Statement by Ambassador Günter Sautter in the Security Council VTC meeting on Syria (political and humanitarian), November 25, 2020

25.11.2020 - Speech

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I would also like to thank Deputy Special Envoy Khawla Matar for her briefing. Thank you very much to you and to Special Envoy Pedersen for your tireless efforts. These efforts have been largely futile. This is not your fault. The Constitutional Committee has not produced any real progress to date. This, we believe, is due to the persistent and systematic obstruction by the Syrian regime. The aim of the regime is clear: it wants to delay and obstruct the Constitutional Committee until the presidential elections in 2021. We must not and we will not let them get away with this. The international community will not be fooled. It will not recognize the results of elections, which are not free and fair and which are not conducted pursuant to a new constitution under the supervision of the United Nations and with the participation of all Syrians, including the diaspora. We have taken note of the agreement on the dates and the agenda of the fourth and fifth round of the Constitutional Committee. These meetings must at long last discuss substantial issues in order to achieve meaningful progress towards drafting a new constitution. We call on the Syrian regime to finally engage seriously and constructively in the Constitutional Committee, and we call on Russia to use its influence on Damascus in this regard.

The political process under the auspices of the United Nations in line with Resolution 2254 and the Geneva Communique of 2012 is the only sustainable way out of the Syrian catastrophe. Pretending the conflict in Syria is over and that the situation is moving towards peace and normalization is frankly absurd. This is why the recent Conference on Refugee Returns was a cynical propaganda stunt. It is outrageous to claim that alleged intimidation by Western countries, sanctions against the regime, or lack of reconstruction assistance would hinder the return of Syrian refugees.

Look at the facts on the ground and it immediately becomes clear that it is the Syrian regime's war against its own people, abetted by allies, Iran and Russia, and its system of brutal oppression, together with the serious threat of indiscriminate detention, forced disappearance, torture and physical and sexual violence, which are the main reasons why millions of Syrians have fled their country. They are also the biggest obstacles for a safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their areas of origin in Syria, in line with international law and the UNHCHR Protection Thresholds and Parameters for Refugees Return to Syria.

Let me reaffirm: There will be no lifting of EU sanctions unless the Syrian regime changes its brutal behavior and ends its grave violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Let me also make clear that Germany and the European Union will only assist in the reconstruction of Syria once a comprehensive, genuine and inclusive political transition in line with Resolution 2254 is firmly underway.

All elements of Resolution 2254 need to be fully implemented. In addition to a complete nationwide ceasefire without delay, we need to see the immediate release of arbitrarily detained persons, particularly women and children. We deeply regret that there has been no meaningful action on the fate of detainees and missing persons, which would be so important for building confidence and trust among the Syrian parties. Germany continues to be convinced that this Council should express a unified position and request 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. This Council should also call upon all parties, in particular the Syrian regime, to allow immediate, unconditional and unhindered access for relevant humanitarian organizations to all prisoners and detention facilities. And the Council should urge all parties, in particular the Syrian regime, to inform the families of the fate and the whereabouts of the tens of thousands of missing and disappeared persons.

Finally, this Council must live up to its responsibility. It must join the fight against impunity and ensure that those responsible for torture and killing in Syrian prisons and for the crimes and atrocities are held accountable. The evidence for serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in Syria has been well documented in various reports, but also in the Cesar photos. These photos have been introduced as evidence in the trial against two former Syrian intelligence officers before a German court in Koblenz. We must not tolerate impunity for the most serious crimes in Syria. Whoever commits crimes against humanity or war crimes must not feel safe anywhere and will be held accountable. Without this, reconciliation and sustainable peace in Syria will not be possible.

On the humanitarian situation, I would like to add a few words in my national capacity. Our support for the Syrian people will continue. Winter is coming. Germany will therefore allocate another $24 million to the Syrian Cross-Border Humanitarian Fund. In 2019, Germany pledged and allocated more than $1.6 billion in support of the people in need inside Syria and refugees in host countries in the region. Since 2012, Germany has given more than $10 billion, and let's not forget that more than 700,000 Syrian refugees live in Germany. Our approach to this is purely humanitarian because we truly care about the people of Syria and we will continue to do so. Thank you very much.

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