BRIEFING TO THE SECURITY COUNCIL BY JOINT UN-LAS SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR SYRIA
24 September 2012
Mr. President, Distinguished members of the Council.
2. My initial remarks will be as brief as possible. And I look forward to the exchange that will take place afterwards.
3. In my remarks, I will first say a few words on how we are trying to organize our Office. I will then list the contacts I have made during the past four or live weeks. And finally, I will share a few impressions about the present situation in and around Syria and just a couple of preliminary, very tentative thoughts concerning the way forward.
4. Concerning the way our work is being organized, the United Nations is in the liquidation phase of both UNSMIS in Syria and the set up by Annan in Geneva. At the same time, we are in the process of establishing an in Damascus. That Office is headed by Mokhtar Lamani, a Canadian national of Moroccan origin who knows the region very well, and already in Damascus and has started working.
5. The natural place for myself and all my colleagues in this is in Damascus. But for a variety of reasons, it is necessary for the time being to operate from outside of Syria. We first thought our should be established here at the United Nations Headquarters. But we are now thinking of perhaps establishing it in Cairo as a more convenient location. In both Damascus and Cairo, we shall do our very best to respect the print” principle but we naturally look up to the United Nations to provide us with all the staff and equipment necessary for us to do our work properly.
6. Since my appointment, I have seen and talked to many people in many capitals, including Damascus. I am very grateful to the Foreign Ministers, and you in particular Mr. President, who kindly called me to express support and discuss aspects of the Syrian crisis. lt was an honour and a pleasure to talk to each one of them. It was also a privilege to get together informally with you, the Security Council members, at a meeting kindly organized by Monsieur Araude Ambassador of France, and your Predecessor at the Chair, Mr. President. I also met Ambassador Bashar J aafarir the Permanent Representative of Syria here at the United Nations.
7. In Cairo, l naturally met Dr. Nabil Al-Arabi, Secretary General of the League of Arab States and Sheikh Hamad bin Jasem bin Jabr Al-Thani, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the State of Qatar who is the Chairman of the Arab League’s Standing Committee on Syria. 1 attended a session of their Council of Ambassadors also. And, President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt gmnted me an audience and I met over dinner with the Foreign Ministers of Egypt, Iran and Turkey who were in town for the meeting of the Quartet suggested by President Morsi. As you know, Saudi Arabia did not attend that meetmg.
8. In Damascus, Cairo and Paris, I met a very large number of Syrian nationals, mostly belonging to the opposition. I met also local human rights activists, intellectuals and businessmen. I also met President Bashar Al-Assad, Foreign Minister Walid AlMuallem, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mokdad as well as a few other Senior Officials of the present Government in Syria. In Syria, I also meta few members of the internal opposition, as it is called.
9- To say that the situation in Syria is bad and getting worse is to state the obvious. Incliscriminate shelling ofdcnsely populated areas, excessive use of force, arbitrary and wide use of torture continue unabated. There is no safe place for those who are caught in violence, which is now engulfing almost the entire country. A measure of the catastrophic magnitude of the crisis is given by the fact that during the month of August perhaps as many as 5,000 people were killed -- 1,600 of them during the last week of the month alone. It is diffieult to give an accurate estimate of the people who have been arrested — most observers put that number at “more than 30, 000 ”. Among the opposition, many speak of 50000 and even 60,000. President Assad himself does not deny that “thousands” are detained but thinks that 30,000 is far too high a number.
10. The sad truth is that a Syrian citizen, man woman or teenager does not need to do much these days to be picked up by one of the many security agencies and be kept either in a recognized jail or in one of the much feared "'seeret" detention centers where
maltreatment and medieval forms of torture are so common that victims do not even talk about until a direct question is asked. I was told that at least 1,000 people have died inside detention centers as a result of sever torture. Many travelers are picked up on the way to or from the Damascus Airport. This was the case, a few days ago, of members of a delegation of the opposition parties returning from China. As you know Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have assembled impressive, well documented, files on the subject. UNSMIS has done its share as well, when it was operating. Our in Damascus will try to continue this work but of course, our means are for the moment very limited. The issue is high on the Agenda of the ICRC, the of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Human Rights Council in Geneva, as you all know. President Assad told me that he has assured ICRC President Mr. Peter Maurer, during his recent visit to Syria that his Government would fully cooperate with the ICRC and grant full access to all places of detention. To date, I don't think the Government has acted on these promises.
11. Many tragedies, Mr. President, have affected individuals, communities and propefly since the start of the Syrian uprising 18 months ago. One aspect that we do not hear oiten about, but which clearly indicates the gravity of the situation is that Syria's cultural heritage is being destroyed. Throughout the country, archeological sites of the Antiquity, historic churches, medieval mosques and Crusader Castles have been subject to shelling, gunfire and often military occupation. Some of the worst hit monuments are situated in cities that have been the focus of sustained bombing. These include Homs where countless mosques, churches and old markets now lay in ruin. These, Mr. President, include the Syrian Orthodox church “Um dating back to 59 AD. It was built in 59 AD and is now destroyed. The K Irafed Ibn A1- Wafid Mosque dating back to the beginning offslnm has been destroyed as well.
12. There is also Dara’a where the uprising began in March 2011: its ‘Umari Mosque - also founded at the very beginning of Islam in the country - has sustained heavy shelling, as has the Mudiq Citadel dose to the Heflenistic site of Apamea.
13. Six major sites in Syria are part of the UNESCO World Heritage list: Palmyra, Bosra, Darnascus, Aleppo, and the ancient villages 0fN0rthern Syria, as well as the Crak des Chevaliers and the Castle of Salah A1-Din. Many are said to have been damaged by attacks and illicit excavations
14. Now in Aleppo, gunfire is engulfing the medieval citadel in the centre of town, There are also reports of dozens of other examples of destmction throughout the country, not to mention instances of brazen theft, plunder, looting and consequent risk ofillegal exports of cultural heritage, particularly archeological objects.
15. The United Nations Country Team in Damascus is working diligently to offer help where help is needed and that is practically the entire country. Perhaps as many as two and a half million people are affected by the conflict and need help. One and a half million people have been forced to leave their homes and are now sheltering with family and friends or in public buildings, especially schools. 280,000 have fled to neighbouring countries. These numbers can be much higher, and certainly are growing by the day.
16. Food shoflages are looming due to poor harvest. Syria used to produce about 90% of its pharmaceutical needs. Most of the factories and laboratories have been destroyed or otherwise forced to stop production. As a result, medical supplies are no longer available to most Syrians, especially in conflict zones. Hospitals have been damaged and the fear of security agents present in many hospitals keeps patients away from those hospitals.
17. The new school year has just started. But in reality, not all of the schools have been able to open to pupils. A large number of schools have been destroyed. It is estimated that more than 2,000 schools ofa total of the 22,000 schools in the country have been damaged and at least 88 staff have lost their lives. Other schools, as said a moment ago, are used to shelter families whose homes have been damaged. We were told that the Government wants to evacuate internally displaced people from 50 per cent of the schools, in which they are sheltered, to give them back to education. UNHCR, UNICEF and other partners will distribute 100,000 school bags to support basic education for displaced and vulnerable children.
18. Visiting refugee camps is never a happy experience. Going lo Altinozu camp in Hatay, Turkey and Za’atari camp in Mafraq in Jordan was no exception. We tend to speak of them as numbers and we try to help provide basic needs for them. But these are men and women who, yesterday, had a life, a home, a family, a business perhaps, or a shop, or a small farm. They had hopes, plans for the future, and all ofa sudden, nothing. They are dependent on the goodness of others. They live day by day, hour by hour, longing to go back where they eame from, to bring their children back home. One of them listed seven or eight cities in my own country, Algeria, he had visited. Another one asked me this terrible question: “Please tell me, Sir, are we humans?” In Za’atari camp, another man said: “we left a large prison in Syria. And here we are, locked up behind barbed wire, with nothing to do, nothing to hope for”.
19. Turkey has spent U SD $300 million dollars to accommodate refugees from Syria. Jordan does not have the means to match that kind of generosity. But, UNHCR people told us that Jordan was definitely one of the most hospitable countries in the world for refugees.
20. Those 2.5 million Syrians who need help inside Syria and over 250,000 refugees deserve a better, more generous attention from the international community. Efforts of the United Nations, the ICRC, the Syrian Red Crescent and devoted Syrian volunteers are handicapped by shortages in funding more than by anything else. Of course__ bureaucratic hurdles, restricted access and insecurity inside the country do not help.
21. One can only note that the overwhelming attention of the international community and media on the political and security dimensions of this crisis has not yet translated into more genuine and effective efforts to assist its victims. Millions of lives have already been shattered. Unless the international community provides aid to organizations, the necessary space and resources to assist and help restore the dignity of Syrians most affected, people will continue to suffer on their own.
22. However, the best kind of help these IDPS, refugees and people in Syria in general desperately need is peace, a secure and stable environment in which they would rebuild their country, and this is, of course, easier said than done.
23. I don’t think it is an unfair representation of reality to say that, on the side ofthe Government, the aim is still to keep, or return to, the old Syria, even if much is said about dialogue and reform. Popular demand for change, not reforms. is hardly recognized by the Government. The crisis is seen mainly as a foreign eonspiraey engineered from abroad. The fact that for about six months the popular movement was peaceful is hardly remembered in government circles. Indeed, it is often claimed that mainly non-Syrian jihadists, salafi st and other Islamists and members of Al Qaeda are being confronted by the Government whose forces are exercising their duty to protect their people.
24. It is generally agreed however that there are foreigners among the groups fighting Government forces. But, it is estimated that those foreign elements are less than 2,000. Government sources themselves speak of 5,000. In private conversations, Syrian officials do not really insist that only foreigners are involved in this insurgency. But they do insist that only the flow of arms and money from abroad is keeping it going.
25. Divided as it is, the opposition speaks in one voice in describing their actions as a National Revolution, as a determined rejection of an unjust, cruel and corrupt regime that has kept the country under a system of terror for well over four decades. And they say that there is no turning back: like in Tunisia and Egypt: the Syrian people want to see the end of this regime, they say. Which is summed up in their slogan: “Bashar must go. No dialogue or negotiations until he does leave”.
26. The opposition suspects that all the Government sweet talk about dialogue is but a play to gain time and allow their forces to win on the ground and again silence the people and impose its will. That is why they are suspicious of mediation eiTorts._ including Annarfs and my own. Almost everyday one spokesman of the opposition or another, goes live on Al J azeera or Al Arabiya satellite television channels to declare, sometimes rudely or less so, that my efforts, like are a waste of time. Worse, that in wasting time, in this manner we are responsible for the death of scores of people every day.
27. It is also a fact that many in the opposition, whether they say so in so many words or not, believe that the only solution would be a military intervention from abroad. And quite a few are certain that such an intervention is in preparation and shall take place, in spite of the repeated unambiguous declarations to the contrary by those very countries who are supposed to be preparing military intervention.
28. In the League of Arab States, the majority‘s wish is to see “the beginning of the transition and a process for a fast transfer of power”. There is much merit in the SixPoint Plan Annan’s and in the Geneva Declaration and Action Plan ofthe 30 of June. If has given up, however, it is evidently because the implementation of both the 6 Point Plan and the Geneva process has hit series ofhurdies. Those hurdles exist among the Syrian parties as well as at the regional and international levels.
29. The initiative of President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt to bring together four major regional powers has not - or has not yet - produce all the good effects its author hoped it would achieve.
30. Efforts to unite the opposition have produced disappointing results for the moment. These efforts are continuing, as you know, and it is important that they be more successful in the near future.
31. In his last press conference as Joint Special Envoy, Koli said that, “ultimately President Bashar Al-Assad shall have to go”. Indeed, it bears repeating that the solution of Syria’s problem demands a clean break with the past. How does that happen is all the question. Events of the recent past in the region teach us the all important necessity to avoid the destruction of the state and to prevent the collapse of the Army and police.
32. This cannot be achieved by rushing into a new plan ofaetion before ensuring reasonable chance for such a plan to be implemented. It is in this perspective that I intend to work. The efforts I intend to undertake - indeed, the efforts that I have already undertaken — cannot go anywhere, Mr. President, without a strong collective, united and sustained support from this Council.
33. It is this support that I have come to ask for today, Mr. President.
I thank you for your attention.
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