The holy month of Ramadan is upon us once more. Muslim faithful around the world look forward to these holy days as moments that offer both individual and collective benefits, physical, spiritual and social. It is a month of patience, charity and forgiveness. It is particularly important to reach out to friends, neighbours and needy people in one’s community and beyond. As I address my congratulations and good wishes to Muslims all over the world, I have a special thought for Syria and its people.
The Syrian people are enduring a third Ramadan when their country is being torn apart by an ever-worsening civil war. As many as one hundred thousand Syrians have died and almost 2 million people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, while a further 4 million are internally displaced away from their towns and villages. Every day brings more death and destruction.
The entire United Nations family is mobilized to help stop the violence and to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people. Earlier this year, I chaired an international Pledging Conference in Kuwait to raise funds to help the Syrian people. The response was extremely generous but not all pledges made have been honoured. I am deeply aware that more, much more, is needed to provide bread and water to those who are hungry and thirsty, medical care to the sick and wounded, a roof of some sort over the head of the displaced and the refugees.
I can assure you that we will continue to do our best to help, and to improve our performance. But I am also deeply aware that, no matter how effective our humanitarian response, it will not end the violence. The solution to the problems of Syria do not lie there; what is needed is a peaceful Syrian-led political solution for a democratic future in which all Syrians live in security, equality and dignity.
The United Nations has been working with the Russian Federation and the United States to build on the basis of the agreement achieved at the Moscow meeting of 7 May 2013 between Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary of State Kerry. Others are joining in that effort in several ways and I very much hope that the Geneva Conference on Syria will take place in the not too distant future with the participation of two Syrian delegations representing the Government and the Opposition.
But do we have to wait for that Conference to start and successfully conclude before the Syrian people can glimpse the end of the killing, destruction and humanitarian tragedy?
I have learned that the month of Ramadan is part of “Al-Ashhour Al-Hurum”, the 4 months during which wars are supposed to stop. For the sake of the Syrian people, therefore, I would like to call on all parties in Syria to respect this religious obligation for at least, at a minimum, one month. I am not calling for a contractual cease-fire or a negotiated truce. Nor am I referring to a measure limited to any one area. I am calling for every military unit of the regular army and the Free Syrian Army, for every person holding a gun, to stop fighting and offer this month of peace as a collective present to their people - and to do so across Syria. I am aware that some may see this call as unrealistic. Lasting peace will only come through serious negotiation. But I am convinced that the Syrian people have every right to ask this of all those who claim to be fighting in their name. These are the kinds of gestures that can build hope and momentum toward peace. It can be ordered. It can be done. I expect therefore that this appeal for a nation-wide stop to the violence during Ramadan will be given the most serious consideration by all sides.
I would like to add to this appeal a call for the release of detainees. I do know that a few contacts exist between officers and group leaders on opposite sides; I know that prominent civil society personalities have, from time to time, mediated the release of prisoners or kidnapped individuals and even a local truce in some places. Could that not be repeated during this holy month of Ramadan?
Furthermore, reliable reports speak of hundreds, if not thousands, of women and children who are detained in various official and non-official detention centres across the country. Armed opposition groups also have many detained people who are not prisoners of war. I appeal to all sides for the immediate release of all these detainees. I call on President Bashar Al-Assad to intervene personally to end this treatment and release all prisoners.
My thoughts also go to the two Christian Orthodox Bishops, Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi, kidnapped in northern Syria on 22 April while they were on a humanitarian mission of peace. Nothing in the faith or culture of Islam condones the kidnapping of people, let alone respected religious leaders. These two men of peace have been unjustly detained for far too long. The holy month of Ramadan offers an appropriate occasion to release them.
As the United Nations and others work actively to prepare the conditions for a successful Peace Conference on Syria, the Syrians themselves should use the holy month of Ramadan of the Year 1434 in the Islamic Calendar to make a symbolic but powerful contribution to open the way to the solution of the crisis in their country. In issuing this appeal for a peaceful Ramadan in Syria, I would like to invite all in the international community who voice concern for the people of Syria -- governments, international and non-governmental organizations, the humanitarian community, religious leaders, and others -- to add their voices publicly in support. A clear message must be sent that yet more violence is not the way. The Syrian people deserve no less.