Statement by Ambassador Günter Sautter in the UN Security Council meeting on Syria (political), August 19, 2020

19.08.2020 - Speech

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I would like to make four remarks, one on the security situation, one on the political process, one on detainees and one on accountability. On the security situation, we remain concerned about the fragile security situation throughout the country. In particular, we are worried that a new military offensive in or around Idlib would only result in more mass displacements and humanitarian catastrophe. This is something that should be avoided at any cost. We therefore continue to fully support the call of Special Envoy Geir Pedersen for a complete, immediate and nationwide ceasefire.

On the political process, there is a clear way out. It has been expressed by many delegations and it is also the position of Germany. The political process under the auspices of the United Nations in line with Resolution 2254 and the Geneva Communique of 2012 is the way to go. In this context, I would like to make it very clear: once a comprehensive, genuine and inclusive political transition is firmly underway, Germany and the EU will assist in reconstruction, but not before this.

In this context, when the Syrian regime changes its brutal behavior and ends its grave violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, there will also come a point for EU sanctions to be lifted. The issue of sanctions has been touched upon by previous speakers. I would like to make it very clear, the sanctions imposed by the European Union contain clear humanitarian exemptions, and we work very hard to make sure that these humanitarian exemptions are implemented faithfully in a way that does not create humanitarian damage. Let me add in this context that much more humanitarian damage is done by closing border crossings into Syria.

To allow for progress on the political process, the third round of the Constitutional Committee starting on the 24th of August will be an important step. This is another occasion for the Syrian regime to demonstrate that it is serious about the political process. We urge Russia to use its influence over Damascus in order to create the right spirit. We agree with Special Envoy Geir Pedersen that the Constitutional Committee alone will not suffice. We also need to see progress in the broader political process and the full implementation of Resolution 2254.

My third point is on detainees. Resolution 2254 calls for the immediate release of arbitrarily detained persons, particularly women and children. But since its adoption in December 2015, almost five years ago, there has been no progress here. Three concrete points are crucial here. Firstly, we urge all parties, in particular the Syrian regime, which holds the overwhelming majority of detainees, to immediately release all arbitrarily detained persons, starting with the most vulnerable women, children, the sick, wounded, and elderly. Secondly, the Syrian regime must also allow for immediate, unconditional and unhindered access for relevant humanitarian organizations to all its prisons and detention facilities. Thirdly, the Syrian regime must inform the families of the fate and the whereabouts of the tens of thousands missing and disappeared persons.

My fourth and last point is on accountability. We remain convinced national reconciliation and sustainable peace in Syria will only be possible once truth, justice and accountability for all crimes and atrocities committed during the Syrian conflict are established. In its latest report, the Commission of Inquiry has detailed human rights violations and war crimes in Idlib. This reporting, as well as the findings of the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team and the Board of Inquiry, demonstrate that the Syrian regime and its allies are responsible for indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure in northwest Syria. There has not been appropriate follow up to these findings yet. We must not tolerate impunity.

Russia and China have blocked the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. It is their responsibility that those who have committed and are still committing the most serious crimes in Syria cannot be brought to justice before the ICC. National jurisdictions are starting to at least fill some of the void in Germany and elsewhere. The message is clear: whoever commits crimes against humanity or war crimes cannot feel safe anywhere and will eventually be held accountable. We therefore call on all states to use all legal means at their disposal to prosecute the perpetrators and to initiate criminal proceedings under the principle of international universal jurisdiction. We call on this Council to finally live up to its responsibility, to join the fight against impunity and to ensure that those who commit the most serious crimes under international law are held accountable.


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