Statement by the co-penholders for the Syria humanitarian file – Germany and Belgium – during the UN Security Council VTC Meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria, April 29, 2020

29.04.2020 - Speech

Delivered by Ambassador Heusgen

Check Against Delivery

I will deliver this statement on the humanitarian situation in Syria on behalf of the co-penholders Germany and Belgium. We would like to thank Under-Secretary General Lowcock  for his  briefing today. 

As you mentioned Mark, yesterday, the Syrian city of Afrin was shaken by a devastating terrorist attack that reportedly killed dozens of civilians, including many children. We strongly condemn this crime. Our deepest sympathy goes to the families and relatives of the victims. We wish the injured a speedy and complete recovery. 

Mark, once more you gave an insider’s perspective of what humanitarian work is about,  and how important humanitarian assistance is, in places where we have to protect the most vulnerable populations, not only from conflict and hunger,  but now also from the COVID19 pandemic. 

We bow our head to all  humanitarian and medical workers throughout Syria. We need you more than ever in this humanitarian battle.   

The UN Secretary-General´s Envoys for the Middle East put it rightly:

  • Silence the guns,
  • Deescalate tensions,
  • Reach out across conflict lines,
  • Facilitate humanitarian access and assistance wherever needed.

9 years of war have already taken an extreme toll. Nearly half of all healthcare facilities have been severely damaged or destroyed and there is a shortage of medical equipment and health care professionals: 

WHO counted 494 attacks on health care workers and installations in the last three years. 

Over 6 million  IDPs, as well as detainees and abductees, are living in conditions that make them extremely vulnerable to COVID19 and other respiratory infections. 

Reading carefully the bimonthly humanitarian report of the Secretary General and listening to your words, Mark, we can only conclude that access is crucial in order to stop the spread of the virus.

But we have to face the facts: In government controlled areas the UN was able to conduct only 25 % of humanitarian missions it submitted for approval, as a result of unrelenting bureaucratic hurdles and safety concerns.  

In the North West, the cease-fire between Russia and Turkey seems to be holding, fragile though it is, allowing for more humanitarian assistance than ever before to cross the border, although restrictions because of the pandemic are in place. 

And in the North East – and I’m quoting from the SG’s report here – “Only 30 percent of the medical facilities that were previously supported by cross-border deliveries from Yarubiah were reached by recent crossline supplies”. 

In order to “prepare for the worst”, this is simply not enough. 

Quoting WHO: “The weakened Health System in North-East Syria has minimal capacity to respond to the COVID19 pandemic.  All modalities are urgently required to prepare for and respond to the COVID 19 Pandemic.”

In the conclusions of his report the Secretary General underscores that “three month after the removal of Yarubiah, the remaining gaps in assistance underscore the importance of using all modalities, crossborder and crossline.” In other words, three months after the closure, crossline assistance via Damascus is falling woefully short, and COVID 19 only makes it more acute.

UN and NGO partners agree that the crossline option cannot be adequately expanded and propose the re-opening of a land crossing for greater amounts of cargo.

The Council and its Member States cannot ignore the effects of closing the Yarubiya crossing. The facts and figures are indisputable. 

Hence, from a humanitarian point of view, Germany and Belgium, echoing the Secretary General’s call for more cross line and more cross border access, think this council should consider reopening a crossing point in the north east of the country,  urgently.

The spread of the virus cannot be stopped by Council tactics but only by test-kits, protection equipment and ventilators. 

Finally, we renew our call for accountability for the most serious crimes under international criminal law. In this regard, we welcome the recommendation of the Secretary General to appoint a senior independent advisor on the findings of the Board of Inquiry. 

The results of the Board of Inquiry need to have a follow up – impunity for those responsible for these serious violations of international law is not an option. 

We pledge full support once more for the work of the IIIM in investigating such crimes and we are looking forward to the results of a trial of Syrian regime officers accused of crimes against humanity in Koblenz, Germany.

Let me add a short remark in my national capacity. Yesterday, Germany provided another 20 million euros for the Syria Cross-border Humanitarian Fund (SCHF), thus increasing our total contribution to the SCHF to 30 million euro in 2020. This fund remains a key instrument to address the enormous humanitarian needs in North-West Syria.


Top of page