Statement by First Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy at UNSC briefing on the politial and humanitarian situation in Syria
We thank Geir Pedersen and Martin Griffiths for their briefings.
We highly appreciate and support efforts of the Special Envoy as mediator at the political track. We welcome the conclusion of the sixth round of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva, which was rather challenging. Most importantly, effective political process has recovered as per UNSC resolution 2254 and the decisions made at the Congress of Syrian National Dialogue in Sochi. The sides finally had an opportunity to meet face-to-face after a 9-month-long pause and resume direct constructive dialogue. In this regard, we would like to highlight the contribution of guarantor states of the Astana process to the convening of this session of the Committee. Unfortunately, in the midst of the session, a terrorist attack took place in Damascus killing 14 military personnel. We perceive this as an attempt of forces that are not interested in effective consummation of the work of the Committee to make things more difficult for its participants.
At the forecoming stage, we need to make sure that the entire working process at the Constitutional Committee remained Syrian-owned and Syrian-led without external interference or imposing artificial deadlines. There is no alternative to unbiased engagement with the Syrian sides that should drive them towards finding mutually acceptable solutions. However, we need to approach this process with patience and pragmatism, without inflated expectations of immediate results, especially when it comes to the issue of Constitution, which is pivotal to any state. Inter-Syrian dialogue must not become hostage of technical modalities.
On our part, we will continue engaging meaningfully with all interested stakeholders in order to make progress at the Constitution track. However Geir, much will depend on your diplomatic skills.
The Special Envoy of the United Nations ought to stay in constant contact with Syrians, work to lift mutual mistrust and seek mutually acceptable solutions and compromise. We trust that you will engage with the Syrian sides more robustly.
Despite the overall stabilization of the military and political situation in Syria, there still are some risks of escalation, in particular in the areas out of control of the Government – in Idlib, trans-Euphrates region and Al-Tanf. We are concerned over the reports about continuing illegitimate air strikes of Israeli aviation against the Syrian territory. Internecine armed clashes take place in north-eastern territories that are controlled by ISIL terrorists in the absence of legitimate authorities. In this context, we once again underscore the importance of promoting internal Syrian dialogue aimed at restoring unity, territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of the Syrian Arab Republic.
Now to the report of the Secretary-General on the humanitarian situation in Syria in August-September 2021. We have noted that it differs considerably from the previous reports in terms of the number of humanitarian operation permits issued to the United Nations.
The number of standard regular humanitarian missions over the reporting period has increased by 7% (from 1960 to 2097). The UN requested 218 approvals for regular programmatic movements. By the time the report was released, Damascus had approved of 83 % of the requests, while the remaining 17 % was under consideration. It means Damascus did not reject them. So almost all UN requests received approval.
It turns out, humanitarian access to 97 % of all those in need in Syria makes no major problem. The only obstacle to the movement of humanitarian workers is mines and unexploded ordinance. This, however, did not stop the UN from enhancing its presence on the ground in the north-east, where WHO convoys keep heading to, and in Deir-ez-Zor.
Comments are needless. It is obvious that Damascus duly complies with its obligations, remains open to further cooperation with the United Nations. We hope that our colleagues in the Council will note those efforts.
Against this backdrop, the situation with cross-line humanitarian deliveries to Idlib looks far less optimistic. As we feared, the single-time WFP convoy that took place in August made some go dizzy with success. The two months that followed brought no further achievements. The foods remain stored in Sarmada. As for the humanitarian mission of UNICEF that is mentioned in the SG report, its modalities still need to be clarified. What makes it count as a cross-line operation? As we understand, no one went or carried anything across the contact line.
Also, we would like to double-check with Martin Griffiths what steps are made to build efforts regarding early recovery projects. In his latest report, the Secretary-General cites data that instills some optimism, but the real progress remains at a minimum. We do not quite understand why efforts to create jobs also belong with this category. Improvement of people’s social standing is important, but how is it supposed to influence their physical living conditions in a country with ruined infrastructure? Frankly, we see a rather indirect linkage here.
Following his recent visit to Syria, UN High Commissioner for refugees F.Grandi made it clear that all necessary conditions need to be recreated for those Syrians who are turning back home.
Amidst the global economic crisis, Syria’s neighbors in the region openly admit that they have limited capacities for further accommodation of Syrian refugees. Among them there are increasingly more people who no longer want to put up with living in tents, without access to medicine and education, and therefore opt for going back home in their quest for stability. There are hundreds of such Syrians every month, mostly women and children. In order to provide assistance to them, the Syrian Government deployed facilities in 413 populated areas in Syria to accommodate the total of 1.5 million refugees. In Aleppo, Damascus, and Hama, the Syrian state is implementing a program for recovery of territories that have been liberated from militants. These efforts of the Syrian Government that suffers from Western sanction pressure deserve all support.
However our Western colleagues demonstrate persistence worth of a better cause, doing their best to twist the reality, politicize this purely humanitarian file, intimidate the potential returnees, and spread fake news. The statement of my US colleague was a clear example of this. The quicker our colleagues switch to this constructive track, the better for ordinary Syrians and their neighbors in the region.
In parallel to this, UN OCHA reports growth of extreme poverty in terrorist-controlled Idlib, even among the working population. No surprise that there is growing inclination to street protests among the starving part of the population of the enclave that becomes more and more numerous, and that is in fact held hostage by militants. A recent example of “slave-holding” behavior of Idlib’s terrorists was their refusal to let out a group of 50 teens who wanted to enroll in universities in Aleppo and Damascus. We hope that our SC colleagues who on every occasion advocate for education and the rights of children will speak out in this regard.
We cannot fail to notice stabilization in Daraa. More than 70 % of IDPs got back home, schools opened, humanitarians resumed regular operations. Against this backdrop, the developments in Al-Hol and Rukban look particularly worrying. We call on our colleagues to influence their “protégés” at last. In the context of numerous violations of the international humanitarian law and the rights of IDPs, the situation in northern Syria – in Ras al-Ayn and Tell Abyad – raises same level of concern.
In conclusion, let me call on everyone to not forget that soon we will have to determine the future of the cross-border mechanism. When deciding whether to renew the CBM or not, we will proceed from facts and achievements made under UNSC resolution 2585. So far, much remains to be done while time is running out. Seeming or far-fetched hearsay “success” will not count. Hopefully, colleagues in the Secretariat also realize this.