‘Running Out of Words’ to Describe Horror in Syria, Senior United Nations Officials Tell Security Council, Calling for More Vigorous Action
Neighbours Seek Burden-Sharing for Swelling Numbers of Refugees
The Security Council today heard strong and sustained pleas to demonstrate leadership to end the barbaric and brutal warfare in Syria, as two senior United Nations officials briefed the 15-member body on the wider consequences of a conflict that entered its fifth year.
“We are running out of words to describe the terrible human and humanitarian consequences,” Kyung-wha Kang, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said on behalf of Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator.
The indiscriminate use of explosive weapons in populated areas, by all parties, claimed more lives this month and displaced thousands, she said. Government aerial bombardments, including the use of barrel bombs, and attacks by armed opposition groups had intensified in many areas, including Aleppo, Dara and Rural Damascus.
She said the parties to the conflict continued to target and kill civilians and target infrastructure, as well, including vital public services, such as water and electricity, in blatant disregard of Council resolution 2139 (2013), and international humanitarian law. More than 2 million people in Aleppo and Dara Governorates had been affected by the wilful denial of water and electricity by parties to the conflict this month.
Of the 212,000 people besieged in conditions that deteriorated every day, she said, only 304 were reached with food in January, and those were in Yarmouk, where 18,000 were in desperate need. In other besieged locations, the parties continued to restrict access severely. Requests to deliver assistance to the people in East Ghouta were denied by the Government. Nor could deliveries be made to the towns of Nubul or Zahra, besieged by opposition forces since May last year.
Every month saw reports of the same violations, she said, adding that the numbers had changed, but pattern remained the same. The parties to the conflict continued to act with impunity, killing and abducting civilians; denying access; and removing vital supplies from convoys. That pattern must be broken. The sieges must be lifted and everyone in all parts of the country must have access to medical supplies. The use of blockades of humanitarian aid and of basic services, including water and electricity, as a weapon of war must stop. So must the indiscriminate attacks on civilians, including through barrel bombs, which had come to characterize the conflict.
She said the Council must do everything in its power to hold the parties accountable and achieve those changes. Resolution 2139 (2013) was extensive in its scope, and the Council’s concerns and recommendations, as set out in that resolution, must be respected.
While humanitarian organizations operating from within Syria and from neighbouring countries continued to reach millions in need, she said, more efforts must be made to de-escalate the violence, protect people and enable humanitarian organizations to give more support. The response could not keep up with the needs of Syria’s people because of lack of funding. Meaningful pledges at the third pledging conference in Kuwait on 31 March would make a difference on the ground.
In his briefing, Antonio Guterres, High Commissioner for Refugees, recalled that he had told the Council in 2013 that the Syrian war had unleashed the worst humanitarian crisis of our times and posed a terrible threat to regional and global peace and security, risking an explosion that could engulf the entire Middle East. “Today, we must face the fact that this is exactly what happened.”
Iraq last year, he said, saw the most frightening and complete spillover of an international conflict into a neighbouring country in recent history. Lebanon had been on a near-permanent security alert, and there had been increasing threats even to Jordan in the past months. As many as 20,000 foreign fighters from over 50 countries had travelled to Syria and Iraq since 2011, with their number nearly doubling during the course of last year.
The Syrian refugee crisis had overwhelmed existing response capacities, with 3.8 million registered in the neighbouring countries. While Lebanon and Jordan had seen their populations grow to a point they were not prepared to reach for several decades, Turkey had become the biggest refugee-hosting country in the world. More than 2 million Iraqis were internally displaced in 2014 and some 220,000 sought refuge in other countries.
The continued growth in displacement was staggering and the nature of the refugee crisis was changing, he said, adding, “as the level of despair rises, and the available protections space shrinks, we are approaching a dangerous turning point”. Resources for refugees, after years in exile, were long depleted and the living conditions drastically deteriorating. At the same time, host communities were severely overstretched and faced growing security risks due to the regional spread of the conflict.
In that connection, he said refugees and host countries needed massive international support, and added that the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan aimed to bring together the humanitarian and longer-term efforts of host Governments and more than 200 United Nations and non-governmental partners. The upcoming Kuwait III conference would play a determining role in stabilizing the situation in the host countries. Beyond the immediate humanitarian priorities, development actors must fund the resilience pillar and host Governments’ plans.
The Syrian situation, he said, illustrated the dangerous inadequacy of development cooperation policies in a time of multiplying conflicts. To address that, donors and international financial institutions must review existing criteria and priorities. “It is absurd, for example, that Lebanon has no access to World Bank grants because it is considered a middle-income country.”
Since the start of 2015, more than 370 people had died trying to cross the Mediterranean, he said, stressing that Europe must step up its capacity to save lives, with a robust search-and-rescue operation, or thousands more would die. Additional legal avenues were needed for Syrians to seek protection in third countries. Flexible visa policies, expanded family reunification, academic scholarships and private sponsor schemes must complement existing measures.
Protecting refugees also meant tackling racism and xenophobia, he said, adding that it was deeply worrying that in today’s climate of panic, refugees were becoming mixed up with security concerns and confronting hostility in places where they thought they were safe. Syrians were now the biggest refugee population under UNHCR’s mandate. The international community must bring together all key actors and put an end to a conflict where there were no winners.
In the ensuing debate, several speakers stressed the urgency of promoting a genuine political settlement to end the humanitarian catastrophe, while some regretted how external interference had exacerbated the conflict. The need for international partnership to ease the humanitarian burden faced by Syria’s neighbours was also emphasized.
Making statements today were the representatives of Jordan, New Zealand, Spain, Chad, France, United States, Chile, Malaysia, Venezuela, Russian Federation, Nigeria, Lithuania, United Kingdom, Angola, China, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.
The meeting began at 3:37 p.m. and ended at 6:05 p.m.
DINA KAWAR (Jordan) stressed the need to “break the silence” around atrocities being committed in Syria. Conflict parties, especially the Syrian regime, must stop their use of explosive barrels and attacks on civilians. Intensified international efforts were needed to ensure humanitarian access to more than 12.2 million people inside Syria, including in besieged areas. For its part, Jordan was committed to implementing all Council resolutions on the humanitarian situation. The crisis had grown more extreme and sectarian in nature, with enormous humanitarian consequences for neighbouring countries. Jordan today hosted more than 1.5 million Syrians and had reached its limit in providing them with aid, and thus, it, along with other countries hosting Syrian refugees, required assistance. Emphasizing the need to follow up on the Berlin final communiqué, he supported efforts by regional and international parties to reach a political solution based on the Geneva communiqué, specifically the Russian and Egyptian efforts.
JIM MCLAY (New Zealand) said 212,000 people remain besieged in Syria and administrative hurdles impeded humanitarian access. Complacency and fatigue were unacceptable. There was a need to reinvigorate the monthly briefings on the humanitarian situation, making them more thematic in scope. Briefers should focus on ensuring access of medical and surgical supplies, lifting the siege, ending the practice of using denial of key services as a weapon of war, rebuilding Syria’s education system and addressing indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Expressing extreme concern about the more than 2.1 million children inside Syria who were out of school or attending irregularly, he said some 670,000 had been deprived of education following the closure of schools by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS). Pressing the Council to take the lead in addressing the serious gaps in implementing resolution 2139 (2013), he said New Zealand was committed to finding ways to maintain pressure on the parties to abide by international law.
JUAN MANUEL GONZÁLEZ DE LINARES PALOU (Spain), paying tribute to humanitarian workers in Syria and stressing the importance of ending violence so that their sacrifices were not in vain, said it was well known that the resolution of the conflict was political and not military, that the suffering of the people must be relieved and that the primary responsibility in those areas rested with the Syrian regime. However, the resolutions of last year had been not complied with, and the Security Council has been acting like a passive spectator, shirking its own obligations. He called for the 15-member body to focus on the five priority areas pointed out by the Secretary-General and for all countries to engage actively in bringing an end to the violence. In addition, increased support must be afforded to the countries that were taking in refugees.
GOMBO TCHOULI (Chad) called it unacceptable that the parties to the Syrian conflict continued to flout international humanitarian and human rights law. The Syrian Government had the responsibility to provide access for humanitarian relief while the international community must become more unified in pressing for that access and progress in ending the violence. There was no military solution to ending the suffering. He, therefore, supported the efforts of the Special Envoy to open a way out of the crisis. He also supported recent initiatives by the Russian Federation and Egypt in that regard. A comprehensive solution must deal resolutely with terrorism, as it endangered international peace and stability.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), paying tribute to humanitarian workers and calling it unacceptable for them to be targeted and killed, affirmed that the situation in Syria remained catastrophic, as confirmed by the briefings, and there was no perceptible end to the crisis. Given the humanitarian consequences, the Syrian regime must be pressed to lift all obstacles to aid and for an end to the indiscriminate attacks, particularly with barrel bombs, that killed civilians. An end must be put to impunity for all parties that violated international humanitarian and human rights law. The situation in Aleppo and Ghouta, however, showed that the calls of the international community were falling on deaf ears. It was clear that a political solution must be pursued, based on the Geneva communiqué and “not just a touch-up of the regime”. As long as Assad remained in power, extremists would grow stronger. An inclusive dialogue must resume that, crucially, included a strong, credible and moderate opposition.
SAMANTHA POWER (United States) said it was absolutely critical that donors meet the dire needs of the Syrian people. Her country planned to make significant commitments at the upcoming donor’s meeting. Humanitarian relief, however, was just a “Band-Aid” — it was critical to stop the violence in populated areas, as demanded in Security Council resolutions. Evidence continued to mount of the use of barrel bombs by the Assad regime, despite the regime’s continued denials. She also cited reports that the Government was confiscating aid, particularly medical supplies, and that medical personnel were being tortured to death, also mainly by the Government, but also by terrorist groups. The international community must remain united in condemning the activities of those terrorist groups, she said, maintaining, however, that those would not have arisen without the actions of the Assad regime. A political solution was only one way out. The regime had a bad record in abiding by previous agreements. As human rights abuses continued to rise, it was critical for the international community to not get used to the situation and to renew its determination to stop the suffering.
CARLOS OLGUIN CIGARROA (Chile) noted the sense of “death and desperation” conveyed in the reports on Syria. He called for the end to attacks on civilians, particularly indiscriminate bombing, no matter their source. The attacks by ISIL deepened the suffering, and all participants in the violations must be brought to justice. He called for immediate implementation of the humanitarian resolutions to prevent aid being used as a weapon of war, including the lifting of sieges and provision of humanitarian access to all areas. He also condemned the endless attacks against humanitarian workers. Stressing that the search for a political solution must continue and that recent initiatives in that regard must be followed by other exercises based on the Geneva communiqué, he lent his full support to the Special Envoy’s efforts.
HUSSEIN HANIFF (Malaysia) said civilians continued to bear the brunt of indiscriminate attacks by both the Government and opposition forces. Commending United Nations humanitarian agencies delivering aid to Syrians despite the physical danger, he unequivocally condemned attacks on humanitarian personnel, reiterating that the conflict parties must respect international law by ensuring their safety and calling on the Syrian Government to facilitate the movement of humanitarian supplies. For its part, Malaysia had pledged $500,000 in 2014 and looked forward to participating in the third International Humanitarian Pledging Conference in March. Appalled at the human rights violations perpetrated in the conflict, he appreciated the “victims-oriented approach” of the Independent Commission of Inquiry, regretting that it had not so far been able to enter Syria. More broadly, he said the Aleppo freeze plan should not be exploited by the parties to gain a strategic advantage, there or elsewhere. Parties must show willingness to find a political solution to the conflict.
RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) said the dramatic and drastic catastrophe in Syria required the world to speak out with clarity on the causes. Foreign Powers had backed armed groups and terrorists seeking to topple the legitimate Syrian Government, flouting the right to self-determination. Venezuela rejected war, human rights violations and intolerance, and regretted that external meddling had led to an escalation of the crisis. External military capacity given to terrorist groups had led to the expansion of their presence and control over other territories in the region. The only way to end the crisis was a negotiated and inclusive political settlement, preceded by an immediate ceasefire. He reiterated Venezuela’s commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and welcomed the diplomatic efforts in Moscow and Cairo aimed at assisting the Syrian parties. Expressing strong support to the efforts of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General to build trust among parties, he said all humanitarian assistance should be coordinated with the Syrian Government.
VLADIMIR SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) expressed gratitude to the humanitarian personnel working in Syria under such difficult conditions. It was important to note that those circumstances were created by the armed terrorist groups, he added. All possible legal means must be undertaken to ensure that humanitarian assistance reached the civilians in need with proper safeguards put in place. It was not acceptable to describe as “opposition” those groups that were on the Sanctions List of the Council. Both parties to the conflict must comply with Council resolutions and respect international humanitarian law. United Nations agencies should be involved in rebuilding schools and institutions for teacher training. The solution to the crisis could be neither military nor humanitarian; a settlement must be solely political based on the Geneva communiqué, which the Russian Federation had been striving to achieve.
KAYODE LARO (Nigeria) said the Secretary-General’s latest report noted the various factors contributing to the humanitarian catastrophe. Despite those challenges, United Nations agencies had made considerable progress in delivering humanitarian assistance to those in need. Applauding Syrian authorities for their cooperation in facilitating aid, he called for more expeditious approval of deliveries. All sides must ensure respect for humanitarian principles, he said, expressing gratitude to Syria’s neighbours for their generous support. All parties must engage with the Special Envoy towards achieving a lasting political settlement.
NIDA JAKUBONĖ (Lithuania) said host countries, including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, had been generous towards Syrian refugees, but to cope with that “extraordinary” challenge, they needed more aid and development assistance. While resolutions 2139 (2013), 2165 (2014) and 2191 (2014) outlined international humanitarian law obligations that must be unconditionally respected, “nothing has been done”, she said, adding that the world continued to witness the deliberate failings of the Assad regime in carrying out its primary responsibility to protect its civilians. War crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed by that regime, as well as by ISIL/ISIS and other terrorists, immense evidence of which had been documented by the Independent Commission of Inquiry. The 2015 humanitarian appeal had increased 12-fold since the start of the crisis and yet only “bits” of assistance had reached those in need. “It is our human and moral obligation to help those in desperate need,” she stressed.
MARK LYALL GRANT (United Kingdom) said that it was important that today’s meeting was open so that the magnitude of suffering in Syria and condemnation of the Assad regime could be heard publicly. The regime bore responsibility for the crisis and the Council had so far failed to help end it. The extremism that had arisen was a consequence of the actions of the regime, and the culture of impunity must be ended. Nor should the suffering inflicted by the terrorist groups go unanswered. He called for support for the Special Envoy’s initiatives for freezes in fighting while cautioning that the Syrian regime had previously shown that its commitments should not be taken at face value. Meanwhile, pressure must be put on the Government to increase humanitarian access; experience showed that such access produced positive results. At the same time, funding must be increased, and the United Kingdom was ready to play its role in that regard.
GASPAR MARTINS (Angola), paying tribute to humanitarian and human rights workers in Syria, said the situation was catastrophic for the population, noting that the international community had been unable to mediate a political solution. He listed the horrors being perpetrated by many parties, including the extremist groups, and insisted that those terrorists must be stopped and ultimately defeated. Pressure must be exerted on all parties to ensure that civilians received the necessary aid and basic protections. Noting the increasingly dire situation of refugees, he pledged solidarity with the countries hosting them, hoping for success at the upcoming donor’s conference. A political solution remained the only way out of the crisis, he said, supporting the efforts of the Special Envoy, as well as recent diplomatic initiatives.
WANG MIN (China), expressing high appreciation for the work of humanitarian workers in Syria, said that a political solution to the crisis must be vigorously promoted. He also supported the efforts of the Special Envoy and recent diplomatic initiatives in that regard. All actors must fully implement last year’s resolutions on humanitarian assistance, with the Government bearing the primary responsibility for protecting its citizens. In that vein, Syria’s sovereignty must also be respected. As the main reason for the deteriorating situation was terrorism, counter-terrorism and meeting humanitarian needs must both be pursued in a well-balanced and mutually reinforcing way. He called on the international community to provide adequate support for the Syrian people and the countries hosting Syrian refugees.
BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) thanked the Council for its sympathies with the Syrian population and its condemnations of the attacks of ISIL, noting the day’s news of destruction of cultural heritage, as well as the killing and abduction of more people. However, statements that blamed his Government for the ravages of the terrorists showed that some members of the international community were not serious about fighting them. His country was only targeting terrorists on its own territories. They were the same people that others said that they were targeting with missiles.
It was important, he said, to clearly articulate a framework to end the suffering, the root cause of which was the result of the expansion of terrorism that was externally supported. The coalition that was supporting the terrorists must, therefore, be stopped along with the provision of weapons to the so-called moderate opposition. Sanctions on Syrian institutions that should be able to help the Syrian people must be lifted. In regard to so-called sieges, he asked how they could be said to be in place when weapons continued to flow to the terrorists and attacks continued to be committed. Twenty-three million Syrians were being besieged, he said, but it was a siege enforced by those supplying arms to terrorists and putting sanctions on the country.
Turning to humanitarian assistance, he said it was imperative that it be done in coordination with the Government, from within the Syrian territories, so that it was effective and did not fall into the hands of terrorists. Huge supplies of aid had been facilitated by the Government through Syrian civil society groups. On refugees, he pointed to international reports that showed the current system of external camps was supporting terrorism. The way to help Syrian refugees was to allow them to return home. For that purpose, a political solution was needed that was completely Syrian without external interference.
NAWAF SALAM (Lebanon) said that, four years into the conflict in Syria, the international community remained unable to stop the bloodshed and chaos of a country compromising one of the most ancient and rich civilizations on the planet. For those four years, the Security Council had failed to facilitate a political solution, which also meant that it had failed Syria and its neighbours and allowed for a dangerous increase in regional instability. Lebanon was the smallest country of the region, but hosted the largest number of refugees, which comprised a third of its total population. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), it was the highest refugee-hosting country per capita. The economic impact of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon had been detrimental, with a total loss of nearly twice the $7.5 billion estimated by the World Bank in 2013. Lebanon reiterated its call for real burden sharing and greater assistance to host communities through official delivery channels. More important was the need for the Council to live up to its duties in helping to bring about a political solution to the Syrian conflict, as humanity was at stake in that country.
Y. HALIT ÇEVIK (Turkey) said his country carried out humanitarian operations in response to the crisis in Syria on three tracks: maintenance of an open-border policy in compliance with the principle of non-refoulement; assistance to Syrians living in towns outside the shelters; and extension of relief items to northern parts of Syria valued at $365 million. However, Turkey faced a financial burden of about $6 billion, he said, adding that the situation was not sustainable for any country in the region. Syria’s neighbours, which had shouldered an unfair share of the humanitarian burden, should not be left alone in coping with a tragedy that required a genuine international partnership. Condemning the recent abduction of Syrian Christians, as well as other barbaric acts committed by “Da’esh”, he said the international community needed a comprehensive and coordinated strategy with political, security and humanitarian pillars.