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Remarks by Ambassador Heusgen in the Security Council VTC Meeting on Syria (political), May 18, 2020

19.05.2020 - Speech

Check Against Delivery

Geir [Pedersen, UN Secretary Special Envoy for Syria], thanks very much for your briefing. I appreciate particularly your engagement with regard to civil society and want to highlight what you said about meeting with the population, especially women and children, those who suffered most from this conflict. I think it is very important that we continue to hear their voices. 

Let me now briefly go through the main points. First, on the ceasefire, there has been some improvement, but I heard you clearly say that violence continues and that you also see a risk of escalation. If this continues, I would encourage you to clearly tell us who is responsible. You already started this in your briefing about a specific terrorist organization that was violating the ceasefire, but I think you should be very clear in naming and shaming.

On the political process, let's not kid each other. We know exactly who is blocking the political process and the constitutional committee. If our Russian friends always say that they are in favor of the political process moving forward, I can only encourage them to really push the Syrian regime hard to participate actively to elicit a response. I have said this before, Vasily [Nebenzya, RUS Permanent Representative]. If you just tell them that you will stop the delivery of weapons, they will have to deal with it.

There is no free press in Syria, but we nevertheless read something interesting over the past few weeks about rifts in the Assad clan. It would be very interesting to hear a bit more about what is happening there.

All over the world, we hear in the context of COVID-19 of the release of prisoners. Syria is the only country that continues to have a huge amount of political prisoners. We even hear that the Syrian regime is continuing with incarceration and torture in prisons. This must stop.

On accountability, the Board of Inquiry and the latest report of Amnesty International show clearly that the Syrian regime and Russia are responsible for the attacks on schools and hospitals in northwest Syria. We have actually proposed to have Amnesty International brief the Council. They have done an in-depth study, from which I would like to quote one phrase in the executive summary: “Between December 2019 and March 2020, the Syrian government, backed by its ally, Russia, subjected civilians in opposition-held areas in northwest Syria to a new wave of horrors. In an all too familiar pattern, attacks from the air and the ground repeatedly struck residential areas and crucial infrastructure. Yet even by the standards of this calamitous nine year crisis, the resulting displacement and humanitarian emergency were unprecedented. The barrage of attacks emptied out entire communities.”

We need accountability. A referral to the ICC would be best, but there is some light at the end of the tunnel. The recent start of a trial in Germany against two former officials of the Syrian regime's security service charged with crimes against humanity sends an important message: Those who commit crimes against humanity or war crimes cannot feel safe. They will be held accountable.

My last point is on sanctions. By repeating that these sanctions are suffocating, it doesn't become more true. The sanctions do not affect the delivery of humanitarian aid or medical goods to limit the effects of COVID-19. The EU, which is one of the largest donors, has issued a guidance note which explains that sanctions do not stand in the way nor impede the provision of humanitarian aid to the people in Syria.

Let me end by again reminding colleagues that the prime responsibility for the humanitarian catastrophe is with the regime: by destroying medical infrastructure, by arresting doctors and nurses, by blocking humanitarian convoys. The regime is waging a war against its own people but it is blaming those who have helped alleviating the suffering of the Syrian people and provided billions of dollars to UN organizations. This is cynical beyond belief.

 

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