Geneva, Switzerland

29 July 2016

Note to Correspondents: Verbatim transcript of stakeout by Mr. Staffan de Mistura, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria

Thank you for being available for this further discussion.  I must say I owe to you some additional points because all of you asked for some comments on what, at that time, was breaking news, at the humanitarian taskforce. I did not answer your questions then because I said we were going to study the Russian initiative. So now I have some comments that I would like to share with you.

In addition to what, I hope, you took note of, it was a very carefully-worded and important statement, by what my colleague, Stephen O’Brien made yesterday in New York, on the issue of the humanitarian Russian initiative, I would like to add some following comments.

As the UN, and as humanitarians, we welcome any initiative aimed at assisting civilian populations in warzones, particularly in Syria today. We are, in principle and in practice, in favor of humanitarian corridors, under the right circumstances, that allow the protection of civilians. Therefore we have been studying with great attention and interest the Russian initiative that was sketched yesterday. We are still waiting for more information. Having said that, there is an urgent need for improvements, also in light of the statement made by USG O’Brien, and, by the ICRC who made a very effective comment, in my opinion. The consideration of such improvements should/could include the following points:

First, it is imperative that the 48 hours-pause for humanitarian access that was discussed last week in the Security Council, be put in place on a sustainable basis irrespective of the humanitarian corridors, but particularly and especially if a humanitarian corridor is in place. How can you expect people to want to walk through a corridor, while there is shelling, bombing and fighting. How do you expect convoys of humanitarian aid to actually reach those people if there is shelling and bombing from the air and from the ground.

Second point, our suggestion to Russia is , to actually leave the delivery of aid through corridors to the UN and its partners.  The UN and the humanitarian partners, as you know, know what to do. They have an experience, that’s our job. Bringing humanitarian supplies and assistance to civilians wherever they decide to be is exactly why the UN is there for. I’m sure that our country team, which has shown so many times courage, determination and proactivity, in Daraya, in Kefraya and Fou’a, in Mouaddamiyah and elsewhere, and their partners, will be able to conduct the same kind of operations as they do in so many other places elsewhere in Syria with the same procedures for Aleppo, using those corridors.
No one should be forced to leave Aleppo. But indeed, some civilians may want to avail themselves of the possibility afforded by the corridors and by the Russian initiative. When they do, it is crucial that they be given the option of leaving to areas of their own choice, or at least, there should be an option given to them. There needs to be guarantees on the protection of civilians, whether they chose to remain in Eastern Aleppo, or move to other areas of their choice as offered through the corridors.

In general, it is critical that we focus on civilian lives and on humanitarian needs, wherever the people are. I will continue urging all the parties to facilitate humanitarian access for the UN and its partners and to lift all sieges, not only in Aleppo, but wherever they take place, and are still taking place.
These are the preliminary points which contribute, I hope, to fill the gap of my not wanting to make any premature comments yesterday.

Q: Mr. de Mistura, apart from the civilians, the Russian proposition has a provision for the fighters who would accept to disarm. In a way you always said that the cessation of hostilities can improve the humanitarian aid, but here it seems to me that the Russians want to use humanitarian aid to get some military gains on the ground. How do you see that and what impact would that have on the broader  process between the Russians and the Americans in the following weeks?

SdeM: Everything is connected, lets’ not deny that. Therefore the way the Aleppo humanitarian concerns and the humanitarian initiative by Russia will be addressed will have an impact on the chances and the success of everything else. For the first part of your question I will wait for further clarification from the Russian side. I understand from what I heard that they are interested in suggestions, advises and recommendations for improvement, and that what they came up with was a sketch of a proposal, but it has the chance of being improved and to take into consideration the genuine concerns of the UN vis-a-vis humanitarian corridors.

Q: Yesterday, HNC condemned the Russian proposal to facilitate the population transfer from Aleppo, saying that it could amount to a war crime. Do you think this can toughen the situation with the Intra-Syrian Talks?

SdeM: I think everyone, including the HNC, should be given the opportunity of analyzing the humanitarian efforts that may come out from any type of improvements of the original Russian proposal, in his own right. In other words, I think that they reacted to a picture that was not yet totally clarified. Lets see what will be the comments from the Russian side regarding the proposal of improvements coming from the UN and from the humanitarian community.

Q: You’re talking about more clarifications and the UN’s job to manage humanitarian corridors and that the Russians are still taking suggestions. That implies that at some point they might finalize the plan and the plan will go ahead and that the UN could be involved in managing humanitarian corridors and overseeing the process. Can you just help us clarify if there’s a date  you expect this to go ahead with the full details thrashed out? Because presumably, the bombing continues as we speak. So where do you see this going ahead?

SdeM: Let’s put everything into context. Point one, we have been saying, O’Brien has been saying, my senior advisor Jan Egeland has been saying that the clock is ticking for the Aleppo population, that the commodities probably available in Eastern Aleppo, are sufficient for maximum three weeks. Point two, there has been a request for a pause to actually reach people. So I would put it in that context. There is a strong sense of urgency, and that sense of urgency, I want to believe, was one of the reasons, if not the reason, for the Russian side to come up with an initiative. That initiative is based, according to their own presentation, on humanitarian grounds. Well, if it can, and should be successful, then it needs to be improved, and my understanding is that the Russians are open for major improvements. In that case, we would be then looking at the whole context, in light of the outcome of those improvements.  This is an ongoing issue but what is certainly clear, is that Aleppo was, and is becoming even more, an iconic place, which can make the world believe in a political solution in Syria while the Syrian people’s humanitarian needs are addressed. That’s why, how to address this issue and how to address the genuine need of the Syrian people in Aleppo, but also everywhere else, is an important element that can influence everything else that we’re trying to do in the next few weeks.