Amid Funding Shortfall, Humanitarian Official Urges Security Council to Ensure Unimpeded Access for Millions Suffering in Syria, as Delegates Call for Unity

SC/13955
19 September 2019
8622nd Meeting (AM)

Amid Funding Shortfall, Humanitarian Official Urges Security Council to Ensure Unimpeded Access for Millions Suffering in Syria, as Delegates Call for Unity

With winter fast approaching, funding and supplies will be essential to meet the growing needs of Syria’s people, a top United Nations humanitarian official told the Security Council today, laying out the extensive challenges confronting aid workers working tirelessly to reach civilians with life-saving assistance.

Briefing the Council, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator warned that conditions in Syria remain alarming.  “It is critical that the much-needed respite for civilians continues, unimpeded humanitarian access be facilitated to all civilians in need and the protected status of civilian infrastructure be respected,” she stressed.

While welcoming the reported decline in fighting following a unilateral ceasefire in the Idlib de-escalation area, she said an estimated 400,000 people in north-western Syria fled their homes between May and August.  Host communities are becoming increasingly strained and families are simply unable to afford rent.  Compounding matters, $68.4 million is required to address shelter and non‑food needs, and access to those most in need often depends on extensive coordination with community leaders, armed groups and multiple Member States — including Syria, Russian Federation, United States and Jordan.

In Al Hol camp, where 94 per cent of the 68,600 residents are women and children, the reality is extremely challenging, she said.  Clean water and sanitation are lacking.  Many children have been exposed to extreme violence and trauma under Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), and failure to rehabilitate or prosecute former terrorist fighters risks radicalizing a new generation.  In north-east Deir ez-Zor Governorate, the Syrian Democratic Forces reportedly closed all crossing points to areas under Government control, forcing civilians to resort to more dangerous informal crossings.

As food prices rise and the currency plummets, families are struggling to make ends meet, she cautioned, noting as well that 10 million Syrians live in areas contaminated by unexploded ordnance.  She welcomed the Secretary-General’s announcement that an independent United Nations Headquarters Board of Inquiry has been established and will begin on 30 September to investigate incidents that have occurred across the north-west.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of the United States said the unilateral ceasefire announced on 31 August only enables Syria’s forces and their allies to rest, regroup and reorganize before their next attack.  She called for the Board of Inquiry’s final report to be made public, as doing so will greatly help in holding responsible parties to account.

China’s representative expressed concern over the Board’s establishment, suggesting instead that the United Nations increase its coordination and communication with Syria’s Government.  Reiterating calls from the recent Astana summit that no country has the right to violate Syria’s territorial integrity and independence, he backed efforts by the Russian Federation, Turkey and Iran to fight terrorists.

Some Council members appealed to their colleagues to stand united in efforts to end the suffering of millions of Syrians who have endured years of war.  Many voiced support for the ceasefire announced by the Russian Federation on 31 August.

Indonesia’s delegate urged all parties to facilitate immediate, safe, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access for the United Nations.  The Council must act to prevent further suffering, he said, “to ensure that we are not too late”.

“We must preserve the humanity and dignity of this population,” stressed the Dominican Republic’s representative, cautioning against the use of explosive weapons and pressing all parties to recognize that their use risks exposing civilians to indiscriminate damage, particularly children.

Rounding out the discussion, Syria’s representative said some permanent Council members are using the humanitarian situation as a tool in their hostile campaign to tarnish the Government.  He called for fully respecting Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and urged the international community to support its efforts to both combat terrorist groups and implement counter-terrorism resolutions.

In the north-west, he said 37 per cent of people being held in one camp wish to leave for areas under Government control, an aspiration that can be met thanks to the ceasefire coordinated by Syria and the Russian Federation.  However, occupying United States forces have prevented them from leaving.

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

The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 11:22 a.m.

Briefing

URUSULA MUELLER, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, noted the reported decline in fighting following a unilateral ceasefire announced by the Russian Federation in the Idlib de-escalation area.  “It is critical that the much-needed respite for civilians continues, unimpeded humanitarian access be facilitated to all civilians in need and the protected status of civilian infrastructure be respected,” she stressed.  However, worrying signs of insecurity are present and the humanitarian situation remains alarming.  An estimated 400,000 people fled their homes in north-west Syria from May to August and host communities are becoming increasingly strained.  Moreover, increased demand and short supply mean many families are unable to afford rents in urban areas.

Following months of intensive fighting, the outcome in north-west Syria remains uncertain, she continued.  With winter coming, humanitarian organizations report that an additional $68.4 million is required to address shelter and non‑food needs.  Each month, more than 1.6 million people receive some form of assistance.  Welcoming the Secretary-General’s 13 September announcement that an internal, independent United Nations Headquarters Board of Inquiry has been established, she said the Board will begin its work on 30 September to investigate incidents that have occurred across the north-west.

Turning to the situation in Rukban, where, on 11 September, a team of 20 United Nations staff and 179 staff and volunteers from the Syrian Arab Crescent completed a food delivery mission, she reported that the mission was not without difficulties.  Access to people depended on extensive coordination with community leaders, armed groups and multiple Member States — including Syria, Russian Federation, United States and Jordan.  The team also found that conditions have deteriorated in recent months.  It is preparing for the plan’s next phase to assist 6,000 people who have expressed a wish to depart Rukban for areas under Government control.  Such an operation depends on the cooperation of all parties to facilitate their work.

Underscoring the desperate situation in Al Hol camp, she said 94 per cent of its 68,600 residents are women and children.  Despite efforts by humanitarian organizations, their reality remains extremely challenging.  Many children there have been exposed to extreme violence and trauma under Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).  Failure to rehabilitate and reintegrate nationals or prosecute them according to international law risks radicalizing a new generation of young people, she cautioned.  In north-east Deir ez-Zor Governorate, humanitarian workers express challenges, as well.  On 13 September, the Syrian Democratic Forces reportedly closed all crossing points to areas under Government control, forcing civilians to resort to more dangerous informal crossings.  More broadly, she said families in Syria face great challenges in making ends meet amid rising food prices increase and a plummeting currency.  Further, more than 10 million people are estimated to live in areas contaminated by unexploded ordnance and she called on all parties to allow for clearance of those weapons.

Statements

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) said the Council will vote today on a draft resolution, proposed by Belgium, Germany and Kuwait, that is intended to protect civilians in Idlib from the ongoing offensive.  The text will emphasize that counter-terrorism operations must comply with international humanitarian law; respect the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution; and distinguish between civilians and combatants.  Hopefully the draft resolution will gain unanimous Council support, especially as its objective is purely humanitarian.  He went on to welcome the Board of Inquiry, which must carry out its investigation quickly and thoroughly, emphasizing that the only solution to the crisis is a political one based on Council resolution 2254 (2015) and the 2012 Geneva communiqué.

KELLY CRAFT (United States) emphasized that the Assad regime and its allies must be held accountable, stressing that the unilateral ceasefire announced on 31 August only enables Syrian forces and their allies to rest, regroup and reorganize before their next attack.  She called on the Secretary-General to make the Board of Inquiry’s final report public, as doing so will greatly help in holding responsible parties to account.  She added that the return of internally displaced persons and refugees must be informed, safe, voluntary and dignified, and called on the Assad regime to end its cruel detention policies.  Expressing strong support for the draft resolution, she urged all Council members to do likewise, adding that efforts by others to promote a separate resolution that would deny Syrians a ceasefire should not be supported.

NICOLAS DE RIVIÉRE (France), also voicing support for the draft resolution, said implementation of a ceasefire should be an absolute priority.  The fight against terrorism cannot be used to justify violations of international humanitarian law.  He called on those with the means to do so to put necessary pressure on Syria’s regime to ensure unimpeded humanitarian access throughout the country.  The situation in Idlib is an urgent reminder that only an inclusive political solution can restore long-term peace, he said, expressing full support for the efforts of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General in that regard.  He went on to call on the United Nations to launch a constitutional committee in Geneva as soon as possible and invited the entire Council to support the draft resolution.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said civilians should be subject to protection under international humanitarian law, but in Idlib this condition is not being met.  Assuring that the de-escalation zone is implemented is crucial to avoid a humanitarian crisis.  Expressing support for the draft resolution, and recalling Council resolution 2254 (2015) and the Geneva communiqué, she emphasized that there can be no military solution to the conflict.  A political settlement is urgently needed, as that is the only way to ensure sustainable peace for those living in dire circumstances.

WU HAITAO (China) welcomed the ceasefire, reiterated calls from the recent Astana meeting that no country has the right to violate Syria’s territorial integrity and independence, and expressed support for the efforts of the Russian Federation, Turkey and Iran in fighting terrorists in Syria.  He urged the international community to consider Syria’s humanitarian needs, assist in its reconstruction and help the country “shake off the shadows of war”.  The United Nations and its agencies should fully respect Syria’s sovereignty.  “They should step up coordination and communication with the Syrian Government,” he said, expressing concern over the Secretary-General’s announcement to establish of a board of inquiry to investigate activities in Syria.  A Syrian-led and Syrian‑owned political solution is the only way forward and he called for Council unity on this point.

JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said Syria’s growing humanitarian needs are of grave concern, citing the alarming figure of the newly displaced.  “We must preserve the humanity and dignity of this population,” he stressed, echoing the Secretary-General’s appeal regarding the use of explosive weapons and pressing all parties to recognize that their use risks exposing civilians to indiscriminate damage, particularly for children.  Citing the latest Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, he expressed alarm that 6.5 million people suffer from food insecurity and that millions depend on food assistance.  He appealed to Member States to meet their humanitarian pledges.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said millions of people continue to endure extreme suffering, recalling the joint humanitarian operation conducted by the United Nations and Red Crescent, and underscoring the need to meet critical humanitarian needs at Al Hol camp.  It is vital that all parties to the conflict continue to work on measures that foster “a climate of better understanding”, including through the release of prisoners and identification of missing persons.  Calling for more substantive progress, he advocated greater efforts to promote demining and remove explosive ordnance.  He also emphasized the need to usher in a permanent cessation of hostilities.

JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom), expressing support for the proposed resolution, said the Council must send a message to the regime that it will accept the wonton targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure.  “Now is not a time to sit on the fence,” he said, adding that the Russian Federation should also vote in favour of the text, and that both that country and China should withdraw their draft resolution.  Further, the Russian Federation must press Syrian authorities to comply with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ request for greater humanitarian access and to maintain pressure on the regime to fully engage in the political process.  He went on to call for the findings of the Board of Inquiry to be released to the public.

MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) urged all parties to uphold the ceasefire that began on 31 August, lamenting that shelling continues to affect civilians in southern Idlib.  Indeed, more than 630,000 individual displacements were reported in north-west Syria and people there are now fighting to survive.  Immediately ceasing hostilities in Idlib is the immediate priority.  He further stated that pursuing a long-term peaceful resolution to the conflict is critical, with the goal being to alleviate civilian suffering.  All parties must facilitate immediate, safe, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access for the United Nations to requested areas and populations in need.  He emphasized that the Council must act in Syria to prevent further suffering, “to ensure that we are not too late”.

GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) called on all parties to stop hostilities and respect international humanitarian law.  He welcomed the unilateral truce announced on 31 August, as well as the commitment of the Astana process guarantors and the dispatch of 22 trucks bringing humanitarian aid to Idlib.  He noted the determination of the Russian Federation and Turkey to implement their agreement, encouraged the international community to keep up its humanitarian efforts and reaffirmed his delegation’s firm support for the Special Envoy.

MARTHINUS VAN SHALKWYK (South Africa) expressed deep concern about the continuing violence in Idlib, and its impact on civilians since April.  He condemned the loss of lives, as well as the destruction of civilian infrastructure, including schools, health facilities, markets and water stations.  He emphasized that health facilities hold a special status under international law, which must be respected.  Noting the threat of violence posed by terrorist groups, he nonetheless stressed that counter-terrorism actions should not be taken at the expense of civilian lives.  While welcoming the unilateral ceasefire declared on 31 August by Syria’s Government, he expressed hope that this would be “but one in many steps towards long-term peace in Idlib and Syria as a whole”.  In addition, he welcomed the joint statement by Iran, Turkey and the Russian Federation following their recent discussions in Turkey, which signalled their unified commitment to increasing humanitarian aid throughout Syria without preconditions.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea), emphasizing that the conflict has now lasted longer than the Second World War, said it is wrong to keep sacrificing the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people on the altar of geopolitical interests.  Welcoming the ceasefire unilaterally imposed on 31 August, he said any action that jeopardizes that ongoing armistice must be avoided.  Efforts must always be made to ensure rigorous compliance with international humanitarian law and the parties must fully resolve to cease indiscriminate attacks.  Solving the conflict can only be achieved through political and diplomatic means in line with resolution 2254 (2015), he added.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said some permanent Council members continue to politicize the humanitarian situation in his country, using it as a tool in a hostile campaign to tarnish the Government.  To those who invested in Syrian blood, “your bets will not win”, he said.  Stressing the need to fully respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, he urged the international community to support efforts by the Government and its allies in combating terrorist groups and in implementing resolutions on counter-terrorism.  He urged the Council to end the illegal existence of foreign terrorist groups on Syria’s territory and cooperate with the Government on humanitarian and reconstruction efforts without preconditions or “attempts at extortion”.  He also underscored the need to end unilateral actions that have caused much suffering to the Syrian people, recalling the Government’s support for and facilitation of United Nations efforts.

In the north-west, the Syrian-Russian coordinated ceasefire has culminated in the extraction of civilians held in occupied camps, he said, citing the United Nations announcement that 37 per cent of people in one particular camp wish to leave for areas under Government control.  However, occupying United States forces have prevented them from leaving.  He underscored the responsibility of countries concerned to withdraw their terrorists from that camp without delay, reiterating his gratitude to the Russian Federation and stressing that the United Nations would not have made the progress it had without the help and cooperation of the Syria’s Government.

He went on to stress that the draft resolution presented by the pen-holders has nothing to do with the well-being of the Syrian people.  It ignores the causes of the crisis, which globally supported terrorists are fanning in hopes of imposing a new order that contravenes myriad Council resolutions.  Moreover, the draft ignores Governments’ responsibility to return terrorists to their home country and hold them accountable.  “They revoke their citizenship to make them stay in Syria at the expense and cost of the Syrian people,” he said.  Those who have illusions of transforming parts of Syria into an occupied camp or “a Guantanamo” will not succeed and he urged the Council to vote against the draft resolution.

For information media. Not an official record.