Permanent Representative Rejects Occupation, Terrorism, Sanctions Imposed on Damascus, ‘Glossed Over’ by Certain Countries
The plight of detainees, establishing a nationwide ceasefire, countering terrorism and embarking on economic recovery are among the several areas where the warring parties in Syria may find common ground, the United Nations mediator for that country told the Security Council today.
Geir Pedersen, the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, described those issues as ones “where mutual and reciprocal actions could begin to make a positive difference for Syrians, and give impetus to a political process”, in his monthly briefing to the 15-member Council.
He said all sides stand to benefit from progress on the issue of detainees, abductees and missing persons, as it would ease tension and help build trust. A nationwide truce should also become a common cause, as the current patchwork of regional de-escalation and ceasefire agreements — in which the Russian Federation, Turkey and the United States are key players — could easily unravel.
Key international players can and should cooperate on countering terrorist groups designated as such by the Council, he continued, pointing to worrying signs that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) may be strengthening and noting that other listed groups remain at large. He went on to cite recovery from the economic impact of a decade-long war as another area of potential cooperation, cautioning that the convergence of economic and humanitarian crises will have dramatic consequences if not addressed.
Also briefing members was Abeer Hussein, a member of Syrian Women’s Political Movement, who said that hope for a sustainable Syrian future lies in galvanizing a true political solution and supporting the country’s stability, security and reconstruction. “Then we won’t need international aid to survive,” she said. Emphasizing that women residing inside Syria are strong and do not entertain the pity they are subject to, she said they have chosen to stay in Syria because they believe in greater opportunities to create change in their communities.
Recalling the presidential election held in May — which she described as a “fraud” — she said they did not include all Syrians at home and abroad, and ignored the road map for a political solution which provided for the completion of a new Constitution and elections under the supervision of the United Nations. She noted that Syria was the first Arab country to grant women the right to vote in 1949, voicing regret that women’s political participation has declined over the years.
In the ensuing discussion, Syria’s representative denounced those claims, recalling that President Bashar al-Assad obtained 95.1 per cent of valid votes after 79 per cent of 18 million eligible voters cast their ballots. He said the election results demonstrated the Syrian people’s support of their leadership and their rejection of occupation practices, terrorism and sanctions that are still being defended and glossed over with deceptive slogans by some countries, both within the Council and beyond.
Several speakers expressed regret over the lack of progress on the political track, with Mexico’s delegate warning that 20 months have elapsed since the Constitutional Committee first met, without meaningful progress. He went on to urge its delegations — particularly those appointed by the Syrian Government — to participate constructively in negotiations. Without dialogue, it will be impossible to reflect points of common interest in the next Syrian Constitution, he said.
The representative of the United States said resolution 2254 (2015) remains the only path to a just, sustainable political solution to the Syrian conflict, “which is decidedly not what happened during the so-called election in May”. That election, she said, was not free or fair, nor did it include those displaced in Syria or across the region. “It was a sham, plain and simple,” she stressed, calling for elections in Syria that include a diverse range of candidates in a safe voting environment, with meaningful participation by displaced people. In that context, she said her country will not normalize any support or reconstruction aid that benefits the current Syrian regime, absent political progress.
On that point, China’s representative struck a different note, urging countries to resume their development assistance to a country still deeply mired in economic and humanitarian distress. He encouraged them to avoid linking such aid to a political solution, while also rejecting the imposition of unilateral sanctions and any attempts to change Syria’s Government.
For his part, the representative of Kenya described the reality of the situation in Syria as “an indictment of multilateralism”, particularly in the Security Council, whose primary mandate is the maintenance of international peace and security. “It is simply not right for external Powers to pursue their competing and perhaps irreconcilable interests on Syrian territory” at the expense of the country and its people, she stressed.
Also speaking today were the representatives of the United Kingdom, Viet Nam, Norway, Niger, India, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, France, Ireland, Tunisia, the Russian Federation, Estonia, Turkey and Iran.
The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 12:15 p.m.
GEIR PEDERSEN, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, said that country’s humanitarian situation remains an imminent priority. Reiterating the Secretary-General’s call for the large-scale cross-border response to be extended for an additional 12 months, he urged Council members to unite around it. A Similar spirit of unity is needed to advance the political process, he said, expressing disappointment that no real progress has been made on the political track towards implementing resolution 2254 (2015), including constitutional reform and elections administered under United Nations supervision. “Trust and confidence will be built through actions, not words,” he stressed, adding: “Key players need to be ready to come to the table with the necessary good will and something to deliver.”
Underscoring the need for a new, constructive international dialogue to discuss the way forward, he voiced his intention to deepen exploratory substantive talks aimed at identifying the very first steps Syrian and international players could take. In those talks, the parties must focus not only what they ask of others, but what specific steps each can entertain themselves. Citing several potential areas where common ground may exist — including on the Council’s calls in resolution 2254 (2015) to address the issue of detainees, abductees and missing persons — he said all sides stand to benefit from such progress. That resolution also called for a nationwide ceasefire, which is another area for potential cooperation. Noting that a patchwork of regional de-escalation and ceasefire agreements — in which the Russian Federation, Turkey and the United States are key players — have brought about 15 months of relative calm, he warned of the danger that existing arrangements could unravel. A nationwide ceasefire, aimed at averting that risk, should therefore be a common cause.
He went on to call for efforts to counter listed terrorist groups as another common priority area, pointing to worrying signs that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) may be strengthening and noting that other listed groups remain at large. Key international players can and should cooperate on countering those groups. Recovering from the economic impact that most Syrians face after a decade of war and devastation is another area of potential common focus, he said, cautioning that the convergence of economic and humanitarian crises will continue to have dramatic consequences if not addressed. The result will be more human suffering, hopelessness and instability, which cannot be in anyone’s interest. Those are the kinds of issues “where mutual and reciprocal actions could begin to make a positive difference for Syrians, and give impetus to a political process”, he emphasized.
ABEER HUSSEIN, briefing the Council as a member of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement, said hope for a sustainable Syrian future lies in galvanizing a true political solution and supporting stability, security, and reconstruction of Syria. “Then we won’t need international aid to survive,” she said. She emphasized that women residing inside Syria are strong and do not entertain the pity they are subject to due simply to their geographic location. They have chosen to stay in Syria because they believe in greater opportunities to create change in their communities. “I am an eyewitness to what women suffer,” due to the lack of economic security and stability, chaos, gender-based violence, displacement, kidnappings, and the spread of disease, she said, adding that those phenomena have worsened amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Turning to the May 2021 presidential elections, she said the Syrian regime still did not recognize the Syrians residing outside its controlled area and ignored Council resolution 2254 (2015). Those “mock elections” did not include all Syrians at home and abroad and ignored the road map for a political solution that provided for the completion of a new Constitution and elections under the supervision of the United Nations. From her observations on the ground, and through her group’s national consultation sessions with women in 15 regions, it has confirmed that “this election is a fraud”. Against that backdrop, she described the international community’s inability to implement the Council’s resolutions as staggering, recalling that those texts sought to cease military operations on all Syrian territories, support the Constitutional Committee in completing its work within a clear timeframe, and resume the political process by forming a transitional governing body.
Outlining several steps the Council can take going forward, she called for the immediate and unconditional release of all detainees, as well as transparency on the fate of those abducted and forcibly disappeared, as a non-negotiable top priority. The armed groups — supported regionally or internationally — that are not serving the Syrian people must be brought under control, and the necessary conditions must be in place to ensure the safe, voluntary and dignified return of Syrians to their original places of residence.
Recalling that Syria was the first Arab country to grant women the right to vote in 1949, she regretted that women’s political participation has declined. It can be strengthened by drafting a Constitution that guarantees women’s rights, and ensuring that women account for at least 30 per cent of representatives in decision-making bodies and institutions. Even if women delegates are not named, their seats should be kept vacant until women fill them, she said, describing the quota as a temporary positive measure aimed at reaching parity. In that vein, she noted that the slogan for her group’s general assembly meeting in 2021 was “No Women … No Legitimacy”.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) pointed out that, while women and girls in Syria, and around the world, are disproportionately impacted by conflict, they are underrepresented in peace processes. The international community must support the Syrian Women Advisory Board and ensure that women are involved in negotiating and resolving the conflict. She also stressed that resolution 2254 (2015) is the only path to a just, sustainable political solution to the Syrian conflict, “which is decidedly not what happened during the so-called election in May”. That election, she said, was not free or fair, nor did it include those displaced in Syria or across the region. “It was a sham, plain and simple,” she stressed. Elections must be held in Syria that include a diverse range of candidates in a safe voting environment, with meaningful participation by displaced people. She stressed that, absent political progress, the United States will not normalize support or reconstruction aid that benefits the Assad regime.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMIREZ (Mexico), noting the lack of progress in the 20 months that have elapsed since the Constitutional Committee first met, urged its delegations — particularly those appointed by the Syrian Government — to participate constructively in negotiations. Without dialogue, it will be impossible to reflect points of common interest in the next Syrian Constitution. He also called for the liberation of detainees as, without justice and accountability for arbitrary detentions and forced disappearances, it will be difficult — if not impossible — to achieve reconciliation and sustainable peace. He suggested that that matter be referred to the International Criminal Court for its consideration, additionally urging all States to cooperate with the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism in Syria. He also voiced concern that some Member States are invoking Article 51 of the United Nations Charter to justify the use of force in Syria, going beyond the terms of that provision and circumventing the need to obtain explicit Council authorization.
GENG SHUANG (China) stressed that the conflict in Syria must be resolved through political means, noting that the lack of progress on that dimension has been stretching the humanitarian needs. Warning against occupation of Syrian territory by foreign Powers, he said negotiations are always a better way to resolve conflict. Expressing hope that the Constitutional Committee can hold its sixth round of talks free of external interference, he said elections and the constitutional process must be built on mutual trust. He also rejected the imposition of unilateral sanctions and any attempt to change Syria’s Government, emphasizing that the advancement of the political track requires a safe environment and reiterating the Secretary-General’s calls for a nationwide ceasefire. With the economy in distress and the humanitarian situation disastrous, he called on relevant countries to resume their development aid and avoid linking it to a political solution.
JAMES PAUL ROSCOE (United Kingdom) stressed that the political process established by resolution 2254 (2015) remains the only viable route to lasting and inclusive peace. The meaningful participation of women in the United Nations-facilitated political process for Syria is critical, he said, welcoming the vital work of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement and ongoing engagement by the Special Envoy with women’s representatives. Now that the distraction of the presidential elections is out of the way, the Syrian regime must finally engage constructively with the political process and the Constitutional Committee towards a new Constitution and free and fair elections. He also called on the Assad regime to release those it holds in arbitrary detention, allow medical professionals access to those detained and provide information on those missing to their families. Progress on the political process is only way to build the conditions needed for the safe and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons, he added.
DINH QUY DANG (Viet Nam) emphasized that immediate priority should go towards realizing the Syrian people’s aspirations for peace, stability and development. To that end, he called for constructive dialogue among the Syrian parties as well as meaningful engagement by international interlocuters. Given the fragile security situation, all parties must exercise maximum restraint, as a sustainable period of calm is needed to unlock political progress. At the same time, the fight against Council-designated terrorist groups must continue. Underscoring the gravity of the humanitarian situation, he stressed the need for international unity to assist Syria going forward.
MONA JUUL (Norway), expressing regret that little to no progress has been made on the political track since the Council’s last meeting on the current item in May, urged parties to work with the Special Envoy in good faith to lay the groundwork for a reformed Syrian Constitution. She noted, however, that the Constitutional Committee “is just one piece of the larger political process” and urged the implementation of other elements of resolution 2254 (2015). Those include a nationwide ceasefire, the release of those arbitrarily detained and the voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees. “We have the framework for a solution in Syria,” she emphasized, noting that it was adopted by consensus and adding: “Now we need it to be fully implemented.”
JAYNE JEPKORIR TOROITICH (Kenya) stated that “the reality of the situation in Syria is an indictment of multilateralism”, particularly in the Security Council, whose primary mandate is the maintenance of international peace and security. “It is simply not right,” she stressed, “for external Powers to pursue their competing and perhaps irreconcilable interests on Syrian territory” at the expense of the country and its people. Citing renewed, daily shelling and airstrikes, increasing terrorist activity and the involvement of five foreign armies, she called on all parties to honour the ceasefire and take unified action against terrorist groups. She also encouraged resumption of the Constitutional Committee’s work and urged the Syrian parties to engage with the same in an objective, pragmatic manner. On the second anniversary of resolution 2474 (2019), she underscored the need to resolve the issue of detainees and missing persons as a confidence-building measure among the parties, including by establishing psychosocial support programmes for stigmatized women whose spouses have been detained or abducted.
MOUSSA MAMAN SANI (Niger) said the conflict in Syria cannot be resolved by military means, lamenting that progress remains elusive. Calling for the resumption of the political process, he expressed concern over an uptick in violence and stressed that security is a precondition for political progress. Warning against increased civilian causalities, he expressed support for the Secretary-General’s call for a general ceasefire in Syria and rejected attempts by terrorists to challenge the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Resolving the issue of detainees and missing persons will ease tensions, he said, while describing the current lack of progress by the Constitutional Committee as worrisome and calling on that body to improve its working methods.
Mr. GUPTA (India) expressed concern that the involvement of external actors in Syria has given a fillip to the growth of terrorism in the country and the region, and urged the international community to reflect on that aspect of the conflict “with all earnestness”. Citing attacks carried out by the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham designated terrorist group and ISIL/Da’esh, he said the reports of presence of mercenaries from Syria in Africa is equally worrying. All parties must adhere to their international obligations to fight terrorism and terrorist organizations in Syria, he said, requesting the Special Envoy to outline his views on the upcoming meeting of Global Coalition to defeat ISIL/Da’esh, in Rome.
DIANI JIMESHA ARIANNE PRINCE (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) said constructive and pragmatic international diplomacy is needed now more than ever, as it would help create an environment conducive to carrying out Syria’s political process. Hopefully, the Constitutional Committee, with the meaningful participation of women and youth, can be a driver of progress. She stressed the need to build trust among the parties and for the international community to leave behind geopolitical disputes. The interests of the Syrian people must come first, she insisted, calling for the withdrawal of unauthorized foreign forces and the lifting of all unilateral coercive measures.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France), stressing the need to renew the cross-border aid mechanism, said the Council cannot abandon those who depend on that assistance “to the good will of the Syrian regime”. As that regime opposes serious, good faith discussions, the international community must go back to the heart of resolution 2254 (2015) — which paved the way for a political solution — implementing its terms fully and without delay. Urgent progress is also needed in addressing the issue of persons detained or disappeared by the Assad regime. Questioning how recent presidential elections conducted by the Syrian regime — which do not contribute at all to implementing relevant Council resolutions — could lead to the lifting of sanctions, he emphasized that only a robust political settlement will achieve peace and counter the terrorism for which Syria “has become a breeding ground”.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), spotlighting the Syrian authorities’ continued failure to engage meaningfully in the work of the Constitutional Committee, called on them to end their unacceptable stalling tactics. Further, those authorities, through their repressive security apparatus, continue to arbitrarily arrest and detain Syrians “with flagrant disregard for due process”. Noting that the Syrian regime’s violations of international law are extremely well documented, she called for full accountability and commending work to that end by the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria. She also demanded that the Syrian authorities comply with their obligations under international law and “end their brutal policies”.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) expressed concern about the impact of Syria’s dire security situation on the wider region and the world, while urging the Council to shoulder an enhanced responsibility to find a solution to the crisis. Calling for intensified efforts to make headway on the issues of detainees and constitutional reform, he expressed his hope that the parties will find common ground and welcomed the efforts of the Special Envoy to that end. Voicing concern over a rising tide of violence, he warned of increasing attacks by ISIL/Da’esh — which undermine Syria’s territorial integrity — and noted that the group is exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to advance its position.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said over 60 per cent of Syria’s population faces the threat of hunger as socioeconomic and humanitarian situations continue to deteriorate due to Western sanctions that bypassed the Security Council. Describing those measures as an attempt to remove Syria’s legitimate authorities through “economic suffocation”, he voiced concern over instability in the non-Government-controlled areas and stressed the need to counter terrorists. The intra-Syrian dialogue should remain Syrian-led and -owned, without external interference or artificial deadlines, and it must not become hostage to technical modalities. Jointly with Turkey and Iran, the Russian Federation will soon hold a meeting within the framework of the Astana format. Stressing that Moscow is making every effort to promote a peaceful settlement in Syria, he pointed out that every aspect of such work encounters opposition — including in the Council’s chemical weapons and humanitarian files. The Syrian authorities do not have the capacity to rebuild the country themselves and need the support of the international community, he stressed, voicing support for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)’s initiative to restore basic infrastructure.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia), Council President for June, spoke in his national capacity, describing the work of the Syrian Women Political Movement as a vivid example of the will of the Syrian people to participate in political life. “The United Nations and the Security Council cannot let down women who have risked their lives to take part in deciding their country’s future,” he stressed. The Council must also act decisively against widespread and systematic violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law in Syria. In that vein, he reiterated the European Union’s call for an international mechanism to locate missing people or their remains, adding that that there must be accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Mr. PEDERSEN, retaking the floor to respond to members’ comments and questions, pointed out that the situation in Syria will not change overnight following 10 years of conflict. He echoed expressions of frustration over the lack of political progress, which should serve as a reminder of the need to increase dialogue in order to move the process forward. Noting that he will provide more detailed answers to the questions raised in the near future, he also expressed his hope that, when he next briefs the Council after a round of international visits and consultations, members will have reached a unified position regarding cross-border and cross-line operations. “We need to do more than we have been able to do so far,” he emphasized.
Ms. HUSSEIN, also taking the floor again, noted that many parts of Syria have witnessed major demographic changes. The comprehensive political solution desired by the Syrian people must include the cessation of all practices that support that painful alteration, she stressed.
BASSAM SABBAGH (Syria) said recent election results demonstrate the Syrian people’s support of their leadership and their rejection of occupation practices, terrorism and sanctions that are still being defended and glossed over with deceptive slogans by some countries, within the Council and beyond. Recalling that President Bashar al-Assad obtained 95.1 per cent of valid votes after 79 per cent of 18 million eligible voters cast their ballots, he said some countries’ insistence not to listen the voice of the people has destabilized the country. Calling on those States to conduct an honest review of their policies’ catastrophic repercussions, he also asked them to put an end to their practices that violate the principles of international law, United Nations Charter provisions and the foundations of friendly relations between nations.
Syria is committed to a political solution based on a Syrian-owned, Syrian-led national dialogue, he said. Highlighting recent related achievements, he said the Government continues to follow up on the Special Envoy’s efforts, has responded to all requirements for the continuation of the Constitutional Committee’s work and has passed legislation with a view to establishing national reconciliation and settling the conditions of detainees. While dozens of detainees have been released, he said it is unacceptable that some Council members deal selectively with that humanitarian issue by continuing to accuse the Syrian authorities and ignoring the situation of hostages and abductees held by terrorist groups.
He went on to note that Syria has sent the Council dozens of letters drawing attention to such pressing concerns as violations of its territorial integrity and the organ’s own resolutions. Citing examples of the conduct of Western States — among them three permanent Council members — he wondered if it is permissible for United States forces to cross the Iraq-Syria border as if they were crossing from New York to New Jersey, looting Syrian oil and wheat and killing Syrians, in flagrant defiance of Council resolutions and the United Nations Charter. He also asked how long the Council will remain silent on violations covered up by Turkey’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies — including the policies of the regime of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — which sponsor terrorist groups and promote the Turkification of occupied areas in Syria’s north and north-west. After a decade of failure, he wondered if it is time for States to abandon their hostile, aggressive practices and their unilateral coercive measures, in favour of a path of political dialogue and diplomacy.
FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) said that, in the wake of fake elections held in May in contravention of Council resolutions, the Assad regime is now stalling the work of the Constitutional Committee, which is better described as “a dangerous trend of regression” rather than a “standstill”. The Council should stand against the regime’s tactic of avoiding the negotiation of a political solution and, in the meantime, the Astana process will continue its work towards achieving an end to the conflict. He also expressed concern over the regime’s failure to adhere to a ceasefire following sham elections and over continued attacks on civilians by PKK/YPG [Kurdish Workers’ Party/People’s Protection Units] terrorists, who are trying to consolidate their grip on north-west Syria. Detailing the many challenges facing Syrian women, he said the latter have an essential role to play in the political process and the future of the country, adding that “we should not fail them”. Syria’s representative, he added, delivered “his usual delusional allegations and shameless lies”, and the criminal regime will receive its answer from the Syrian people when they save and rebuild their country.
MAJID TAKHT RAVANCHI (Iran) said parts of Syria continue to be occupied by foreign forces, dominated by separatist groups or controlled by terrorists and, at the same time, the Israeli regime commits acts of aggression against Syria in violation of international law. This instability impacts the security of the entire region, and the Council must ensure Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Despite those challenges and the illegal unilateral sanctions creating problems for the Syrian people, the Constitutional Committee must continue its work. Expressing his hope that the body’s sixth meeting will be held soon, he nevertheless cautioned that linking its progress to Syria’s reconstruction or to return of refugees will only prolong the suffering of the people who have already paid dearly as a result of the “hegemonic policies of certain Western countries which continue to pursue their geopolitical objectives in Syria through all means”.