Vulnerable Suffering Most of All under ‘Medieval’ Conditions in Eastern Aleppo, Secretary-General Tells Informal General Assembly Meeting on Syria

SG/SM/18218-GA/11845
20 October 2016

Vulnerable Suffering Most of All under ‘Medieval’ Conditions in Eastern Aleppo, Secretary-General Tells Informal General Assembly Meeting on Syria

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the informal meeting of the General Assembly on the situation in Syria, in New York today:

Thank you for convening this important meeting on the situation in Syria.  I would like to begin with a few words, if you allow me, Mr. President, to talk about Haiti since I have just returned from a visit to the hurricane zone.

On Saturday, I travelled to Les Cayes, which bore the brunt of Hurricane Matthew.  I saw utter devastation.  People who before had little, now have nothing.  No homes.  No crops.  No livestock and no livelihoods.

Access to the hardest-hit areas is difficult.  People are in desperate need of food, water and shelter.  Through my visit, I wanted to shine a global spotlight on their plight.

Haiti faces its largest humanitarian disaster since the 2010 earthquake.  We have launched a flash appeal for $120 million covering needs for the next three months.  I thank donors for their initial support.  But, I must remind the General Assembly that this appeal is only 22 per cent funded.  We are in urgent need of additional resources.

The hurricane has also greatly complicated another critical challenge — the fight against cholera.  Last Friday, the Deputy Secretary-General briefed Member States on our efforts.  We are stepping up work to contain cholera and expand access to clean water, sanitation and health systems.  We are also developing a proposal for a package of material assistance for those most directly affected by cholera.

I will lay out our plan to the General Assembly next month.  In the meantime, I appeal again to Member States for the financial support we need on both these tracks to ensure success.  We must fulfil our moral duty to the people of Haiti.

Allow me to now turn to Syria.  I have few words left to describe the Syrian tragedy.  The conflict continues to reach new and awful depths.  The offensive being carried out by the Syrian Government in eastern Aleppo since 23 September has been the most sustained and intensive aerial bombardment since the conflict began.

The results have been horrific.  Nearly 500 people have been killed and nearly 2,000 injured.  More than a quarter of all deaths are children.  Eastern Aleppo is besieged.  No United Nations convoy has entered since 7 July.  Under these medieval conditions, the vulnerable are suffering the most.  The health sector has been mercilessly pummelled; hundreds of people are in urgent need of medical evacuation.  Meanwhile, hunger has been used as a weapon.  Food rations will run out by the end of the month.

I welcome the unilateral pause in the bombing, announced by the Russian Federation, which began today.  This has helped pave the way for the implementation of the United Nations medical evacuation plan.  United Nations agencies and our partners are preparing to carry out urgent medical evacuations, and provide emergency medical supplies, for hundreds of sick and critically wounded people and their families in eastern Aleppo.

This depends on all sides adhering to security assurances and facilitating this urgent, life-saving initiative.  But, this is the bare minimum.  It is far from enough.  We need full humanitarian access to eastern Aleppo.  My Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, has warned that if the fighting continues at this pace, Aleppo could be destroyed before the end of the year.

People across the world are rightly asking how we can tolerate any further destruction.  They are looking for signs that the international community — the United Nations — has a conscience and a heart.  We are asked:  Have we learned nothing from Srebrenica and Rwanda?  We are asked:  When will the international community unite to stop the carnage?

Diplomatic efforts continue.  I commend the renewed efforts which have taken place in Lausanne and Geneva.  Yet, sadly, long-standing and familiar divisions continue to stand in the way.  I regret that the Security Council has failed to discharge its responsibilities to uphold peace and security for Syria.  I am troubled that regional rivalries have taken primacy over the needs of the Syrian people.  I am appalled that the Syrian parties continue to place their faith in rockets, guns and barrel bombs.

There is no military solution to the Syrian crisis.  The nationwide cessation of hostilities must be revived and the Government must agree to ground its air force over Aleppo.  Extremist elements must be isolated.  This will require robust and credible monitoring and compliance mechanisms.

The central issue is and must remain a credible political transition.  This is fundamental to realizing a process by which the Syrian people can achieve a new, peaceful and democratic reality, while protecting their sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence, preserving and reforming their State institutions and uniting against terrorism.

The International Syria Support Group has urged the Syrian parties to agree on a framework for a genuine political transition, which would include a broad, inclusive transitional body with full executive powers.  This is also consistent with Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) and the Geneva communiqué of 2012.

No country’s destiny should rest on the fate of any single individual.  My Special Envoy continues to work intensively to reconvene formal talks.  We must be ready to move quickly, in a concerted manner.

Grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have been committed in Syria.  Some of these may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.  I call on all of you to cooperate and fulfil your collective responsibility to protect.  Accountability is a responsibility we must all uphold.  Failing to do so would deny Syrians justice and healing.

Members of the Government who gave orders or were part of the chain of command must be brought to account.  Others on the battlefield must also be brought into the halls of justice.  Most immediately, I have established an internal United Nations Board of Inquiry to investigate the tragedy involving a United Nations-Syrian Arab Red Crescent relief operation to Urum al-Kubra on 19 September.

I began by saying we have run out of words to describe the situation in Syria.  Let us resolve together to replace all of our words with collective action to finally deliver peace to the people of Syria and uphold our common humanity.

For information media. Not an official record.