04 May 2016, Security Council briefing on the situation in Aleppo, Syria

Jeffrey Feltman at United Nations Security Council, briefing on Aleppo
Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Mr. President,

 

The Council has requested the Department of Political Affairs to brief on the political and security implications of the recent developments in Aleppo.

At the outset, I wish to emphasise what the Secretary-General said to this Council yesterday. The pattern of systematic destruction is evident in Aleppo.  No corner of the city has been spared.  Aleppo is increasingly becoming a shell of what it once was. Government aerial bombardment of the city over the last two weeks represents some of the worst of the war.  Opposition shelling of government-controlled neighbourhoods has also led to death and destruction. There is a clear danger that these attacks and counter-attacks would continue to escalate and even spread beyond Aleppo.  We take note of the statement just issued by the U.S. Department of State that the United States and Russia concluded arrangements late yesterday to extend the nationwide Cessation of Hostilities to Aleppo, and we urge parties to abide by this immediately and comprehensively.

You will hear shortly from Under Secretary General Stephen O’Brien on the humanitarian dimensions of the recent developments in Aleppo. But let me be clear, denying people access to essential humanitarian relief is a serious violation of international humanitarian law. Using starvation as a weapon during conflict is a war crime.  No cause can justify the toll in civilian lives that we continue to register around the country every day. All State and non-State parties to conflict are bound by a strict obligation to comply with rules of international humanitarian law. I remind Council members of the Secretary-General’s call for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court. Those responsible for war crimes must be held to account.

Unfortunately, the ever more shocking reports have been received from Aleppo city over the past two weeks. You have all seen the horrifying images of attacks on hospitals in both government and opposition held neighbourhoods of the city. Let me be absolutely clear once again: intentional and direct attacks on hospitals are war crimes. Indiscriminate attacks on civilian neighbourhoods in Aleppo also continue. There have been reportedly attempts at territorial advances by both government and opposition forces over the past weeks. Finally, reports of joint military operations being conducted by groups which are parties to the Cessation of Hostilities and those outside it such as the Al Nusra Front present a major challenge to stabilising the situation.

The overall situation in Aleppo increasingly resembles some of the worst days of the pre-Cessation of Hostilities period. As mentioned, we understand that the US and Russia concluded arrangements for a “day of silence” in Aleppo and its surroundings starting at 00:01 Damascus time last night but whose implementation has proven challenging even as it has led to an overall decrease in violence. Consolidating and extending this agreement would be an important step in the right direction.  We also hope that the earlier announced arrangements of “days of silence” in parts of Damascus and Rural Latakia will also be consolidated and welcome the news that the “silence” has been extended in the Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus for the next 48 hours.

We need to put the Cessation of Hostilities back on track throughout the country. All should do their fair share in this respect. Moving forward, additional measures are also needed to reinvigorate and ensure enhanced monitoring of the Cessation of Hostilities. In this respect, Special Envoy de Mistura held consultations with the co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) Ceasefire Taskforce over the past two days and is in Berlin today meeting with the German and French officials. He also met separately the head of the opposition High Negotiations Committee.  I welcome the decision of the co-chairs to deploy additional staff to Geneva to increase the oversight of the Cessation of Hostilities.

Mr. President,

Turning now to the political process, Special Envoy de Mistura was clear in his briefing to the Security Council on 27 April. In order to be credible, the next round of negotiations should be supported by tangible progress on the ground in terms of a consolidated Cessation of Hostilities and increased humanitarian access. The Special Envoy intends re-convene Intra-Syrian negotiations in May, but doing so without progress in these two areas runs the real risk of a failed political process. The current levels of violence in Aleppo in particular negatively impact the ability of the Syrian parties to engage in negotiations.

The Secretary-General has repeatedly said that there is no military solution to this conflict. The basic fact remains that the only way for peace to come to Syria is through a political solution based on a credible political transition that emerges from intra-Syrian Negotiations. With this in mind, during the 13-27 April round of negotiations, Special Envoy de Mistura developed a “Mediator’s Summary” that identified eighteen points necessary to move forward on political transition arrangements.  

During this last round of negotiations progress was made in the sense that all participants, including the Syrian government, accepted that a Syrian-led transition is necessary in order to end the conflict. In future rounds, there is a need to determine how the respective visions of political transition that have been put forward conform to the requirements of SCR 2254 for a credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance, the resolution´s endorsement of the Vienna Statements in pursuit of the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué, and the resolution´s reiteration that inter alia a sustainable solution to the current crisis in Syria includes the establishment of an inclusive transitional governing body with full executive powers, which shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent while ensuring continuity of governmental institutions.

Through SCR 2254, the Vienna Statements, and the Geneva Communiqué, the international community has already defined a number of core principles for any transition. Chief among these to ensuring a credible transition is the requirement set out in the Geneva Communiqué for all government institutions, including the security and intelligence services, to perform according to human rights and professional standards and operate under a leadership that inspires public confidence, under the control of the transitional governing body.

We are at a point where the renewed backing of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) is required to take the intra-Syrian negotiations on a political transition process forward, based on the full implementation of SCR 2254 and the Geneva Communiqué. 

Mr. President,

As per SCR 2253 and numerous other resolutions of this Council, combatting terrorism is a top priority. The need to tackle this issue, however, should not prevent us from advancing serious negotiations on a political transition.  Now that terrorism is being addressed in a separate credible and parallel international track, it should not hinder progress on the political transition process.  Let us also be clear that there cannot be place for terrorism in Syria or anywhere else. Through the political process, one of the greatest contributions we can make to fight against ISIL and Al Nusra Front and their ideology is to achieve a comprehensive political transition to an inclusive, democratic and participatory state. 

Mr. President,

In accordance with SCR 2254, the Secretary-General and his Special Envoy are trying to arrive at an agreed way forward by August. We cannot waste the opportunity of the negotiations in Geneva.  Allowing the parties to the conflict to play for time or territory on the ground to strengthen their position at the negotiating table would be a mistake. The UN will strive to resume the negotiations as soon as feasible, in the hope that meanwhile efforts to put the Cessation of Hostilities back on track will bear fruit. 

Thank you, Mr. President.