Secretary-General Calls for Creating Global Institution on Clarifying Whereabouts, Fate of Missing Persons in Syria, Stressing Moral Obligation to Ease Their Plight

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the Interactive Dialogue on the Report of the Secretary-General on Missing Persons in Syria, in New York today:

I will make a brief declaration and then the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights will brief the Assembly.

For 12 years, the Syrian people have suffered the brutalities of war, systematic atrocities, grinding deprivation and human grief on a massive scale.  Last month’s devastating earthquakes further worsened humanitarian needs that were already at their highest levels.  Millions of Syrians inside the country — and millions of refugees outside — grapple with deep trauma and despair.  Syria’s children are becoming teenagers having never lived a day without war.

The Syrian people deserve a measure of hope for the future.  They deserve peace and security.  And they deserve to know the truth about the fate of their loved ones.  Justice demands it — peace and reconciliation depend on it.

That is the heart of the issue of detained, abducted and missing persons.  The whereabouts and fate of an estimated 100,000 Syrians remains unknown.  People in every part of the country and across all divides have loved ones who are missing, including family members who were forcibly disappeared, abducted, tortured and arbitrarily detained.  The majority are men — leaving women relatives to support their families in impossible conditions, while at the same time undertaking the often terrifying and treacherous search for their sons, husbands, brothers or fathers.

We must work to resolve this deeply painful situation with determination and urgency.  I commend the courageous work of Syrian family, victim and survivor associations and other civil society groups — together with the efforts of many international bodies — to chart a path forward.

Guided by their views and advice, my report of last August outlined the framework for a solution.  The cornerstone is the establishment by the General Assembly of a new international institution to clarify the fate and whereabouts of the missing, and to provide support to victims and their families.  I urge all Member States to act — and I call on the Government of Syria and on all parties to the conflict to cooperate.  It is essential to help Syrians heal — and remove an obstacle to securing sustainable peace.

During my 10 years as High Commissioner for Refugees, I witnessed the dramatic suffering of the Syrian people — but I also saw first-hand their generous, giving spirit.  Several years before its crisis, Syria opened its borders — and the Syrian people opened their homes — to over 1 million Iraqi refugees fleeing war.  There were no Iraqi refugee camps in Syria.  Iraqi refugees were living in Syrian communities.  And it breaks my heart to see such a warm and welcoming people now suffering so much.

The international community has a moral obligation to help ease their plight.  Let us live up to this obligation.  And I urge the establishment of an institution centred on the needs and rights of victims, survivors and their families.  Let us heed their demands for truth.  And let us restore a measure of hope, dignity and justice to the Syrian people.

For information media. Not an official record.