Calling for End to ‘Political Theatre’, Permanent Representative Says Text Was Developed without His Delegation’s Input
In an emergency session called by the delegations of France and the United Kingdom, the Security Council met today to discuss the urgent humanitarian situation in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
Briefing the Council via videolink from Geneva, Staffan de Mistura, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, said that tens of thousands of civilians remained in opposition-controlled areas and were living under constant threat, while others attempting to flee the fighting were being prevented from doing so by those groups. Tens of thousands of civilians were also in need of aid, he said, urging that the United Nations be allowed to access those people wherever they were, without preconditions.
Referring to a comprehensive political plan he had previously proposed, he urged that stakeholders not lose focus on that valuable initiative which might spare innocent civilian lives. Furthermore, although the Security Council was focusing in the meeting on Aleppo, the war continued elsewhere too, he said, stressing that the underlying scene remained the same: the brutal price paid by civilians.
Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, also briefing the Council via videoconference from London, said that the rules of war had been systematically disregarded in Syria. Nowhere had the cruelty been more grimly witnessed than in Aleppo, which had become the apex of a catalogue of horrors in that country.
Besieged for nearly 150 days, the people in eastern Aleppo did not have the means to survive for much longer, he said. Access to clean water was scarce, and, with United Nations humanitarian food stocks exhausted, people had resorted to scavenging. “For the sake of humanity, we call on, we plead, with the parties, and those with influence, to do everything in their power to protect civilians and enable access to the besieged part of eastern Aleppo before it becomes one giant graveyard,” he said.
Geert Cappelaere, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), who briefed the Council via videoconference from Amman, said that, with a crumbling health system, doctors on the ground were reporting that children with poor chances of survival were often left to die because of limited capacity and supplies. “Nothing justifies the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, especially children,” he stressed, adding his call for parties to the conflict to allow immediate access to humanitarian agencies providing life-saving assistance.
“When we have access, we can achieve a great deal,” he said, reporting that in October, UNICEF and its partners had reached 2.9 million Syrians with urgent assistance, including nearly 350,000 in besieged and hard‑to‑reach areas. Nonetheless, since the beginning of the conflict, families across Syria had reported grave violations committed by all parties against children, including killing and maiming. “We have failed them over the last six years, and we continue to fail them,” he said.
The answer to why the Council had not been able to act, the representative of the United States said, was a straightforward one: the Russian Federation did not want to. It was a “broken record” to say that there was no military solution. The Russian Federation and Syria, however, believed in such a solution. The draft resolution submitted by Egypt, Spain and New Zealand, which, among other things, required a halt to violence for 10 days in Aleppo, was a “no-brainer”.
However, the Russian Federation’s representative said the humanitarian situation in Syria could not be discussed separately from other challenges, which included combating terrorism. Easing civilians’ suffering would not happen by ceasing counter-terrorism. He also stated that he did not understand the wish of the “humanitarian troika” of the Security Council to force through a non-consensual resolution, urging those members not to be so hasty with votes.
The draft resolution was crafted to allow humanitarian access, said Egypt’s representative, noting the efforts of his delegation, along with Spain and New Zealand to ensure that aim. The text also affirmed the pivotal role of the International Syria Support Group and called for the start of negotiations by the Syrian partners on a transitional period as soon as possible. Underscoring that his country had not supported one side or the other and would continue that policy, he urged members of the Council, the Support Group and other parties with influence to set narrow interests aside and to work to resolve the crisis
Nonetheless, it was regrettable, said the representative of Syria, that three members of the Security Council had worked on a resolution without coordinating with his delegation. Non-State armed groups were still present in Syria and using civilians as human shields, he said, commending the support of the Russian Federation in fighting terrorism and providing humanitarian assistance. Decrying “lightheaded” political practices pursued by Member States and some senior officials of the United Nations, he said such actions almost sent a message to terrorists, encouraging their acts. “It is high time to end this political theatre”, he emphasized.
Still, regardless of multiple meetings, resolutions and negotiations, human lives were being annihilated in Syria, said the representative of Senegal and Security Council President for November. Recalling the inter-regional initiative launched by Canada in the General Assembly, geared toward resolving the situation in Syria, he noted that initiative reflected the Security Council’s failure and lack of agreement on the topic. Renewing his country’s support for the draft resolution, he warned that “the price of peace is never higher than the cost of war”.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, France, Spain, New Zealand, China, Ukraine, Japan, Malaysia, Venezuela, Angola and Uruguay.
The meeting began at 11:32 a.m. and adjourned at 2:17 p.m.
STAFFAN DE MISTURA, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, briefed the Council via video conference from Geneva, stating that over the last two weeks, attacks on Aleppo had intensified. As well, in the past few days, thousands of civilians had fled from eastern Aleppo neighbourhoods to other parts of the city. Should the fighting continue to intensify, the number of those fleeing would increase. He also stressed that, while the Security Council was focusing in the meeting on Aleppo, it should remember that the war continued elsewhere too, and while each area deserved its own description, the underlying scene remained the same: the brutal price paid by civilians.
Tens of thousands of them remained in opposition-controlled areas and were living under constant threat, he continued. Others were attempting to flee the fighting. He had received reliable reports that opposition groups had prevented civilians from leaving areas under their control. Tens of thousands of civilians were in need of aid. The United Nations should be able to access those people wherever they were, without preconditions. Aid needed to be delivered to those inside and out of Aleppo, and the United Nations should not lose time in helping today.
Last month, he had proposed a comprehensive political plan, an idea he had continued to push during a visit to Damascus, he said. The proposal was still on the table, while the situation on the ground was fast evolving. Helping to ensure the departure of fighters the Council considered terrorists should be an outcome around which all in Syria and the international community could still agree on. Stakeholders shouldn’t lose focus on that valuable initiative, which might spare innocent civilian lives.
There was plenty of evidence that military logic was prevailing on both sides, he pointed out. Any sustainable solution to the Syrian tragedy would have to include a formula for stability of the country. Concluding, he said he was looking forward to briefing the Council in person on 8 December, when he would speak in further details of options to continue pushing toward the attainment of a political process.
STEPHEN O’BRIEN, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefed the Council via video conference from London, saying that the parties to the conflict in Syria had shown time and time again they were willing to take any action to secure military advantage, even if it meant killing, maiming or besieging civilians. The rules of war had been systematically disregarded. Nowhere had the cruelty been more grimly witnessed than in Aleppo, which had become the apex of a catalogue of horrors in Syria.
Because of the intensity of attacks on eastern Aleppo neighbourhoods over the past few days which forced thousands to flee, numerous civilians had been killed, he said. In addition, an estimated 25,000 people had been displaced from their homes since Saturday. Aside from the dangers associated with attempting to flee across active front lines, there had been reports that non-State armed groups were preventing civilians from leaving areas under their control. Upon reaching Government‑controlled areas, civilians perceived to have links with non‑State armed groups, including humanitarian workers, potentially faced arbitrary arrests. Throughout the conflict, men, women and children had been routinely arrested at Government‑controlled checkpoints across Syria and were often held incommunicado and indefinitely.
He called on all parties to the conflict to adhere to and respect international humanitarian law. Any evacuation of civilians must be safe, voluntary, and to a place of their choosing. Parties must allow humanitarian organizations safe and unimpeded access to help the displaced and respond to protection threats. It was also imperative that all the displaced were allowed to return voluntarily, in safety and dignity, as soon as the situation allowed it.
Concerned about the fate of the remaining civilians in areas of eastern Aleppo, he said those people, besieged for nearly 150 days, did not have the means to survive for much longer. As a result of the bombardment, all hospitals had been directly hit several times. There was now only a trauma unit. Access to clean water was scarce. People had resorted to scavenging, as United Nations humanitarian food stocks had been exhausted.
He said the United Nations and partners remained ready to provide immediate assistance and medical evacuations for civilians inside the besieged parts. Truckloads of humanitarian supplies stood ready to deliver humanitarian assistance. “For the sake of humanity, we call on, we plead, with the parties, and those with influence, to do everything in their power to protect civilians and enable access to the besieged part of eastern Aleppo before it becomes one giant graveyard,” he said.
He also pointed out that another 700,000 people were in other besieged areas across the country, mostly in rural Damascus, surrounded by Government forces. “It may be too late for many of the people of eastern Aleppo, but surely this Council can come together, stop the brutality and also prevent a similar fate doesn’t befall other Syrians,” he said. What was needed was real respect and protection of civilians; safe, rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access; and an end to brutal sieges for once and for all. Those parties that could not or would not live up to their basic obligations should know that they will, one day, be held accountable for their actions.
GEERT CAPPELAERE, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), briefed the Council via video conference from Amman, underscoring that the health system in eastern Aleppo was crumbling. Doctors on the ground were reporting that children with poor chances of survival were often left to die because of limited capacity and supplies. “Nothing justifies the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, especially children,” he stressed, adding that parties to the conflict must allow immediate access to humanitarian agencies providing life-saving assistance. UNICEF stood ready to respond as soon as a humanitarian pause was agreed upon. Beyond the grim situation in Aleppo, an estimated six million children inside Syria were in need of humanitarian assistance, two million of which were in hard‑to‑reach areas. Nearly half a million children had been living under siege for two years.
“When we have access, we can achieve a great deal,” he went on to say, reporting that in October, UNICEF and its partners had reached 2.9 million Syrians with urgent assistance, including nearly 350,000 in besieged and hard‑to‑reach areas. Since January, more than three million children under the age of five had been vaccinated through polio campaigns, and back‑to‑learning supplies had reached nearly three million. However, there were 84 documented attacks against schools across Syria since the beginning of the year. More than 7,000 schools could no longer be used because they were destroyed, damaged, sheltering displaced families or being used for military purposes. Currently, 1.7 million children and adolescents in Syria were out of school.
Since the beginning of the conflict, families across Syria had reported grave violations committed by all parties against children, he continued. In 2015, the United Nations had verified 1,500 such violations including killing, maiming, the recruitment and use of children by parties to the conflict, abduction, attacks on schools and hospitals and the denial of humanitarian access. Parents felt helpless as they struggled to feed children while the prices of food and other commodities had almost doubled, putting children at serious risk of malnutrition.
“Today, every Syrian child under the age of five has known nothing but a lifetime shaped by war,” he said, recalling that until recently, over 90 per cent of them had attended school, near all were regularly vaccinated and malnutrition was almost non-existent. Indeed, Syria had been among the first Arab countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. He went on to stress that the protection of children should be a primary consideration for all, adding, “We have failed them over the last six years, and we continue to fail them”. He urged all parties to lift the sieges across Syria and allow and facilitate immediate, unconditional and sustained humanitarian access to all areas across the country.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said that after five years of fighting in Syria, and the displacement of 11 million people, the Security Council had completely failed to act because the Russian Federation had vetoed time and again. The United Nations had an aid plan whose sole purpose was to save lives and alleviate suffering. Aid convoys needed permissions from the regime. With the Russian Federation as a leading member of the United Nations, why could that country not sign up to the aid plan? Aleppo was on the verge of being wiped from the face of the earth. He called for an immediate ceasefire; for the Russian Federation and the regime to agree to cooperate with the United Nations’ four‑point humanitarian plan; and for civilians who wanted to leave the city to be allowed to go where they wanted to. He also called on the Russian Federation and the regime to commit to the Council that no civilians would be targeted as they left on foot. Egypt, New Zealand and Spain had drafted a resolution calling for a 10‑day ceasefire, and there should be a vote on that very reasonable resolution as soon as possible.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) pointing out that war had rules, said that the Geneva Convention applied in all places. Those targeting civilians, including hospitals and medical personnel, were committing acts that constituted war crimes. Today, the Council had been unable to reach agreement to save Aleppo. The draft resolution from France and Spain, as well as the New Zealand resolution, were all initiatives which had run up against an objection by the Russian Federation. He called on all those who had influence on the regime to use their influence to end the carnage. Otherwise, all that lay ahead was endless conflict, where terrorist groups were the primary beneficiaries. Reiterating the urgency of putting an end to the bombing, he urged that the international community find a path to political settlement. The French Foreign Minister would hold a ministerial meeting on 10 December for those who wished to relaunch a negotiated solution. He also called for action to rally around common goals, and for the Security Council to assume its responsibilities together. At stake was the credibility of the Security Council.
ROMÁN OYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain) said humanitarian agents, unable to get into Aleppo, and having difficulty gaining access to Syria, were unable to do their work. Thanking the United Kingdom and France for convening the urgent meeting, he said the future of Syria was in despair. It was the children of today who would be the Syria of tomorrow. Spain together with New Zealand and Egypt had been involved with the humanitarian efforts in Syria and had developed a paper on that. The effort was geared toward rapprochement, and he said he trusted it was still possible to bring about an agreement. He reminded the Council of the basic element of resolution 2254 (2015) which was still in place and in force, as well as resolution 2268 (2016). Those resolutions, among other factors, noted that access to humanitarian aid was valid, and the renewal of political dialogue was the only viable path to putting end to war in Syria.
AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said that once again the Council had been unable to reach a consensus. His delegation had been working with Spain and New Zealand to reach a minimum consensus on measures that could be taken on Syria, and on Aleppo in particular, that would address the humanitarian suffering of the people. The draft resolution included: a halt of attacks by all parties in Aleppo of at least 10 consecutive days to allow humanitarian aid; implementation of cessation of hostilities in Syria; and a call upon all parties to heed the will of the international community to putting an end to all association with terrorist groups. The draft also affirmed the pivotal role of the International Syria Support Group and called for the start of negotiations by the Syrian partners on a transitional period as soon as possible. Underscoring that his country had not supported one side or the other and would continue that policy, he called on members of the Council, the Support Group and other parties with influence to set narrow interests aside and to work to resolve the crisis.
GERARD VAN BOHEMEN (New Zealand) said that for five years his country had been critical of the Council regarding its failures to address the situation in Syria. Often the Council had been prevented from acting due to the influence of the Council’s most powerful members. The draft resolution submitted by his country, Spain and Egypt aimed to reduce violence, restore the ceasefire, allow humanitarian aid and give space for negotiations. He expressed disappointment that the parties had not been able to agree on the four-point plan of the United Nations to deliver humanitarian aid. The draft resolution sought to start a process that put the protection of civilians as the highest priority. It could not be excluded that implementation could aid some terrorists, as some were saying, but the conflict in Syria was not fundamentally about terrorism. Terrorism was an incident of the conflict, not the cause, he emphasized, urging all parties return to talks in order to reach a political solution.
SAMANTHA POWER (United States) said the answer to why the Council had not been able to act was a straightforward one: the Russian Federation did not want to. Syrian and Russian representatives might claim that the images from eastern Aleppo were made up, she said, noting that both the Syrian and Russian Government had significant expertise in making things up. They had an interest in trying to create a world where all facts were contested. But United Nations briefers were independent humanitarians. The carnage was a fact, and the Council should not have to demand compliance with international humanitarian law. It was a “broken record” to say that there was no military solution. The Russian Federation and Syria, however, believed in such a solution. The draft resolution submitted by Egypt, Spain and New Zealand, requiring a halt to violence for 10 days in Aleppo, among other things, was a “no-brainer”. It should be brought to a vote and adopted with unanimous support as soon as possible. If the Russian Federation again used its veto, placing its military aims over the interests of civilians, Member States should consider using other tools, including through the General Assembly.
WU HAITAO (China), noting the escalation of the situation in Aleppo had caused widespread concern, condemned any attack targeting civilians. To ease tensions, the international community should, among other measures, advance the ceasefire and the joint fight against terrorism and work to reach agreement through peace talks. China welcomed the concrete initiative taken by the Russian Federation and the Syrian Government, voicing hope United Nations aid agencies would work to jointly ease the humanitarian situation. Terrorist groups kept launching attacks in Aleppo and other areas, blocking humanitarian efforts. The international community needed to combat all terrorist groups designated by the Security Council. The big picture in Syria was one of a political settlement. Any action taken by the Council on the question of Syria had to be conducive to de-escalation and the advancement of the political process, which should be Syrian‑owned and ‑led, under the good offices of the United Nations.
VITALY I. CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said Syria had been turned into a conflict of rivalry for regional leadership. The humanitarian situation in Syria could not be discussed separately from other challenges, which included combating terrorism. The Security Council needed to abandon the concept of a moderate opposition, which, militarily speaking, had turned out to be soldiers of Al‑Nusrah. Easing civilians’ suffering would not happen by ceasing counter‑terrorism. He pointed to France and the United Kingdom’s continuing their dangerous attempt to use terrorists for regime change in Syria, one they had long and blatantly clamoured for. The bands they had “coddled and fuelled” were on the point of defeat there, and the present meeting was a desperate attempt to use the Security Council to save terrorists from the destruction of Aleppo. The fact that humanitarian problems did not interest Paris, Washington or others could be seen in their attitude to Mosul or Yemen. He also said he did not understand the wish of the Security Council’s “humanitarian troika” to force through a non‑consensual resolution, urging that troika not to be so hasty with votes. If Western colleagues were really so concerned about the situation of eastern Aleppo, they needed to lift unilateral sanctions and not try to use humanitarian ends to advance their own political goals.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said that, emboldened by the military momentum, the Syrian regime seemed ready to sink Syria into bloodshed. Military operations in Aleppo were about crushing opposition to the Syrian regime, and the only result of the operations to take Aleppo would be the strengthening of terrorist groups throughout the region. The international campaign to eradicate Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) would also suffer a blow. Regime forces and allies had chosen to pursue the path of a military offensive. Aleppo was the bifurcation point of the Syrian conflict. Reducing Aleppo to ashes and then calling for political talks was not an option. “Assad and Russia” were closer to turning Aleppo into another Grozny, he stated, stressing that the world should not allow that to happen.
KORO BESSHO (Japan) said the meetings should not be merely venues to express concerns, but should be used to take actions. Still, the Council had not been able to do so. Shortage of food rations and other supplies was a severe threat to civilians in eastern Aleppo as winter approached. He called on relevant States to exercise pressure on the parties, reiterating his support for the draft submitted by Egypt, New Zealand and Spain, as well as the initiative to find a unified voice in the General Assembly. The urgent humanitarian crisis must be dealt with, he said, urging the Council to unite.
SITI HAJJAR ADNIN (Malaysia), noting that the chilling operation in eastern Aleppo made a mockery of the Council, called on all Council members to mandate a ceasefire and urged all parties to agree on the United Nations humanitarian four‑point plan for Aleppo. The advances of Syrian forces signified that fighting would only intensify. The excuse of fighting terrorists was no longer valid. She also called upon countries who could do so to level their influence to stop the carnage. As the Council had an obligation to respond, she said she hoped that the long silence of the Council on Syria would be broken.
HENRY ALFREDO SUÁREZ MORENO (Venezuela) said he supported initiatives to bring humanitarian aid to Aleppo, but the scope of terrorism there should also be taken into account. Terrorists’ presence in Aleppo, with the support of so‑called moderate groups, kept more than 200,000 people sequestered. The Syrian Government had to defend its sovereign rights and fight terrorism. He hoped there would be a minimum of consensus to allow humanitarian aid to Aleppo without giving respite to terrorists. It was necessary to put an end to interventionist policies and allow the Syrian people to live in peace.
JULIO HELDER MOURA LUCAS (Angola) said he was distressed about intensified military operations in eastern Aleppo over the past few days. All sides to the conflict had chosen the military option, and continued to receive support, including heavy weaponry, even from some Council members. There was a need to put in place an end to hostilities and allow humanitarian aid. He also called for an end to the “Assad must go” policy. While not condoning violence against civilian populations anywhere, he repudiated financial and logistical support to armed groups who used civilians as human shields.
ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) noted that in his “slightly cynical” view, the Council had today heard more of the same, just worse. As meetings continued to be held, bombs continued falling on schools and hospitals. Both sides had clearly decided to continue pursuing the military option, he said, stressing that the war was “utterly barbaric” and one that did not even respect the so‑called rules of war. Aleppo’s strategic importance to both sides had swept aside any humanitarian values and they were now guided only by the logic of war. A simple formula could end the massacre: an unconditional ceasefire. The draft resolution was a good step and it should be given a chance.
FODÉ SECK (Senegal), Council President for November, spoke in his national capacity, noting that, regardless of multiple meetings, resolutions and negotiations, human lives were being annihilated in Syria. That was occurring, despite international humanitarian laws and the goodwill and assistance of international humanitarian organizations. Expressing hope that a negotiated solution was still possible, he reiterated his call for a cessation of hostilities. In particular, he called for a humanitarian truce to allow the relevant agencies to provide assistance to people in greatest need, especially in Aleppo. All parties were obliged to respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law and the Council must effectively play its role. Recalling the inter-regional initiative launched by Canada in the General Assembly, geared toward resolving the situation in Syria, he said it reflected the Security Council’s failure and lack of agreement on the topic. He renewed Senegal’s support and encouragement to the three co-parties and co-sponsors of the draft resolution, adding that “the price of peace is never higher than the cost of war”.
BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria), while noting briefers’ update on the situation, expressed regret that three members of the Security Council had worked on a resolution without coordinating with his delegation. Drawing attention to a letter written by the children of Aleppo to UNICEF, he said that they wanted to live in happiness and joy. However, thousands of them were on the move trying to escape from terrorist groups. Citing an example, he said that ISIL and Al‑Nusrah Front had continued to enslave girls, selling them for $40.
“There is an elephant in the room, but no one wants to see it,” he continued, emphasizing that non-State armed groups were still present in Syria and using civilians as human shields. The Council had heard misleading statements, yet “they would not block the sunshine” as the Syrian Army continued to liberate citizens, who were now enjoying stability and safety after four years of suffering. Al‑Nusrah Front, he pointed out, had failed.
Commending the support of the Russian Federation in fighting terrorism and providing humanitarian assistance, he said that President Putin had sent mobile field hospitals to his country. He went on to decry “lightheaded” political practices which were pursued by both Member States and some senior officials of the United Nations. That almost sent a message to terrorists, encouraging their acts. “It is high time to end this political theatre”, he stated.