New York

10 March 2021

Secretary-General’s press encounter on the 10th anniversary of the Syrian conflict

Ten years ago, the violent suppression of peaceful popular demonstrations in Syria set the country on the path to a horrific war.

After a decade of conflict, in the middle of a global pandemic, and faced with a steady stream of new crises, Syria has fallen off the front page.

And yet the situation remains a living nightmare.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died.  Millions have been displaced.  Countless others remain illegally detained and often tortured, missing, disappeared, or living in uncertainty and deprivation.  
 
For ten years, the world has watched Syria spiral into destruction and bloodshed.

In that time, Syrians have been subjected to human rights violations on a massive and systematic scale.

The parties to the conflict have also repeatedly violated international humanitarian law, so far with absolute impunity.

Bombs and mortars have rained down on homes, schools, hospitals and markets.

Chemical weapons have caused unspeakable suffering.

Cities have been placed under siege, starving civilians.

Parties have imposed indefensible restrictions on humanitarian aid.

And for much of the civil war, substantial areas of the country were controlled by Security Council-designated terrorist groups that subjected many Syrians to unimaginable violence and repression.
 
It is impossible to fully fathom the extent of the devastation in Syria, but its people have endured some of the greatest crimes the world has witnessed this century.

The scale of the atrocities shocks the conscience.

Their perpetrators must be held to account if there is to be sustainable peace in Syria.

The horrors of the conflict have spared no Syrian family.

Around [half] the country’s children have never lived a day without war.

Compounding the suffering is an economic collapse and soaring poverty caused by a combination of conflict, corruption, sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some 60 per cent of Syrians are at risk of hunger this year.

It is imperative that we continue to reach all Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance.

More humanitarian access is needed.  Intensified cross-line and cross-border deliveries are essential to reach everyone in need everywhere.

This is why I have repeatedly urged the Security Council to achieve consensus on this crucial matter.
 
The UN will continue its pursuit of a negotiated political settlement in line with Security Council resolution 2254. A first step on that path should be tangible progress in the Constitutional Committee. 

The parties have the opportunity to demonstrate a willingness to find common ground and recognize the need for all Syrians, whom they represent, to move beyond a perpetual state of conflict.

This is the path that will lead to a solution that meets the legitimate aspirations of all Syrians, creates the conditions necessary [for the] return of refugees in safety and dignity, and respects Syria’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.

It is a process in which Syrian women and men must play their full part, and in which ultimately all Syrian society must be engaged.

It will require bridging the current divides in the international community through sustained and robust diplomatic dialogue.

Failure to do so will only condemn the Syrian people to more despair.  And we simply cannot let that happen.

Thank you.

Q: Good afternoon, Secretary-General, Pamela Falk from CBS News. You talked about horrible atrocities. Do you think the perpetrators of these atrocities including [Bashar al] Assad will ever be held accountable? Thank you.

SG: I hope that it will be possible - but of course, we know all the obstacles and all the difficulties - it will be possible when things are solved politically and when there are conditions for Syrians to find a normal future to do both justice and reconciliation. The justice, of course, requires that perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes are punished accordingly. Thank you.

Q: Thank you, Steph, and thank you, Mr. Secretary-General.  After ten years of war, could you please tell us what has been the biggest challenge before the political process before the UN?

SG: I'm terribly sorry, I'm a bit deaf.

Q: Sorry, if you could tell us what has been the biggest challenge before the political process before the UN to find a solution?  And you talked about a tangible progress within the Constitutional Committee, but your Special Envoy is not happy with the current situation and he said that the Constitutional Committee cannot go on like this. What is needed to make it work to actually find a tangible progress within the community itself? Thank you.

SG: I think that at the present moment, my appeal is especially directed to those that represent the area closer to the Syrian Government. It's absolutely essential to enter into substantive discussions on the constitution itself, and to move from a more, I would say, bureaucratic procedural path.  And I hope that the relative paralysis or at least the very slow process that we had in the past can be overcome. And I have to say that I found a very solid understanding of these in most of the countries we have contacted – especially, I think, there is a clear unanimity on this in the Security Council.

Q: James Bays, Al Jazeera. Has the UN and in particular the Security Council failed the people of Syria? And if I may, Secretary-General, can we quickly ask you also what effect you think the new Security Council statement on Myanmar might have on the military there?

SG: Well, it is clear that if a war lasts ten years, the international security governance system that we have is not effective. This is something that should be a source of reflection about everybody involved. It would be important that the UN, the Security Council, but also all the other instruments of international community, the mechanisms of governance that we have should be more able to intervene when we have dramatic situations like these going on for so long. Unfortunately, the mechanisms we have today in place are not able to fully respond to this challenge. The second question was?

Q: The new Security Council statement on Myanmar - what are your hopes on what effect it will have on the military now?

SG: Well, I hope that with this statement, there will be an increasing conscience in the military in Myanmar that it is absolutely essential to release all prisoners. It is absolutely essential to respect the results of the elections and to allow for a situation in which we move back to a democratic transition - that was not a perfect one; I mean, we did not live in a perfect democracy in in Myanmar.  It was still heavily under military control in many aspects, which makes this coup even more difficult to understand. I mean, especially the accusations of electoral fraud by those that were largely in control of the country. But with all its imperfections, I believe that it is important to go back to where we were before the coup.