Prognosis for Progress in Syria Grave, Secretary-General Tells General Assembly, Reporting on Latest ‘Shocking and Sickening’ Massacre, UN Monitors under Fire

7 June 2012

Prognosis for Progress in Syria Grave, Secretary-General Tells General Assembly, Reporting on Latest ‘Shocking and Sickening’ Massacre, UN Monitors under Fire

7 June 2012
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fifth General Assembly

Informal Plenary

AM Meeting

Prognosis for Progress in Syria Grave, Secretary-General Tells General Assembly,

Reporting on Latest ‘Shocking and Sickening’ Massacre, UN Monitors under Fire

Plan Not Being Implemented, All-out Civil War Possible, Says Special Envoy;

Syria Says Situation ‘Truly Unfortunate’, but Today’s Meeting Politically Motivated

In the wake of what United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described as yet another “shocking and sickening” massacre of civilians in Syria, senior United Nations and Arab League officials today joined forces “at a grave and grievous hour” to rally international support for envoy Kofi Annan’s faltering peace plan and press the Syrian Government and opposition groups to immediately end the violence.   

“Each day seems to bring new additions to the grim catalogue of atrocities:  assaults against civilians; brutal human rights violations; mass arrests; and execution-style killings of whole families,” Secretary-General Ban told the General Assembly, reporting that he had just learned that unarmed United Nations monitors had come under fire as they attempted to reach the scene of the latest mass killing, in Al-Qubair and Kafr Zeta, near the province of Hama.   

Following a moment of silence in the General Assembly to honour the victims of the Syrian crisis — that began with peaceful demonstrations but, over 15-months of escalating violence, had left the county on the brink of civil war — the Secretary-General said:  “Now is the time […] to take bold and concerted action in the name of our common humanity.”

The meeting had been convened by Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser so that Member States could be briefed on latest developments by the Secretary-General, as well as Nabil Elaraby, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and Kofi Annan, Joint Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, whose six-point peace plan called for, among other things, an end to all fighting, progress on a Syrian-led political settlement, and unhindered access for relief workers.

“Our priorities remain clear:  to stop the violence and protect the Syrian people and their rights; to deliver humanitarian aid to those in need; and to advance a political solution to the crisis,” Secretary-General Ban said, adding:  “The Annan Plan remains the centrepiece of these efforts.  We continue to support it with stronger steps to ensure compliance.”  At the same time, in view of the deteriorating situation, he welcomed further discussion on how the international community could act more effectively.

“Syria is at a pivotal moment.  And so are we.  Syria and the region can quickly move from tipping point to breaking point.  The dangers of full-scale civil war are imminent and real,” he said, echoing an earlier statement by Mr. Annan, and calling on President Bashar Al-Assad to “urgently and unconditionally” implement the Envoy’s six-point plan.  He also called on the Syrian leader to allow the United Nations observer mission to do its work, safely and without interference or intimidation.  Syrian authorities were also urged to allow humanitarian teams to operate freely to ease the situation of more than 1 million civilians and some 100,000 Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.

He said that for months, it had been clear that President Assad and his Government had lost all legitimacy.  The recent slaughter in El-Houleh had brought that fact into horrifying focus.  “The trail of blood leads back to those responsible.  Any regime or leader that tolerates such killing of innocents has lost its fundamental humanity,” he said, also expressing shock following news today of the massacre in Al-Qubair and Kafr Zeta. 

There, in an area apparently surrounded by Syrian forces, the bodies of some dead civilians had been found allegedly burned or slashed with knives.  “We condemn this unspeakable barbarity and renew our determination to bring those responsible to account,” he said, adding that United Nations monitors, who had initially been denied access, were working get to the scene.

With too little evidence that the Syrian Government was living up to its commitments under the six-point plan endorsed by the Security Council more than two months ago, and in light of the fact that opposition elements unfortunately had turned to arms and declared that they would no longer respect the plan, he said the prognosis for political progress was “extremely grave”.  “And the longer this conflict goes on, the more difficult the path towards peace and eventual reconciliation will become,” he said, urging the international community to recognize those realities — “and act, with unity and collective will”.

Echoing that sentiment, Mr. Annan said:  “For the sake of the people who are living through this nightmare, the international community must come together and act as one”.  He recalled that three months ago, after a year of deepening crisis in Syria, and based on the Assembly’s guidance, the United Nations and the League of Arab States had given him a “tough job”, namely to stop the violence in Syria and jumpstart political talks that would unleash the political aspirations of the Syrian people.

“Yet despite my efforts, I must confirm that quite frankly, the plan is not being implemented,” he said, expressing his horror and condemnation of the new massacre in Al-Qubair and Kafr Zeta.  “We cannot allow mass killings to become part of everyday reality for civilians in Syria,” he continued, adding that the situation was escalating and that the country was becoming more radicalized.  Moreover, Syria’s neighbours were becoming more worried about spillover.

Mr. Annan said that in recent meetings with President Assad, he had urged him to take “bold and visible steps” to radically change his military posture and to reaffirm commitment to the six-point plan.  The Envoy had also urged the Syrian leader to make a strategic decision to change his path.  At that time, President Assad had expressed the belief that the main obstacle to political progress was the action of militants.  “Clearly, all parties must cease violence, but the first responsibility rests with the Government,” Mr. Annan said, and explained that since his meetings, the shelling of civilian areas had only intensified and Government-backed militia seemed to have free rein with appalling consequences.

And while the Syrian Government had released some detainees and made tentative arrangements for the provision of humanitarian assistance, “the hour demands much more”, he said.  While the people continued to make their voices heard in the streets, opposition groups had intensified their attacks, which would not serve the Syrian people.  The situation was becoming more deadly by a series of bombings that revealed the presence of a third party.  Unless rapid action was taken, he said, the “prevailing situation in Syria would be characterized by more brutal repression, massacres and sectarian violence, and even all out civil war.”

“All Syrians will lose,” if such a scenario became a reality, Mr. Annan said, urging the international community to consider other measures to bring an end to the violence.  All stakeholders must act quickly, and the process could not be open-ended or the situation would become more radicalized.  “The international community has united, but it must take that unity to a new level; it must find the will and common ground to act — and act as one.”  Individual actions would not resolve the crisis.

He said that it must be made clear to President Assad that there would be consequences if compliance with the six-point plan was not forthcoming.  Any future initiatives must also chart the course for the Government towards a peaceful political transition.  “If we act and speak with once voice, I believe it is still possible to avert the worst [and] steer Syria away from this crisis,” he said finally.

In his briefing, Mr. Elaraby recalled that the brutal crisis in Syria had begun as a series of peaceful demonstrations, and the legitimate demands of the Syrian citizenry for free expression and fundamental rights remained at the heart of finding a peaceful political resolution.  Such a solution would require strong support from the international community, he said, adding that the Syrian people were today looking to the Assembly to help break the cycle of violence and pave the way for them to live in peace and dignity.

He said the Council of the League of Arab States had on 2 June adopted a resolution on the situation, recommending that it be brought before the Assembly in an effort to stem the rapid deterioration and address the actions of the Syrian Government.  More than 15 months had passed since the crisis had erupted, and the international community must join forces to find a way out.  First and foremost, the violence and killing of civilians must end and a way must be found for the Syrian people to express their fundamental rights.

The Arab League, for its part, had adopted a number of resolutions and decisions and had drafted an Arab-backed plan to ease the suffering of the people and point to a political path out of the crisis, he said.  All such efforts and initiatives had not led to the cessation of violence, and hence, the League had been duty-bound to bring the matter to the Security Council and the Assembly.  Subsequent efforts at the United Nations had led to the appointment of the Joint Special Envoy and the presentation by that official of a six-point plan.

“Yet, we realize that without serious cooperation from the Syrian Government, the six-point plan will never succeed,” he said, adding that following a recent briefing by Mr. Annan, the League had adopted a wide-ranging resolution, which had, among other things, deplored the ongoing violence and called on the Security Council to reaffirm its backing for the six-point plan by setting a timeframe for its implementation.  He stressed that the League was not calling on the Council to resort to the use of force; it was urging strengthened support for Mr. Annan’s plan and for the consideration of ways to ratchet up economic and political pressure on the Syrian Government.

Mr. Al-Nasser, in his opening remarks, said the Assembly was being briefed at a “tragic moment” for the Syrian people, following the atrocities that had been committed two weeks ago in El-Houleh and just yesterday in Al-Qubair and Kafr Zeta.  He condemned in the strongest terms those “appalling and brutal crimes”, and said that “we cannot deny that grave violations of humanitarian and human rights law are being committed in Syria”.  Such crimes, he continued, must be investigated, and to that end, he welcomed the decision by the Human Rights Council to establish a Commission of Inquiry.  He also looked forward to the investigation to be carried out by the Syrian Government.

He went on to say that, in convening today’s meeting, the Assembly was upholding its Charter-mandated responsibility towards the maintenance of international peace and security.  Indeed, the Assembly provided a viable mechanism at moments when other United Nations bodies were deadlocked.  On 16 February, the Assembly had adopted a resolution appointing the Joint Special Envoy, who had subsequently presented his six-point plan.  The Assembly was complementing the actions of the Security Council, which had adopted resolutions 2042 and 2043, backing Mr Annan’s plan and setting up the United Nations monitoring mission, known as UNSMIS.

“We must find a way to end the violence and the humanitarian crisis and a way to start a comprehensive Syrian led solution,” he said, urging support for Mr. Annan’s efforts.  Calling for “frank discussions” on the situation in Syria, he urged Member States to act promptly because the lives of countless people in Syria — and the wider region — were at stake.  “The credibility of this Organization is also at stake,” he declared.

Delivering a statement on behalf of Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Šimonović said that last Friday, the Geneva-based Human Rights Council had held its fourth special session on the situation in Syria.  The Council had condemned the outrageous killing of 108 people in El-Houleh and had noted that some of the people had reportedly been killed by artillery and tank fire, and it seemed that many of the victims had been summarily executed in their own homes.  The Syrian inter-ministerial committed investigating the incident had reported that armed terrorist groups were responsible for the killings and that three military personnel had lost their lives.

The Human Rights Council had requested the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria to conduct a comprehensive and unfettered probe into those events and, if possible, to publicly identify those responsible.  Those killings were indicative of patterns of widespread or systematic attacks against civilians that might amount to crimes against humanity, he said, reiterating the High Commissioner’s call on the Security Council to refer the Syria case to the International Criminal Court. 

He also told the Assembly that the Commission of Inquiry was being denied access to Syria and had continued its investigation through interviews with victims and witnesses that had fled to neighbouring countries.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had recently concluded a broader visit to Syria’s neighbours and had documented “continuing and additional serious human rights violations”, including reports of civilians in search of food in Homs being killed by snipers, as well as reports of widespread torture and detention.

“People are dying as we speak,” he said, urging the international community to unite — in the Assembly as well as the Security Council — and speak with one voice to the Syrian Government and opposition to convince them to “pull back from the brink” and begin genuine negotiations for a peaceful process of change.  “There would be a terrible cost for not doing so, he said, also calling for full implementation of Mr. Annan’s peace plan. 

When Member States took the floor, Syria’s representative welcomed Mr. Annan’s briefing, which, he said, reflected the balanced manner in which to address the situation.  As for the “sad” events that had occurred in Al-Qubair and Kafr Zeta, he said that incident was the second such mass killing to occur on the eve of an important meeting on Syria at the United Nations.  From that, Member States must infer that the perpetrators were trying to incite the international community and undermine the Government’s efforts to pursue a solution. 

Specifically on the incident, he said that Government forces had been informed of violence in villages and had sought to address the situation and bring order.  When they had arrived on the scene, they had found dead civilians, including women and children.  Al Jazeera and other media outlets had aired video images and photographs of the “victims”, who, in reality, had not lived in the area.  The Syrian Government would make sure the truth behind the attack was revealed.

The situation in Syria was truly unfortunate, but equally unfortunate was the path being taken by the Assembly today, which was flawed and largely politically motivated.  He said the Syrian Government cared about all the people of the country and had spared no effort to implement Mr. Annan’s peace plan.  Government authorities had cooperated with the Envoy and, indeed, “the doors of Syria are open to all those wishing to help establish national dialogue and political reform”.  The Government had no problem with the opposition; the problem was those that sought to undermine the country’s future.  “ Syria will extend its hand to all those whose hands are not stained with blood,” he declared. 

Most of the nearly 30 speakers hailed Mr. Annan’s plan as “the last best chance” to end the violence in Syria.  Damascus had been given the benefit of the doubt for far too long, said Germany’s representative, and the most recent mass killing had only increased the need to throw international support behind that initiative.  The German delegation was pushing the Security Council to consider a Chapter VII resolution that included strong sanctions against the Syrian Government.  He also said that while the political track needed to gain momentum, one thing was clear:  “the terms of any political transition cannot be directed by President Assad himself.  There can be no future for him in a post-conflict Syria”.

The representative of the Russian Federation said it was clear that the terrible crimes committed in Syria required “very careful and reliable investigation”.  Yet it was equally clear that the perpetrators aimed to throw Syria into civil war and undermine the Government’s efforts to agree on a political solution to the crisis.  International efforts deployed thus far were not working and it must be admitted that providing weapons to opposition movements was only adding fuel to the fire.  The international community had a foundation on which to base its action, the Annan plan, which aimed to put the crisis on a political track and ensure full implementation of Security Council resolutions 2042 and 2043.  For its part, the Russian Federation was reiterating its proposal to convene an international conference on the situation. 

Iran’s representative also cautioned those providing support to the Syrian opposition, warning that “smoke from the fire in Syria will, in one way or another, choke the region as a whole”.  While the representative of the United States denounced what she called “ridiculous conspiracy theories and outright lies being told the Syrian people by their own Government, Cuba’s speaker urged the Assembly to reject the “polices of interference” being pushed by some members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), with the complicity of major broadcast media outlets, aimed at carrying out regime change in Syria.  “After all, the Council was actually established to promote peace, not violence,” he said.

The representative of Australia said that it was time for the international community to act, because, as the issue was being debated in New York, in Syria, the “trail of blood” noted by the Secretary-General was getting “deeper, longer and wider”.

Also speaking were the representatives of Egypt (on behalf of the Arab Group), China, Brazil, Canada, Israel, India, Qatar, Turkey, France, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Libya, New Zealand, Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela.

The Head of the Delegation of the European Union also addressed the Assembly.

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