Statement by the co-penholders for the Syria humanitarian file – Germany and Belgium – in the Security Council meeting on Syria (humanitarian), November 25, 2020

25.11.2020 - Speech

Delivered by Belgium

Check Against Delivery

This is probably the last time that Belgium will make a statement on behalf of Germany and Belgium, the humanitarian co-penholders. We would like to thank ASG and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Rajasingham for his briefing. We also extend our gratitude to all humanitarian and medical workers in Syria. They deserve our respect, assistance and protection.

 First, Madam President, some claim that the security situation in Syria has stabilized. Indeed, the situation on the ground remains relatively calm compared to the deathly offensives we witnessed in 2019 and early 2020, which were characterized by deliberate attacks on hospitals and schools, and led to the displacement of over a million civilians. However, serious protection concerns remain. In the North West alone 22 civilians, including six children, were killed as a result of shelling and airstrikes since we last met, and these numbers do not include yesterday’s attack in Al Bab and Afrin; during the last two months six humanitarian workers lost their life due to the same reason.

Therefore, we reiterate the importance of the effective implementation by all actors, of the ceasefire agreement of March 2020. We also call for a national cease-fire monitored by the United Nations.  As humanitarian co-penholders, we have recalled time and again, throughout our membership of the Council, that counter-terrorism actions have to be in line with international humanitarian law, and should not harm civilians or humanitarian workers or compromise the delivery of principled humanitarian aid.

Secondly, 11 million Syrians remain in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. The economic and health crises have added additional burden to an already dire Situation.

  • The war, mismanagement and corruption have resulted in an economic and currency crisis without precedent, continuously diminishing the purchasing power of Syrians across the country. 9.3 million people are currently food insecure. This food crisis has very tangible consequences for “ordinary citizens” and even more so for the most vulnerable: children, persons with disabilities, and women and Girls.
  • In addition, COVID-19 continues to claim victims across the country. Testing capacity remains low, although since march, it has increased in some parts in the country, including in the North West. Capacity remains woefully inadequate in other parts of the country, however, and healthcare workers are paying a heavy price, as they are in the frontline in the fight against COVID19. We know the reason why the Syrian healthcare system is in such a precarious state: health facilities were deliberately targeted and destroyed during the years of war, in direct contravention of humanitarian law.

We also listened carefully to what the USG said about water supply. Conflict parties are playing with the lives of innocent civilians. The ongoing problems, both in the North West and in the North East are unacceptable in any given situation. It is even more so in times of a pandemic when sanitation is crucial to fight the transmission of the virus. All parties should consider it a priority to durably restore access to water, for all civilians.

Thirdly, Madam President, I want to draw the attention, once again, to humanitarian access. This is at the core of the humanitarian file. This humanitarian co-penholdership, as you know, has put infinite efforts into maximizing the humanitarian access for all civilians in need, across the country, and fully in line with the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.

Despite our indefatigable efforts, humanitarian access was severely restricted during the last two years, solely for political and military considerations, in contravention of humanitarian principles and in defiance of the SG’s and the USG’s calls for more cross border and cross line access. After the closure of the crossing point of Yarubiya, many health facilities suffer shortage of supply. Although cross line access to those facilities has improved slightly, significant deficiencies remain. This is indefensible and immoral, and absent adequate cross-line aid deliveries, the closure of Yarubiya should be reversed without further ado.

Similarly, in the discussions leading to the closure of the crossing point of Bab al Salam, the claim was made that those regions it serviced in the Northwest would be, from then on, supported through cross-line humanitarian aid via Bab al Hawa. The sad reality, here too, is that the closure of Bab al Salam has thus far rendered humanitarian operations in the Northwest more costly and more risky. It is fair to say that, here too, promises of adequate cross-line assistance to compensate for the forced decrease in cross-border assistance were incorrect; jeopardizing the delivery of sufficient humanitarian aid to all civilians for the cold and dark months ahead.

Madam President, it is the task of this Council to act as a guarantor for international peace and security. It defies the logic how some member states of this Council have chosen to limit humanitarian access in times of tremendous need, rather than guaranteeing it, prioritizing their own narrative over the well-being of Syrian civilians, be they men, women or children.

Fourthly, I would be remiss not to repeat that only a genuine political process in line with resolution 2254, can break the cycle of violence. And only accountability can begin to address the suffering that so many Syrian children, women and men are still subject to on a  daily basis. The humanitarian co-penholders fully support the conclusions of the BOI, and the work of the IIIM and the COI, as well as justice initiatives on a national or international level. Refugees will only be able to return to live in their country of origin on a voluntary basis, and they will only do so if they feel they can do it safely, securely and with dignity.

 Finally, Madam President, some deliberately misconstrue Western sanctions as the cause of the medical crisis in Syria and see fit to exploit the COVID-19 crisis to call for the easing of sanctions, in a vain effort to deflect from both the detrimental restrictions on cross-border humanitarian aid and the nefarious and well documented targeting of health facilities by the Syrian authorities. So for the sake of fact-based debate, allow me to reiterate clearly that EU sanctions neither impede humanitarian assistance, nor medical supplies. Quite on the contrary: Germany, Belgium and the EU partners are the foremost humanitarian donors to Syria.

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