Statement by Ambassador Christoph Heusgen at the UNGA High-Level Panel Discussion on the Human Rights in Syria, March 2

03.03.2021 - Speech

Check Against Delivery

Thank you, Mr. President, for putting this subject on the agenda. I would also like to thank ASG Ilze Brands Kehris for putting together this very impressive panel. I would like to thank the panelists for their very sobering, deeply saddening testimony of the present situation in Syria.

Mr. President,

The people of Syria took to the streets 10 years ago and asked for reforms, exercised their right to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech and called for respect for their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. How did the Syrian regime react? Instead of responding to the requests of the people and the aspirations of the many young people in Syrian society, it became more oppressive and more violent, committed torture, indiscriminate detentions, forced disappearances, and physical and sexual violence. We heard in Sabah Hallaq's testimony that the Syrian crisis has affected women in particular. We have seen murder by the regime. We have seen violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. We have seen violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Caesar photos have shown how far “human beasts” are prepared to go. These are incredible pictures. Wafa Moustafa in her statement reminded us that Syria, once the cradle of civilization and the birthplace of the alphabet, has become a torture state. The responsibility squarely lies with the regime and with those countries that support the regime.

How do we get out of this? How do we return the millions of refugees in a safe, voluntary and dignified way, in line with the parameters of the UNHCR? We need a political solution in line with Resolution 2254, but this political solution can only be reached if Russia in particular puts pressure on the regime to agree to a real political solution. We need humanitarian access. It was inhumane of Russia and China in the Security Council to veto humanitarian access into the country – access which is meant to help the suffering people, women and children.

We need accountability. Many of you have said that reconciliation in Syria will only be possible with accountability. It remains very disappointing that Russia blocked the International Criminal Court from investigating the crimes in order to determine accountability and prepare the way to reconciliation.

Last week's ruling by the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, which convicted a former Syrian regime official for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity in connection with torture in Syrian regime prisons, is historic and an important first step towards justice and accountability. The verdict sends a very clear message: Whoever commits crimes against humanity or war crimes cannot feel safe anywhere and will eventually be held accountable. This decision is also a symbol of hope for the tens of thousands who have been victims of torture and have suffered at the hands of the Syrian regime.

We heard the testimony of Wafa Moustafa on behalf of her father and the almost 150,000 individuals who are still detained or have been forcibly disappeared. In her testimony, she asked, “Is there a point in addressing us?” I think we all have to respond positively. There is a point in addressing the UN General Assembly, and we have to act. We have to see to it that the fate of the Syrian people is improved and that we get a political solution, humanitarian aid and accountability.

My question to the briefers is: Do they share the view that accountability is key for reconciliation in the country? Do they back my call to those countries blocking accountability to finally give their green light?

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