Owing to vetoes and excuses by some of its members, the Security Council has so far “utterly failed” tens of thousands of people arbitrarily detained, abducted or disappeared in Syria, stressed civil society representatives today, as they demanded information about detainees’ whereabouts and support for grieving families.
“This Council can save lives if it chooses to act today,” said Amina Khoulani, co-founder of the organization Families for Freedom, as she briefed the 15-member Council about the fate of those detained during Syria’s eight-year-long conflict. Sharing her own story, she said her family witnessed and suffered the brutality of the Syrian regime first-hand. All of her four brothers were detained; of those, three were killed in detention. She and her husband were also arrested and fled the country after their release from prison. “We were both lucky to survive, but others were not so lucky,” she said, noting that many of those detained may be sick, subjected to torture or scheduled for execution — most without a fair trial. Against the backdrop of such violations of international law, she urged the Council to put pressure on all parties in Syria to release the names and whereabouts of those in detention; allow humanitarian actors to visit detention centres; and compel the parties to provide information to the families of victims.
Hala Al Ghawi, a doctor who also co-founded Families for Freedom and the organization Syria’s Bright Future, recalled that she left the country in 2011 after her husband was detained. Other family members and many of her medical colleagues were also detained by Syria’s Government for helping wounded protesters, some were tortured and killed while in detention. “It is in memory of them — and of the hundreds of thousands of disappeared and murdered Syrians — that I appear before you today,” she said. Describing survivors’ reports of physical and sexual abuse, torture, starvation and solitary confinement — along with lasting psychological trauma after release — she echoed her colleague’s call on the Council to pass a resolution pressuring the Government and all warring sides to immediately release a list of detainee names, along with their locations and status, and to immediately stop torture and mistreatment.
Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, also briefed, stressing that Council resolution 2474 (2019) established a clear link between the situation of missing persons in armed conflict and conflict resolution more broadly. Information from the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and groups on the ground suggest that more than 100,000 people have so far been detained, abducted or gone missing — largely, but not only, at the hands of the Syrian Government. The United Nations has also received reports of civilians detained or disappeared as part of so-called “reconciliation agreements”. “Justice and accountability for these abuses must be ensured, regardless of the perpetrators,” she said, stressing that those elements are central to achieving and maintaining a durable peace in Syria.
As Council members took the floor, several speakers underscored the importance of properly addressing the situation of detained, abducted and missing persons to reduce tensions and build trust between the parties. Some noted that the issue was one of five priorities outlined in the Council’s landmark resolution 2254 (2015) on the way forward to end the conflict. Several delegates underlined the right of families to know the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones, while some also advocated for the establishment of a national reparations’ mechanism tasked with assessing harm done, receiving complaints and providing remedies to victims.
The representative of the United Kingdom was among those speakers welcoming the Council’s consideration of “this long overdue subject”. Calling for the release of all those arbitrarily detained, she echoed calls from today’s civil society briefers that the parties provide access to detention centres and information about those detained to their families. Asking that Syria’s delegate relay those demands to his Government this week, she welcomed the work of the Commission of Inquiry as well as the journalists and non-governmental actors who work to document crimes being committed. Delivering justice for the families of those detained is not only the right thing to do, but is crucial for a genuine, sustainable political settlement, she stressed.
The United States delegate recalled the 2013 release of more than 50,000 photos of those who had died while under torture by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime — “damning” evidence of the latter’s systematic use of torture. Emphasizing that there can be no political solution without a reversal of those abhorrent practices and guarantees that regime officials will be held responsible for them, he said the nearly 128,000 people currently detained by the regime must be immediately and unilaterally released. Syria’s authorities must also grant the United Nations immediate access to their detention centres, he said, stressing the imperative of ensuring that conditions are in line with international legal standards and noting that Syria’s own Constitution outlaws the use of torture and humiliation.
The representative of the Russian Federation, on the other hand, voiced concern about the use of non-objective data to obtain information about those detained in Syria — as well as attempts to distort the situation and hinder the peace process. Reiterating his delegation’s longstanding objection to the politicization of human rights issues, he said the only accusations made during today’s meeting are against the Government of Syria, while terrorists — who have introduced executions and torture in the country — are presented as innocent victims. The international community should help Syria recover from a conflict fanned by those now expressing concern about humanitarian conditions, he said, recalling a successful exchange of prisoners under the auspices of the Astana format on 31 July.
Syria’s representative, meanwhile, rejected attempts by the United States, France and the United Kingdom to exploit the United Nations in order to denigrate his country. For centuries, those nations have distorted noble humanitarian goals to impose their hostile colonial agendas — including by toppling legitimate Governments and destabilizing regions. They now seek to sow a campaign of disinformation, mislead the international community and conceal the suffering of civilians, he said, stressing that they have rained bombs down on Syria, used civilians as shields and supported terrorist groups. While those countries attempt to weigh the Council down with meetings, Syria stands committed to constructively addressing the plight of detainees and missing persons under its own sovereign laws. Indeed, he stressed, Syria “will not accept blackmail” by Council members.
Also speaking were representatives of France, Germany, Kuwait, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Belgium, Indonesia, China, Peru, Equatorial Guinea, South Africa and Poland.
The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 12:12 p.m.
ROSEMARY DICARLO, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, briefed the Council on the issue of detainees, abductees and missing persons in Syria. Recalling that the organ unanimously adopted resolution 2474 (2019) on missing persons in armed conflict — which establishes a clear link between solving that issue and resolving conflicts more broadly — she declared: “Many Syrians see resolution 2474 as a glimmer of hope.” Given the continued lack of access to places of detention in Syria, the United Nations still has no official statistics on those detained, abducted or missing. What is known comes from accounts recorded and corroborated by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, mandated by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, as well as human rights organizations. Those reports suggest that more than 100,000 people have so far been detained, abducted or gone missing — largely, but not only, at the hands of the Syrian Government.
Pointing out that many families have no information on the fate of their loved ones, she said detainees — including women and children — have been held without due process or access to legal representation. Records from hospitals or burial sites are not public and some families have been forced to pay large sums of money in hope of obtaining information — often in vain. Deaths in detention continue to occur, many allegedly as a result of torture, neglect or inhumane conditions. Women, besides being victims, are directly impacted when their husbands or male relatives disappear. Quoting the Commission of Inquiry, she noted documented instances of the Syrian Government’s crimes of “extermination, murder, rape or other forms of sexual violence, torture and imprisonment” including of those perceived to be sympathetic to armed groups.
Citing more than 50,000 photos smuggled out of Syria in 2014 that showed nearly 7,000 dead bodies bearing marks of torture, she said that following the re-taking of territory previously held by armed groups the United Nations received reports of civilians detained or disappeared — including those subject to so-called “reconciliation agreements”. Surveys by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) indicate that fear of detention is among those factors preventing refugees from returning. Stressing that the abuses are not limited to the Government forces, she said reports show that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and Hay’t Tahrir al-Sham have also committed heinous abuses. Armed groups affiliated with the opposition have committed serious abuses as well, she added, noting that the armed opposition forces controlling the town of Afrin have conducted arbitrary detention, torture and abduction of civilians. The Syrian Democratic Forces have also conducted arbitrary detentions.
Noting that the Government of Syria claims that the number of those detained by armed groups is estimated at 16,000, she said that without access to detention centres the United Nations cannot verify that information. “Justice and accountability for these abuses must be ensured, regardless of the perpetrators,” she said, also voicing concern that thousands of foreign nationals — many women and children who are family members of alleged ISIL/Da’esh members — are currently being held at the Al Hol camp. Calling on Member States to ensure that their nationals are repatriated for the purposes of prosecution, rehabilitation and/or reintegration, in line with international law, she said meaningful action on those issues would help build confidence and move Syria’s political process forward. Geir Pederson, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, continues to seek progress within the working group on the issue, in which the United Nations is a member along with Iran, the Russian Federation and Turkey.
Calling for action beyond the present “one for one” detainee exchanges, she also urged the working group to adopt the procedures on missing persons submitted by the United Nations and called on all parties — as well as those with influence over them — to act in line with Council resolutions and international law, namely by releasing all those arbitrarily detained or abducted as well as women, children, the sick and the elderly. Furthermore, they must provide families with information, identify the dead and provide access to all places of detention to a neutral third party. Emphasizing that accountability for those crimes is central to achieving and maintaining a durable peace in Syria, she said all parties to the conflict — in particular the Government — must cooperate fully with the Commission of Inquiry. She also reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court.
HALA AL GHAWI, Syria’s Bright Future, explained that she is a doctor who established the group and also co-founded the Families for Freedom movement, which campaigns for freedom and justice for Syria’s detainees. She left the country in 2011 after her husband was detained. Since his release, her brother and father-in-law — along with several cousins — were detained in 2013 and remain missing today. Many of her medical colleagues were also detained by Syria’s Government for helping wounded protesters, some of them killed under torture while in detention. “It is in memory of them — and of the hundreds of thousands of disappeared and murdered Syrians — that I appear before you today,” she said.
In the eighth year of the conflict, at least 100,000 people remain missing, she said, many suffering abuse and torture. Families, hers among them, need to know what has happened to their loved ones. The pain the detainees endure has been well-documented. Since 2011, she has personally met dozens of survivors of detention and torture, documented their stories and provided them care. Detainees face physical and sexual abuse, torture, starvation and extremely difficult living conditions, often crowded into small dark cells, and some are forced to live for months in solitary confinement in rooms the size of a coffin. Sometimes, they are left for days in a cell with dead bodies and develop serious psychological issues and physical problems. Female detainees have been subjected to sexual and gender-based violence at a high rate.
She said her husband’s experience left him deeply traumatized. He was subjected to routine beatings, his cell so small he did not have space to sit. He and his cell mates were allowed to go to the restroom once a day. “As families whose loved ones have been forcibly disappeared, we live in a constant state of uncertainty,” she explained. Mothers take dangerous trips to courthouses and detention centres, standing for hours and waiting for answers. They often return broken, with no new information. Families want graves to mourn their loved ones, a simple right which they have to ask for today. “As families, we have suffered enough,” she said. “I am here today to urge you to act.”
She said the Council must pass a resolution to pressure Syria’s Government and all warring sides to immediately release a list of detainee names, along with their locations and status, and to immediately stop torture and mistreatment. In the case of death, a death certificate is not enough — a report on the causes of death and burial location must be provided. Humanitarian organizations and the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria must be allowed unconditional access to detention facilities, and medical organizations to examine the health of detainees and provide treatment.
She said the resolution must also demand the immediate and unilateral release of all those who have been arbitrarily detained, with a timetable set for identifying and releasing all detainees as part of any peace process, monitored by an international independent body. “We do not accept prisoner exchanges arranged between military sides as a replacement for a real solution,” she said, noting that exceptional courts, especially for field, war and counter-terrorism, must be abolished, and fair trials guaranteed under United Nations supervision.
AMINA KHOULANI, Families for Freedom, said her family witnessed and suffered the brutality of the Syrian regime first-hand. Her four brothers were detained and only one was released. The other three, including two who participated in demonstrations, were killed in detention. She and her husband were arrested in 2013 and fled Syria after their release from prison. “We were both lucky to survive, but others were not so lucky,” she said, recalling that those experiences led her to co-found Families for Freedom, a group of women demanding justice for crimes committed against family members. Today, thousands of people in Syria remain missing, most of them detained by the regime or by armed opposition groups. Noting that many of those detained may be sick, subjected to torture or scheduled for execution — most without a fair trial — she asked the Council to shoulder its obligations in cases of systematic violations of international law. “This Council can save lives if it chooses to act today,” she stressed, adding that detentions and abductions continue unabated in spite of international efforts.
Emphasizing that the Council has so far “utterly failed” detainees in Syria, she declared: “You have let vetoes and excuses get in the way of what is right and just.” In that context, she called on Council members to put pressure on all parties in Syria to release the names and whereabouts of all those currently in detention; allow humanitarian actors to visit detention centres; urge the global coalition to defeat ISIL/Da’esh and other groups to provide answers to the relatives of those detained; and provide information about the location of burial sites, allowing families to grieve properly. The crimes committed against those detained, abducted and killed constitute a horror impacting millions of people and shattering lives across Syria, she stressed.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) recalled that in 2011, as peaceful protesters took to the streets in Damascus, they sought an end to torture by Syria’s intelligence services. In 2013, a military defector smuggled some 53,000 photos out of Syria of those who had died while under regime torture, providing “damning” evidence of the systematic torture present in Bashar al-Assad’s prisons. “Syrians deserve to know the truth about what happened to their family members,” he said, and live without fear of being tortured or detained by their own Government. He underscored the imperative of securing the release of those detained by the regime, recalling that resolution 2254 (2015) calls for the release of all arbitrarily detained persons. Indeed, there can be no political solutions without a reversal of those abhorrent practices and guarantees that regime officials will be held responsible for them. There is exhaustive research on the crimes committed against prisoners in regime prisons. Since 2011, Syrian documentation groups estimate that 215,000 persons, including prisoners of conscience, have been detained, mostly by the regime.
Nearly 128,000 individuals are currently detained by the regime, he continued, including doctors, human rights defenders and journalists — numbers that have been widely documented by the Commission of Inquiry. He called for the immediate and unilateral release of all civilians held in Assad-regime prisons, paving the way forward for the implementation of resolution 2254 (2015), and creating momentum for the regime and the opposition to work together. Syria’s authorities must also grant the United Nations immediate access to their detention centres, he said, stressing the imperative of ensuring that conditions are in line with international legal standards and noting that Syria’s own Constitution outlaws the use of torture and humiliation, and rather guarantees incarcerated individuals the right to counsel and due process. It is time to consolidate all efforts under the Special Envoy’s office in Geneva and he called on Russian Federation partners to consolidate efforts of a related working group under the Special Envoy, pressing for an end to the regime’s detention practices. Such progress is essential to the success of any political solution. He urged the Assad regime and its supporters to take such steps.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said the Syrian regime’s use of torture, arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance dates to before 2011, calling those practices a long-standing hallmark of the regime that have now reached an unprecedented scope over the eight years of conflict. Victims include political opponents, intellectuals, artists and ordinary citizens. Addressing the issue of detainees and missing persons is inseparable from the search for a political solution. Stressing that light must be shed on mass human rights violations, she welcomed the report on detentions presented to the Council in November 2018 in an Arria formula meeting. Crimes committed by the regime must not go unpunished, the evidence of which will not disappear. Rather, the evidence collected can be used in national or international jurisdictions thanks to the “Caesar report”, which contains photos of the dead bodies of those tortured to death. Noting that arrest warrants have been issued against senior Syrian officials, she said the death certificates issued by the regime are not the dignified response expected by the families of victims. Safe ground conditions must be created for civilians. She called on the regime to end such practices and allow neutral actors access without delay to the information needed. To Syria’s allies, she urged them to exert pressure on Damascus to unilaterally release detainees.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) said that according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, at least 140,000 individuals are still detained or have disappeared at the hands of the main parties to the conflict. Syrian regime forces account for around 90 per cent of these cases; more than 14,200 have allegedly died due to torture — almost 99 per cent at the hands of the regime. In 2019 alone, some 1,700 persons were arbitrarily arrested and more than 140 persons died under torture in Syrian regime prisons. The regime continues to arbitrarily detain thousands of innocent Syrians merely because they dare to make use of their freedom of expression. “We’re talking about ordinary people,” he said, pressing the regime to immediately release all political prisoners and arbitrarily held detainees, and establish a timetable for identifying and releasing them. It must publish a comprehensive list of the names of all detainees and inform the families of missing persons about the fate of their loved ones. Calling summary killings in regime prisons a clear violation of international humanitarian principles, he stressed that resolution 2254 (2015) calls on parties to immediately release any arbitrarily detained persons, and that national reconciliation will be impossible without accountability.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said the issue of detainees and missing persons is first and foremost a humanitarian one, notably outlined in resolutions 2254 (2015), 2401 (2018) and 2449 (2018). Progress on the issue would advance the political track, as it is one among many confidence-building measures. He expressed support for the Special Envoy, noting also the efforts of the Astana group and calling for accelerated efforts in releasing detainees. Recalling the seventieth anniversary of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols, he said the Council must align its words and actions with the standards outlined in these instruments on missing persons and detainees. He called on Syria’s authorities and all parties to immediately end all inhumane practices in prisons and detention centres; release women, children, the elderly, the sick and persons with disabilities; allow families to determine the fate of their loved ones and to visit them; and provide detainees with all basic necessities. He called on all parties to take all appropriate measures to locate all missing persons and communicate with the families, and especially on the Syrian Government to record the number of dead, identify them, locate burial sites and return their remains to their families. Those responsible for such heinous crimes must be held accountable. Given his country’s bitter experience in 1990, it understands that the issue cannot be settled overnight, he said, citing ongoing Iraq-Kuwait joint efforts to locate the remains of missing persons, whether Kuwaitis or third country nationals.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) joined others in welcoming that “this long overdue subject is now being debated in the Security Council”. More than eight years into the conflict, tens of thousands of Syrians have been detained, tortured or killed by the regime. Underlining the need to refrain from underplaying the crimes committed by ISIL/Da’esh, she nevertheless stressed that “today’s debate is about the Government’s persecution of its own people”. Calling for the release of all those arbitrarily detained — which is both a dramatic and important step — she echoed calls from today’s civil society briefers that the parties take the “easy steps” of providing access to detention centres and information about those detained to their families. Asking that Syria’s delegate relay those demands to his Government this week, she welcomed the work of the Commission of Inquiry as well as the journalists and non-governmental actors which work to document crimes being committed. Delivering justice for the families of those detained is not only the right thing to do, but is crucial for a genuine, sustainable political settlement. Indeed, if Syria cannot address the issues that sparked the conflict in 2011, it has no hope to re-join the community of nations.
GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) agreed that addressing the fate of detainees is a crucial part of peacebuilding and resolving the conflict. While no reliable statistics exist, figures from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other groups on the ground underline the urgency of the matter, against the backdrop of an already-worrisome humanitarian situation. Noting that the Council’s 2019 resolution on missing persons in armed conflict is part of a normative framework on that issue, he said making progress in that arena can help bolster accountability for crimes, the provision of transitional justice, peacebuilding and sustaining peace. Noting that the Government of Syria and rebel groups must take the necessary measures to protect civilians, he said it is also their duty to ensure the humane treatment of all detainees and to cooperate with investigations to locate and identify missing persons. Welcoming the reciprocal freeing of detainees — as provided for under the auspices of the Astana process — he encouraged the parties to continue to pursue those confidence-building initiatives while also urging them to respect international humanitarian law, end hostilities and seek a political resolution to the conflict.
JOAN MARGARITA CEDANO (Dominican Republic) said that while the issue of detained, missing and abducted persons has a humanitarian dimension, it is also pivotal in fostering the trust of the Syrian population in a future political resolution to the conflict. Calling for the immediate end of all arbitrary detentions in Syria, she also called on the parties to refrain from disappearances and to move forward with the release of all detainees — especially women, children and persons with disabilities. As the primary party responsible for protecting Syria’s civilians, the Government must establish preventive measures to account for missing persons and reduce the vulnerability of their families. It must also facilitate the impartial, independent investigation of conditions in which those detained are held and make the results of that investigation available to their families. Underlining the importance of ensuring that civil society organizations play a role in the process — which will likely take many years — she called for psychological, legal and economic support of victims’ families, warning that neglecting them will only perpetuate feelings of resentment and exclusion for decades to come.
KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium) emphasized that no trust can be established between the parties if the situation of detainees, abductees and missing persons is not addressed. The voices of today’s civil society briefers echo those of thousands of detainees across Syria who are still being held in inhumane conditions. International law, as well as Council resolutions, lays down clear rules on the treatment of detainees, “which are trampled daily”. Underlining Belgium’s support for the work of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria as well as the Commission of Inquiry, she said all parties must ensure respect for the physical safety and dignity of detainees. Also calling upon the parties to exchange information on those detained, she said the United Nations must have access to detention facilities and Syria’s Government must provide documentation to the families of victims. Noting that the impact of disappearances on families and entire communities may jeopardize reconciliation and peace efforts, she warned against keeping loved ones in the dark and allowing impunity to reign.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), agreeing that progress on the issue could send a positive signal to the Syrian people and the international community, expressed appreciation for the Astana guarantors’ role in the related working group. A constructive approach based on enhanced communication and dialogue is key, and stakeholders must avoid politicizing the issue, as “this will lead us nowhere”, he said. The international community must strengthen its efforts and support for a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political process. Voicing support for a comprehensive settlement to the Syrian issue through negotiations and peaceful means, he recalled the legal obligations of all parties under international humanitarian and human rights law as well as relevant Council decisions.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said today’s meeting, called for by Western colleagues, had come as a surprise. “The thoughts it elicits are not the most positive ones,” he said, noting that rather than relying on trusted, non-objective data, colleagues depended on sources that are proven to have lied. There are attempts to distort the situation as a way to hinder a political peace process in Syria. Since the United States and its supporters had requested the meeting, he had expected to hear about detained and missing persons in the de-facto occupied territory of Syria. The Russian Federation has repeatedly said it is unacceptable to politicize human rights issues, yet today, the only accusations made have been against Syria’s Government, while the terrorists — who have introduced executions and torture in the country — are being presented as innocent victims. The international community should help Syria recover from a conflict fanned by those now expressing concern about humanitarian conditions. He called for strengthening Government bodies and the justice system, and for repairing broken links among Syrians.
Recalling that as part of the Astana format meeting held on 2 and 3 August, a successful working group comprised of the Russian Federation, Iran, Turkey, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has shown to improve trust among warring parties. On 31 July, the fourth operation to liberate detainees and exchange prisoners took place. The total number of people freed has exceeded 110 persons, thanks to its efforts, including in February and April 2018, and on another occasion in 2018. The working group is also focused on the issue of missing persons. The United Nations and ICRC are developing models for compiling a database of those considered missing by Syria’s Government and the opposition. Such issues are extremely sensitive and he expressed hope that his Council colleagues understood that it should not be publicized or politicized. Taking up the issue in the Council could disrupt the complex process of establishing trust among parties. “No one is interested in such a negative development,” he said, pressing his Western colleagues to help discover what happened to those arbitrarily held in eastern Ghouta and Syria’s south-west. “These are not questions that should be addressed to Damascus,” he insisted.
Noting that Syria’s north-east is in ruins, he said the Russian Federation’s military recorded 300 terrorist acts that took place in June and July alone. On Rukban camp, he said that many displaced persons have been able to leave, thanks to efforts by the Russian Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides, and stressed that his country would continue work with the United Nations to ensure refugee return. The situation at Al Hol camp is catastrophic and it is time to transmit that area to Syria’s authorities, he said, calling that facility a “concentration camp” and pointing to the occupying Power as responsible under the Geneva Conventions for those conditions. Given the conflicting statements by the United States leadership, it would seem that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) is defeated in Syria. However, the continued presence of the United States suggests it has other goals that are not aligned with respecting Syria’s sovereignty.
WU HAITAO (China) said the Special Envoy has maintained good cooperative relations with all parties, including Syria’s Government, and he encouraged all parties to build mutual trust through such measures as prisoner swaps. Resolution 2474 (2019) on missing persons in armed conflict should be implemented in earnest. With the working group under the Astana framework, Syria’s Government and the opposition have released prisoners. The working group is committed to making progress on releasing prisoners and abductees, handing over bodies and identifying missing persons. China supports the working group in that role, he said, pressing the international community to provide material and other assistance to the Syrian people to rebuild the country. It also should fully respect Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity, as well as adhere to the humanitarian principles of neutrality, fairness and non-politicization. Parties should defuse their differences, advance national reconciliation and gradually find a political solution that takes into account the concerns of all parties, he said, stressing that efforts also should be made to bring the Astana process into full play as an avenue for fostering dialogue.
PAUL DUCLOS (Peru) called for efforts to forge a climate of understanding which will help facilitate progress on Syria’s political track. Welcoming efforts and progress by the Astana guarantors on the release of detainees, he nevertheless said there is considerable room for improvement on release operations and called for more precise records and more fluid exchanges of information and data between the parties. He also called for the drafting and adoption of national laws providing for the protection of detainees before, during and after release, as well as laws aimed at meeting the needs of victims’ families. The international community can assist by providing financial resources, establishing a stronger legal framework or by putting more pressure on the parties. Meanwhile, he said, the Government and the opposition must move beyond their current limited prisoner exchanges and towards the simultaneous release of groups of detainees.
AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea) said the Council’s consideration of this issue — one of the five priorities outlined in resolution 2254 (2015) — “must remain useful”. Pointing out that progress on the situation of detainees can reduce tensions on the ground in Syria as well as among refugees in neighbouring countries, she said the parties should undertake measures to account for persons reported missing as a result of hostilities, and provide their families with all possible information on their whereabouts. The parties should also release all persons arbitrary detained, especially women and children. Welcoming the efforts of the working group as well as the recent prisoner swaps facilitated by the Astana guarantors, she called for the release of officials and civil servants employed by United Nations agencies and funds. In addition, she advocated for the establishment of a national reparations mechanism in Syria tasked with assessing harm done, receiving complaints and providing both individual and communal reparations or other remedies to victims.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) said all parties to a conflict must be aware of and respect their legal and moral obligations that people within their area of control are protected and detailed records are kept of detainees. Given South Africa’s experience with national reconciliation, he highlighted the importance to truth, justice and accountability in solidifying the peace process while bringing closure for families. Welcoming the recent prisoner swap in northern Aleppo, he urged all parties to agree to more such releases, moving away from one-to-one exchanges in favour of releasing larger numbers of detainees. To build on this positive momentum, South Africa calls on all parties to release all civilians as a gesture of good faith and confidence-building. “To enhance accountability to our own societies and communities, let us make efforts to repatriate our nationals from Syrian refugee and detention centres,” he said, adding that to achieve further progress on the matter of missing persons and detainees, progress must be made in the political process.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland), Council President for August, spoke in her national capacity to stress that her country will continue to support all efforts to create a peaceful, sovereign, democratic, independent and integral Syria. The strong support for the United Nations-led process is not enough. “We need practical steps,” she said, as outlined by the Special Envoy in his five-point plan presented to the Council earlier in 2019. She called for the release of all arbitrarily held detainees, stressing that such progress would help build confidence and mark perhaps the most important confidence-building measure that parties could take. It would also enable a negotiated political transition process, she said, calling it a matter of respect for the rights which all sides are obliged to uphold.
LOUAY FALOUH (Syria) rejected the practices of the United States, France and the United Kingdom, which “exploit this house” in order to denigrate his country, and which continue against the backdrop of ongoing hostilities against his nation. While those Governments bear the responsibility to guarantee the maintenance of international peace and security, they have never really demonstrated any interest in human rights. For centuries, they have adopted immoral conduct and distorted noble humanitarian goals to impose a hostile colonial agenda — including by toppling legitimate Governments and destabilizing regions. Voicing deep concern that those nations seek to impose their policies on the United Nations in order to sew a campaign of disinformation, mislead the international community and conceal the suffering of civilians, he stressed that they have rained bombs down on Syria, used civilians as shields and supported terrorist groups, including Al-Nusra.
“We cannot deliberately refer to the fate of thousands of detainees and abductees […] while adopting a policy of double standards,” he stressed, noting that terrorist groups supported by the United States, the United Kingdom and France — and described by them as “moderate opposition groups” — have in fact decapitated thousands of civilians and buried them in mass graves. While those countries attempt to weigh the Council down with meetings, Syria stands committed to constructively addressing the plight of detainees and missing persons. Pointing to successful prisoner swaps just last week, he stressed that his Government is dealing with the issue in line with its own Constitution and Civil and Criminal Codes. Underlining its commitment to destroying hotbeds of terrorism and removing all foreign occupying forces, he added that Syria “will not accept blackmail” by Council members.
The representative of the United Kingdom, taking the floor again to respond to the statement delivered by the representative of Syria, said the Council can discuss any issue it chooses related to international peace and security. In fact, she said, nine member States called for today’s meeting “and not a single country objected”. Syria’s delegate should use his remarks to actually engage with the subject at hand, rather than simply insult others. In that regard, she reiterated her demand that Damascus provide a list of those detained, information on their whereabouts or burial sites, and allow ICRC access to detention sites.
The representative of Syria, also taking the floor a second time, stressed that asking questions is the right of all parties concerned so long as they seek to reach serious solutions based on Council resolutions and the Charter of the United Nations. Noting that all those relevant agreements have underlined the need to respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and to eradicate terrorism, he asked the delegates of the United Kingdom — and other Governments with illegal military presences in Syria — to provide a date on which they plan to end their interventions in his country, as well as when they plan to lift their unilateral, coercive measures. He also requested information on their position vis-á-vis the activities of terrorists, including Al-Nusra in Idlib Governorate.
The representative of the United Kingdom rejected allegations that her country and its partners support terrorism, describing statements to that effect as wholly unjustified and asking Syria’s representative to withdraw them. As to deadlines, she stressed that they remain entirely “in Syria’s hands”. Until there is a viable United Nations-brokered political process, no European Union-funded reconstruction process will begin in Syria, she said, pointing out that requests for ICRC access to detention facilities have been accepted by many other Governments and do not in any way trample national sovereignty.
The representative of the Russian Federation said that comments by his counterpart from the United Kingdom were more akin to a prosecutor talking to an accused person. His delegation had raised concerns that the United Kingdom has not yet answered. If the Council today was akin to a court, then in defending the accused, he stressed that the issue of external interference in Syria should be borne in mind.