United Nations Seeks Negotiated Political Solution as Syria Conflict Enters Ninth Year, Under-Secretary-General Tells Security Council

SC/13751
27 March 2019
8493rd Meeting (AM)

United Nations Seeks Negotiated Political Solution as Syria Conflict Enters Ninth Year, Under-Secretary-General Tells Security Council

Permanent Representative Accuses United States, Allies of Pursuing New Middle East Reality by Backing Terrorists, Foreign Fighters

With the conflict in Syria having just entered its ninth year, and the country’s people having endured eight years of horrendous suffering, the United Nations is seeking to forge a negotiated political solution, the Organization’s senior political and peacebuilding affairs official told the Security Council today.

“No subject has been off limits,” said Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, emphasizing the importance of deepening a sustained dialogue with the Government of Syria and the opposition around the need to build trust in pursuit of a safe, calm and neutral environment.

Indeed, generating such engagement is one of the five goals the Special Envoy for Syria recently outlined to the Council, she added.  Others are to undertake more concrete action on detainees, abductees and missing persons; engage with and involve a wide range of Syrians in the political process; convene a credible, balanced and inclusive constitutional committee as soon as possible; and help the international parties deepen their own dialogue towards a credible and sustainable political settlement that can enjoy international legitimacy.

On the proposed constitutional committee, she said that a viable launch will require a set of understandings around regulating its work, including those relating to the committee’s mandate, structure, voting and chairing arrangements, the facilitation role of the United Nations, and assurances on the safety and security of all constitutional committee participants.  At least 30 per cent of members should be women, she emphasized, expressing hope that the body’s first meeting will soon be held in Geneva under United Nations auspices.

Also briefing the Council was Ramesh Rajasingham, Director of the Coordination Division in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who delivered a statement on behalf of Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.  Emphasizing that the crisis in Syria is far from over, he said United Nations assessments indicate that 11.7 million people inside the country require humanitarian assistance and protection in 2019, adding that more than 5.6 million Syrians live as refugees across the Middle East.  Although violence has decreased in many locations, increasing numbers of civilians have recently been killed and injured in others, he added.

He went on to report that the situation in Idlib and surrounding areas of north-western Syria remains of grave concern.  Despite an agreement between the Russian Federation and Turkey to establish a demilitarized zone, there has been an alarming spike in civilian casualties in recent weeks, and new displacements caused by increased shelling, intensified air strikes and a growing number of attacks involving the detonation of improvised explosive devices in urban areas.  Tens of thousands of displaced people, mostly women and children, have continued to arrive at Al Hol camp in Hassakeh Governorate from Deir-ez-Zor Governorate in the south-east, he said, noting that the camp’s population now exceeds 72,000, an increase of more than 25,000 over the past month.  He welcomed the record $7 billion in pledges made at the third Brussels Donors’ Conference, and appealed for the speedy conversion of those promises into contributions for 2019.

The representative of the United States reminded fellow Council members that the war in Syria began when the regime of President Bashar al-Assad started to attack its own people.  That regime and its allies must now take concrete steps to end the conflict, he emphasized.  The proposed constitutional committee should have the chance to put in place leaders who will protect the people rather than harm them, he said, cautioning that efforts to revitalize the political process will prove futile unless violence ends.

His counterpart from the Russian Federation pointed out that, although many Council members expressed concern about the escalation of violence in Idlib, they forgot to pay attention to civilians dying as a result of coalition air strikes.  He also warned against the imposition of Western sanctions on Syria because such unilateral measures only exacerbate the humanitarian situation.

Syria’s representative said that the United States and its allies are seeking to create a new reality in the Middle East by supporting terrorists, foreign fighters and others who attack Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Recalling that the illegal coalition that invaded Iraq in 2003 provoked the formation of the Al-Qaida terrorist group, he said the same has now happened with Al-Nusra Front in Syria.

France’s delegate urged fellow Council members to seize the narrow window of opportunity opened by the convergence of different positions around the need to defeat terrorism, improve the humanitarian situation, and reach an inclusive solution based on Council resolution 2254 (2015), which sets out a road map for an intra-Syrian peace process facilitated by the United Nations.

Kuwait’s delegate described the continuation of the Syria crisis into yet another year as a reminder of the Council’s inability to push a solution forward.

Also speaking today were representatives of Germany, United Kingdom, South Africa, Poland, Dominican Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Peru, Indonesia, Equatorial Guinea, Belgium and China.

The meeting began at 10:23 a.m. and ended 12:36 p.m.

Briefings

ROSEMARY DICARLO, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, noted that the Syria conflict entered its ninth year this month as the country’s people endured eight years of horrendous suffering, yet the conflict is not over.  In Idlib, civilian casualties are on the rise due to an escalation of violence, including rocket attacks, she said, expressing hope that the joint patrol agreed by the Russian Federation and Turkey will help to prevent further escalation of violence on the ground.  Emphasizing the need to stabilize the dangerous situation, she asked the guarantors of the Astana process to work together in effectively countering Security Council-listed terrorist groups.  Last week, she recalled, United States-led forces made important advances in areas held by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), but much work remains to address the threat it poses.  Noting that more than 140 people died on the way to Al Hol or after arriving in the camp, she stressed the desperate need to increase support for 72,000 people in the camp, with thousands more expected to arrive.  Military escalation in north-eastern Syria could lead to the re-emergence of ISIL, she warned, while stressing that counter-terrorism measures cannot override the need to protect civilians.

She went on to note the efforts of the Special Envoy for Syria in engaging both that country’s Government and opposition parties.  “No subject was off‑limits,” she said, underlining the importance of genuine dialogue.  The United Nations has also put forward some requests in seeking progress on the issue of detainees.  She highlighted the need for a broad-based political process that would include a wide range of Syrians, including those in the diaspora, to support the Syrian ownership of the peace process.  Convening a credible constitutional committee would also open the door to a broad political process, she said.  However, the launch of such a committee will require a set of common understandings on various issues, including its mandate, structure, the role of the United Nations, as well as the safety and security of committee members.  At least 30 per cent of committee members should be women, she emphasized, expressing hope that the constitutional committee’s first meeting will be held in Geneva under United Nations auspices.  Regarding the Syrian Golan, she said that the Secretary-General has taken note of the United Nations position on the occupied territory, in accordance with the relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.

RAMESH RAJASINGHAM, Director, Coordination Division, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, delivered a statement on behalf of Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, reporting that this month marks the eighth year since the Syria crisis began.  With the humanitarian crisis in that country far from over, United Nations assessments indicate that 11.7 million people inside the country require humanitarian assistance and protection in 2019, he said.  More than 5.6 million Syrians live as refugees across the region, and while violence has decreased in many locations, recent weeks have seen increasing numbers of civilians killed and injured in others, he added.

He went on to report that the situation in Idlib and surrounding areas of north-western Syria remains of grave concern.  Despite the establishment of a demilitarized zone by the Russian Federation and Turkey, recent weeks have seen an alarming spike in civilian casualties and new displacements caused by increased shelling, intensified air strikes and a growing number of attacks involving the detonation of improvised explosive devices in urban areas.  Last month alone, 90 people were killed, nearly half of them children, he noted, adding that at least 86,000 people have also been displaced by this latest upsurge of violence.

Tens of thousands of displaced people, mostly women and children, have continued to arrive at Al Hol camp in Hassakeh Governorate from Deir-ez-Zor Governorate in the south-east, he continued, adding that the camp’s population now exceeds 72,000, an increase of more than 25,000 over the past month.  Extensive destruction of homes and infrastructure is reported in Hajin, Baghouz and other areas most directly affected by counter-ISIL operations, he said, adding that more than 41,000 people remain stranded in the Rukban makeshift settlement, with 95 per cent of them wishing to leave the settlement.

The humanitarian challenges facing the people of Syria remain staggering by any measure, he emphasized, pointing out that international support for a response to the needs of millions of Syrians remains critical.  At the recent third Brussels Conference, international donors pledged a record $7 billion to meet the needs inside Syria and ensure support for refugees and host communities in neighbouring countries.  Close to $2.2 billion was provided against the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan alone, he said, adding the amount covers 65 per cent of requirements inside Syria.  He appealed for the pledges made in Brussels to be converted quickly into contributions for 2019.

Statements

JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) reminded Council members that the war in Syria began when the regime of President Bashar al-Assad began attacking its own people.  That regime and its allies must now take concrete steps to end the conflict, he emphasized.  The proposed constitutional committee should have the chance to put in place leaders who will protect the people rather than harm them, he said, adding that efforts to revitalize the political process will prove futile unless violence ends.  He went on to express concern about recent air strikes by Syria and the Russian Federation in demilitarized zones.  Noting that the food delivered to Rukban last month has already run out, he called for a third humanitarian convoy and urged the Russian Federation to allow delivery.  Welcoming the coordination to facilitate the return of refugees and internally displaced persons, he stressed that they must have access to accurate information about the situation awaiting them.  Emphasizing his country’s support for a United Nations‑led approach to detainee issues, he also recalled that his country has pledged $2 million in support of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism in Syria.

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), speaking also on behalf of Belgium and Kuwait, said the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ figures “speak for themselves”.  The international community’s response to needs in Syria must comply fully with humanitarian principles and include both cross-line and cross-border assistance, as mandated by the Security Council, he emphasized.  Meanwhile, there must be continuity of services in areas that have recently seen a shift in control, he said.  Expressing concern about the situation in Idlib, including the violence against civilians and infrastructure, he warned that any military offensive will lead to an uncontrollable and unmanageable humanitarian disaster with “no winners”.  The fight against terrorism must not impede impartial humanitarian action, he reiterated, calling for continuous and faithful implementation of the Russian Federation-Turkey memorandum of understanding.  Turning to Syria’s north-eastern region, he said the unsettling displacement situation there required special attention to the needs of the most vulnerable.  The fragile situation in Rukban demonstrates why the Council must closely follow the situation on the ground, he added, underlining that compliance with international humanitarian and human rights needs is an obligation.  The burden of proof as to conditions suitable for the displaced to return “does not lie with the humanitarian community or donors”.

JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom), welcoming the recent liberation of all Syrian territory held by ISIL/Da’esh, said that challenge nevertheless persists because the group retains the capabilities to pursue its dangerous ideology.  Noting that the threat of a humanitarian crisis continues to loom in Idlib Governorate and that violence continues in other parts of Syria, he called attention to the continued failure by President Assad’s regime to take the necessary steps to ensure broader security and economic stability.  Indeed, Syria’s currency has decreased in value by more than 90 per cent, and more than half of the population now needs humanitarian assistance, he pointed out.  Refugees will not be able to return home without credible guarantees of security, he said, emphasizing that radicalization will not end unless the people are provided with basic services.  The United Kingdom and other partners remain committed to addressing the Syrian people’s humanitarian needs, he said, recalling that it pledged $530 million for that purpose at the most recent donor conference, and has contributed more than $3.7 billion overall since 2012.  The United Kingdom has also pledged to assist with Syria’s reconstruction should there be a credible political settlement, he said, declaring:  “It is time for a Government in Syria that will do what is right for its people.”

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), associating himself with the joint statement delivered by Germany’s representative, described the continuation of the Syria crisis into yet another year as a reminder of the Council’s inability to push a resolution forward.  Calling for sustainable access to humanitarian assistance, as well as enhanced international support for a political solution that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people, he recalled that Kuwait has contributed more than $1.9 billion since the crisis began.  Expressing support for a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political settlement facilitated by the United Nations — including a transitional political process and the convening of a constitutional committee — he said that implementing the Special Envoy’s five core objectives will push that process forward.  Citing the important milestone witnessed this month — ISIL’s loss of its territory in Syria — he called for continued momentum in the fight against that terrorist group.

He went on to note that all Security Council resolutions include a preambular paragraph underlining the need to respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of States, expressing regret that the United States recently decided to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Syrian Golan.  Kuwait rejects the forcible annexation of that territory as “null and void” under international law, he stressed.

HARSHANA GOOLAB (South Africa) emphasized that a political solution realized through an inclusive Syrian-led dialogue pursuing a political transition that reflects the will of all Syrian people remains the only sustainable solution to the Syria question.  Regarding the dire humanitarian situation, she expressed concern that the large numbers of civilians in various parts of the country still require assistance.  The recent escalation of violence has only exacerbated this crisis, she said, noting that many Syrians would prefer to return to their homes and cities in due course.  However, it is essential to ensure that the necessary conditions for their safe return are met, she emphasized, sharing the Special Envoy’s his belief that their return must be voluntary, safe, dignified and well informed.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) emphasized that any military operation must be fully in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law to prevent harm to thousands of civilians trapped in the fighting.  Protecting civilians and providing unhindered access to humanitarian assistance are not choices, but legal obligations, she said, stressing that those who do not comply must be held accountable.  The international community, and especially the Security Council, must ensure greater advocacy for health and protection, particularly for women and children, she said, adding that, in such a context, the situation in north-eastern and north-western Syria is extremely worrying.  Underlining that there can be no military solution to the conflict, she said that a political agreement in accordance with resolution 2254 (2015) and the Geneva communiqué remains the only way towards peace.

JOSÉ MANUEL TRULLOLS (Dominican Republic) welcomed the recent Brussels Donors’ Conference in support of the 11 million people in Syria needing humanitarian assistance, as well as the 5.6 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.  Noting that 80 per cent of Syria’s people live under the poverty line, he expressed hope for the full and sustained implementation of the humanitarian response plan.  He also stressed the need for increased United Nations access to communities in which people in need are located.  Calling for additional financial support since the provisions delivered to the Rukban camp are about to run out, he also expressed serious concern about civilian causalities and displacement in Idlib, urging full implementation of the ceasefire agreement.

GBOLIÉ DESIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) sounded the alarm over the humanitarian situation facing millions of people in Syria, noting that many children are dying in camps.  Welcoming the recent Brussel pledging conference and the efforts of the Special Envoy, he highlighted the importance of deepening dialogue between the Government and the opposition and of including the diaspora and civil society in the peace process.  He then called upon all parties concerned to preserve the ceasefire in Idlib, and asked Syrians to establish a constitutional committee in their pursuit of free and independent elections.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) underscored the importance of countering terrorist threats, noting the lower level of violence in areas liberated from terrorists.  He also expressed his delegation’s commitment to observing all provisions of the Russian Federation-Turkey memorandum.  Noting that Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham took over control of 90 per cent of Idlib, he said that his delegation has information that this terrorist group has received toxic elements and warned against the risks of chemical attacks.  He went on to point out that, whereas many Council members expressed concern about the tension in Idlib, they forgot to pay attention to the civilians dying as a result of coalition air strikes.  Regarding the Rukban camp, he emphasized that keeping tens of thousands of people there is inhumane, noting that a majority of them wish to return home.  The most sustainable solution is to resettle them in a place of their choosing, a measure that the Russian Federation stands ready to support.  Warning Western countries against imposing unilateral sanctions on Syria, he said that such unilateral measures only exacerbate the humanitarian situation.  As Syrian refugees return to their places of origin, it is important to support rebuilding of the country by restoring the economy, he stressed.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), condemning the serious worsening of Syria’s humanitarian situation and continued deliberate attacks against civilians, expressed concern that recent changes have not translated into reduced tensions.  Indeed, terrorist groups continue their activities and indiscriminate air strikes against civilians have intensified in some parts of the country, he noted.  Urging the parties concerned to preserve the 2018 agreement reached by the Russian Federation and Turkey, he also called for increased financial resources to support refugees and internally displaced persons, and to assess humanitarian needs in Rukban and elsewhere.  In addition, renewed efforts are needed to address widespread shortages and the lack of basic services across the country, he said.  Underscoring that only a political solution that respects Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will bring a lasting end to the crisis, he welcomed progress towards that goal, while emphasizing that the process of creating a constitutional committee must be inclusive and fully transparent.

MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) said the international community must fully respect and reaffirm its commitment to Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, a basic foundation for the ability to effectively help that country’s people.  It is a necessity, not an option, he added.  A Syrian-owned and Syrian‑led political process is not merely a slogan, but a process that could lead to a lasting political settlement of the crisis, he said, emphasizing that strong political commitment is needed from all parties in order to work together and gradually begin the political process.  The creation of a credible and inclusive constitutional committee is an important phase of the process, he noted, stressing the importance of a measured and unrushed process.

JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea) emphasized the need to implement resolution 2254 (2015) and called upon the parties, particularly the Government of Syria, to avoid any further delays in forming a constitutional committee or the collapse of the Astana process.  Expressing hope for progress on the composition of the constitutional committee’s third list of prospective members, he said the broader situation in Syria must remain at the top of the international agenda.  He called upon the parties to exercise moderation and prioritize the protection of civilians, while underscoring the need for collective international action to avoid exacerbating the situation further.  He went on to state that the more than 40,000 people enduring terrible conditions in the Rukban camp must be evacuated and another aid convoy deployed, while emphasizing the need to ensure suitable conditions for the safe and dignified return of refugees and internally displaced persons.

KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium) emphasized that, while the Special Envoy’s job is to build trust and confidence among the parties, that will not be possible without ensuring justice for crimes committed.  All Syrians must be able to exercise their fundamental rights, and women must be able to participate in all decision-making bodies at a level of 30 per cent, she said.  Calling upon the parties to respect all agreements, she expressed concern about continued fighting and the potential resumption of ISIL’s attacks.  She went on to associate her delegation with the broader European Union policy by which assistance for reconstruction will only be provided in the context of a credible political process.

WU HAITAO (China) noted that years of conflict have brought untold suffering in Syria people and expressed hope that they can resume normal life in tranquillity.  The international community must continue to push for a political solution, including the establishment of a constitutional committee, taking into account the concerns of the Government of Syria, he emphasized.  Council members must maintain unity and the global community must focus on the fight against terrorism.  Sustained efforts are necessary to improve the humanitarian situation, he said, while underlining the importance of respecting Syria’s sovereignty.  It is time to move forward with economic and social reconstruction and to create enabling conditions for the return of refugees while easing the burden of host countries, he said.  He concluded by stressing the importance of an inclusive political process led and owned by Syrians under Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), Council President for March, spoke in his national capacity, underscoring the need for a nationwide ceasefire and for the eradication of terrorists.  Paying tribute to the determination of the Syrian defence forces to defeat terrorist groups, he cautioned, however, that it would be a serious mistake to think that the fight against ISIL is over.  The group’s resurgence in a clandestine form and with a new financial network must be prevented, he stressed, welcoming the announcement that the United States contingent will remain in the fight.  Regarding Idlib, he expressed concern that the regime conducted bombardments in violation of the Russian Federation-Turkey ceasefire agreement.  Turning to the humanitarian situation, he noted that the regime impeded humanitarian access to eastern Gouta and Rukban.  As for the arbitrary arrests of returning refugees, he asked the Russian Federation to use its influence over the regime to ensure compliance with international refugee law, international humanitarian law and international human rights law.  Noting the convergence of different positions around the need to defeat terrorists, improve the humanitarian situation and arrive at an inclusive solution based on Council resolution 2254 (2015), he urged Council members to take advantage of this convergence and seize the narrow window of opportunity.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said that the purpose of the terrorist war against his country — led by well-known countries — has been, since its first day, to ensure that the Israeli occupation of Arab territories will continue forever.  In an effort to create a new reality in the Middle East, the United States and its allies have deliberated sewn chaos and division by supporting terrorists, foreign fighters and others who attack Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, he added.  Recalling that the illegal coalition that invaded Iraq in 2003 led to the formation of Al-Qaida, he said the same has now happened with Al-Nusra Front in Syria.  The country’s enemies have instrumentalized humanitarian suffering in order to erode the Government’s credibility, he emphasized, citing reports that the United States has prevented refugees from leaving the Rukban camp.  Calling for the withdrawal of foreign forces from that area, he warned that the gamble by Israel and its supporters in using war as a tool in the region was a major error.  The Syrian people have the exclusive right to lead their own political process, he stressed.

Responding to comments contained in the statement delivered by the representative of the United States, he rejected as fabrications the latter’s description of events that sparked the conflict in Syria, as well as his depiction of events in the town of Khan Shaykhun.  The United States cries crocodile tears over the situation in Rukban, even as its vessels prevent the transport of aid to Syria and its leaders refuse to hold the terrorist perpetrators of serious crimes to account, he said.

For information media. Not an official record.