New York

03 August 2012

Secretary-General's remarks to the General Assembly on Syria

Eight days ago, I visited Srebrenica, in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Srebrenica represents one of the darkest chapters in this organization’s history, a time when the international community failed to protect civilians from slaughter.

Partly in reaction to genocide in Srebrenica and in Rwanda, world leaders came together under the United Nations to support the concept of responsibility to protect. 

Governments renewed their commitment to protect their populations, including particularly vulnerable communities, and leaders agreed to work collectively when faced with governments unable or unwilling to protect their citizens.

Today, we are all witnesses to the horrors of Syria being ripped apart by violence.

I thank the President of the General Assembly for organising this important session.

As we meet here, Aleppo, one of the most ancient and storied cities in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the epicentre of a vicious battle between the Syrian government and those who wish to replace it.

The acts of brutality that are being reported may constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes.  Such acts must be investigated and the perpetrators held to account.

Many thousands of Syrians have been displaced by, and are at risk from, the fighting.  Many desperately need humanitarian assistance.

Despite repeated verbal acceptances of the Six-Point Plan endorsed by the UN Security Council, both the government and the opposition continue to rely on weapons, not diplomacy, in the belief that they will win through violence.

But there are no winners in Aleppo today, nor anywhere else in the country.  The losers in this escalating battle are the people of Syria.

What is especially tragic about Syria is that this catastrophe was avoidable.

Nearly 18 months ago, knowledgeable observers predicted that, if the Syrian government responded to peaceful demonstrations with brutal force, including mass round-ups and torture – as it in fact did – then demonstrations would increasingly turn violent.

They also predicted that the unchecked spread of violence would lead to a rise of radicalization, extremism and terrorism.

The next step was also forewarned: a proxy war, with regional and international players arming one side or the other.

All of these dire predictions have come to pass. 

Now, we face the grim possibility of long-term civil war destroying Syria’s rich tapestry of interwoven communities. 

This would have tragic implications for Syria’s people and could affect stability across the region.  We must not let this prediction come true. 

All of us have a responsibility to the people of Syria.  We must use all of the peaceful means in the UN Charter to help them unite around a Syrian-led transition process that is based on dialogue and compromise, not bullets and arrests.

I have said many times how much I regret the divisions that have paralyzed action in the Security Council. 

On June 30th in Geneva, Foreign Ministers of the Action Group, including the five permanent Council members, agreed on an action plan.  Now, with the situation having worsened, they must again find common ground.  The immediate interests of the Syrian people must be paramount over any larger rivalries of influence.

Despite the difficulties, the United Nations is active on the ground.

Through [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] OCHA and our country team, we continue to deliver humanitarian assistance to those we can reach.

UNSMIS, despite the deteriorating security environment, plays an essential role in monitoring developments.

UN human rights officials continue to work toward documentation that can help with essential accountability.

And the Joint Special Envoy, Kofi Annan, in accordance with the mandate provided by this Assembly and the League of Arab States in February, has sought to engage with Syrians -- across the political spectrum and with those who have influence inside Syria -- in an attempt to use diplomacy to end the bloodshed and move toward a Syrian-led political transition.

Yesterday I announced with deep regret the resignation of the Joint Special Envoy.  Kofi Annan deserves our deepest admiration for his efforts over the past several months.  He brought tremendous skill and determination to the task, and I am indebted to him and his team for all they have tried to achieve.

Yet both the Government and the opposition forces spurned the hand offered to them, and continue to demonstrate their determination to rely on violence.

And the sharp differences in the Security Council themselves made the Envoy’s work more difficult.

I am consulting with League of Arab States Secretary-General Nabil El Araby on the appointment of a successor who can carry on this crucial peacemaking effort.

But let me be clear: Mediation can only succeed where there is a commitment to solving conflict through dialogue and real leverage to back it up. 

I want to praise the commitment and courage of all those in the UN family who are working in Syria.  I shudder to think how much worse the situation would be if the UN were absent, and I urge Member States to continue to provide support and the mandate for our work. 

Mr. President,

The conflict in Syria is a test of everything this organization stands for.

I do not want today’s United Nations to fail that test.  I want us all to show the people of Syria and the world that we have learned the lessons of Srebrenica.

United international pressure can make a difference.  The Syrian people need action.  Their aspirations have been denied.  Their suffering is profound, and the increasing militarization promises only worse.

The primary responsibility for stopping the violence rests with those on the ground, particularly the government.  But their refusal to lay down arms does not absolve the rest of us of the need to act.  I urge all members of this Assembly to face up to the collective responsibilities we shoulder.

Thank you.