Statement by the co-penholders for the Syria humanitarian file – Germany and Belgium – in the Security Council meeting on Syria (humanitarian), July 29, 2020

29.07.2020 - Speech

Check Against Delivery

Thank you, Mr. President,

I will make this statement on behalf of Germany and Belgium, the humanitarian co-penholders. We would like to thank Under-Secretary General Lowcock for his briefing. We also thank Amany Qaddour for describing the challenges a humanitarian NGO faces on the ground serving people in need under desperate circumstances.

Mr. President,

11 million Syrians continue to be in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. These needs are growing and becoming more acute.

On the one hand, years of war, mismanagement, oppression and the economic crisis in neighboring Lebanon, have resulted in an economic crisis in Syria. This has added pressure on the humanitarian needs across the country and has led to an additional 1.4 million people becoming food insecure over the last six months.

Furthermore, we are extremely concerned about the spread of COVID 19 across the country. Over the last week, as Mark mentioned, the number of cases has increased significantly. Across the country, testing capacity remains incredibly low, so most cases may go unnoticed.  The destruction of health facilities and the shortage of health workers further endanger any response.

Mr. President,

It is therefore incredibly frustrating that while these growing needs have to be met,  humanitarian access is further  being limited.

Since 2014, cross-border operations have offered the Syrian people a lifeline, allowing the UN and its implementing partners to ensure life-saving assistance, from across the borders. And although there were changes on the ground and cross-line access has improved to certain areas, the crossborder-mechanism is needed now, as it was needed 6 years ago. Following recommendations of the SG, we have worked tirelessly to continue to ensure maximum humanitarian access, both from inside Syria, as well as from across its borders. The closing of Yarubiah in January defied humanitarian arguments, the closing of Bab-al-Salam now once again contradicts humanitarian logic. While thirteen Council members supported to renew access through two border crossings in the Northwest, two countries vetoed such renewal beginning of this month, purely out of political considerations, and not even accepting a transition period (of a mere three months) for Bab al Salam. 

 This current situation will result in a more costly, and more risky humanitarian operation in the Northwest, and will frustrate timely access to the region north of Aleppo. 

Meanwhile, the gaps in medical access in the North East, that were left after the crossing point of Yarubiyah had to be closed at the beginning of this year, are still far from being filled. Mark just confirmed that many health stations do not receive what they urgently need to treat patients and to fight the virus.

Therefore, the burden of responsibility lies on those countries which have systematically limited humanitarian access through the cross-border modality. Because, let’s be clear: Member states who vetoed the proposed resolutions are voluntarily putting human lives at stake, out of political motives. Meanwhile, together with other European Member States, the humanitarian co-penholders have reconfirmed their support for non-politicized humanitarian aid at the recent Brussels IV conference.

Mr. President,

Protection issues sadly continue to persist. Not only for those in arbitrary detention, or those missing. Also, for those who become victims of  air or ground offensives. We call on all parties to maximize restraint and consider the humanitarian repercussions of any military actions. We condemn the recent attacks of terrorist groups, yet underline that any response should comply with obligations under international law, in particular with  international humanitarian law.

Finally, Mr. President,

Only a political settlement in line with resolution 2254 can put Syria back on track towards peace. There is no justice without accountability. The humanitarian co-penholders fully support the conclusions of the BOI, and the work of the IIIM and the COI, as well as justice initiatives on a national or international level. We continue to see immense value in the humanitarian notification system and we underline, once again that parties who withdraw from this mechanism continue to be bound by international humanitarian law.

I thank you.

It is the duty of the Security Council to address the gravest humanitarian crises. As co-penholders, Belgium and Germany are relieved that a compromise has been reached to ensure cross-border access in northwest Syria. We have voted together with the overwhelming majority of the Security Council in favor of this compromise.

This access is a lifeline for millions of people. The UN organizations could not have been clearer: this lifeline is indispensable. With COVID-19 threatening refugee camps filled with 2.8 million internally displaced people, humanitarian access is not an option, it is a necessity.

One border crossing is not enough, but no border crossings would have left the fate of an entire region in question.

We have negotiated morning till night with Russia and China – who have argued and have underpinned with their votes this week that this single crossing could serve more than 80% of humanitarian need. This argument clearly puts aside humanitarian considerations and ignores the needs of hundreds of thousands of Syrians.

We cannot and should not underestimate the needs on the ground in Syria. As we have said from day one, we would vote for as many border crossings as possible. We are convinced that the majority of Security Council members would do the same. 

Our best path forward is to keep this mechanism alive for the next year. We cannot abandon northwest Syria.

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