Delivered by Germany
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Thank you, Mr. President,
I make this statement on behalf of Belgium and Germany, the humanitarian co-penholders on Syria. We want to thank Under-Secretary General Lowcock and Special Envoy Pedersen for their briefings today.
And we extend our gratitude to all humanitarian and medical workers in Syria. They are at the forefront of every humanitarian disaster, they are frontline fighters against the pandemic, and they deserve all our respect, assistance and protection.
We all hope that this year will end without another meeting on Syria humanitarian issues. We all hope that conditions on the ground do not require this Council to hold emergency sessions or AOBs on the humanitarian situation in Syria in the foreseeable future.
Belgium and Germany worked on this file during their membership in the Council since January 2019. The penholdership was joined by our friends from Kuwait in the first year. What has this Council achieved for the people in Syria in these 24 months? How has the humanitarian situation developed over the last two years?
Let me quote the last report of the Secretary General: “I remain gravely concerned about the complete absence of respite for civilians in the country … None of the metrics point to improvement; on the contrary humanitarian needs are deepening.” In 2021, wasting among children is expected to increase significantly. The number of people in need will rise by 1.9 million, reaching a staggering 13 million in total. This is a staggering three quarters of the total population of Syria.
This tells us that in spite of what the Syrian government and its allies contend, the crisis is far from over, far from getting better; the situation is far from normal, and 2021 will bring huge additional challenges.
As penholders, we lobbied for a humanitarian ceasefire in September 2019, we made a compelling humanitarian case for maintaining crossborder humanitarian access to North-East Syria exactly one year ago, and an equally compelling case for keeping two border crossings in North-West Syria in July 2020. We followed the humanitarian imperative, we listened to the advice of the UN and its humanitarian agencies, and we tried to create the circumstances on the ground for help humanitarian actors to help people in need.
But apparently others adhere to their political narrative and to their veto power. We have experienced this extensively during the last two years. In a nutshell: Two permanent members of this Council have consistently disregarded the humanitarian principles, have limited humanitarian crossborder access to one last chokepoint. They have prioritized their support for the Syrian authorities over the humanitarian imperative.
Mr. President, dear colleagues, the co-penholders do not wish to use this last opportunity in the Council to repeat ourselves by making the same appeals we have always made in our common statements. Instead, we prefer to give the floor to voices from the ground; voices you should carefully listen to and remember when this Council has to draft new decisions on the humanitarian situation in Syria:
Rose, a 13 year old girl who lives in N West Syria told Save the Children:
“I used to go to a school at the Southern end of my town, but it was destroyed during the ongoing conflict. I moved to another school that was in a basement, but it also was attacked, damaged and is no longer a place where we can learn. I have been displaced again, and now I go to a new school. I never told anyone I was afraid, but our teacher told us it is okay to be afraid. Now I can tell you I am afraid that my school will be hit again.”
Layla Hasso from Hurras Network (The Syrian Child Protection Network):
“What we need today is to hope for a better future for the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of children out of education. We need the repetitive attacks on education to stop, to allow our children to learn safely and stay alive. For that, we need to maintain access. We need to make sure humanitarian organisations stay or else we worry that we are forgotten about. Left to fend for ourselves and children and suffer the consequences of violence on our own.”
Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations:
“In the conflict areas in Northwest Syria, where local and displaced populations were exposed to heavy shelling, especially in the western countryside of Aleppo and all areas of Idlib governorate, in addition to the high number of IDPs, the resources available are limited compared to the high population density and the inability to meet the basic needs of the population with the near-complete destruction of basic infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and other social services.
Ensuring unfettered access to these populations remains essential and life-saving.”
These are voices of the people in need. Over two years we have done everything to make these voices heard in this Council. Preparing this statement some people, in fact all those we contacted in regime-held areas, asked us not to be quoted in the Council for fear of repercussions for their daily work. This is the sad reality in Syria in 2020. There is no doubt the humanitarian situation is extremely worrying throughout the country.
And finally, Mr. President,
Only a political settlement in line with resolution 2254 can put Syria back on track towards peace. Germany and Belgium will remain committed to this file in New York, Geneva and other fora. We will remain committed to the people of Syria, we will fulfill our humanitarian pledges, and we will closely follow the decisions of this Council in 2021. The eyes of the world, and in particular of Syrians suffering in Syria and beyond, are on this Council. You must live up to your responsibilities!
I thank you.