Middle East (Syria) - Security Council VTC Briefing

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15-Mar-2021 02:21:11
Special Envoy expresses regret over inability of United Nations to end Syria war, as Security Council considers crisis on prolonged conflict’s tenth anniversary.

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On the tenth anniversary of the start of conflict in Syria, the senior United Nations official for that country expressed his profound regret that the world body has not yet been able to broker an end to the crisis, while calling for new, creative international diplomacy, during a Security Council videoconference meeting today.

“The Syrian conflict has now raged for 10 years — roughly the length of [the First World War and Second World War] combined,” Geir Pedersen, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, told Council members, adding that the tragedy will go down as one of the darkest chapters in recent history.

Lamenting that Syrians have been injured, maimed and killed in every way imaginable — their corpses even desecrated — he said they have also been snatched from the streets, thrown into prisons or abducted, “disappeared”, mistreated, tortured, paraded in cages, and ransomed or exchanged in prisoner-swap deals. Further, they have seen their homes, markets, hospitals, schools and utilities destroyed by air strikes, barrel bombs, rocket and mortar fire as well as improvised explosive devices, he noted.

He noted that Syrians have endured the unspeakable horrors of chemical weapons and been denied humanitarian assistance while facing human rights violations on an enormous and systematic scale. “Most Syrian children have never lived a day without war,” he pointed out, expressing regret that the international community has been divided, trapped in geopolitical competition, caught in their own competing narratives, and often focused on supporting one side in the conflict.

However, he expressed cautious optimism that amidst the tragedy, a relative calm exists, noting that the front lines have not shifted for a year now. Underscoring the importance of consolidating the fragile calm into a true nationwide ceasefire in accordance with resolution 2254 (2015), he warned that even if the calm does not collapse, prolonged stasis could set in to create a new decade of desperation, despondency and despair without high-level and creative international diplomatic attention. Parties to the conflict will not progress far if a Syrian-led process is not supported by constructive international diplomacy on the situation.

“After all, this is among the most deeply internationalized conflicts of a generation, with many of the issues that matter most to Syrians not even in Syrian hands,” he said. Recalling his recent meetings with Faisal Mekdad, Syria’s new Foreign Minister, and Anas AlAbdah, President of the Syrian Negotiations Commission, he pledged that he will continue to explore possibilities, stressing in that regard the need to put a new means of international discussion in place and a new international format for the necessary diplomacy and cooperation.

Concerning sanctions, he reiterated the Secretary-General’s appeal regarding the importance of avoiding and mitigating any effects of such measures on Syria’s capacity to access food, essential health supplies and COVID-19 medical support, and on the plight of civilians across the country.

Turning to the Constitutional Committee, he emphasized that it cannot resolve the conflict on its own, but could be a door opener to a broader process to create safe, calm and neutral conditions for constitutional reform to take hold, and for the conduct of free and fair elections, administered under United Nations supervision, with all Syrians, including those in the diaspora, eligible to participate.

Stressing that the Constitutional Committee’s sixth session needs to be carefully prepared, he said assurances should be in place to ensure that it implements the terms of reference and core rules of procedure, restores and builds some trust and confidence, and makes progress on its own mandate. The next session must also be different from what went before, with some clear goals, credible working methods, enhanced cooperation between the Co-Chairs, and a future workplan.

The Co-Chairs have committed procedural proposals to writing and are both engaging, he said, pledging to continue facilitating their exchanges in the hope of concluding agreement. “The United Nations will be ready to convene a sixth session as soon as agreement is in place,” he added.

Bernard Duhaime, current member and former Chair-Rapporteur of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, condemned any act of enforced disappearance as a grave violation of human rights. The Working Group — the oldest special procedure of the Human Rights Council — was created in 1980 as a communications channel between the relatives of disappeared persons and the relevant authorities, with view to clarifying their fate and whereabouts, he recalled. As such, it receives reports from relatives and transmits them to the Governments concerned, requesting that they conduct investigations into disappearances and protect the rights to truth, justice, reparations and memory.

Since the start of the conflict in Syria, the Working Group has transmitted 509 cases to that country’s Government concerning the alleged enforced disappearance of 478 men and 31 women, he said, adding that 490 cases remain outstanding. However, the Working Group has received very little information from the Government or the respective sources, he said, adding that the number of registered cases represents only “the tip of the iceberg” of a phenomenon that remains widespread and systematic, according to the recent report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic.

He went on to note that, since 2011, the Working Group has received no response to its request to Syria, citing Human Rights Council resolutions S-18/1 and 19/22, which calls upon the country to cooperate with the special procedures, and with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), including through the establishment of a field presence. In 2014, he recalled, the Working Group requested that the Security Council refer the matter to the International Criminal Court, a call that it has reiterated annually. “The vast majority of cases reported to the Working Group relate to enforced disappearances perpetrated by Syrian Government forces or armed groups that operate with its support or acquiescence,” he pointed out.

Explaining that the Working Group also examines acts that are tantamount to enforced disappearance perpetrated by non-State armed groups that exercise effective control and/or Government-like functions, he said: “Enforced disappearances are perpetrated unabatedly with impunity throughout Syria, in clear violation of international law.” In addition, there is an alarming pattern of arbitrarily arresting men at home or at checkpoints, he said, adding that the deprivation of liberty is normally followed by a refusal by the authorities — or non-State actors — to disclose information about the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned, or even to acknowledge their existence.

He went on to express alarm over numerous reports that several members of the same family were subjected to enforced disappearance, including children as young as seven years old. Emphasizing that all responsible must ensure full transparency and accountability in relation to persons in their custody, account for their fate and whereabouts to relatives, and ensure that due process and fair trial rights are respected, he said all places of detention — official and unofficial — should be disclosed, with complete lists of names and formal registration of all those held in such facilities.

In the ensuing discussion, delegates paid tribute to the victims of the decade-long conflict, agreeing that a political solution is the only way to end the crisis. However, some speakers traded accusations over responsibility for causing the prolonged war and expressed divergent visions of a post-conflict Syria. Many stressed the importance of accountability for the crimes committed as well as the need for truth, justice and reparations for victims.

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