23 August 2013

Note to correspondents on Secretary-General's remarks on Syria

Following is a transcript of remarks on Syria made by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at a meeting on the Millennium Development Goals in Seoul (the full remarks will be sent separately):

I am here to discuss with you the very important issue of how we can work together to accelerate the MDGs and define a development agenda for post-2015. Before I begin this topic, I am obliged to say a few words on the current situation which is happening in Syria, particularly over this report coming from Syria, very alarming and shocking report, concerning the possible use of chemical weapons.

I condemn in the strongest possible terms this escalation of violence.  There are reports of large-scale loss of life, in particular in the Damascus area, many injuries and the use of excessive force in densely populated civilian areas. 

I am especially troubled by reports that chemical weapons might have been used against civilian populations. Any use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anybody, under any circumstances, would violate international law. Such a crime against humanity should result in serious consequences for the perpetrator.

Once again, I call for an immediate investigation of this latest incident.

We have an investigation team on the ground in Damascus, led by Dr. [Åke] Sellström, having gone to investigate earlier allegations.  I have called on the Syrian Government to extend its full cooperation so that the Mission can swiftly investigate this most recent incident. I am working hard to ensure a positive response.

This is a grave challenge to the entire international community – and to our common humanity, especially considering it occurred when the United Nations expert mission is in the country. I can think of no good reason why any party – either government or opposition forces – would decline this opportunity to get to the truth of the matter. I have full confidence in the professionalism and integrity of Dr. Sellström and his team.

To underscore the urgency of an immediate investigation, I have instructed my High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Angela Kane, to travel to Damascus immediately.  There is no time to waste.

The United Nations Security Council met yesterday and has backed my call for a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation. I thank the Security Council members’ prompt action and call for them to remain actively engaged on this crisis. Since the reports first emerged, the United Nations has been engaging with the Syrian authorities and I have been in close consultations with world leaders on this matter since the news broke. 

It is clear that the situation in Syria continues to worsen. The humanitarian suffering is alarming. Sectarian tensions have been ignited. Regional instability is spreading. The death toll unfortunately has now surged past 100,000 people. The images of victims from this latest incident, including many children, are heartbreaking and sickening.

The Syrian people have suffered enough far too long. The region has seen enough turmoil and bloodshed.

Our challenge remains: achieving a complete cessation of hostilities, delivering humanitarian assistance and getting the Government and the opposition to the negotiating table in Geneva as soon as possible. I have been working very closely together with the Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, and also the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, to convene the Geneva II conference to resolve this crisis through dialogue and political resolution. We are working very hard to convene it as soon as possible. All the technical, logistical preparations are now complete. It is a matter of time when we can and the parties are ready to participate. I am going to convene it myself as soon as possible.

In the absence of a political resolution, while this crisis continues like this way, the United Nations together with many international organizations and humanitarian communities and civil society NGOs, have been mobilizing all possible resources, and our efforts have been focused on delivering humanitarian assistance to needy people. There are more than 6 million people who are internally displaced and who need our immediate support. And there are almost 2 million refugees in neigbouring countries – Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. And these refugees are now being accommodated even by some Northern African countries. The number is almost approaching 2 million. I believe that if we count unregistered refugees, it is well over 2 million. Then: who and how we should help these needy people? I myself have visited two refugee camps last year. It is heartbreaking to see all these young people, children and women and refugees, who do not have any means, any hope for their country; they do not know when they will be able to return to their country. I really appreciate those neighbouring countries that are hosting refugees. I need your support, and I really count on the generous support of the international community. Again I really thank you very much.

The time has clearly come for the parties to stop shooting, and start talking.  I am determined to do everything I can to assist the victims and move towards a political solution. That is the only way this crisis will be resolved.