Renewing Resolution on Cross-Border Assistance into Syria Crucial for Saving Lives, Supporting Political Solution, Special Envoy Tells Security Council
With humanitarian needs worsening and hostilities escalating in Syria, the Special Envoy for that country told the Security Council today that renewing the resolution authorizing cross-border humanitarian aid into Syria was absolutely essential to saving lives and would support efforts towards a political solution to the conflict.
Geir Pedersen, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, via video teleconference, said it was absolutely essential that the Council renew resolution 2585 (2021) in order to bring life-saving, and life-sustaining, humanitarian assistance to Syrians for an additional twelve months. Calling that renewal “a kernel of the constructive diplomacy on Syria”, he underscored that it would support implementing his mandate — Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) — in building a political settlement, which is the only sustainable way to end the suffering of Syrians.
He also reported that he continued to engage with the Syrian-led, Syrian-owned Constitutional Committee key players to implement a political solution and advance resolution 2254 (2015). However, at the conclusion of the Committee’s eighth meeting, he noted that there was an inability of the members to identify and conclude concrete areas of initial provisional agreement — even on points where there was potential consensus in the room. A daunting set of challenges faced the Syrian people and urgent action was needed to support the political process. “My message is simple: Don’t forget Syria,” he stressed.
Omar Alshogre, Director for Detainee Affairs at the Syrian Emergency Task Force, said that his presence in the Council chamber marked the first time since he left Syria that he could face the people who supported the regime that killed his father, oldest and youngest brother and his childhood friends. He presented 14 unfiltered messages from Syrians representing all of Syria’s 14 governorates, pleading for help and noting how powerlessly the Council acts in the face of their enemy. Other messages included the admonishment that Member States are “sitting in the Security Council, not in a carousel in Disneyland.”
Noting that the Russian Federation holds the cross-border points hostage, including Bab Al-Hawa, he called on the Council to pressure Moscow to open them. Since the start of Syria’s uprising in March 2011, the Russian Federation has vetoed more than 15 Council resolutions concerning the conflict, including on human rights violations, use of force against civilians, toxic chemical weapons, and calls for a meaningful ceasefire. He urged Member States to fight for and with the Syrian people, to free every mother, father, sister, brother and friend being held captive for simply taking to the streets, demanding their rights, and asking for accountability and justice.
As Council members took the floor, several argued that the Assad regime was continuing to oppress its citizens, while others insisted security threats were coming from armed groups. Still others highlighted efforts by Syria to normalize relations with regional neighbours and emphasized that Syria’s sovereignty needed to be respected when discussing the mandate for the border crossing.
The representative of the Russian Federation said the main security threats to Syria and the region are posed by ongoing hotbeds of terrorists that find refuge in areas not under Damascus’ control. However, the root causes of the unfurling volatile situation lie in the ongoing policy of the West to “cock their hats” at terrorist elements and to use those elements for their own geopolitical purposes. To resolve the Syrian crisis, the illegal foreign military presence in Syria must end.
The United Kingdom’s delegate, however, stressed that the Assad regime remains incapable of respecting human rights or governing in the interests of all Syrians. Voicing strong opposition to efforts that engage the regime in the absence of behavioural changes, he warned: “Doing so undermines the international community’s collective leverage and will ultimately prolong the crisis and the suffering of millions of Syrians.”
The representative of India, highlighting the urgent need to scale up humanitarian assistance and ensure necessary funding, voiced support for regional efforts to find a long-term solution to the conflict. Welcoming the progressive normalization of Syria’s relations with its Arab neighbours, he warned that acts compromising Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will have a negative impact on the political track.
Echoing that, Iran’s representative also called for the restoration of Syrian sovereignty, voicing rejection of separatist activities in the country. Citing the crucial contribution of the Constitutional Committee, he noted his delegation was in Geneva, acting in concert with all parties to advance its aims.
Türkiye’s representative, on the other hand, said that the eighth round of Constitutional Committee talks failed to yield concrete progress. He called on the regime to stop its delaying tactics and start demonstrating sincere engagement at the next round in July. He also highlighted his country assistance to millions of Syrians within and across its borders.
Nonetheless, Syria’s representative said his Government has achieved significant progress in the last few months and was keen to support national reconciliation and local settlements. The amnesty decree issued by the President in April benefitted a host of detainees and diplomatic missions abroad and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs were receiving applications and requests in that regard. Affirming his Government’s commitment to the safe, voluntary and dignified return of refugees, he called on those States preventing their return to stop their practices.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United States, China, Brazil, Mexico, Ghana (also for Gabon and Kenya), Ireland, Norway, France, United Arab Emirates and Albania.
The meeting began at 3:36 p.m. and ended at 5:24 p.m.
GEIR PEDERSEN, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, via video teleconference, said that, with humanitarian needs growing and civilians in desperate need, it was absolutely essential that the Council renew resolution 2585 (2021) in order to bring life-saving and life-sustaining humanitarian assistance to Syrians for an additional 12 months. Calling that renewal “a kernel of the constructive diplomacy on Syria,” he said it would support implementing his mandate — Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) — in building a political settlement, which is the only sustainable way to end the suffering of Syrians. There have been escalating hostilities in a number of flashpoints, including, among others, a United States strike on al-Qaeda affiliate Hurras al-Din; continued attacks by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Da’esh; reports of Russian airstrikes near Al-Tanf on an armed opposition group partnered with the United States; and strikes attributed to Israel. Voicing concern about violence across all of Syria’s fault lines, he called for a nationwide ceasefire, a cooperative approach to countering listed terrorist groups, and a focus on supporting the political process.
He went on to note that earlier this month, the World Bank reported that Syrian economic activity halved in size between 2010 and 2019 and warned that that economic crisis could lead to increased social unrest in Syria. Also, a recent survey by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) of Syrian refugees found that 92.8 per cent of refugees living in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq do not intend to return to Syria within the next 12 months. As such, a wide range of actions would be required to create conditions for the safe, voluntary and dignified return of refugees, he said. The international community must work on a series of confidence-building measures to deal with Syrians’ most immediate concerns, and advance towards a safe, calm and neutral environment and the implementation of resolution 2254 (2015).
Turning to the situation of the detained, the abducted, and the missing, he said he has long called on parties to take unilateral action at a meaningful scale, citing his various engagements with Syrian parties and authorities, as well as human rights organizations and victims and family associations. He also described his continued engagement with the Syrian-led, Syrian-owned Constitutional Committee to implement a political solution and advance resolution 2254 (2015). However, at the conclusion of the Committee’s eighth meeting, he noted that there was an inability of the members to identify and conclude concrete areas of initial provisional agreement — even on points where there was potential consensus in the room. The ninth session of its small drafting body will convene in Geneva on 25 July, he said. A daunting set of challenges faces the Syrian people, he said, calling for urgent action to implement a comprehensive political solution, in line with resolution 2254 (2015). “My message is simple: Don’t forget Syria,” he said, urging the international community to find unity on Syria and help its people emerge from conflict.
OMAR ALSHOGRE, Director for Detainee Affairs at the Syrian Emergency Task Force, said that his presence in the Council chamber marked the first time since he left Syria that he could face the people who supported the regime that killed his father, oldest and youngest brother and his childhood friends. He recalled that, when the soldiers came to kill his family, his mother heard one of them speaking Farsi. “He was an Iranian officer sent to kill our hope for democracy,” he said, adding “That is when the people of Syria realized that they had more than one enemy, and they need more than one friend.” He presented 14 unfiltered messages from Syrians representing all of Syria’s 14 governorates, pleading for help and noting how powerlessly the Council acts in the face of their enemy. Other messages included the admonishment that Member States are “sitting in the Security Council, not in a carousel in Disneyland.”
Since the start of Syria’s uprising in March 2011, the Russian Federation has vetoed more than 15 Council resolutions concerning the conflict — including on human rights violations, use of force against civilians, toxic chemical weapons, and calls for a meaningful ceasefire. That State sought to provide political cover for the Assad regime, and protect Moscow’s strategic interests and arms deals with Syria. “Did you shut off your humanity entirely?” he asked. “How do you sleep at night?” Accusing the Iranian regime and Iran-backed militias of killing brilliant minds in Iraq, he stressed they then crossed into Syria and slaughtered, raped, and burned humans, animals and trees, citing AtrocitiesTracker.org, a project established by the Syrian Emergency Task Force to shed light on the evidence and the testimonies of the victims and their families. The United Arab Emirates had welcomed the Syrian dictator, Bashar Al-Assad into that country, underscoring that “normalizing Assad is a crime,” and accused Jordan of not allowing the pregnant women of Rukban camp to go to a safe hospital in Jordan to give birth to a new life.
The United States Government has recently been limiting itself to empty statements and no actions, he continued, adding: “I used to think of America as the greatest country in the world; now you need to prove that to us.” Türkiye and Lebanon have been extremely generous to towards millions of Syrian refugees, but those people are also being discriminated against and targeted with racism. “The people of Syria will remember who did us good and who did us bad,” he emphasized. Noting the Russian Federation holds the cross-border points hostage, including Bab Al-Hawa, he called on the Council to pressure Moscow to open them — which should not even be a negotiation. Member States should follow Germany’s lead in using the massive amount of evidence to prosecute the Syrian regime and its allies. He further urged them to fight for and with the Syrian people, to free every mother, father, sister, brother and friend being held captive for simply taking to the streets, demanding their rights, and asking for accountability and justice.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said the main security threats to Syria and the region are posed by ongoing hotbeds of terrorists that find refuge in areas not under Damascus’ control. However, the root causes of the unfurling volatile situation lie in the ongoing policy of the West to “cock their hats” at terrorist elements and to use those elements for their own geopolitical purposes. To resolve the Syrian crisis, the illegal foreign military presence in Syria must end. As well, the regular airstrikes by the Israeli Air Force must unconditionally cease. He expressed regret that, due to the bias of Western delegations, his country’s draft Security Council press statement was blocked. He went on to say that the deterioration of the economic and humanitarian situation in Syria is a direct result of the destructive unilateral sanctions by the United States and the European Union. On the matter of the return of refugees, he noted that host countries Lebanon, Jordan and Türkiye are at their limits with respect to further resettlement. However, Western countries stubbornly prefer that refugees stay in host countries, he said, underscoring the need to ensure that refugees enjoy the fundamental right to return home.
RICHARD M. MILLS JR. (United States), noting his country had taken Mr. Alshogre in, said his testimony was important, and cited a number released by the United Nations that reveals the stark realities of the horror of the conflict: 306,887 civilians killed since the start of the uprising in March 2011. The human scale of the tragedy should shock everyone and spark redoubled efforts to end it. His delegation supports the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism and urges implementation of all elements of resolution 2254 (2015), including those addressing more than 30,0000 arbitrarily detained and missing Syrian persons. Turning to the 30 April amnesty decree by the Syrian regime, he said only a few hundred prisoners have been released — a small fraction of those suspected held. Urging the regime to coordinate directly with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other non-governmental organizations, he stressed that their safety and security before they return is crucial. He reiterated a call for a nationwide ceasefire, expressing concern over any potential military action by Türkiye on the Syrian side of the border. While the clear responsibility for the impasse lies with the Assad regime, he voiced hope that the ninth round of discussions in Geneva will deliver the progress Syrian people deserve. Calling for an expanded and strengthened United Nations cross-border humanitarian mechanism, he stressed the only way to end the crisis is through a credible political process.
JISHENG XING (China), noting the eighth session of the core group of the Constitutional Committee, said the very fact of the meeting is a positive development. Stressing that the political process must be Syrian-owned and Syrian-led, he said that the Constitutional Committee should remain independent and free from outside influence. Political progress cannot be made without an enabling environment, he said, welcoming the recent amnesty announced by Syria aimed at domestic reconciliation. However, it is inconceivable that political progress could be made while there is still illegal foreign occupation in Syria. He urged those countries present to withdraw their troops, which are stationed in the country without permission from the Syrian Government. Also welcoming the strengthened interaction between Damascus and other Arab countries, he noted that the mandate for the cross-border humanitarian aid delivery mechanism will expire in July and voiced his hope that, on the basis of respecting Syria’s sovereignty, the Council will hold comprehensive discussions on the matter and strive towards consensus.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) said humanitarian needs are at their peak, with millions of people relying on international aid to meet their most basic needs. The situation of refugees and internally displaced persons is also deteriorating daily. On 10 July, the authorization of cross-border humanitarian operations expires, and the Council will once again have to take a very important decision on the matter. Currently, there is no choice but to continue supporting the provision of humanitarian assistance to all those in need in Syria through all feasible modalities. Cross-border assistance is by no means a long-term solution but a temporary measure to alleviate the humanitarian needs of the Syrian population. Voicing concern about the ability of the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies to operate in Syria, he called on all relevant parties to find ways to address the challenges that various humanitarian actors in Syria face.
JUAN GÓMEZ ROBLEDO VERDUZCO (Mexico) expressed regret over the lack of progress during the eighth session of the Constitutional Committee, but noted his hope that the ninth session will be more successful. He voiced concern regarding statements about a new military intervention in northern Syria, which would threaten the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of that country. He urged that maximum restraint be exercised to avoid an escalation of tensions that could cause further displacement of civilians and exacerbate the already serious humanitarian situation. It was time to encourage dialogue and coordinate counter-terrorism strategies. Recognizing the efforts of countries hosting refugees, he said that conditions do not yet exist to facilitate safe, dignified and voluntary return and called for increasing funding to support host communities. In addition, while noting that some detainees have been released, he called on the Syrian authorities to release all arbitrarily detained persons, particularly women, children and the elderly. He also reiterated the importance of the Council renewing the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, in order to meet with the growing needs of millions of Syrians and for which there is no other alternative.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana), also speaking on behalf of Gabon and Kenya, stressed that a political solution is the most promising path to peace and security in Syria, which requires immediate establishment of a nation-wide ceasefire. Expressing concern about the slow progress in the work of the Constitutional Committee, he stressed that the need to advance a broader political process is ever more crucial. Confidence-building measures, such as the release of detainees and the determination of the plight of missing persons, would contribute to enhancing the process. More detainees need to be released with special attention paid to the elderly, women and children, he said, also noting that the amnesty granted by the Government is an important step towards reconciliation.
Expressing concern about the presence of mercenaries from certain countries in Syria, he stressed that the country should not be used as a ground for other States to settle scores. He also highlighted the precarious situation in the north-west, and continued air strikes and terrorist activities in the north-east, particularly in the Al Rakkah Governorate. All State and non-State actors in Syria must exercise maximum restraint. In this respect, he called on neighbouring countries to desist from actions that would create more instability in Syria. What is needed now is a political solution, a cessation of hostilities and the need for respect for Syria’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence, he said.
CAÍT MORAN (Ireland), spotlighting Mr. Alshogre’s briefing, said it was imperative that the Council hear the perspectives of Syrian civil society about the reality of the challenges faced on the ground, as well as Mr. Alshogre’s own perspective as a former political prisoner. It was atrocious that 72 civilians, including 12 children, were killed in the months of April and May, she continued, reiterating the call for a nationwide ceasefire across Syria to protect human lives. Pointing to the recent release of footage of a massacre that took place in 2013 in the Tadamon neighbourhood of Damascus, she emphasized the absolute necessity of ensuring accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria. It also highlights the importance of the Government and other parties sharing information on the fate of the missing and disappeared, she said. Taking note of Syrian Government’s amnesty decree, she stressed that all releases must be conducted in a transparent and verifiable manner. She also stressed that the continued suffering of innocent children in Syria is an affront to all of humanity.
MONA JUUL (Norway), pointing to the amnesty decree announced by the Syrian authorities, noted that the issue of detainees and missing persons in Syria is a matter of great concern. She called for more information including the scope of the amnesty, verifying systems to be put in place and transparency. The escalations in the northern parts of Syria have led to increased human suffering for the population, she said, urging all actors to contribute to de-escalation and to uphold international law. The only way to end the humanitarian tragedy in Syria is through a truly nationwide ceasefire, and a political solution that enables the Syrian people to determine their own future. She also urged the Syrian parties, and countries involved in Syria, to move forward towards an inclusive political solution — one that will first and foremost benefit the Syrian people, but also neighbouring countries, and the broader international community.
WADID BENAABOU (France) said the Assad regime continues to oppress Syrians, with evidence gathered on the 2013 Tadamon massacre leaving no doubt about the war crimes and crimes against humanity it has repeatedly committed. He noted that the amnesty decree — decided unilaterally by the regime — has not been verified by the United Nations, and therefore has no validity. The United Nations and civil society have documented the systematic use of sexual and gender-based violence in places of detention, including against refugees returning to Syria, and it is therefore a pipe dream to believe that normalization with the regime could create stability. Describing announcements about a possible Turkish military operation in northern Syria as worrying, he warned against further aggravating the crisis, which might threaten the efforts of the International Coalition fighting Da’esh. Without a political solution on the basis of resolution 2254 (2015), French and European positions will remain unchanged on the lifting of sanctions, reconstruction and normalization. He also stressed the need to renew the cross-border aid delivery mechanism for 12 months, at the minimum, as humanitarian needs have never been so great.
RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India), noting positive developments at the eighth session of the Constitutional Committee, reiterated that it is for the Syrians to determine and decide their future. Noting the urgent need to scale up humanitarian assistance and ensure necessary funding, he voiced support for regional efforts to find a long-term solution to the conflict, welcoming the progressive normalization of Syria’s relations with its Arab neighbours. Any acts compromising Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will have a negative impact on the political track, he warned, describing the recently announced military activities as deeply concerning. Also stressing the urgent need for a comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire, he called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces and drew attention to the looming threat posed by resurgent terrorist groups, reiterating that the global fight against terrorism cannot and should not be compromised for narrow political gains. The credibility of the international community’s collective fight against that phenomenon can only be strengthened by ensuring accountability, he added.
MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates) said the Constitutional Committee is the only platform for a constructive, Syrian-led and Syrian-owned dialogue to advance the political process. With respect to the significant disagreement about the draft text, he stressed the importance of focusing on points of common ground to build confidence among all parties and overcome points of disagreement. In the context of broader confidence-building efforts between the parties, he welcomed Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s recent issuance of a general amnesty for some terrorist crimes, which led to the release of hundreds of detainees. With regards to the escalation of hostilities in northern Syria, he said his country rejects any foreign interference, including acts of aggression in northern Syria, as well as any efforts to artificially alter the country’s demography.
FERGUS JOHN ECKERSLEY (United Kingdom), describing claims that the situation in Syria is improving as false, warned that the Assad regime is trying to play on conflict fatigue to encourage normalization. This cannot be allowed, he stressed, adding that the Syrian people deserve justice, accountability and hope for a future based on the political reforms set out in resolution 2254 (2015). The conditions in Syria continue to deteriorate, and the regime remains incapable of respecting human rights or governing in the interests of all Syrians. Voicing strong opposition to efforts that engage the Assad regime in the absence of behavioural changes, he warned: “Doing so undermines the international community’s collective leverage and will ultimately prolong the crisis and the suffering of millions of Syrians.” A political solution is the only way to end the conflict. Given the regime’s consistent intransigence, such a solution will only be possible through concerted international efforts and the full implementation of resolution 2254 (2015), he added.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania), Council President for June, speaking in his national capacity, acknowledged the pain and anger in voice of Mr. Alshogre, which reflected a people in anguish. Given the horrific humanitarian situation that is the preoccupation of the Council, the renewal of the cross-border mechanism is essential. He stressed that Syria’s most recent declaration of detainee amnesty must not allow the regime to use its people as hostages and bypass resolution 2254 (2015), as the United Nations and the international community do not know who has been released or how many have been killed. Noting the Constitutional Committee has convened eight times without tangible results, he emphasized it should not be a mockery of Syrian aspirations. He called on all parties to show goodwill to place any faith in the process. There is no alternative to full accountability of all parties involved in the Syrian crisis if the country is ever to return from the abyss to being a prosperous and peaceful State. No lasting peace can have crimes as its foundation, he stressed, and the international community must not support the politics of erasure in Syria.
BASSAM SABBAGH (Syria) said his Government has achieved significant progress in the last few months, demonstrating its keenness to support national reconciliation and local settlements. The amnesty decree issued by the President in April benefitted a host of detainees. Diplomatic missions abroad and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs have received applications and requests in that regard. Syrian institutions continue their efforts to strengthen the legal architecture, he said, noting that a number of important decrees and laws have been enacted to regulate areas such as the possession of weapons and ammunitions, amending the penal code, and abolishing life imprisonment with hard labour.
Moreover, his Government is committed to removing all impediments for the safe, voluntary and dignified return of refugees to their places of origin. States that prevent Syrian refugees from returning to their homeland must stop those practices, he stressed, emphasizing the need to lift unilateral coercive measures imposed on his country. Citing the concluding statement from the eighteenth Astana Meeting on Syria, he stressed the importance of taking new actions to combat terrorism and refusing all attempts to create a new reality on the ground by what is called autonomous initiatives and separatist agendas in northeast Syria. He also condemned Israel’s ongoing military attacks against his country, which jeopardize security in the region.
He welcomed the release of detainees and abductees in June, expressing appreciation for the support of the Russian Federation and Iran in that regard. He condemned the practices and aggressive policies of Türkiye, including displacement and ethnic cleansing. Voicing regret at the Council’s failure to condemn Israel’s aggression in Syria in its striking of the Damascus International Airport, he said Israel must be compelled to cease its attacks on his country. Stressing that his country makes its own decisions based on its own will, he said it will spare no effort toward constructive relations with all countries of the world.
MAJID TAKHT RAVANCHI (Iran) said there can be no military solution to the Syrian crisis, calling for the end of the occupation and the restoration of Syrian sovereignty. He voiced his rejection of separatist activities in the country, as well as any support for such illegal measures. Citing the crucial contribution of the Constitutional Committee, he noted his delegation was in Geneva, acting in concert with all parties to advance its aims — a process that must be free from outside pressure or artificial deadlines and be a truly Syrian-led and -owned process. He further noted that guarantors of the Asana Format have expressed their commitment to carry out that work in line with resolution 2254 (2015).
He called on all parties to support the endeavour of releasing detainees, welcoming the recent amnesty announcement as a valuable contribution. Provision of humanitarian aid is essential and must not be prevented by politics, but be executed with full respect for Syria’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity. He expressed support for the cross-border mechanism — provided it is renewed in a balanced manner and addresses legitimate Government concerns. He further condemned Israel’s violation of Syrian sovereignty, including the attack on the Damascus International Airport on 10 June and called on the Council to also condemn it.
FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Türkiye), voicing regret that the eighth round of Constitutional Committee talks failed to yield concrete progress, called on the regime to stop its delaying tactics and start demonstrating sincere engagement at the next round in July, and applauded the opposition’s continued constructive attitude, despite obstacles and provocations. He went on to say that since the beginning of 2020, the PKK/YPG [Kurdish Workers’ Party] terrorist organization carried out at least 1,750 terrorist attacks against Syrian civilians. Given the separatist character of that organization, it defies logic that some Member States still insist on portraying that entity as a reliable party in the fight against terrorism, he said.
His country will not hesitate to continue to take all necessary measures to deal with all threats against its vital security interests, he continued. On the matter of refugees, his country has facilitated the voluntary and safe return of more than 500,000 Syrians to the stabilized areas. Efforts are underway to increase cooperation with other neighbouring countries and the United Nations. Moreover, his country has been providing assistance to millions of Syrians within and across its borders. It is also providing support to the United Nations and the international community in delivering lifesaving humanitarian aid to 4.1 million people in need.