Statement by First Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy at UNSC briefing on the political and humanitarian situation in Syria
We thank the briefers for sharing their insights. In what regards the political situation, we would like to underscore that we stand for setting forth the inter-Syrian consultations in the framework of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva. We believe that there is no alternative to Syrian-led and Syrian-owned settlement process, supported by the United Nations and free of external interference and artificial deadlines. This also applies to all sorts of new ideas and proposals. Proceeding from this, we will continue interacting with Syrians, the UN Special Envoy and other stakeholders, first of all our partners in the Astana format. We intend to convene the next meeting of representatives of Russia, Iran and Turkey with participation of interested sides in Nur-Sultan on 21-22 December.
One of the key priorities of the Astana format is addressing the problem of detainees. On 16 December, Astana’s special working group facilitated another – the sixth in succession – exchange of detainees. This was made possible thanks to the well-coordinated work of Russian Defense and Foreign Ministries, relevant Turkish bodies, the United Nations, and the ICRC.
Recovery of natural, i.a. economic ties with the Arab neighbors adds to the overall improvement of the situation around Syria. We advocate for taking further steps that should bring Damascus back to the “Arab family”.
Now to the humanitarian situation in Syria. It remains tense. There are still many problems in the areas out of control of Damascus – in Idlib, cross-Euphrates, and the areas of Turkish operations in the North. We assume that Syria can achieve lasting peace and security only once it has fully recovered sovereignty and territorial integrity, including control of the Syrian authorities over the national border and natural resources; and given continued fight against terrorism.
Amidst these circumstances, pressing humanitarian and socio-economic tasks come to the forefront. Full and faithful implementation of consensus-based UNSC resolution 2585 is called to contribute to resolving these tasks. The already mentioned special report of the Secretary-General constitutes an important element of the resolution. Now let me comment on the report.
To begin with, we very much appreciate the efforts of UN humanitarian agencies and personally Mr.Griffiths, who have done a lot to put Syria’s humanitarian file onto a constructive track. Martin, we commend your personal contribution to this process, which is very much appreciated.
In general, the report fits in the framework set out in UNSC resolution 2585. We said already that we are fully aware of the difficulties that all stakeholders encounter when implementing this resolution. While generally recognizing the initial progress, we only view it as a start of a longer way. In this context. Let me flag the following.
First, what regards transparency of humanitarian operations, mostly those carried out in Idlib. Colleagues, let me underscore that in general, we have no doubts that the UN Monitoring Mission that controls the movement of humanitarian convoys before they reach the Syrian border, does its job properly. But we are worried about what happens with them when already in Idlib – the province that swarms with terrorists who dominate all aspects of people’s lives, including their free movement. Given such conditions, what sort of unprejudiced and independent distribution of assistance can we talk about? It is no secret that by the fault of the militants, the food that was delivered to Sarmada from Aleppo as early as in August, started to be distributed only on 16 December. Colleagues, we find it very disappointing that during all that time you did not utter a word of condemnation, but patiently waited for the terrorists to agree to have the food assistance be distributed in the regions, uncovered by the cross-border mechanism (CBM). But what about the people who live there and critically depend on such assistance? Do their sufferings mean nothing to you?
Against this backdrop, assertions about the UN having some sort of effective monitoring mechanism in Idlib based on remote control are absolutely unconvincing. Precedents with terrorists appropriating the UN aid in Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta, and “Rukban” clearly prove this.
We underscore the pressing need to have international UN experts deployed in the enclave. This would enhance trust in the distribution mechanism.
My second point regards very limited progress of cross-line humanitarian deliveries. Basically, what we initially warned about came true. Over 6 months, only 28 trucks (2 humanitarian convoys) entered Idlib. However, over the same period “Bab Al-Hawa” crossing point let through 2 386 trucks to the de-escalation zone. This does not show that there are no alternatives to the CBM. This shows that the Idlib militants are opposed to implementing resolution 2585.
The potential of cross-line deliveries and interest in such deliveries on the ground are considerable. However, there are few incentives for the terrorists to have the aid delivered through this mechanism. The Council needs to take more efforts to have its decisions implemented.
The Syrian authorities, whom many speakers criticize, meet all their respective obligations fully and on time; the current SG report is not the first one to confirm this fact.
Since 27 October, we have had a clear plan by UN OCHA that should boost cross-line operations to northwest Syria. According to it, five humanitarian convoys should have entered the region by now. In reality, it was but one convoy, if we do not count the WFP convoy to Sarmada at the end of August. However the plan speaks about the areas that are not covered by the CBM. It speaks about the people who are not getting enough aid. Concrete and pragmatic proposals of the humanitarians meet no understanding of those who are capable of unlocking the cross-line and making it sustainable. Basically, one of the key provisions of resolution 2585 is being torpedoed. We cannot be content with orderly and even positive assessments of this situation, which virtually mean same thing as calls to make do with sporadic “fine gestures” of terrorists.
We call on everyone to contribute to unlocking humanitarian deliveries from Damascus to Afrin and Al Bab, as well as Tell Abyad. Surely, this can be done. Two years after the closure of “Al-Yarubiyah”, the report states that land and air roots of humanitarian deliveries from Damascus have been adjected, UN presence and better access to those in need extended (excluding such problematic locations as IDP camp “Al-Hol”). From July to October this year, 425 trucks were dispatched to northeast Syria via cross-line (plus 7 WHO convoys), which cannot be compared to 109 trucks that had entered Syria through “Al-Yarubiyah” over the 6 years of existence of this border crossing.
My third point is early recovery projects. UNSG report provides exhaustive arguments to prove the importance of such engagement. Colleagues, you often say at various platforms how important it is to duly account for the opinions of those in need when doing the humanitarian assessment and elaborating humanitarian response plans. You say that it increases the responsibility of assistance.
Can you imagine people living in half-destroyed buildings or even tents who would not want to have normal housing? Or do you think they do not want to send their children to school, or be able to turn to a normal hospital, have tap water in their homes? It is their voices that we must listen to in the first place. So far, too little has been done at this track. We call on the donors to revisit their approaches to Syria’s humanitarian assistance in the best interests of ordinary Syrians, i.a. those of them who are returning home. Availing of this opportunity, we express our gratitude to the states that have joined the financing of corresponding projects. We anticipate the United Nations to develop relevant and inclusive plans and programs.
Addressing the problem of unilateral sanctions also adds to promoting comprehensive assistance to Syrians, which is particularly demanded amidst COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, the US Federal Treasury published a special advice explaining that the restrictions did not touch upon early recovery projects, which we consider a step in the right direction. Implementation of such projects, i.a. pertaining to critical infrastructure, can help meet the most urgent needs of Syrians and also improve their overall living standards by preventing a collapse of water and energy supply systems. Recovery of schools, hospitals, and residential buildings, in its turn, will facilitate conditions for ensuring a dignified return of refugees and IDPs. Time will show if the announced humanitarian exemptions are going to be effective. On our part, we will keep track of this, and we also call on the Secretary-General to remain seized of this matter and reflect the relevant state-of-affairs in his regular reports.
In our view, both the United Nations and separate SC members can and should do more to implement resolution 2585. Otherwise, the efforts that we made in July to ensure constructive cooperation at the Syrian humanitarian track will not lead us to the desired results.