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Remarks by Ambassador Heusgen during the UN Security Council VTC Meeting on the political situation in Syria, April 29, 2020

29.04.2020 - Speech

Check Against Delivery

Germany fully supports your [Special Envoy Geir Pedersen] call for a complete, immediate nationwide ceasefire throughout Syria, which is in line with the call of the Secretary General for a global humanitarian ceasefire. I would like to use this occasion to urge colleagues, in particular our colleagues in the P5, who are stopping the endorsement of this global call for a ceasefire, to stop their internal bickering.

We have to deliver on this global ceasefire. The situation in Syria is calmer, but, as Geir Pedersen said, there is a constant risk of escalation. We have seen this yesterday in Afrin. I join my voice to those who strongly condemn this attack and I would like to express our sympathy to the families of the victims.

Geir Pedersen pointed to the extremely grave economic situation and the suffering of the people, which is aggravated by COVID-19. This, again, calls for not only resumption, but for substantive progress in the political process. We really need, not only the Constitutional Committee to meet, but we need to have substantive progress. I call on the Syrian regime to meaningfully engage with the Consitutional Committee.

I would like to commend Geir Pedersen for your contact with civil society and in particular that you met with the Women's Advisory Board. Women are at the forefront. Women and children are often the victims of the conflict in Syria. Yet, women, again, are those who in the COVID-19 crisis are at the forefront to combat the pandemic.

I would also join my voice to those who have called for the release of detainees and abductees. We need to advance this. U.N. High Commissioner Michele Bachelet has asked especially for the release of those that are most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Let me come back to the mantra I use in all of our meetings with regard to Syria on the political side: we need recovery, we need reconstruction, we need for the country to get back on on its feet. But for this, we need peace and national reconciliation. Reconciliation without accountability is simply not possible.

Therefore, I am grateful for also what the Russian Ambassador in his intervention said, that the pandemic cannot be used to whitewash crimes. Therefore we need to have more accountability. It would be good if in Astana, the meeting that was praised before, the topic of accountability would be on the on the agenda.

We welcome the recent reports of the OPCW, the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), and in particular of the Board of Inquiry. There has to be a follow up to the findings and those responsible for these crimes have to be prosecuted. In this context, I also would like to highlight the importance of the IIIM.

We have made substantive and important progress on accountability. Last week, the trial of two former officials of the Syrian regime’s security service charged with crimes against humanity began at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz in Germany. This is a very important step towards justice and accountability. For the first time abductions, torture, abuse in Syrian prisons are being prosecuted before a court in Germany. This sends a very clear message: those who commit crimes against humanity cannot feel safe anywhere.

We also believe it would be very wise to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. I appeal to Russia to rethink its veto in the Security Council on the referral of the situation in Syria to the ICC.

Talking about accountability, there again, I think Russia can do much more. We are now looking at concrete cases in the court in Koblenz. I would like to ask our Russian colleague with regard to reports that the Syrian national Hammadi Taha al-But was tortured and murdered by Wagner mercenaries after being captured in June 2017 near the Al-Shaer gas field in central Syria. One of the perpetrators was identified as Stanislav Dychko, and evidence was submitted to Russian investigators. We would like to inquire about the current state of the criminal investigations by the Russian authorities into these alleged war crimes by the Wagner group in Syria.

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