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Thursday, January 21, 2016

De Mistura to Security Council on Opposition's Delegation: I Can No Longer Rely on Ambiguity of 2254


Pursuant to Resolution 2254 (2015)
18 JANUARY 2016

Mr. President, Members of the Security Council, 
1.  One month ago resolution 2254 gave the Secretary-General and his Envoy, clear tasks –to facilitate a political process; convene representatives of the Government and opposition in formal negotiations on a political transition process; determine the modalities and requirements of a ceasefire in consultation with relevant parties; and, report in 30 days on ceasefire modalities and options for further confidence-building measures. I, therefore, wish to present the requested reporting today and update on you on my activities.

2. Resolution 2254 also calls for many other important things that matter to the Syrians: unimpeded humanitarian access; immediate end to attacks against civilians and use of indiscriminate weapons; the observance of IHL; building conditions for safe and voluntary return of refugees and the displaced; and continued action  by Member States to prevent and suppress terrorist acts. Pointedly, 2254 designates the ISSG as the central platform to facilitate UN efforts. 

Mr. President, 

 3.  I have in the past three weeks visited Riyadh, where I met with the High Negotiations Commission, Ankara, Damascus for consultations with the Syrian government, and Tehran.  I further met with US Assistant Secretary Anne Patterson and Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov and separately with the P5 at Political Director Level in Geneva last week.  I met again the General Coordinator of the HNC in Brussels. And I have held plenty more conversations by phone with Syrians, civil society, other ISSG members, as well as esteemed UN colleagues.

4. I have in parallel led the preparations of my office on several aspects of the forthcoming talks. Throughout I have kept in mind that, while the Secretary-General and I have clear tasks, so do the parties; the ISSG; the international community; so does this Council. The Secretary-General and I have no chance in succeeding, or even making a dent, if others do not do their part too. Let us be clear about that. 

Mr. President,
5. Let us therefore start with the reality on the ground – more powerful than any resolution or a conference.  The past month is a gruesome reminder of who bears the brunt of this ruthless, merciless, appalling conflict: the Syrian people, no matter who they support, and from almost every part of that devastated country. 

6. Only last week  Under Secretary-General O'Brien and ASG Kang briefed you separately on besieged areas and the aid convoys that reached three such villages: Madaya, Fouah and Kefraya. The UN has been able to reach less than 4% of all (14) besieged areas. Of the 113 requests made to the Government for access during 2015, 80 went unanswered.  As USG O’Brien noted, sieges are imposed by the Government, armed opposition groups and ISIL. And though the burden of responsibility falls onto the besieging party, let us not forget the responsibility of those who put civilians in danger by using them as human shields. An estimated 200,000 people, mainly women and children, are facing sharply deteriorating conditions in the western side of Deir-Ez-Zor city, besieged by ISIL since 2015.

7. And so I reiterate my request of last week to the P5 to exert pressure on the parties to deliver on unimpeded and sustained access starting initially with four besieged areas (Madaya, Mouadamiya, Foua, Kefraya).  Humanitarian access to some of these areas, while slightly improved in the last week, has been sporadic and difficult.  USG O’Brien was clear however: the move must not be "either one-off or exceptional."  These would essentially be the first steps towards alleviating the humanitarian situation in line with existing resolutions and obligations under IHL. I count on this Council and the ISSG to ensure this.

8. These are neither CBMs, nor are they preconditions. They are crucial signals to the people of Syria that this time around “peace talks” will make a difference to their lives. For the purposes of our process a CBM will be an action by one side in the direction of the other. Whereas, what I am now asking for is acts of good will which demonstrate seriousness about this process.  The success of Syrian and non-Syrian actors in meeting this minimum, but significant step, will be a small indication as to whether the talks stand a chance to be meaningful for those who suffer on the ground– not just another gathering in Geneva.

Mr. President, 

9. The Security Council has requested the Secretary-General, through his good offices and the efforts of the Special Envoy, to convene representatives of the Syrian government and opposition to engage in formal negotiations on a political transition process on an urgent basis, pursuant to the Geneva Communique and consistent with the Vienna Statements of the ISSG, and in such manner that provides the broadest spectrum of Syrian stakeholders as required by the resolution 2254.

10. Despite the will of the ISSG, the Vienna process, and 2254, the truth is that the parties remain locked in fixed positions and a “zero-sum” game.  Parties disagree not only on substance, but  also question the UN discretion in “finalising” the opposition list.  The HNC and sponsors insist on the primacy and exclusivity of their role as “THE” opposition delegation. Other Syrians, who did not attend or were not invited to the Riyadh meeting in December, speak to their right to be invited simultaneously and on equal footing, and are supported by some ISSG members in this. 

11. I can no longer rely on the ambiguity of resolution 2254 in this respect.  The resolution refers to the particular usefulness of the Riyadh meeting. Indeed after five years of a divided and quarrelling opposition, the HNC’s establishment is a notable achievement.

12. There is  no doubt about the HNC’s centrality and the weight they carry in any intra-Syrian negotiations.  Yet, the resolution makes it clear that the only sustainable solution is through an “inclusive” Syrian-led political process. This implies multi-party involvement, with Syrians with a stake in the determination in the future of their country and end state arrangements beyond those who have a primary say on how to end the war. I would expect all sides to recognise my mandated responsibility to finalise a list of invitees to the process, to include all those I deem appropriate to implement 2254 in its entirety; that does not suggest I expect that people will accept the legitimacy of all participants nor that they will be expected to seat in the same room, thus the concept of proximity talks. 

Mr. President, Members of the Council,

13. Since last month I have made numerous attempts to address this issue with the parties and ISSG members and reach a workable and equitable accommodation.  I am ready to exercise my discretion on this matter.  I have nonetheless concluded that at this stage I cannot proceed further with issuing invitations unless the countries spearheading the ISSG process can come to an understanding first.  After two Geneva conferences failed to end the war and with the death toll nearing 300,000 the Syrian people need a clear signal that this time we all mean business: not simply having talks about talks for the sake of keeping the momentum, or entering into talks which will risk collapsing within a day or two.

14. In the course of my consultations I have also urged the government and HCN to include significant participation by women in their delegations in light of SCR 1325 and 2254 obligations and have also prepared options, in consultation with Syrian women and members states, in case they do not.  I am committed to ensuring their meaningful participation.

Mr. President,

15. Let us also be clear that the Security Council has established the agenda for this process, namely to establish credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance and a schedule and process for drafting a new constitution within a target of six months and free and fair elections, pursuant to the new constitution, to be held within 18 months and administered under UN supervision in accordance with the highest international standards. 

16. 2254 makes clear that such an agenda shall be framed by reference to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter; the sovereignty, independency, unity and territorial integrity of Syria; the continuity of government institutions; and the principle of non-sectarianism and respect for the rights of all Syrians regardless of ethnicity or religion.

17. The resolution acknowledges the role of the ISSG to help bring an end to the conflict in Syria as well build a parallel process to support and assist the implementation of a nationwide ceasefire.  A close linkage will need to be realised between those efforts and the UN facilitated political process, which the ISSG has the central role to facilitate. 

18. 2254 also affirms the urgent importance of all parties taking CBMs. To this end, I intend to enter into consultations with the parties and the ISSG not only about ceasefire modalities but also applicable CBMs, perhaps with particular emphasis on the latter in the early stages of the talks.  I would also further consult on appropriate measures as to how help member states combat terrorism pursuant to resolutions 2249 and 2253.  And I would look to address these pressing issues through consultations held alongside the formal negotiations on a political transitional process, also involving others, as may be required.

Mr. President, Members of the Council,

19. As per your request, I have been looking at options for monitoring, verification and reporting in the event a ceasefire – the terms and conditions of which are still unclear and to be developed within consultations –is agreed between the parties. I am also aware that what we might see is unilaterally offered, or quickly agreed cessation of hostilities, before such a ceasefire is in place.

20. The environment will likely remain highly fragmented, volatile and militarized. Fighting against Daesh and other terrorist organisations will also continue. In such a situation it would be extremely challenging to deploy any international monitors to conduct observation tasks on the ground. The conduct of verification would also be almost impossible in such a context. 

21. As such, the Secretary-General sees the need for a high level of agility and flexibility in any approach supported by the Council in its efforts to support ceasefire monitoring, verification and reporting. This would likely entail initially relying on the strengthening of local actors to assist the monitoring process, including parties to the conflict as well as civil society. Such strengthening could include training, equipping, resourcing these actors, coupled with limited expansion of a UN (international) presence to liaise with and support these local actors as conditions allow. 

22. At the same time, the option of greater direct international involvement in ceasefire monitoring, verification and reporting is something we must all work towards. This means we must collectively understand and accept the risks involved. This will require real and a sustained commitment from the parties to the conflict and key stakeholders to create and maintain the necessary conditions. Monitoring is not an alternative or substitute for such political will. 

23. We need to capitalise on any opportunity to reduce the horrific levels of violence and the suffering of civilians. To move fast in the event of a cessation of hostilities or, better still, a ceasefire, we will also need to draw upon the expertise, skills and contributions of the international community. The earlier these are identified the better.

Mr. President, 

24. As suggested above, beyond alleviating the suffering of Syrians, CBMs are also important for building credibility and confidence in the process and are thus expected of all parties, Syrian and non.  If we reach the point of having talks in Geneva at the end of this month, it would be important that parties accept the following: 1) the invitation without preconditions; 2) that the agenda is set by resolution 2254; and, 3) the mediator’s role in setting the work plan and format best suited to deal with the items above. 

25. I am aware that parties have a different understanding of the concept of talks or formal negotiations.  Some prefer face-to-face negotiations, others reject thematic sub-groups.  I intend to operationally translate this process in organising meetings and engagement as appropriate (plenaries, bi/trilats, caucus meetings, proximity talks).  I simultaneously commit to holding regular process review meetings with the primary parties and ISSG partners.  I will also regularly engage with women and civil society, in an appropriate format and would expect them, and through them the Syrians, to hold the process honest. 

26. In all these matters I will need the full backing of the ISSG – and the Security Council, reinforcing consequences for non-cooperation with the process as determined by the mediator as well as securing non-reprisal against participation in the talks. Further CBMs should be discussed amongst the Syrians, and with ISSG backing, alongside the talks and specificity will depend on how much talks have advanced. I might ask the parties to set up a dedicated working group to this end. 

In conclusion, Mr. President, Members of the Council,

27. The ISSG and the Council have invested heavily in getting this process off the ground. Above all, the Syrians expect progress and a sign of hope the fighting will come to an end soon. The UN is ready to fulfil its task in convening the parties and continues planning for talks with a target date of the 25th. You have my word: invitations will be issued the soonest I am on solid ground.  Talks are important to keep the ‘Vienna momentum', but not at any cost.  Now is the time to avoid that we end up with a stillborn repetition of Geneva II or, worse, a conference linked to an increase of the horrific suffering of the Syrians. 
Follow me on Twitter @NabilAbiSaab


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