Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at UNSC briefing on the political and humanitarian situation in Syria
We thank Special Envoy Geir Pedersen and OCHA Deputy Director Ghada Mudawi for the briefings on the political and humanitarian aspects of the situation in Syria.
The situation in Syria remains tense. Illegal foreign military presence in the northeast and south of the SAR, the persisting threat of another military operation in the north, and the growing incidence of arbitrary attacks of Israeli armed forces against Damascus remain the major challenges on the ground. Such tension provokes recurrence of terrorist activity by ISIL and HTS (terrorist groups listed by the Security Council). We are also concerned over the activity of terrorists in southern Syria, who use the so-called "security zone” that Washington established near Al-Tanf as a cover-up.
We are convinced that the national security of Syria’s neighboring states must not be ensured at the expense of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria itself. In this regard, we stand for a full and effective implementation of the agreements of the Astana Format on Idlib and cross-Euphrates area. We will continue acting together with our partners in the Astana Format, Iran and Türkiye, in order to promote consistent and lasting stabilization both in and around Syria.
We see no alternative to the Syrian-owned and Syrian-led political process that should be conducted under the UN support and in full accordance with UNSC resolution 2254. We are convinced that international mediation must proceed from the principles of sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic. Syrians need to strike an agreement on all outstanding issues pertaining to the future structure of state by themselves, without external pressure or imposition of ready-made models.
In this context, we welcome the recent contacts of G.Pedersen with the Syrian sides as prescribed by Special Envoy’s mandate under UNSC resolution 2254.
At the same time, it is important to not disperse efforts on promoting other initiatives that have neither clear modalities nor a specific added value. We are both surprised and disappointed by the fact that the Special Envoy put on equal footing “5 foreign armies and terrorist groups” as factors of violence in the country, without making any distinction in their status. What’s more, he links this issue to the crisis in Ukraine as a humanitarian factor.
The humanitarian situation in Syria is rapidly deteriorating indeed. And this is not because of what the Syrian authorities do or what they don’t do (equally, it has nothing to do with the situation in Ukraine). The Syrian authorities act in the best interests of their citizens, for that matter. The main reason for humanitarian deterioration is the unilateral sanctions of Western states against Syria, the detrimental effect of which was highlighted i.a. in the “Humanitarian needs overview in Syria” issued in December. It expressly states that economic sanctions contributed to the growing number of people in need, and had ramifications for accessibility and cost of basic items, including fuel.
Prices are growing at a record pace, first of all prices on agricultural goods. In total, 68 % of the Syrian population needs food assistance. This is why everyone, including the donors, needs to take urgent efforts to remedy this situation and sustain the agricultural sector of Syrian economy, i.a. by means of fertilizer deliveries. My country is ready to donate to Damascus a batch of fertilizers that has been stuck in EU states due to anti-Russian sanctions. It turns out that due to the American Caesar Act, those fertilizers cannot be imported to Syria because of their so-called “dual use”. Both us and our Syrian colleagues have long been calling on the Secretary-General to pay attention to this problem, including during one of the rounds of the informal interactive dialogue on Syria. We count on receiving clear information from the UN as to what exact measures are being taken to resolve this predicament. If our colleagues on the Council further try to ignore such obvious effects of Western sanctions, then all this rhetoric about the need to help ordinary Syrians that we hear in this chamber, will look even more cynical and deceitful.
This cynicism clearly manifests itself against the backdrop of plundering of the grain and oil resources of cross-Euphrates Syria by the United States. For example, on 14 January the US exported 53 cylinders of stolen Syrian oil from Hasakeh to Iraq. As reported by the Syrian sources, in the first 6 months of 2022, 80% of all Syria-produced oil was exported by the occupying power. No further comment needed, as the saying goes.
Besides, we would like to draw your attention to the recent decision by Washington to introduce extra restrictions on the sale of medications, equipment and assembly parts to Damascus, as well as on provision of services or other support to a number of state-run and private hospitals in Syria. That is, of course, very “humanitarian”.
May I note that UNSC resolution 2664 on humanitarian exemptions from sanctions, that the US delegation has taken pains to promote, has nothing to do with the overall Syrian context. It only touches upon the work of humanitarians in Idlib, where the US-sponsored international terrorists feel at home. This is who Washington truly cares about, and not the people of Syria. Syrians no longer have any illusions in this regard.
In this connection, the decision of UN country team in Syria to prepare a report about the impact of anti-Syrian sanctions on the humanitarian situation in the country appears to be very timely and worth being supported. We expect it to be released before the end of January, as promised by the Secretariat. We do hope that both these and the other problems that we have raised will be fully reflected in the report rather than downplayed as someone would surely want them to be.
Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the Syrian cross-border mechanism of humanitarian deliveries, which is used today to provide humanitarian assistance to Syria’s northwest in circumvention of the generally accepted humanitarian norms. I will keep from repeating our well-known position on this. Let me only say that in its current form, the mechanism has few chances to make it past the next planned renewal in July, to say nothing of the next anniversary. If our Western colleagues truly want to keep an opportunity to provide aid to people in Idlib other than through Damascus, they urgently need to join efforts with us and start a far-reaching transformation of the CBM.
Idlib, where the United Nations does not have and has never had any presence on the ground, remains a “grey zone”. First of all, we need to develop a shared understanding that humanitarian support of this enclave must be provided upon consent rather than notification of Damascus and in close coordination with legitimate government. We call on the UN to not cease its efforts to enhance cross-line deliveries to this area, and on the Western delegations – to not remain silent when terrorists refuse humanitarian access for convoys from the governmental territory.
We do not appreciate the juggle with statistics (i.a. by the UN) as regards early recovery projects. As we take from the statistical data that we have received, 374 projects that are said to be implemented throughout Syria’s provinces, have gathered record-setting 517 million USD. The Secretariat claims to have raised increasingly more money every month, however it cannot provide basic data on projects broken down by regions and thematic tracks. How then the total funds raised for these works are calculated? And for whose benefit is the statistics growing so rapidly "on paper"?
Colleagues, this approach will not take us far from where we stand. This situation needs to be clarified immediately.
Finally, as we all remember, right before the Security Council adopted its decision on the CBM in January, the Permanent Representative of Syria addressed a letter to the then President of the Council where he stipulated the priorities of Damascus with regard to humanitarian efforts on the Syrian territory. We fully subscribe to this concise yet crucial to-do list that we believe all of us need to take seriously now.
On a separate note, there is a very urgent issue of return of Syrian refugees that is crucial not only for Syria’s humanitarian recovery, but also for lifting a burden off Syria’s neighbors, including Lebanon, who have to accommodate the refugees.
In December 2022, Lebanon's first Integrated Food Security Phase Classification was issued. As of the end of last year, almost 2 million Lebanese, including 37 % Syrian refugees, were experiencing a crisis phase in terms of food security. As estimated, this figure is expected to grow in the first half of 2023 to reach 2.26 million people and 42 % Syrian refugees respectively. Apparently, Beirut is not capable of coping with this burden by itself and the issue of Syrian refugees is turning into an existential threat for Lebanon. Against this backdrop, we are surprised by the lack of foresight on the part of the donors, who herd Syrians into UNHCR tents on the Lebanese territory instead of helping them return to their own country. This problem requires a reliable solution that both countries would benefit from.
We hope to receive the UN reaction to all aspects that we raised – if not today, then during the next round of the informal interactive dialogue in February.