|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
International Community’s Inaction May Have Encouraged Brutal Suppression in Syria;
‘We Must Act, Urgently and in Concert,’ Secretary-General Tells General Assembly
Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s oral report to the General Assembly on the implementation of resolution 66/253, in New York on 2 March:
I am making this report as requested by the General Assembly resolution A/RES/66/263 of 16 February. Given the gravity of the situation, please be assured that we will keep you regularly informed.
We have all watched the events in Syria this week with growing alarm. We have seen heavy artillery shelling and tank fire in densely populated neighbourhoods across the country. A major assault on Homs took place yesterday. Civilian losses have clearly been heavy. We continue to receive grisly reports of summary executions, arbitrary detentions and torture.
In Homs, Hama and elsewhere, the brutal fighting has trapped civilians in their homes, without food, heat or electricity or medical care; without any chance of evacuating the wounded or burying the dead. People have been reduced to melting snow for drinking water.
This atrocious assault is all the more appalling for having been waged by the Government itself, systematically attacking its own people.
All agree we must act in the face of this escalating crisis. Yesterday, the Security Council deplored the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation and demanded access for relief workers. I welcome the Council’s clear and strong statement. The Human Rights Council, meeting in Geneva, condemned the “widespread and systematic” violations of human rights and demanded an immediate end to the violence.
I am extremely disappointed that the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, has not been able to travel to Syria despite repeated assurances. I once again urge the authorities to allow her to visit, as soon as possible, so that humanitarian relief workers can reach the many thousands of people who desperately need assistance.
Today, teams from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society have been permitted to enter Homs, but they are waiting to get access to Bab Amr. It is essential that aid workers be allowed to help civilians in the most devastated areas of the city; as of this moment, assistance can still not get through.
As you know, the joint UN-Arab League Special Envoy, the Honourable Kofi Annan, will depart from New York this evening. During the past two days, he has been consulting intensively with Member States, including members of the Security Council and the Arab Group as well as the Syrian mission and other concerned stakeholders. He plans to travel next week to Cairo for consultations with the Secretary General of the League of Arab States and to a number of other regional capitals, including Damascus. My predecessor has taken on a difficult mission with immense challenges; he needs the full and undivided support of the international community, speaking in one voice.
Let me turn now to the particulars of the situation: the deepening humanitarian crisis, the increasingly worrying human rights picture and the political process that we hope will chart a way ahead.
The Secretariat has sent a note verbale to the Permanent Mission of Syria requesting its response to the clear demands set forth in General Assembly resolution 66/253, dated 16 February. We received a reply yesterday.
The Secretariat has also requested information from the League of Arab States on what Member States are doing to support the Arab League initiative. In the past two weeks, I have remained in close contact with the Secretary General of the League of Arab States. I met him last week in London and spoke with him as recently as yesterday.
The Syrian Government has failed to deliver on its responsibility to protect its people. Civilian populations are under military assault in several cities. The disproportionate use of force by Syrian authorities has driven, what had been largely peaceful opposition forces, to resort to take up arms in some cases. But let us be clear, the opposition’s firepower appears to be minimal compared to the heavy weapons being used by the Syrian army. Armed extremist groups have also opportunistically used the situation to carry out terrorist acts, in particular in Damascus and Aleppo.
While the continuing lack of access makes it impossible to verify specific casualty figures, credible reports suggest that the total number of people killed since March last year is well above 7,500, including many women and children. On several occasions, the daily death toll has exceeded 100.
Approximately 25,000 refugees are now registered with UNHCR in neighbouring countries; between 100,000 and 200,000 people are internally displaced. The Syrian Government has also resisted the General Assembly’s demand for full and unhindered access for international media. Journalists, too, have been killed or injured alongside the people whose plight they were there to report.
Let me turn now to the human rights situation.
This Assembly called upon the Syrian Government to immediately put an end to all human rights violations and attacks against civilians, protect its population and fully comply with its obligations under applicable international law.
The Syrian authorities clearly have not done so. The International Commission of Inquiry for Syria, in a report issued on 22 February, concluded that the Syrian Government forces have committed widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity, with the apparent knowledge and consent of the highest levels of the State.
The Commission’s report also concluded that anti-Government groups have committed abuses, although not comparable in scale and organization to those carried out by the State. The Commission also found that the security forces and Shabiha militias have continued to use live ammunition against peaceful protesters throughout the country and that the Government has carried out reprisals in response to opposition calls for strikes.
Freedom of expression continues to be severely restricted, and many human rights defenders, activists, protesters and journalists across the country are being arrested or detained. We are receiving widespread reports of torture under detention, even of children.
In response to the worsening human rights situation, the Human Rights Council yesterday adopted a resolution that strongly condemns the use of force against civilians, summary executions, the killing and persecution of protesters, human rights defenders and journalists, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, interference with access to medical treatment, torture, sexual violence and ill-treatment, including against children.
The resolution also calls on the Government to allow free and unimpeded access by the United Nations and humanitarian agencies to carry out a full assessment of needs in Homs and other areas, and to permit humanitarian agencies to deliver vital relief goods and services, especially in Homs, Dar’a, Zabadani and other areas under siege.
We must do everything in our power to end the crisis. We must help move towards a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system, as supported by this Assembly.
Yet to date, the international community has failed in its duty. In fact, the actions — indeed, the inaction — of the international community seems to have encouraged the Syrian authorities in their brutal suppression of their citizens. Further militarization of the Syrian opposition is not the answer.
The international community must urgently find unity in pressing the Syrian authorities and all other parties to stop the violence. It must insist, with one voice, that the Syrian authorities give access to international humanitarian workers as an essential first step towards a peaceful solution to the crisis.
It is with this aim that, together with Secretary General Nabil Elaraby of the Arab League, we announced the appointment of Kofi Annan as our Joint Special Envoy for Syria. Mr. Annan will work to end the violence and human rights violations and promote a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. It is important to ensure that there is only one track in the mediation process being undertaken by the international community.
Efforts to support the Arab League’s initiative to promote a peaceful solution also includes last week’s meeting of the “Friends of the Syrian People” in Tunisia, which brought together representatives from more than 65 nations and organizations. The meeting demonstrated wide international support for the Syrian people and sent a strong message to the Syrian authorities: the time has come to stop the bloodshed.
The way towards a peaceful solution of the Syrian crisis is difficult, but clear. First, there should be an immediate end to the killings and violence. International relief workers must be allowed in. Second, there is a clear need for an inclusive political dialogue among all Syrian actors.
The international community must align itself with the process led by the Joint Special Envoy. To succeed, he will need our full and undivided support. It is time for the international community to speak with one voice, loud and clear.
Continued division emboldens the Syrian authorities in their violent, dead-end path. Continued delay in the humanitarian effort causes more human suffering. Continued violence on the ground risks a descent into full civil war and sectarian strife that could haunt the country for generations to come. The stakes are high, above all for the people of Syria — but also for the international community. We must act, urgently and in concert.
I thank the Assembly for its support.
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