New York

21 September 2016

Secretary-General's remarks to the Security Council on the situation in Syria [as delivered]

I thank Prime Minister Key for organizing this very important meeting.

The Syrian tragedy shames us all.  The collective failure of the international community should haunt every member of this Council.

Well over 300,000 Syrians have been killed, half of the country’s population has been uprooted, and much of its infrastructure lies in ruins. 

Many Syrians fear that fragmentation of their state could follow, with Daesh and Al Qaeda affiliates poised to exploit further chaos. 

Neighbouring countries are hosting millions of Syrian refugees, while many lose their lives trying to reach Europe. 

Forces unleashed by the conflict are destabilising the region.  Terrorist attacks linked to the crisis have struck around the world.  

Global norms of humanitarian law have been flagrantly violated.

We have seen indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian facilities …the medieval tactic of sieges and the weaponisation of hunger … the use of chemical weapons – including attacks recently attributed to Daesh and the Syrian government. 

Tens of thousands of men, women and children remain in arbitrary detention in appalling conditions, systematically subjected to unspeakable torture.

Meanwhile, foreign fighters and arms flow to all sides. 

All of this defies the resolutions of this Council. 

Tragically, the divisions inside Syria are too often amplified by regional divisions and then mirrored in this Council.  These divisions condemn Syria to its terrible fate. 

Yet, we know international unity can make a difference. 

Council unity and resolve led to the elimination of Syria’s previously denied chemical weapons programme and the attribution of responsibility for their use. 

Food and medicines have been delivered to millions of Syrians, also across front lines and via air-drops to besieged and hard-to-reach areas. 

And the formation of the International Syria Support Group provided fresh momentum to the search for a settlement and paved the way for Security Council resolution 2254. 

A cessation of hostilities – albeit fragile -- began in late February, with positive results for a few months. 

In this window, the United Nations intensified humanitarian operations and brought the parties to Geneva for talks. But that process was once again overwhelmed by violence.

The long-sought agreement between the Russian Federation and the United States, concluded on 9 September, represents a new opportunity. 

The attack on a UN-Syrian Arab Red Crescent humanitarian convoy two days ago was an outrage, resulting in several casualties and forcing the UN to suspend aid operations.  I am looking at options for vigorously investigating this and other similar atrocities against civilians. 

I am also concerned about the earlier attack in Deir al-Zour in which dozens of lives were lost.  I take note of the rapid acknowledgement by the U.S. of this strike and look forward to more information.

We must remain determined that the ceasefire will be revived. 

I urge everyone to use their influence now – today – to ensure that it does.  

This is the chance to re-instate the cessation of hostilities, facilitate humanitarian aid to Aleppo and throughout the country, ground the Syrian air force, and see joint military action against terrorist groups such as Daesh and Al Nusra.  

If we can do that, it would open the road to political talks.

As soon as a new round of intra-Syrian negotiations begins, they must focus on the fundamental issues for a viable transition. 

In particular, and I use the exact words of the Mediator’s Summary of the last round of talks: “How power is to be exercised in practice by the transitional governance, including in relation to the presidency, executive powers and the control of governmental and security institutions”. 

The ISSG has already signalled its support for this approach. It urged the parties, and I quote, “to reach agreement on a framework for a genuine political transition, which would include a broad, inclusive transitional body with full executive powers”.

And the ISSG Co-Chairs formally requested that the United Nations develop proposals as a starting point in future talks. 

With my strong backing, Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura will be ready to present to the parties a draft framework of proposals as a starting point for negotiations for a Syrian-owned and Syrian-led political transition.

We are fully guided by Security Council resolution 2254, the Geneva Communique and ISSG statements, as well as the clear agenda for intra-Syrian talks laid out in resolution 2254.

I have asked the Special Envoy to work intensively toward convening formal negotiations as soon as possible.

I call on the Security Council to fully support the Special Envoy as he proceeds in this manner -- with no ifs, ands, or buts.   We have to unequivocally move ahead towards a credible political process.

And I expect all to use their influence with the Syrian parties to make sure they come to talks, ready to genuinely negotiate the core issues of political transition. 

No country’s destiny should rest on what happens with a single individual.

If one side continues to insist that the powers of the office of the President are not subject for negotiation, by definition there cannot be a negotiated settlement. And if another side insists that the President simply depart at the very outset of a transition, it is difficult to see a genuine negotiation taking place.  
Transition is not an end in itself.  It is a process by which the Syrian people can achieve a new, peaceful and democratic reality, while protecting their sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence, and uniting against terrorism. 

The transition must ensure the continuity and reform of state institutions and public services in the country. 

This requires a new, inclusive set of governance arrangements that ensure that power is exercised differently and responsibly from the way it has been until now. 

There is also a profound need for accountability.  

The Government has mercilessly trampled on human rights.  Opposition groups have done some of the same.  Terrorist groups parade images of their cruelty before the global public with perverse glee.

For the world not to pursue the perpetrators of such brutality would be a grave abdication of duty. It would deny Syrians justice and healing.  

It would shred the credibility of an international community that claims to be concerned about upholding our common humanity.  I note that the Security Council itself has said those who use chemical weapons in Syria must be held accountable.

I reiterate my call on the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

Members of the Government who gave orders or were part of the chain of command must be brought to account.  Others on the battlefield must also be brought into halls of justice.

And there can be no doubt that any durable settlement will have to ensure a proper framework for transitional justice, and for reconciliation, if Syria is to overcome the horrors of this war.  

We are at a make or break moment.  

I challenge everyone to use their influence now to restore a cessation of hostilities, enable humanitarian assistance everywhere it is needed, and support the United Nations in charting a political path for the Syrians to negotiate a way out of the hell in which they are trapped.  

You have now no higher responsibility in your service as members of the United Nations Security Council. 

Thank you.