Statement by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin at an open VTC of UNSC members on the humanitarian situation in Syria
Mr President, colleagues,
I would like to thank Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock and UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore for their reports.
On the whole, we share the alarming estimates of the humanitarian and socioeconomic situation in Syria as expressed by representatives of the UN and other international organisations. Today, the overwhelming majority of Syrians (over 90 percent) are living below the poverty line; 60 percent of them do not get enough food and 2 million children have no access to education. Paradoxically, the living standards in Syria have substantially deteriorated over the last year while violence was reduced considerably. Indicatively, the worst situation is taking shape in the regions in the northwest, north and northeast, which Damascus does not control. Let me remind you that responsibility for these regions rests with the de facto occupying countries and local authorities there.
The ISIS and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) terrorists that control Idlib and have increased their activities in the Trans-Euphrates region remain a serious challenge for Syria. According to resolutions from the international community, the irreconcilable struggle against them must continue. I would like to emphasise again at this point that the actions by Syrian government forces, with support from the Russian military, are well balanced and they consider the need to ensure the safety of local civilians. In the meantime, attempts by the pseudo humanitarians from the White Helmets to exonerate militant groups and present them as armed opposition are unacceptable and merit condemnation.
The alarming deterioration of the situation in Syria compels the leaders of the relevant international organisations on the ground to demand not only urgent humanitarian aid that covers only the basic needs of the Syrian people but also to implement projects for the early recovery and support of the population. In response, the most responsible members of the international community, primarily, the US and Europe, are saying that the Syrians will not receive anything for recovery without political changes in the country. Washington and Brussels have reacted to the appeal from the UN Secretary-General to reduce and lift the unilateral sanctions during the coronavirus pandemic with unprecedented increases in the unlawful restrictions adopted in circumvention of the UN Security Council, including the enforcement of the notorious Caesar Act in June 2020.
This is not to mention the declared “humanitarian withdrawals” now that Syria is suffering from a total shortage of bread, spare parts, medications and medical equipment. This affects not only ordinary Syrians but also specialised UN agencies and NGOs. In the meantime, it is reported that US convoys take oil and grain from Syria to Iraq every day. According to information available on March 23, 300 petrol trucks and over 200 grain trucks have crossed the border from Syria to Iraq since the beginning of the month. So, it appears that as the Syrians suffer from an acute shortage of basic products including bread and petrol, Syria’s natural resources are being smuggled in a big way from the US-controlled Trans-Euphrates area. At the same time, the country is being stifled economically by unilateral sanctions that is nothing more than a form of collective punishment.
That said, now that a little less than three and half months remain before the expiration of UN Security Resolution 2533 on cross-border humanitarian aid, debates have begun to the effect that this approach has no alternative. Indicatively, this issue is not raised in the UN Security Council even while this unlawful cross-border traffic continues, while at the same time a special resolution is required for the delivery of humanitarian aid. It is also noteworthy that the UN Security Council is paying much less attention to serious humanitarian problems in other countries (Yemen, Libya and Venezuela).
Under UN Security Council Resolution 2355, Bab al-Hawa is the only border crossing that is indicated in the cross border mechanism for the Idlib de-escalation zone. Since July 2020 when this resolution was adopted, the crossing capacity there was increased significantly. According to our UN colleagues, up to 1,000 vehicles pass through it every month. But despite this, the humanitarian situation in the northwest of Syria is going from bad to worse.
At the same time, a UN/ICRC/SARS joint convoy has yet to cross the contact line even though this was agreed upon with Damascus in April 2020. From one briefing to another, we are hearing explanations on the need to receive consent from certain parties in Idlib on the delivery of urgent humanitarian aid. Apparently, these are the same parties that allow similar convoys to cross as part of transborder commodity shipments. If we recall that the Idlib de-escalation zone is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and Hurras ad-Din, which are listed as terrorist groups by the UN, it is clearer what these parties are doing. In addition, the same militants are preventing the free exit of civilians from Idlib through the special humanitarian corridors that were opened for this purpose with the assistance of the Russian military (in the villages of Abu-Azzeidin, Miznaz and Tarnaba).
I will give one example – on March 11, when humanitarian aid was sent to the village of Rami, the militants deprived civilians of food products, which led to an armed clash with about 10,000 victims. This is further evidence that this aid is not reaching its intended recipients but rather is taken by the terrorists who demand payment for humanitarian deliveries and who cruelly harass civilians. In fact, the militants are using Syrian civilians as hostages to get humanitarian aid through a non-transparent mechanism. The UN is unable to establish proper control over this for lack of access to northwest of Syria.
A similar situation has taken shape in the Rukban camp in the US-occupied 55 km zone near Al-Tanf in the south of Syria. By Washington’s strange logic, its residents are supposed to receive aid from Damascus rather than across the border with Iraq on the most direct and fastest route that is used to send supplies to the American garrison.
The regular EU conference in Brussels on humanitarian aid for Syria was mentioned here. As has become common, the organisers did not invite the government of Syria, a UN member, to attend. How can the future of the country be discussed without its lawful authorities that, according to UN representatives in Damascus, promptly provide all the necessary permits for requested international humanitarian aid?
This is the overt politicisation of strictly humanitarian issues, specifically, discrimination against the Damascus-controlled regions when distributing humanitarian aid; refusal to facilitate the country’s recovery and the return of refugees; the toughening of sanctions during the COVID-19 pandemic; and the desire to maintain a cross border mechanism, which violates the standards of international humanitarian law and UN General Assembly Resolution 46/182. All this is being done to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria for political reasons due to displeasure with the country’s leadership. In this context, the continuing violation by some Western countries of the spirit and letter of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 are regrettable and must be denounced. This must be done based on its second paragraph whereby UN members reaffirm their “strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic, and to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
Thank you for your attention.
Right of reply by First Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy after the statement of the representative of the UK:
I could not fail to react to the words of my British colleague regarding the “White Helmets”.
We believe our Western and British partners keep justifying the pseudo-humanitarians from the White Helmets with persistence that deserves a better cause. This practice continues even though there is increasingly more evidence about the “White Helmets” merging with terrorists. Also, there is more and more evidence to prove that videos that they produced and that the majority of Western allegations against Damascus are based on had been staged.
Not once have we denounced those fakes, shared relevant materials, hosted press briefings. However, you would rather ignore all this, because the truth is too inconvenient and bitter-tasting. What kind of personalities are the people who pretend to be humanitarian workers from the “White Helmets”? For an answer, we can take the following fact: many of those people, who fled abroad once the major part of the Syrian territory was liberated, were not adopted by their Western sponsors despite all their pleas, because their connection to terrorists was far too obvious.
We understand your urge to justify yourselves in front of the British taxpayers for the squandering of funds, allocated to support the alleged Syrian opposition. I am very sorry for you. This is a very uneasy business, especially in light of the increasing number of questions that come to the surface regarding the “White Helmets” sponsor, a man from the British secret service Mr. Le Mesurier and his mysterious death. But all these domestic public tasks should not be solved at the expense of a Security Council meeting. Such tricks do no credit to the British diplomacy.