Statement by Vassily Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN, at the open VTC of Security Council Member-States on the humanitarian situation in Syria
Before I come to humanitarian Syria, I would like to say a couple of words about what I heard before I took the floor.
First of all, I would like to tell my US colleague that there is no international consensus on “isolating the Syrian regime” as you chose to say. The international consensus on Syria is codified in UNSC resolution 2254 which says it is Syrians who should decide their fate and what regime they will have in the future. Whatever they decide, it will be their decision, not anybody else’s.
Secondly, I noted that many of you referred to a “nationwide ceasefire”. Before you propose something, you may wish to give it a little thought. To have a nationwide ceasefire, we need to have a nationwide warfare. Where do you see a nationwide warfare in Syria to be proposing a nationwide ceasefire? If you do propose that thing, I wonder who you think would become signatories to such a ceasefire. That would be very much interesting to know.
Now I am coming to the main part of my statement. We thank Under-Secretary-General Mark Lowcock for his briefing.
We have heard a lot today on possible disastrous impact of COVID-19 in the North-East of Syria and in Idlib for that matter, and steps undertaken by the WHO and OCHA in this regard. Despite the recent briefings by the WHO and OCHA, as well as the latest Secretary-General report of 23 April, we do still have questions to which we have not got any clear answers yet. In particular, on discrepancies in humanitarian data and figures that are provided by UN entities, by UNHQ, and by the UN on the ground to name a few.
Instead, we keep on hearing emotional statements of deteriorating humanitarian situation in Idlib or the North-East of Syria only. Here comes a logical question – why only this part of the country is under such a close scrutiny of our distinguished colleagues? These areas are under control either by foreign occupation or by de-facto authorities, but the responsibility for humanitarian situation is attributed to Damascus. Why at the same time the humanitarian society is totally reluctant to address the epidemiological situation in the country as a whole? Does the UN have any comprehensive strategy to address the pandemic in Syria? When it comes to Damascus, everything we hear about is destroyed healthcare system not being able to cope with the potential pandemic crisis. The Government of Syria is doing its utmost to fight the spread of COVID-19 despite cruel unilateral sanctions. As I have already mentioned in the morning session, our colleagues have a very rosy and in fact a very hypocritical picture of how their sanctions affect ordinary Syrians and how their exemptions allegedly solve the problems. We reiterate our call and echo calls made by the UN officials to lift unilateral sanctions against Syria. We deplore these de-facto collective punishment measures against the Syrians living in Government-controlled areas.
We want to be briefed on the steps undertaken in accordance with international humanitarian law by occupying powers of well-known Syrian territories out of control of legitimate government. We have heard not a single word so far. In addition to this we would like to ask what exactly the WHO and OCHA do to help fight the Coronavirus in the territories under the control of the Syrian Government.
We note the information on 43 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country (according to the WHO data). We cannot agree to the cure that our colleagues suggest – full reanimation of cross-border mechanism. We remind that cross-border mechanism was created as a temporary and extraordinary tool. And we would like to make it clear for everyone that closure of one of the border crossings for UN assistance doesn’t mean that it is completely closed. As we all know NGOs continue their shipments and that they are bigger in volume than those of the UN. We hear that NGOs are doing a lot of work in the North-East. We have a question: and what exactly the UN is doing there? We hear that the UN and NGOs assistance is not duplicative. It means there is coordination between the UN and those NGOs. We would like to learn more about it as well.
Neither can we accept the point that Damascus is not properly cooperating. Some of you interpret the report of the Secretary-General to their own liking stating that there was no progress in cross-line. This is not true. You interpret the statistics as it suits you, and the statistics is very easy to manipulate. The report of the Secretary-General clearly states that 1094 missions were conducted by the UN and its partners from within Syria, and they reached 14 governorates. 3 convoys of medical aid were sent to the North-East (all from Damascus, 2 by WHO, and 1 by UNICEF). We are told that these convoys covered only 30 percent of medical needs. I would like to remind you that there was supposed to be an airlift from Erbil that was authorized by the Syrian authorities. And it was not the fault of Damascus that it was not performed. We are in fact utterly surprised, to put it mildly, by the delays of WHO in providing these “urgent supplies” since February. The supplies that we hear are expiring now. I would like to remind that before the New Year these supplies were lying idle in Iraq and then suddenly became indispensable. We do not accept explanations provided to us as to date, and we have strong reasons to suppose that those delays did not happen because of objective circumstances.
We strongly urge our colleagues not to waste their time on looking for a way to advocate, explicitly or implicitly for getting Al-Yarubiah back and saying that this be the “only solution”. Don’t lose time, but rather focus on engaging humanitarian agencies in a constructive dialogue with Syrian authorities. You don’t have to knock on the door. The door is open. If there is a will there is a way. Don’t lose time and opportunity. This is the only solution. By the way, closed Al-Yarubiah did not prevent local administration from receiving “somewhere from abroad” 4 machines for COVID-19 tests. Seems like this equipment arrived there through the same channels along with the strange humanitarian aid that consisted of antiriot gear for ISIS prisons and IDP camps. We mentioned it the morning session. And by the way, why do you insist on Al-Yarubiah and refuse to consider Abu-Kemal crossing that the Syrian authorities were prepared to use?
In the context of difficult humanitarian situation in the North-East we have a question – what was done there by the occupying powers during last 6 years except cutting ties between Kurdish areas and other Syrian territories? Only several hospitals function there, and nothing has been done in terms of resettling the refugees from the camps. A lot of problems are caused by mines. The situation in “Al Hol” camp is dire. It is unknown what measures are taken to fight the threat of COVID-19 in “Rukban”. We would like to remind that efforts undertaken by Syria and Russia made it possible for 19 000 people in Rukban to get back to their homes from March till July 2019. Those fighters who escaped from the camp two weeks ago (I mentioned them in the morning) clearly said that the aid sent to the camp was not distributed among inhabitants but was seized by fighters of Maghawir Al-Thawra.
We are very concerned by the information that the Syrian Health Ministry’s request to launch a medical laboratory in Hasakeh for processing COVID-19 samples in one of state hospitals was redirected by the WHO to a clinic belonging to “Medicins sans Frontiere”. They could not but realize that this would entail problems with Damascus. In general, we would like to be briefed what the WHO is actually doing to the east of Euphrates. We would be grateful if the UN colleagues could shed light on our concerns that we already expressed before. How are the financial resources at the disposal of OCHA actually allocated? What part of them goes to the Government-controlled areas?
We will continue to pose these pertinent questions and expect clear and transparent answers.