent funded amid the continuing political deadlock, and time was running out to meet the most basic needs of the Syrian people.  “There can be no excuse for preventing humanitarian agencies from reaching those in need,” she emphasized.

Many speakers echoed the need to focus on humanitarian assistance and the protection of civilians, even as the Vienna talks presented a “glimmer of hope” for a political solution to the crisis.  Meanwhile, the Russian Federation’s representative said the politicization of human rights and humanitarian issues was unacceptable at the present decisive stage.

In light of the recent attacks in Paris and Beirut, among other places, a number of delegations strongly condemned terrorist acts, with some saying that Syria had become “the greatest factory manufacturing terrorists”.  Still others called for the creation of an international anti-terrorism coalition under the auspices of the United Nations.

Also addressing the recent terror attacks, Syria’s representative pointed out that similar actions carried out in his country had not received sufficient attention.  Certain Council members had prevented the body nine times from issuing a mere press statement condemning similar attacks against innocent civilians in Aleppo and Damascus.  Syria was fighting terrorists on behalf of the entire world, he said, adding that those who distorted that reality were accomplices in terrorism and partners in shedding the blood of the victims.  It was time the world woke up, he said, calling for words to be accompanied by action while expressing concern that States continued to fund terrorist activities in his country.

The meeting began at 3:10 p.m. and ended at 5:40 p.m.

Briefings

STEPHEN O’BRIEN, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the crisis in Syria was a “chronicle of missed opportunities” for the Security Council, Member States and the broader international community to bring the conflict to an end.  “More than five years since the unrest in Syria began, parties to the conflict continue to commit unthinkable atrocities on a daily basis, plunging Syria and its citizens deeper into darkness.”  Welcoming the recent international talks in Vienna, he emphasized the need to seize the momentum to end a war that had cost an estimated 250,000 people their lives, given rise to extremist and terrorist groups, and reduced much of the country to rubble.  The fighting had also propelled the world’s largest humanitarian crisis of the twenty-first century — with some 13.5 million people in Syria needing some form of humanitarian assistance — and driven more than four million people to seek refuge outside their home country.  Thousands of Syrians were willing to risk their lives on perilous journeys across the Mediterranean, he added.

The indiscriminate use of weapons continued unabated in the Syria conflict, he continued, noting that several air strikes had hit the al-Hal market in Douma, rural Damascus, on 30 October, killing at least 60 civilians and injuring 200 others.  Meanwhile, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other terrorist and extremist groups continued to cause carnage across the country.  The indiscriminate attacks were not only a tragedy, but may amount to war crimes, he said, stressing that the perpetrators must be aware that they would one day be held accountable for their actions.  The pace of displacement in Syria remained relentless, with some 50,000 people displaced in Aleppo since early October, he pointed out.  Attacks on civilian infrastructure also continued unabated, including attacks against health-care facilities and personnel across the country.  The parties to the conflict must ensure respect for, and protection of, health facilities, personnel and patients under international humanitarian law.

Meanwhile, medicines and medical supplies continued to be prevented from reaching those who desperately needed them, he said.  “We need a firm commitment from parties to the conflict to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and stop the targeting of civilian infrastructure,” including medical facilities, schools and key infrastructure networks.  In spite of repeated calls by the Council, humanitarian actors continued to be prevented from gaining sustained, unhindered access to millions of people in need.  Only a small portion of the 4.5 million people in need in hard-to-reach areas had been reached in 2015.  The parties to the conflict, largely ISIL and the Government of Syria, continued to use siege as a war tactic, with an estimated 393,700 people living under siege conditions.  They had no access to the basic essentials of life, and the United Nations had only been able to reach 3.5 per cent of them with health assistance and only 0.7 per cent with food per month in besieged areas.

In that regard, he called upon the Syrian authorities urgently to approve the 46 currently pending inter-agency convoy requests, and to allow convoys previously agreed in principle that were awaiting clearance to proceed.  He also called on non-State armed opposition groups as well as listed terrorist groups to allow passage for the deliveries they were preventing.  While Council resolutions 2165 (2014) and 2195 (2014) had made a difference by enabling the United Nations and partners to reach some people in need who had been largely inaccessible before, he said, “the status quo simply cannot continue in Syria”.  The world had seen the devastating consequences of failing to act, which had eroded confidence in the international community.  “The people of Syria deserve more than the discussions we are having or the aid we are providing; they deserve an end to this senseless violence,” he emphasized, urging the Council and relevant Member States to use their influence to press for an end to the use of indiscriminate weapons, and for steps to ensure unhindered humanitarian access to all people in need throughout Syria.  “We cannot squander this moment or momentum,” he concluded, underlining that all must stand up and play their part to bring an end to the conflict once and for all.

ZAINAB HAWA BANGURA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said women and girls caught up in the Syrian conflict were under assault every day and at every point of their lives.  Sexual violence had been perpetrated by most of the belligerent parties as a tactic of war to advance extremist and strategic objectives.  She said that since returning from the Middle East in May, she had focused considerable energy on raising awareness and understating of the sexual crimes, and continued to stress that the international response must go beyond security and military considerations.  Rather, it must encompass legislative and service-delivery dimensions, she said, emphasizing that accountability must also be a central consideration.

It was important to deepen the commitment of leaders, particularly at the regional, national and local levels, she continued.  The base for information and analysis must be expanded and information-sharing across countries improved.  The international community had a collective responsibility to mobilize political commitment and resources while at the same time ensuring the protection and empowerment of women.  It was critical to undertake legislative and other measures to enhance early-warning systems and risk mitigation.  That included programmes to support civil society, local communities and women’s groups on the frontlines, she said, stressing that legislative frameworks must protect and mitigate risks for refugees and internally displaced persons, a majority of whom were women and girls.

She went on to call for the strengthening of services and support for survivors of sexual violence, pointing out the acute lack of health and other critical services for survivors within Syria and in neighbouring countries.  Accountability for sexual violence through investigation and prosecution, as well as and women’s participation in peace processes was imperative.  Political and financial support was “absolutely critical”, she stressed, adding that she was relying on the steadfast commitment of Member States.  Last week at a meeting on the matter in Amman, Jordan, she recalled, discussions had reinforced her conviction that the role of community, religious and traditional leaders was critical to breaking the prevailing silence around the issue of conflict-related sexual violence.  Survivors must be embraced by their families and communities rather than stigmatized and shunned, she emphasized.  That was already being seen in the Yazidi community, which was facilitating the return of hundreds of women and girls from ISIL captivity.  Religious and traditional leaders were essential to development and sustained a counter-narrative to those of ISIL and other extremist groups.

LEILA ZERROUGUI, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said the majority of children killed or injured had been the victims of indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas by all parties to the conflict.  Aerial bombardments by Syrian Government forces, including the use of barrel bombs and successive air strikes, continued to cause a significant proportion of verified child causalities in 2015, she said, adding that a barrel bomb had killed six children attending school in Aleppo in May.  The indiscriminate shelling of densely populated areas was another major cause of child fatalities, including 19 killed by more than 100 rockets and mortars fired by armed opposition groups, and another 19 hit by a mortar fired from a Government position, both in September.  ISIL’s brutal atrocities against children had also been reported, including recent horrific video footage allegedly portraying the mass execution of 200 children.  Airstrikes by international forces had killed and maimed children as well, she noted.

A continuing feature of the conflict was the widespread recruitment and use of children by all non-State armed groups, she continued, adding that ISIL and al‑Nusra Front had used children to perpetrate acts of extreme violence.  Reports indicated that children as young as seven years of age had been recruited by armed groups, and ISIL had allegedly recruited up to 400 in the first quarter of 2015.  It had trained children at its three centres in Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa, and had opened kindergartens for boys in Raqqa.  Al‑Nusra Front had instructed communities in Idlib to send boys aged eight to 12 years to their “education” camps, while the Syrian Government had arrested and detained children for alleged association with armed groups, she said, adding that there were verified cases of torture and deaths occurring in custody.

She went on to state that, as at the end of September, more than a quarter of all schools in Syria had been fully or partially destroyed.  The United Nations had verified attacks carried out on schools by Government forces, ISIL, al‑Nusra Front as well as other non-State armed groups in 2015.  In addition, the military use of schools by Government forces in Idlib had led to their targeting by armed opposition groups.  She recalled that, prior to the conflict, there had been near-universal primary school enrolment in Syria, but now the right to education had been compromised by hostilities, displacement and restrictions in ISIL-held areas.  An estimated two million internally displaced children and 700,000 refugee children were not attending school.  “We are witnessing a generation at risk of not receiving an education, with serious long-term consequences for the future of these children,” she warned.

Statements

JUSTINE GREENING, Secretary of State for International Development of the United Kingdom, which holds the Council Presidency for November, said the Syrian people had been let down.  The generosity of neighbouring States had not been matched by the international community at large, she said, noting that United Nations appeals were only 45 per cent funded amid the continuing political deadlock.  Time was running out to meet the most basic needs of the Syrian people, she emphasized, noting that her country had had been at the forefront of the humanitarian response, having pledged $1.7 billion to date.  The United Kingdom would also co-host a global conference on the Syrian crisis in February 2016, an event that must raise the resources and deliver the policy changes that were needed.  Stressing that humanitarian action alone was not sufficient, she said “Syria is not a natural disaster” but a man-made one, pointing in particular to President Bashar Al-Assad’s use of barrel bombs as well as attacks by ISIL.  A negotiated political transition was the only way to alleviate the political crisis in Syria, she said.  While welcoming the talks in Vienna, she stressed the immediate need to end indiscriminate attacks against civilians, in particular those from the air.  In addition, “there can be no excuse from preventing humanitarian agencies from reaching those in need”, she said, emphasizing that the Council must make that clear.  Now was the moment to rally for humanity, she concluded, adding:  “This is our shared responsibility and challenge, and we must meet it.”

CAROLYN SCHWALGER (New Zealand) said that finding a political solution to the conflict in Syria was crucial for countering ISIL.  She went on to emphasize that sexual violence was not a “women’s issue”, and that Syrian women must be included in policy dialogues about the country’s future.  New Zealand was working with Jordan and Spain to renew Council resolution 2191 (2014), which had enabled cross-border entry of humanitarian assistance into Syria.  Calling upon the international community to support the efforts of the Special Envoy, and welcoming the ongoing talks in Vienna, she said they were important steps towards a political solution.  New Zealand looked forward to working closely with other Council members to reinforce the progress made in Vienna, she said.

JUAN MANUEL GONZÁLEZ DE LINARES PALOU (Spain) said women and children in Syria were living in the “deepest circle of hell”.  Millions of children affected by war would carry scars for the rest of their lives.  Two million Syrian children were no longer in school and thousands of schools had been destroyed, he said, urging the Council to do something about that.  Noting that at least $224 million was needed to prevent Syria from losing an entire generation to war, he deplored the recruitment and indoctrination of children by armed groups.  Sexual violence was used by all parties as a terrorist tactic, he said, emphasizing that victims of sexual violence must receive help in the form of specialized care, rarely available in Syria.  Condemning all attacks on civilians, in particular the use of barrel bombs, he urged the Council to adopt a resolution condemning such attacks.  However, no humanitarian efforts would ever be enough without a political solution, he stressed.

DINA KAWAR (Jordan) said that over the past five years the humanitarian scene in Syria had become “staggering and goes beyond comprehension of humanity”.  The indiscriminate bombing of innocent civilians, including children, had become a daily occurrence, not to speak of starvation and siege, the bombing of schools and hospitals, the obliteration of Syrian identity and the plundering of historical artefacts.  The international community must explore all solutions, she said, urging Member States to make concerted and unified statements against terrorist groups, such as ISIL, that continued to control large areas of Syria.  Describing the situation as the worst humanitarian and refugee crisis since the Second World War, she noted that the 1.5 million Syrian refugees in her country had put tremendous pressure on Jordan’s health and education sectors.  Jordanians had opened their homes to refugees from all over the region and would continue to pursue that approach but the international community must support their efforts, she said, pointing out that countries hosting large numbers of refugees were facing a serious deterioration in their ability to provide basic services and employment to new arrivals.  There was no humanitarian solution to the Syrian conflict, she emphasized, calling for a political solution that would realize the aspirations of the Syrian people.

VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) emphasized that it was only through a political settlement, in parallel with a determined fight against terrorism, that the crisis would be ended.  The conflict knew no limits in its barbarism, as had been seen in the recent attacks in Beirut, Paris and elsewhere.  At the present decisive stage, the politicization of human rights and humanitarian issues was unacceptable, he stressed, expressing outrage over different types of information about alleged civilian deaths resulting from air strikes by the Russian armed forces.  Citing a particular allegation that a hospital had been destroyed in October, he said there was evidence that the hospital had not been affected at all.  He said the Secretary-General’s latest report had been drawn up in a more balanced manner, and there was growing understanding of the need to create a united anti-terrorist coalition under the auspices of the United Nations.  What could not be justified was passivity in the face of evil, he stressed.

RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ (Lithuania), noting that the “Dae’sh butchers” were committing barbaric atrocities such as public executions and rapes while strengthening their terrorist reach, said that the Security Council’s inability to enforce its own resolutions in the face of the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis was a serious dent to its credibility.  A much-needed referral of the Syrian situation to the International Criminal Court had been blocked by a veto in 2014, one of four that had allowed the crisis to deepen by protecting the perpetrators.  Syria remained one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a child, and a veritable hell in which to be born a girl.  Emphasizing that there was no military solution to the conflict, she said the parties must choose the negotiation table over arms and proceed on the basis of the Geneva Communique of 2012.

LIU JIEYI (China) said the armed conflict in Syria was becoming increasingly violent, with ISIL and other terrorist organizations running rampant.  The international community must press forward on three tracks:  the political process, the provision of humanitarian aid, and counter-terrorism.  The political process had entered a new phase, he said, emphasizing that the “hard-won momentum” must be preserved.  The international community must pay close attention to the effects of terrorism and join hands to further strengthen cooperation on counter-terrorism, addressing both its symptoms and its root causes.  In that regard, “there must be no double standards”, he stressed.  China had also been a victim of terrorism, facing challenges from the East Turkistan Islamist Movement, he said, calling upon the parties in Syria to put the people’s future first and cooperate with the United Nations.  They must be in full compliance with all Security Council resolutions and honour their obligations to protect civilians.  Finally, he stressed the international community’s shared responsibility to scale up support for Syria and neighbouring countries.

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) condemned ISIL’s continuing acts of violence in Syria and Iraq, as well as the recent tragic events that had shown that terrorism had no borders.  The international community must act decisively against them, he said, emphasizing that “there is no such thing as a good terrorist”.  Five years since the start of the Syrian crisis, a true humanitarian catastrophe was under way in that country.  Venezuela condemned attacks against humanitarian personnel and the facilities in which they did their work.  He said his delegation remained concerned about the continuing use of explosives and car bombs by ISIL and other terrorist groups, and rejected terrorist attacks on schools.  Noting that the Secretary-General’s report made no direct references to the al‑Nusra front, he said such “lack of clarity” did not help to resolve the situation on the ground.  In that context, the term “non-State actors” was a misnomer, he said, stressing that the actions of such groups should be classified as terrorist acts.

RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia), noting that reports confirmed the worsening humanitarian situation in Syria, declared:  “We cannot allow the insanity of the conflict to continue to degrade our humanity.”  Expressing concern about continuing reports of sexual violence, he also noted that schools and hospitals had been deliberately targeted by all parties to the conflict, saying it was appalling that they were employing a “siege and starve” strategy.  Malaysia was also concerned that despite the adoption of various resolutions, cross-border access for humanitarian aid continued to face security and administrative obstacles, he said, adding that his country would soon be hosting 3,000 Syrian refugees.  Syria’s future must be determined through an inclusive Syrian-led political process, he stressed.

U. JOY OGWU (Nigeria) said the Syrian conflict continued to take a heavy toll on the civilian population, with hundreds of thousands of women and children remaining trapped in besieged areas.  The warring parties must refrain from actions that jeopardized the safety of civilians, she said, noting the commitment by the Government of Syria to refrain from indiscriminate use of weapons.  She condemned attacks on health-care facilities and medical personnel, describing them as clear violations of international law.  The plight of children was also deeply disturbing, she added, expressing particular concern about killings, kidnappings, indoctrination and recruitment of children into armed groups.  On sexual violence, she pointed out that displaced women and girls were at much greater risk of rape and other forms of sexual violence.  The humanitarian solution would flow from a political one, and the political solution lay in talks such as those that had taken place in Vienna over the weekend, she said.

GOMBO TCHOULI (Chad), citing the “horrendous statistics” on refugees, the injured, and the destruction that every day plunged Syrians further into despair, said the humanitarian situation was getting worse.  Chad condemned all attacks against civilians and urged all parties to lift all blockages of humanitarian aid, including to besieged areas.  All parties must respect international law, he said, emphasizing that their systematic refusal to provide humanitarian assistance, including water and food, were a blatant violation of human dignity and, of course, basic humanitarian law.  It was time for the Security Council to consider stronger and more robust measures to end the Syrian conflict, he stressed, adding that the “unspeakable consequences” of the “unending war” included the Council’s diminished role as a “powerless observer”.  He urged the humanitarian community to continue robustly to provide assistance within and outside Syria, especially in the coming winter months.  A political solution must put an end to the humanitarian conflict, he said, adding that no effort must be spared to implement the Geneva Communique.

CARLOS OLGUÍN CIGARROA (Chile) said the Secretary-General’s latest report was one of many warnings that the situation in Syria had become unsustainable.  Reiterating the need to facilitate mechanisms that would protect the civilian population and ensure respect for international law, he said the parties to the conflict must refrain from attacking hospitals, schools and basic infrastructure.  Noting that sexual violence had been used as a tactic of war and terror in the Syrian crisis, he emphasized the need to implement the relevant Security Council resolutions.  It was also of fundamental importance to implement the Oslo Declaration on Safe Schools as well as Council resolution 2143 (2014).  Describing the Vienna talks as a “glimmer of hope” amid tragedy, he called for a political solution to the conflict and an end to the flow of supplies and weapons to all the parties concerned.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said that on 13 November, his country had been struck “at its heart” by attacks planned in Syria.  In light of the attacks, France was united and more determined than ever to combat terrorism and support the rule of law.  Noting that Da’esh, which had perpetrated the attacks, oppressed and massacred people in the Middle East on a daily basis, he said two objectives must guide the efforts of the international community.  The first was a resolute fight against terrorism and Da’esh, he said, noting that the Council was set to adopt a resolution along those lines, and the second objective was the search for a political solution in Syria, which was more necessary than ever before.  Syria had become the “greatest factory manufacturing terrorists”, he said, asking stakeholders to launch a political process in which Bashar Al-Assad was not part of the solution.  Finally, the current refugee crisis was one of the most direct results of the Syrian conflict, he said, warning that if it continued, it would become a major destabilizing force.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) condemned the attacks in Paris but expressed regret that certain members had prevented the Security Council nine times from issuing a mere press statement condemning similar attacks against innocent civilians in Aleppo and Damascus.  Certain Member States had exploited such instances in their attempts to blackmail the Government of Syria.  The latter had said for the past five years that terrorism was a transboundary phenomenon, but its words had fallen upon deaf ears, he said, adding that some countries divided terrorism into two categories — permissible and prohibited.  They refused to realize that any problem with the Syrian Government could be negotiated, he said, emphasizing that there was no need to fund terrorism and impose sanctions, which were crimes against the Syrian people.

He went on to say that his country was fighting terrorists on behalf of the entire world.  Those who distorted that reality were accomplices of terrorism and partners in shedding the blood of the victims.  Noting that much of the terrorism was funded by Gulf States, he stressed that it was time the world woke up, calling for words to be accompanied by action.  Expressing concern that States continued to fund terrorist activities in his country, he said the illegal trade in oil and artefacts across Syria’s border with Turkey was also a source of grave concern.  Resolving those issues required serious political will as well as concerted and coordinated efforts.

Syria had “time and again” expressed willingness to fight terrorism, he continued, citing the recent joint action with the Russian Federation, which had led to practical results in the field, namely the retreat of terrorists.  Combating terrorism would contribute greatly to the success of a political solution in Syria, he said.  Syria’s message following the Vienna meeting was that the Government stood ready to support any political solution whereby Syrians decided their own future without external intervention.  The Syrian army had not and would not use indiscriminate weapons and would act in accordance with international law, he pledged.  As for the humanitarian situation, Syria was well aware of the situation faced by women and children, and warned against politicizing that issue.

For information media. Not an official record.