Syria: Political and Humanitarian Briefings - Security Council Open VTC

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25-Nov-2020 02:56:05
Upcoming Constitutional Committee meetings offer hope for advancing Syria peace process, Deputy Special Envoy tells Security Council.

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Despite slow progress in peace talks and a worsening humanitarian crisis in Syria, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the commitment by the Government and opposition to two upcoming meetings of the Constitutional Committee presents a real opportunity for the warring sides to advance the political process, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Envoy for Syria told the Security Council during a video conference meeting today.

The Committee — established one year ago under United Nations auspices with the goal of forming a new constitution — is set to bring together the parties to the conflict in Geneva for a fourth session from 30 November to 4 December.

“The Committee has not made the kind of progress we hoped for,” said Deputy Special Envoy Khawla Matar, noting that the agenda for next week’s meeting and a fifth meeting slated for January 2021 present an important opportunity to engage in good faith. “If these sessions proceed in a substantive manner and in the spirit of compromise, we believe they will help build trust and confidence and result in progress.”

Marking commemorations for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, she said Syrian women continue to suffer from sexual and gender-based violence. Efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus have also increased the prevalence of domestic violence, child-marriage and sexual harassment. All segments of society are reeling from severe economic hardship, she stated, adding that bread and energy shortages are having unprecedented effects on the livelihood of all Syrians. “In this context, it is paramount that any sanctions avoid aggravating the plight of civilians,” he underscored.

Ms. Matar said the worsening crisis affecting refugees and internally displaced persons will only improve if all relevant parties enable the safe and well-informed return of these vulnerable populations. High levels of returns are only achievable if programmes are put in place that improve livelihoods, personal security and access to basic services.

A constitutional approach alone will not resolve the crisis, she stated, calling on all relevant stakeholders to engage on issues outlined in resolution 2254 (2015), including efforts towards a nationwide ceasefire, noting that the resolution had put forth the elements required to achieve a political solution to the crisis. Five years after its adoption, the Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, is taking stock of what has and has not worked in its implementation, she said, noting that Mr. Pedersen has met with a range of Government and civil society representatives across the region.

Also briefing the Council was Ramesh Rajasingham, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, who noted that 6.7 million people in Syria are internally displaced, a third of which lack proper shelter ahead of the approaching winter season. Further, heavy rains are causing flooding in some areas, including in displacement sites in Idlib and western Aleppo, preventing access to humanitarian aid.

Turning to the economic crisis, he pointed out that the value of the Syrian pound has declined steadily over the past month and that prices are at historic highs. Market prices for bread, diesel and fresh produce increased between September and October by 26, 21 and 44 per cent, respectively, and the price of a national reference food basket is now higher than at any point since the World Food Programme (WFP) started price monitoring in Syria in 2013, up 247 per cent since October last year. People are increasingly unable to feed their families, he said, estimating that 9.3 million people in Syria are food insecure.

On the protection of civilians, he noted that, since the signing of the ceasefire agreement in March between the Russian Federation and Turkey, approximately 240,000 displaced people have returned to southern Idlib and western Aleppo. Some of these places are again coming under attack, with at least eight civilians killed — including children — and at least 15 others injured as a result of shelling and airstrikes in north-west Syria in November. Additionally, at least six humanitarian workers have been killed and six others injured in this area over the past two months.

He next discussed humanitarian access, noting that all United Nations assistance bound for northern Aleppo is being re-routed through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. While efforts continue to bridge gaps in medical assistance in north-east Syria, health services are weak across the country and are being stretched to new extremes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some 64,000 people remain at the Al Hol refugee camp — more than half of whom are children under the age of 12 — and the United Nations remains without access to the 12,000 people at the Rukban camp. The Syria humanitarian operation collectively provides assistance to an average of 7.4 million people each month, he said, adding that it represents “an enormous effort to stave off an even worse situation”.

In the ensuing discussion, Council members discussed progress towards convening the Constitutional Committee and the agenda for its upcoming meeting, as well as the needs of refugees and internally displaced persons, particularly in relation to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and risks posed by the coming cold weather period. Council members also touched on existing sanctions against Syria and ways to ensure efforts uphold the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

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