Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at an open VTC of UNSC members on the political and humanitarian situation in Syria
Distinguished Mr. President,
Before addressing the agenda of this VTC meeting, I would like to express our concern over the fact that the Security Council again uses the online format to host a discussion of important issues of maintaining the international peace and security. We believe this is unjustified. It is well-known that the Security Council chamber of the UN Headquarters is a safe environment. The Council held more than 10 in-person meetings there during the Russian Presidency in October 2020. The COVID-19 situation in New York today is far better than then. Excessive precautions of some of our colleagues may cast an unflattering light upon us as compared to our colleagues in the General Assembly who convene regular in-persons in the GA Hall. Nothing prevents us from doing the same.
With that in mind, we call upon the effective Vietnamese Presidency and the incoming Chinese Presidency to take practical steps to transfer our work in an in-person mode in the SC Chamber.
We thank G.Pedersen and M.Lowcock for the briefings.
The situation in Syria remains complicated. Even though some relative stability still holds on the ground, the country sees a deterioration of the socio-economic and humanitarian situations, prompted by the unfading sanctions pressure of the collective West. The direst situation has evolved in the northwest, north, and northeast of Syria on the territories out of control of the Syrian government, which are the responsibility of the de-facto occupying powers and the local authorities. We are concerned over the continuing inter-ethnic clashes in the trans-Euphrates region. The controversies between the Kurds and local Arab communities escalate because of the foreign occupation of these areas. Israel’s unstopping airstrikes on the Syrian territory act as an extra destabilizing factor.
At the political track, we do not loosen our efforts in order to help successful inter-Syrian dialogue. We remain in close contact with Special Envoy Pedersen and the Syrian sides, encourage them to act constructively and look for mutually acceptable solutions. We hope the SESG will soon be able to bring the Syrians together at a negotiations table in Geneva in the framework of the 6th session of the Editorial Board of the Constitutional Committee. We remind that this must by a Syrian-owned process. Any interference or imposition of some conditions is unacceptable and can only be detrimental.
Syria will hold presidential elections in less than a month. Despite all the difficulties, the Syrian authorities make efforts to ensure that the state system functions well. It is disconcerting that some countries are opposed to the very idea of pending elections and have already labelled them illegitimate. We call to stop creating a negative information environment around the upcoming vote which has nothing to do with the work of the Constitutional Committee. Interference in Syria's internal affairs is unacceptable, it runs counter to the effective norms of the international law. In point of fact, G.Pedersen confirmed it today.
We took note of the comment by former US Representative for Syria in the Trump Administration J.Jeffrey that popped up in the media earlier in April. He admitted that ‘Hayat Tahrir al-Sham' (an organization that UNSC listed as terrorist) was “an important US asset” in Syrian affairs and was “least bad option … on Idlib”, that is why he thought this jihadist group was worth support. Well, that’s about it. These revelations are in fact a return to the logic of “good and bad terrorists”. This is how retired politicians disclose the true rationale behind the actions of some our partners in Syria.
As for the humanitarian situation in Syria, we welcome the first import batches of anti-COVID vaccine in Syria last week. In this context, it is vital to ensure its fair distribution among all those who need it. We trust that the Syrian Government will approach this responsibly. Damascus has many times demonstrated its readiness to cooperate with the United Nations openly. The recent UNSG report on the humanitarian developments in Syria in March-April this year indicates that the number of permits issued to the UN personnel is growing. These permits enable them to carry out humanitarian operations on the government-controlled area, including the WHO operations in the trans-Euphrates region. The much-needed medical assistance is reaching Syria’s northeast. But now it is the expanding fuel crisis that impedes the work of humanitarians on the ground. And this is in a country rich in oilfields! Colleagues, Syria (and the UN, and its partner NGOs) may end up in a conundrum: the incoming humanitarian aid risks being stuck in the warehouses because there may be no fuel to have it delivered to the end users – the fuel that US occupation authorities extract from the Syrian subsoils in the northeast of the country to their own advantage. This threatens to undermine the work of mobile medical stations, of which Secretary-General Guterres unambiguously speaks in his report. Are you going to blame Syrians for that as well? Or will our Western colleagues have courage to call things by their real names?
Now to the pledging conference “Brussels-5”, the praise of which we will definitely hear today. Its organizers parade the considerable donor contributions. But we could see from the previous four conferences that contributions was not the main indicator. And it could hardly be otherwise, because all such efforts ignore the Syrian authorities, which is why the Syrians receive but little of that aid. What such conferences pay no attention to is huge problems with the country’s recovery after the ten years of direct foreign interference. It is a pity that the statement section of the conference’s official website does not feature the address of ICRC President P.Maurer, who speaks about the devastated infrastructure of Aleppo and Raqqa, about sanctions that cause suffering for all Syrians, deprive them of access to basic services and food. Perhaps his statement is not posted because it does not fit into the paradigm of worn-out headnotes about the generosity of Western donors.
Recently, Russia’s Defense Ministry rescued 44 Russian children from IDP camps “Al-Hol” and “Roj” by air. The work is underway to repatriate another 120 children. In light of the deteriorating security situation in these camps, the responsibility of states for repatriation of their nationals is growing. We call on the colleagues to boost efforts at this track, ensuring appropriate conditions for their citizens, first of all women and kids.
For an entire year we have had no progress in launching at least one humanitarian convoy from Damascus to Idlib. We consider this as a clear sabotage. We will take this into account when elaborating our position regarding the pending extension of the cross-border mechanism in July this year. If our colleagues for political reasons are not willing to open a crossline humanitarian channel, and they are ready to work only via the CBM, what commitment to the territorial integrity of Syria on the part of the Council are we talking about? To connive with this hypocrisy means to damage the image of the international humanitarian response system which is meant to conjugate efforts to save people's lives. We must not turn a blind eye to the fact that the terrorists in Idlib, recharging from the CBM, use the civilian population of the enclave as a human shield and do not let people exit to the government-controlled areas via the recently opened checkpoints.