22 January 2014

Secretary-General's remarks at the High Level Segment of the Geneva Conference on Syria

After nearly three painful years of conflict and suffering in Syria, today is a day of fragile but real hope.

For the first time, the Syrian Government and the Syria opposition, countries of the region, and the wider international community are convening to seek a political solution
to the death, destruction and displacement that is the dire reality of life in Syria today.

All Syrians, and all in the region affected by this crisis, are looking to you gathered here to end the unspeakable human suffering, to save Syria’s rich societal mosaic, and           to embark on a meaningful political process to achieve a Syrian-led transition – a vision first put forth a year and a half ago in the Geneva Communique, and endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.

You, the delegates from the Syrian government and opposition, are here for this purpose.

You have an enormous opportunity and responsibility to render historic service
to the Syrian people.

It is the most profound of tragedies that peaceful protests in Syria – calling for change – turned into a bloody civil war. 

If the Government leaders had listened more attentively and humbly to the concerns expressed by the people, this conference might not have been necessary.

The disaster is now all-encompassing.

Some towns and villages have become unliveable, ruined by constant aerial bombardments. Schools, hospitals, markets, homes and places of worship have been destroyed.  Car bombs, suicide and mortar attacks have terrified the population in many parts of the country. Lawlessness and chaos are attracting criminals and foreign fighters from all over the world. Radical groups are imposing their own – destructive and dangerous –  vision. 

The numbers are appalling: well over 100,000 people killed and large numbers of people missing or detained.  Attacks on civilians continue, and all sides have shown a total disregard
for their responsibilities under international humanitarian and human rights law.

More than 6.5 million people are internally displaced.  More than 9.3 million people
in Syria need humanitarian aid, with more than 2.5 million of them living in areas where humanitarian access is seriously constrained – and many have not been reached at all.

Deprivation has become part of political and military strategies.

Once a place welcoming to refugees of all backgrounds, the war has forced more than
2.3 million people –  half of them children – to flee to neighbouring countries and beyond. 
Despite immense strains, Syria’s neighbours have shown admirably generous hospitality.

I am extremely grateful for the commitments made at the humanitarian pledging conference in Kuwait last week. I thank his Highness Emir of Kuwait for his visionary humanitarian support. But humanitarian needs are still unlikely to be met, even less so if the conflict continues.

I also thank the international community for uniting behind the goal of destroying Syria’s chemical weapons programme following the horrific attacks last August.

At the same time, let us recognize that most of the deaths and destruction in Syria come from conventional weapons, which flow in abundance to all the warring sides from many quarters.

Different actors have inserted a sectarian dimension into this conflict. Some of these appeals have generated a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But we have also seen continued inter-communal solidarity and even demonstrations against extremism.

Syrians are still united in their deep love of their country, pride in their cultural and religious heritage, and long history of living in peace.  Syrians must start talking to each other again to regain what has been lost. We see powerful examples of this spirit of solidarity every day with the many mothers and fathers striving to protect and ensure the survival of their families on a daily basis in Syria.

It is vital that all Syrians – women and men – are engaged in the effort to shape
a shared future.

Let me turn now to the work that begins at this conference:

The Syrians themselves have the primary responsibility to end the conflict, determine their political system and future, and start rebuilding their country.  The duty of all members of the international community, whether present in this room today or not, is to do everything within their power to help them achieve these goals.

The Geneva Communique sets out a number of key steps for a Syrian-led transition, starting with the establishment of “a transitional governing body with full executive powers, formed by mutual consent” – including over the military forces and security and intelligence services.

The Communique also states that the public services must be preserved and restored and uphold human rights standards. They must have leaders who inspire public confidence, under the control of the transitional governing body.

I urge all those gathered here today to impress upon both sides the necessity and inevitability of a political solution.

I count on you to encourage the Syrian sides and their delegations to reach a comprehensive settlement based on the Geneva Communiqué.

As the parties seek a political solution, so must they respect international humanitarian law, which has been appallingly violated during this conflict.

The violence must be ended. Attacks against civilians must cease. All parties must work to put an end to all terrorist acts.

I urgently call on the Government and the opposition to allow immediate and full humanitarian access to all communities in need – particularly in besieged areas where hundreds of thousands of people have been cut off from any assistance for months, with disturbing reports of malnutrition and desperate health conditions. Food and medical and surgical equipment must be allowed in; the sick and wounded people must be allowed out.

I call on the Syrian delegations to engage seriously and constructively. Great challenges lie ahead but they are not insurmountable.

How many more will die in Syria, lose their loved ones, be maimed for life or lose their homes if this opportunity is lost?

There is no alternative to ending the violence and a political solution. That is why we are here.

Let us prove to all that the world is able to unite and support the people of Syria
as they embark on the path towards a peaceful, democratic and stable Syria.

I appeal to all of you to show greater vision for humanity, as well as leadership with flexibility. Syrians deserve a future of peace, dignity, mutual respect and freedom of fear.

Thank you.