Demanding Sovereignty Be Respected, Country Representative Says States Ignore Fact That Humanitarian Assistance Ends Up in Terrorist Hands
The scale of humanitarian needs in Syria will remain vast in 2020, with an estimated 11 million civilians projected to require assistance on a regular basis and 5 million in acute need of help, a senior humanitarian official told the Security Council today, urging that a mandate for the cross-border delivery of vital aid through neighbouring countries be renewed.
Ursula Mueller, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and Assistant Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs, briefed Council members ahead of a meeting later today to consider two competing draft resolutions — one sponsored by Germany, Belgium and Kuwait, the other by the Russian Federation — on cross‑border humanitarian access.
The Secretary‑General, she stressed, is counting on Council members to ensure that the United Nations is authorized to meet the needs of all requiring humanitarian assistance, including by the swift renewal of the modalities set out in resolution 2165 (2014) and subsequent resolutions. “Your timely renewal of the cross‑border resolution is vital to ensure that lifesaving work in Syria continues,” she added.
Summarizing the Secretary‑General’s latest report on the implementation of Council resolutions on the humanitarian situation in Syria (document S/2019/949), she said conditions in many parts of the country are worse than they were at the start of the year. In the north‑west, some 60,000 people in Idlib are reported have been displaced in recent weeks, with rain, cold and winter conditions compounding hardship.
In the north‑east, humanitarian organizations have mounted a significant response, but with 1.8 million people in need, she pointed out that the task is considerable and rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access remains essential. She also urged Governments to immediately take back their most vulnerable nationals at the Al‑Hawl camp, where 94 per cent of its remaining 68,400 detainees are women and children.
Looking ahead to 2020, she said the United Nations estimates that the overall financial requirements will be similar to the $3.3 billion requested for this year. In the wider Middle East region, some 5.6 million Syrian refugees need assistance, at a projected cost of $5.2 billion. “We will count on donors’ generosity during the year ahead to help humanitarians reach more people in need with the most appropriate and effective assistance,” she said.
In the ensuing debate, sharp differences emerged on the future direction of the cross‑border mechanism, mirroring the deep divisions within the 15‑member Council over the conflict in Syria that erupted in 2011.
Germany’s representative, also speaking for Kuwait, Belgium and other co‑sponsors of the draft resolution to renew authorization for cross‑border aid, said the United Nations must have a green light to access all areas in which people need help. “Millions of people in need count on your support,” he said, emphasizing that there is no alternative to renewing the cross‑border mandate.
Echoing that stance, Khaled Sulaiman Al‑Jarallah, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kuwait, also called on other Council members to support a joint humanitarian responsibility. The crisis in Syria has not only affected the Middle East but has also reached further afield to threaten international peace and stability. He added that counter‑terrorism does not relieve any party of their obligations under international law.
However, the Russian Federation’s representative said the Idlib area remains a hotbed of international terrorism, as radicals shell and kill many civilians, including children, and target civilian infrastructure. On the cross‑border delivery of aid, he described the many changes that have taken place in border areas of Syria, which makes it possible for aid to transit through official checkpoints. However, supplies to Idlib should continue to go through the Turkish border, he noted.
China’s delegate said Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity must be respected and that eliminating terrorist forces is a prerequisite for Syrians to resume a normal life. He expressed reservations, though, about the cross‑border mechanism, saying it is a special measure that should be evaluated and adjusted in light of developments on the ground.
Dominican Republic’s representative, observing that the Council is highly polarized on the Syrian issue, said that with the de‑escalation of violence, humanitarian needs are only increasing. People who are suffering from hunger and whose lives are in danger deserve the Council’s courage and its decisive action.
Syria’s representative said Germany, Belgium and Kuwait, through their draft resolution, are ignoring the fact that most humanitarian assistance winds up in the hands of terrorists. He added that, after nine years of terrorist war imposed on Syria, those Governments which created the situation are refusing to acknowledge the problem. Sovereignty must be respected, unilateral coercive measures must be lifted and the illegal presence of United States forces in oil‑ and gas‑producing areas must end, he said.
Turkey’s delegate, affirming the vital importance of extending the authorization for the cross‑border mechanism, said that today, “the Council will decide to extend a lifeline to Syrian people or extend a helping hand to the Syrian regime”. Underlining the importance of the Tel Abyad crossing point, he rejected the claim that it is an attempt by his country to legitimize the situation in the north‑east. “Turkey does not need the blessing of any other country to defend itself against terrorist threats,” he said, adding that the Council must do what is right and renew the cross‑border mechanism for 12 months with the addition of Tel Abyad.
Also speaking were representatives of France, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia, South Africa, Poland, Peru, United Kingdom and the United States.
The meeting began at 10:51 a.m. and ended at 12:40 p.m.
URSULA MUELLER, Assistant Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that, as the end of 2019 approaches, the humanitarian situation in many parts of Syria is worse than when the year began. Introducing the Secretary‑General’s report on the implementation of Security Council resolutions on the humanitarian situation in Syria (document S/2019/949), she said the situation remains alarming in north‑west Syria, where fighting continues in Idlib and Aleppo. Civilians on both sides are suffering the consequences, she said, pointing to a missile strike in Idlib and ground attacks in Aleppo in late November that left 23 civilians dead and many more wounded within a 24‑hour period. Meanwhile, four separate health facilities in Idlib were affected by hostilities in early November, while Hayat Tahrir al‑Sharm, a listed terrorist group, is continuing to harass and intimidate health service providers.
Humanitarian networks report that 60,000 people in Idlib have been displaced in recent weeks, with rain, cold and winter conditions compounding hardship for many families, she continued. With the price of fuel above the national average, OCHA has heard that families in Idlib are burning tires, old clothes and other household items to stay warm. By some measures, the intensity of hostilities is below levels seen in mid‑2019 when fighting was most acute in northern Hama and southern Idlib. However, as the Secretary‑General warns, a full‑scale military offensive would be devastating for the 3 million people who live in the area.
In north‑east Syria, where Turkey and allied non‑State armed groups launched Operation Peace Spring in October, the humanitarian situation remains serious despite a decrease in hostilities in recent weeks, she said. More than 70,000 people remain displaced from Hasakah, Raqqah and Aleppo governorates and nearly 17,000 have fled into Iraq. Humanitarian organizations have mounted a significant response, but with 1.8 million people in need, the task is considerable. Rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access remains essential and the United Nations expects all parties to the conflict to facilitate a sustained and scaled‑up coordinated response. Noting that 94 per cent of the 68,400 people remaining at the Al‑Hawl camp are women and children, she urged Governments to immediately take back their most vulnerable nationals. Many are orphans and unaccompanied children and their best chance for a better future is for their Governments to respond.
The situation in north‑west and north‑east Syria would be worse without the ongoing cross‑border humanitarian operation that is supporting millions of people after nine years of conflict, she said. The Secretary‑General is counting on Council members to ensure that the United Nations is authorized to meet the needs of all who need humanitarian assistance, including by the swift renewal of the modalities set out in resolution 2165 (2014) and subsequent resolutions. In a letter to Council members on 18 November, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator made the Organization’s position clear on the importance of maintaining all four border crossings, as well as including Tel Abyad on the Syria‑Turkey border. “Your timely renewal of the cross‑border resolution is vital to ensure that lifesaving work in Syria continues,” she said.
Turning to the situation at the Rukban camp in southern Syria, she said that despite repeated efforts, the United Nations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have been unable to return to the area since September to support voluntary departures to Government‑held areas. Efforts to securing the necessary arrangements for a humanitarian mission to proceed in safety are nevertheless continuing. Many residents want to leave, and at least 640 have done so through their own means, but financial constraints are preventing others from going. It is also encouraging that the Government permitted the United Nations to conduct monitoring missions to two shelters in Homs through which people from Rukban pass. She urged all relevant States and armed groups throughout Syria to spare civilians and civilian infrastructure and facilitate humanitarian activities without hindrance.
Looking ahead to 2020, she said the scale of humanitarian needs in Syria will remain vast, with an estimated 11 million people projected to need regular humanitarian assistance. Five million of those are in acute need of help, she underlined, adding that the United Nations estimates that the overall financial requirements for 2020 will be similar to the $3.3 billion requested for this year. Moreover, across the Middle East region, some 5.6 million Syrian refugees — more than 70 per cent of them living in poverty — need assistance, at a projected cost of $5.2 billion. Because financial support remains vital, the Under‑Secretary‑General has selected Syria to receive $25 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund’s underfunded emergencies window to support the most critical priorities within the Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan. “We will count on donors’ generosity during the year ahead to help humanitarians reach more people in need with the most appropriate and effective assistance,” she added.
She went on to emphasize that the economic situation across Syria stands to compound humanitarian needs as the cost of living grows, incomes stagnate and the Syrian pound — which lost half its value in 2019 — deteriorates. While humanitarian organizations will look for more ways to help the poorest, new ways must be found to restore essential services. She also underscored a growing number of incidents in northern Syria involving improvised explosive devices in marketplaces, residential neighbourhoods and other populated areas. Some 49 incidents have been verified since late October, of which 43 were in areas under the control of Turkish forces and affiliated non‑State armed groups. At least 78 civilians were killed and more than 300 injured. Similarly, in south‑west Syria, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has recorded a growing number of detentions, improvised explosive attacks and assassination attempts against both pro‑Government and former opposition‑linked individuals. Noting that this is the Council’s last scheduled briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria for 2019, she expressed a genuine wish that the year ahead will be a better one for the country’s people.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), also speaking for Kuwait and Belgium and the other co-sponsors of the draft resolution to renew authorization for cross-border aid, reiterated appreciation for all the efforts of humanitarian personnel in Syria and condemned the recent intensification of fighting. The United Nations needs to be authorized to access all areas in which people need live‑saving assistance. Describing negotiations on the authorization for cross‑border delivery of aid to Syria, he insisted it must be renewed as there is no alternative. “Millions of people in need count on your support,” he said.
KHALED SULAIMAN AL‑JARALLAH, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kuwait, aligning himself with Germany’s statement, underscored that 4 million people rely on the cross‑border mechanism for live‑saving aid. He pledged to intensify efforts to renew the mechanism, calling on others to support this joint humanitarian responsibility. Noting the magnitude of suffering in Syria, he said that the crisis has not only affected the Middle East but has reached further afield to threaten international peace and stability. It has also claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Syrians and displaced millions more. In addition, Syrians have been subject to flagrant violation of international humanitarian and human rights law, he said.
Kuwait has been at the forefront of donors in the humanitarian response in Syria because it believes in the need to stand by the Syrian people and alleviatie their suffering, he continued, condemning the targeting of civilians and their facilities and the attacks by terrorist groups in Idlib. However, counter‑terrorism does not relieve any party of obligations under international law. Peace in Syria will not be attainable without justice, he stressed, adding his support for the work of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011, as well as the Board of Inquiry on the targeting of civilian infrastructure. Return of refugees must be voluntary and dignified and treatment of prisoners must comply with international law. He expressed thanks to all humanitarian workers for their work in Syria, pledging his country’s commitment to keep supporting their efforts.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France) also stressed the importance of the renewal of the authorization for cross‑border assistance. The Syrian regime continues to use humanitarian assistance for political purposes; however, winter is coming and 40 per cent of the people in need in the north rely on the cross‑border routes. She called for unimpeded humanitarian access throughout Syria, including areas that have been recaptured by the Government. Fighting terrorism is important but does not justify violations of international law. All violators must be held accountable. An inclusive political solution to the conflict in Syria is needed, she added, underlining that until such a resolution comes about, France will not participate in financing reconstruction.
GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) called on all parties in Syria to cease hostilities and ensure the security and well‑being of civilians in line with international humanitarian law. Ceasefire agreements must also be respected. He called for the renewal of the cross‑border humanitarian delivery mandate and emphasized his delegation’s support for the efforts of the Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General towards a lasting solution to the conflict.
JOSÉ MANUEL TRULLOLS YABRA (Dominican Republic), observing that the Council is highly polarized on the Syrian issue, said that with the de‑escalation of violence, humanitarian needs are only increasing. It is more important than ever to put humanitarian imperatives at the heart of the Council’s deliberations on Syria. This afternoon, the Council will bear the responsibility for ensuring humanitarian assistance for 4 million people in the north of the country. That is a moral responsibility that cannot be delegated to others. People who are suffering from hunger and whose lives are in danger deserve the Council’s courage and its decisive action. The Council should stand shoulder‑to‑shoulder with the people of Syria to help meet their needs and their aspirations, he said, calling for a credible and inclusive peace process that would lay the foundation for a better future.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said Council members must look beyond their geostrategic interests and make human beings the focal point of their decisions and deliberations. Unfortunately, the Council has been unable to influence the parties to the conflict. Because of that, possible large‑scale operations in Idlib and elsewhere risk having serious consequences for millions of civilians as well as humanitarian organizations. Describing the humanitarian situation as extremely complex, he said the Council should focus on those who suffer from the impact of international tensions. While Equatorial Guinea supports the cross‑border mechanism, priority must also be given to dialogue between all the parties, including Damascus, which must spare no effort to ensure safe and unimpeded humanitarian access through the most direct routes, he said.
WU HAITAO (China), acknowledging that many people in Syria still require humanitarian assistance, said the situation in Syria is closely related to the political, security and anti‑terrorist landscape. He emphasized the need to respect the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria. Also important were efforts towards intensifying the humanitarian effort; lifting sanctions; promoting the return of refugees and displaced persons; and supporting the Government in post‑war reconstruction. Eliminating terrorist forces is a security prerequisite for Syrians to resume a normal life, he said, requesting the Secretariat to provide more information and analysis in that regard. He also had reservations about the cross‑border humanitarian mechanism, a special measure that should be evaluated and adjusted in light of developments on the ground, he said, adding that any humanitarian must respect the sovereignty and independence of Syria and heed the views of the Government.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) expressed serious concern about the recent escalation of hostilities in north‑west Syria, ongoing hostilities in the north‑east and increasing tensions in the south‑west. He called for an immediate de‑escalation, urging all parties to uphold their international law obligations and to cease all attacks against civilians — including the indiscriminate use of weapons, barrel bombs and airstrikes. Civilians must be allowed to voluntarily move to safe places. It is also important for all parties to allow unimpeded, safe, timely and sustained access to aid delivery. Reiterating the Secretary‑General’s call for renewal of the cross‑border mechanism, on which 4 million people depend, he stressed that the ongoing cross‑border provision of food aid and medicines cannot be jeopardized.
XOLISA MFUNDISO MABHONGO (South Africa), expressing grave concern over the humanitarian situation in Syria, welcomed the provision of aid through the cross‑border programme and called for its authorization to be renewed. All parties must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and not target civilians or their infrastructures. Calling for continued aid to those in camps, he also stressed that departures should be voluntary. He finally underlined the urgent need to make progress on the political front in Syria.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) repeated the call on parties to implement all ceasefire agreements and ensure unhindered and safe humanitarian access for all such actors to the entire territory of Syria. The protection of civilians should be at the centre of international debate and practical measures to prevent or minimize civilian casualties and incidental damage to civilian objects put in place. She reiterated Poland’s strong support for renewal of the mechanism that enables humanitarian supplies to cross into Syria, provide aid to those in urgent need and support basic services delivery. The international community, and especially the Council, should vigorously advocate for the health and protection of civilians, especially women, children and persons with disabilities, as stated in Council resolution 2475 (2019). There can be no military solution to the Syrian conflict; a political agreement remains the only way towards peace.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that the Idlib area continues to be a hotbed of international terrorism, with hundreds of incidents of shelling by radicals that have killed many civilians, including children. Radicals have been using civilians as human shields, targeting civilian infrastructure and carrying out other abuses. His country will continue to facilitate a political process towards peace in Syria, he pledged, adding that Syrian military actions have been curbing terrorist attacks. Destroyed civilian infrastructure in Raqqa were due to coalition air strikes. Those who have imprisoned jihadists must not let them disperse in the region. Describing reconstruction activities by Syrian authorities to prepare for the return of refugees, he urged the international community to support recovery, remove sanctions and return oilfields. Describing the situation in major displaced‑persons camps, he called for the return of such areas to Government control. On cross‑border delivery of aid, he described the many changes that have taken place in border areas of Syria, which makes it possible for aid to transit through official checkpoints. However, supplies to Idlib should continue to go through the Turkish border, he noted.
NÉSTOR POPOLIZIO (Peru), taking note of the continued suffering in Syria, said all available means must be used to relieve that plight, including the cross‑border mechanism. The matter must be considered solely from the perspective of relieving suffering. Expressing alarm over continued fighting, he reiterated condemnation of terrorism while stressing that the fight against that threat should not put civilian lives at risk. He urged Iraqi authorities to facilitate the return of their nationals who have fled to Syria, under acceptable international parameters. To create an atmosphere conducive for refugee return to Syria, the release of detainees, the return of remains and the removal of mines must make progress, he said, adding that the humanitarian disaster in Syria will not end until progress is made toward a political solution.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), sharing concerns already expressed over the humanitarian situation in Syria, saluted the work of humanitarian workers. She reiterated support for the political process while expressing regret that civilians still suffered on the ground. Terrorism is no excuse for violating international law. In addition, as four million people remain at very grave risk, the cross‑border mechanism is still very much needed. Fewer crossings will only lead to more suffering. She asked what has so drastically changed to rationalize the reduction of crossing points, as is being proposed by some Council members. The most important thing to do is to provide adequate humanitarian access for however long it is needed. OCHA is playing its part and the Council must support it.
CHERITH NORMAN-CHALET (United States), Council President for December, spoke in her national capacity, underscoring that the new year brings hope that Syrians might see an end to their long conflict. However, before this year ends, the authorization for cross‑board aid delivery must be renewed and all parties must ensure unhindered humanitarian access. She called on Syria and its partners to immediately enforce a cease‑fire to save lives in Idlib and elsewhere. The Council must enforce its decisions on how Damascus treats its people and how it supports humanitarian access to all areas. It is also critical to ensure that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) does not re‑emerge as a threat. She called for the release of displaced persons who had been returning and had been arrested despite assurances. Such humanitarian considerations will strengthen prospects for a lasting peace in Syria.
LOUAY FALOUH (Syria) said his Government has always sought to cooperate with relevant United Nations agencies to guarantee humanitarian services to all Syrians without exception. However, sanctions imposed by States interfering in Syria’s internal affairs have blocked the prospects of resolving the conflict, impeded the eradication of terrorism and deprived Syrians of their capacity to rebuild the country. OCHA representatives are still presenting erroneous information and assessments for political reasons that are well‑known to Council members. Further, some Council delegates are obsessed with making fabricated allegations against Syria, as seen by the introduction of the draft text on resolution 2165 (2014) which was based on manipulated figures and information. The sponsors of that text ignored the fact that most humanitarian assistance winds up in the hands of terrorists, not with those in need. Also ignored was the fact that the centre of humanitarian action in Syria is Damascus, in line with the principle of national sovereignty. Council members have also insisted on overlooking developments on the ground since 2014, with the Government recovering control over all areas that the United Nations had difficulties accessing. Moreover, despite repeated requests, OHCA representatives have failed to provide details about its so‑called partners who deliver assistance.
Provisions of the draft resolution before the Council today show the real reasons behind it, namely to escalate the situation, he continued. Pointing to General Assembly resolution 46/182 on strengthening coordination of United Nations humanitarian emergency assistance while respecting national sovereignty, he said Syria has been very realistic and patient in the face of negative politicization shown by the United States, France and the United Kingdom in the Council. He called on the Secretariat and OCHA to step away from attempts to polarize the issue and to create a balanced and professional relationship with the Government and other humanitarian actors to achieve the desired goals. After nine years of terrorist war imposed on Syria, those Governments which created the situation are refusing to acknowledge the problem. Sovereignty must be respected, unilateral coercive measures must be lifted and the illegal presence of United States forces in oil‑ and gas‑producing areas of Syria must end, he said.
FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) expressed extreme concern over the situation in Idlib, where the regime is acting in a more brutal manner than ever. President Bashar Al‑Assad must see that his actions do not go unpunished, he urged, adding that the killing of civilians under the pretext of fighting terrorism cannot be accepted. Tens of thousands of people have been moving to Turkey’s border from the Idlib area, which will have effects well beyond the region. Therefore, all efforts must be made to preserve the status of Idlib as a de‑escalation area. Following Turkey’s recent operation, a long strip of land along its border with Syria is free from terrorist organizations and the situation is more secure and stable. Turkish agencies have been providing humanitarian aid and more than 370,000 people have returned voluntarily to their homes and lands. In the north‑east, the same objective must be sought for voluntary returns, in close cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Affirming the vital importance of extending the authorization for the cross‑border mechanism, he stressed that today, “the Council will decide to extend a lifeline to Syrian people or extend a helping hand to the Syrian regime”. Underlining the importance of the Tel Abyad crossing point, he rejected the claim that it is an attempt by his country to legitimize the situation in the north‑east. “Turkey does not need the blessing of any other country to defend itself against terrorist threats”, he emphasized. During negotiations, no objection was raised concerning the benefits of adding the Tel Abyad crossing point, he said, maintaining that all objections were political in nature. The Council must do what is right and renew the cross‑border mechanism for 12 months with the addition of Tel Abyad, he insisted.