Thursday, April 5, 2012

Kofi Annan's briefing to the UN General Assembly

Kofi Annan met Major-General Robert Mood of Norway at Palais des Nations, Geneva on Wednesday. They discussed the Major-General's forthcoming visit to Damascus, Syria, heading up a small planning team preparing for a UN mission to the country.

Mr. President, 
Thank you for the invitation to brief the General Assembly on my mission as Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on Syria.   

Your resolution on 21 February 2012 was a turning point in the international response to the crisis in Syria. You came together to express the deep concern of the international community at the situation in Syria.   
Following your resolution, Secretaries-General Ban and El-Araby invited me to be their Joint Special Envoy. I thank them both for their constant support. I am guided by the General Assembly resolution and the resolutions of the Arab League.

I appreciate the Security Council’s support for my mission and the six-point plan in its Presidential Statement of 21 March, and I welcome the Council’s statement this morning. This unity will be crucial as we move forward. 
The Secretary-General has spoken clearly about the unacceptable situation in Syria. As he has stressed, there is an urgent need to stop the killing and abuses and bring humanitarian relief to a suffering people.   
We must also move quickly to facilitate a peaceful Syrian-led and inclusive political solution that meets the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people. This should be achieved through a comprehensive political dialogue between the Syrian Government and the whole spectrum of the opposition. A broad cross-section of Syrian society must be involved. 
As we pursue these endeavours, we do so committed to respect Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity, and the UN Charter. We wish to ensure that the Syrian people’s aspirations are realized and that they shape their own future. 
Mr. President, 
After several weeks of engagement, including my discussion with President Assad on 10 and 11 March in Damascus, on 25 March, the Syrian Government confirmed its acceptance of the plan. 
I registered this acceptance in a letter on 27 March. I regarded this as an important initial step in cooperation, and stressed that action must follow. 
The essence of the six points is as follows: 
First, there must be an inclusive Syrian-led process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people. In this regard, President Assad committed to appoint an empowered interlocutor for such a process when invited to do so.
Second, the Syrian Government committed to cease troop movements towards population centres, not use heavy weapons in population centres, and begin pullback of military concentrations in an around population centres. The Government also committed to work with me to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties.  As the Government implements its obligations, I would seek a commitment from the opposition to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence. It is agreed that this would require an effective UN supervision mechanism 
Third, the Government committed to ensure timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and to an immediate two hour humanitarian pause coordinated on the ground. 
Fourth, with respect to all persons detained arbitrarily owing to the recent incidents, the Government committed to provide without delay full access to all places in which such persons are being detained and to release such persons, working closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross. 
Fifth, the Government committed to ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists, and to grant visas for them in accordance with Syrian regulations. 
Sixth, the Government committed to respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed. 

Mr. President. 
All points of the plan are crucial, but one is most urgent: the need for a cessation of violence. Clearly, the violence is still continuing. Alarming levels of casualties and other abuses continue to be reported daily. Military operations in civilian population centres have not stopped.  For its part, the government has written to me stating that armed groups continue to assault and attack Government forces, civilians and property. 
However, on 1 April, the Syrian Government informed me that a plan for withdrawing military units from populated zones and surrounding areas had been established, and would be in effect until 10 April. I was also informed that instructions have been issued that no new military forces are to be deployed to these zones. The Government has informed me of partial withdrawals from three locations – Idlib, Zabadani, and Deraa.  I await further action and fuller information. The Government has indicated that it will continue to update me on steps it is taking. But it is clear that more far-reaching action is urgently required. 
Immediate and verifiable steps are needed to complete implementation of commitments in the crucial days ahead. We are increasing our efforts to have an objective understanding of what is happening on the ground, and who is doing what, and I welcome support in this endeavour.   
In the end, this is not merely a technical issue: as I have indicated to the Syrian authorities, these steps must be implemented in a way that sends a powerful political signal of peace. 

Mr. President, 
I urge the Government to complete implementation of its commitments, so that we can move to a full cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties 48 hours thereafter. 
We must silence the tanks, helicopters, mortars and guns, and stop all other forms of violence too: sexual abuse, torture, executions, abductions, destruction of homes, forced displacement, and other such abuses, including on children. 
We have explained to the opposition the immediate steps demanded of them if the Government implements its obligations. All interlocutors with whom we have spoken have committed to call for cessation of violence once the Syrian Government has demonstrably fulfilled its commitments regarding use of heavy weapons and troop withdrawals. They have also expressed their readiness to work with a UN mission.  We continue to engage the opposition on this issue, and I urge Governments with influence to impress upon them that they must cease all acts of violence.   
Accordingly, upon completion by the the Government of its commitments by Tuesday, 10 April, all parties should move immediately to cease all forms of violence, so that a complete cessation is in place by 0600 hours Damascus time on Thursday, 12 April.  I urge the Government and opposition commanders to issue clear instructions so that the message reaches across the country, down to the fighter and soldier at the local level. 

Mr. President, 
I continue to press for action on the other items of the plan, including on detainees, journalists, and allowing peaceful protest. The Government has informed me that certain steps are underway, including the issuance of 21 visas to European, Russian, American and Korean journalists since 25 March.  I have also been informed that plans for release of detainees are being made and will be implemented within a few weeks of the agreement. However, I await further steps and fuller information and a comprehensive report on all actions planned and taken. The six point plan needs to be implemented in its entirety and urgently. 
One million people need humanitarian assistance in Syria, including internally displaced persons. There are tens of thousands of refugees now outside the country. The humanitarian effort is being pursued independently and impartially.  I have stressed to the Syrian Government the importance of working with the Emergency Relief Coordinator to ensure needs in the country are met.  Action is needed to allow greater humanitarian capacity in the country. 

Mr. President, 
The Security Council has expressed today its full support for an effective UN supervision of a sustained cessation of armed violence, and its readiness to consider proposals and authorize a mission should circumstances permit. The Syrian government has committed to accept such a mission. Opposition groups are expressing their readiness to cooperate.  The conflicting assessments of the situation on the ground, as well as the inevitable difficulties that will arise on the ground in sustaining a cessation of violence, underscore the importance of a UN mission. 

As agreed with the Syrian authorities, a UN team including officers from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations led by Major-General Robert Mood of Norway has arrived in Syria to start technical preparations for the potential deployment of observers to monitor a cessation of armed violence  and the full implementation of the six-point plan. 

As we prepare for such a mission, we need to keep the unique character of the Syrian crisis in mind. The violence in Syria cannot be addressed through the means of a traditional observer mission interposed between two armies. The situation is fluid. There is no established frontline. Peace will not be consolidated without a credible political process.  What we would need on the ground is a small and nimble United Nations presence. It would need to be deployed quickly with a broad and flexible mandate. Its freedom of movement throughout the country and security must be assured. It should engage all relevant parties. It should constantly and rapidly observe, establish and assess facts and conditions on the ground in an objective manner. 

Mr. President, 
A cessation of violence is an important beginning. But we must move quickly forward on a political process to meet the aspirations of the Syrian people. We must commence a comprehensive political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition.  This must enable a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system, in which citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations or ethnicities or beliefs.. 
It will be vital that the opposition can engage effectively in such a process, and  I continue to place a high priority on engaging them. Progress has been made on improving inclusivity and method of work within the Syrian opposition, though more needs to be done.   

Mr. President, 
I am acutely aware of the grave situation on the ground. I am impatient for action on commitments made. I hope both Government and opposition understand what is at stake and seize this moment. Let us stop the killing and start serious political dialogue, for the wellbeing of the Syrian people. 
In this regard, our collective effort will be critical. I ask those States with influence on the parties to use it now to help bring about a cessation of violence and support implementation of the six point plan in all its aspects.  The unity of the international community behind one mediation effort offers the best chance to end the violence and help Syria steer its own course to a peaceful and democratic future. 
The transformational winds blowing in the region today cannot be resisted, at least not for long. The only option is for leaders to adjust their sails and to embrace change and reform. 
Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Secretary-General. 
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