– As delivered –
Remarks by H.E. Mr. Volkan Bozkir, President of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly
30 March 2021
Acting Assistant Secretary-Generals,
Earlier this month, we heard from representatives of Syrian civil society here in the General Assembly Hall. Their experiences represent what many of us would consider our very worst fears. I hope that you keep these brave speakers in mind today, as we try to comprehend the enormity and extent of the crisis in Syria.
Today’s discussion is not an assessment or an evaluation of the enjoyment of the fundamental human rights of Syrians.
It is clear. The Syrian people have been suffering for ten years. Their demands to have some sort of freedom have been suppressed by violence.
Half a million Syrians have died.
Three out of every five Syrians, had to leave their homes.
Four out of every five Syrians, live in dire poverty.
There is no daily life for Syrians – there is only survival.
Survival is becoming increasingly more difficult as living conditions across the country continue to deteriorate, and the price of basic goods skyrocket. Food prices alone, have increased by 222% in one year.
Today, more Syrians are hungry than ever before, and in some cases, have been subjected to starvation. Those who have defeated the odds and survived, are now threatened by the COVID-19 virus.
The crisis has left specific groups especially vulnerable.
Some Syrian children have never known a life beyond this daily survival. Nine out of ten children in Syria need humanitarian assistance; many are underdeveloped due to malnutrition.
These children remain at risk of being killed, injured, recruited, used in hostilities, tortured, detained, abducted, or sexually abused. Across Syria grave violations of children’s rights are a concern – even where hostilities have declined, as many families resort to child labour to make ends meet.
For girls, the situation is even worse as they are being forced into early marriage; and are thus likely to never return to a classroom, and to experience gender-based violence in their adult life, just as the current generation of Syrian women have.
Many women became the head of household overnight and took the courageous decision to lead their families across active frontlines, along the most treacherous routes, in order to find safe shelter. They have faced humiliation and violence; and have had to make impossible decisions, that no one should ever have to contemplate.
An acute refugee crisis continues across the region, with host communities heavily impacted by the Syrian crisis.
The situation in Syria causes security risks all over the region due to the presence of terrorist groups within this country.
Syria remains, above all, a protection crisis: a violation of the long-established norm that all civilians, no matter where they are located, should be protected in times of conflict.
Most recently, Atarib Hospital, a UN-deconflicted facility, and a nearby UN cross-border humanitarian aid facility, were attacked, and this hospital is now closed.
Yet another war crime, that the international community cannot let go unpunished.
Today I call on all the perpetrators of these crimes to end these violations, and to uphold international humanitarian law.
A sustained, large-scale cross-border response remains the only way to address the needs of millions of vulnerable people in Syria. In the coming months, the Security Council will discuss an extension of the mechanism for cross-border aid delivery. I urge the members of the Council, to authorize the extension of the UN humanitarian mechanism.
The resilience of Syrians has been pushed to the limit. How much can people endure?
The United Nations is trying its best to provide relief. UN entities and partner organizations deliver assistance to 7.7 million people every month- a significant increase on last year. Sometimes at far too high a cost: 14 humanitarian workers have been killed, in the last 14 months in north-west Syria.
Much more assistance is required to address the needs of all people across Syria. However, the need for access remains as critical today, as it has ever been. Insecurity, obstructive bureaucratic regulations, and active frontlines, hinder our ability to reach people at a time when their humanitarian needs are increasing at a rate that existing capacities may not be able to meet.
The need for sustained access will only grow in importance as the COVID-19 vaccination campaign begins in the second quarter of 2021.
A sustained, large-scale cross-border response remains the only way to address the needs of millions of vulnerable people in Syria. Next week, I plan to visit the vital UN humanitarian operations, managed by OCHA, to learn of the latest developments on the ground. I will also meet with Syrian refugees to hear from them directly.
In the coming months, the Security Council will discuss an extension of the mechanism for cross-border aid delivery. I urge the members of the Council, to authorize the extension of the UN humanitarian mechanism.
It is the only way to secure rapid, safe, and unimpeded humanitarian access, to all people in need, in line with the fundamental humanitarian principles of humanity, independence, impartiality, and neutrality.
Humanitarian aid alone is not the answer to the Syrian crisis. A Syrian-led, Syrian-owned political settlement, in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2254, is the best hope to ensure peace and stability in Syria, and the protection of human rights of the people of Syria.
Seventy-five years ago, we pledged,
“…to re-affirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person…”
The fact is that human rights are not truly universal, until these rights are upheld, and protected for everyone, everywhere.
We cannot forget about the people of Syria.
I thank you.