STAFFAN DE MISTURA
SPECIAL ENVOY FOR SYRIA
BRIEFING TO THE SECURITY COUNCIL
THE SITUATION IN SYRIA
Friday, 7 October 2016
1. Let me first of all give you a bit of the context, and I will definitely refer to the proposal. Since I last briefed you during the emergency session of the Council on 27 September the situation in Aleppo has continued to deteriorate in front of our own eyes. In eastern Aleppo, 275.000 civilians, including 100.000 children, are subject to daily, often indiscriminate bombardment, including reportedly by cluster-ammunition and bunker-busting weapons. Since 19 September, this has been exacerbated by a ground-offensive by the Syrian and allied armed forces. People have nowhere to hide. And while some sources on the ground tell us that bombardment has decreased somewhat in the last 3 days after the government has announced it would scale back, we cannot simply welcome a simple piecemeal reduction. Why? Because since 23 September to 5 October, 376 people have been reported killed, one third of them actually children. And a further 1266 civilians, including many children, have been wounded.
2. While not anything like of the same scale, the civilian population of the Government-controlled parts of Aleppo is also affected by the continuing conflict in Aleppo city. There’s been shelling by the Armed Opposition Groups in eastern Aleppo, including by raining down with home-made hell fire rockets, is claiming victims in western Aleppo on a regular basis – including multiple mortar rounds which have been hitting al-Jamiliah neighbourhood yesterday, reportedly killing 11 people and leaving 70 wounded. In other words, both sides have been affected, but let’s be frank, no comparison with eastern Aleppo. So let’s go back to eastern Aleppo.
3. Eastern Aleppo is now besieged –not de facto, formally-, and last reached by the UN on 7 July, a long time ago as we are now in October, and food is rapidly running out. As both water and electricity plants are damaged, the access to energy and running water is deeply insecure, creating a risk of water-borne diseases. A lack of adequate medical care is a death sentence for many of the wounded. That is why we are in such a hurry for trying to find some type of medical evacuation. All of the hospitals in eastern Aleppo have been struck by bombs at least twice, making it hard to argue that this was not deliberate. Just in the last week alone, there have been seven attacks, and two hospitals have been almost completely destroyed. Medical staff are working around the clock, to care for the wounded with the limited resources they have. Every day, they have to choose how to use their limited means. Who to treat, and who to let die. It is estimated that at least 200 patients require urgent medical evacuation. They do so at great personal risk. Last week, three of only 35 doctors remaining in eastern Aleppo have been killed, together with two nurses.
4. A humanitarian pause, consisting of at least two consecutive days of calm when arms will fall silent, would certainly allow us to evacuate the most urgent cases among the sick and the wounded, and deliver much needed humanitarian assistance to eastern Aleppo. Of course, the fear is that this could become just a band-aid for a wound and three days later the bombing would start again. The UN and our partners have been working on a medical evacuation plan, together with the support of the EU, in order to act any time we can. I would like to stress that these days of calm will not be used for any other purpose at this time – only medical evacuation. However, let me be clear, the United Nations and its humanitarian partners will be unable to undertake these medical evacuations alone, unless we receive an agreement and a firm commitment from the Government of Syria, the Russian Federation, the United States and Syrian opposition and armed groups for at least two consecutive days of calm and tranquillity while humanitarian/medical workers safely evacuate those in need. I repeat, if that happens it would be extremely welcome but it would be band aid, it would not solve the situation, they would keep some people who are wounded alive and it would give a short reprieve to the city, but next thing that would happen would be bombardment again until it is destroyed. The UN will designate specific focal points to coordinate the operational details of the medical evacuation plan with the concerned parties on the ground, if this moves forward.
5. In Aleppo, hundreds of thousands of civilians need protection. The Secretary-General has repeatedly expressed his outrage at what is happening in the strongest possible terms, including in this very Council. The heavy and indiscriminate aerial bombardment is a major threat to the civilian population in eastern Aleppo. It has to stop, it has to stop. The same is true for the indiscriminate shelling of western Aleppo, it has to stop. And there must be immediate, unhindered humanitarian access to eastern Aleppo and all besieged areas. West Aleppo in that sense, has no problem, it is not besieged, aid can come and is coming, and so is food. Civilians must be protected and the cessation of hostilities must be restored in all of Syria.
6. So let me be clear: I hope this Council will take decisive action on Aleppo. I hope the cessation of hostilities can be restored, and the bombardment of civilian areas will cease.
7. Unfortunately, however, the fighting has continued and is continuing unabated. If the cruel, constant bombing does not stop, eastern Aleppo could be totally destroyed by Christmas, and we know it already today – at this rate there will be no eastern Aleppo by Christmas. When I last briefed you, I warned of a slow, grinding, street-by-street fight – and this is exactly what we see transpiring.
8. The scale of the tragedy is already massive and the depth of the distress among the civilians is profound, but the situation may even get worse if military activities do continue at this rate. Thousands of the 275,000 people, of which 100,000 children, who are trapped in the city may get killed or wounded, and many may seek to leave the city and become internally displaced or refugees. This cannot be an option and the world cannot passively wait for this to happen. There is a need for urgent action to avert another Srebrenica, another Rwanda. We have the moral duty to act, on behalf of everyone who is outraged, shocked and frustrated by what they are seeing and unable to do something about.
Mr. President, Members of the Council,
9. A lot has been said about the presence of al-Nusra in eastern Aleppo. One parenthesis: I hope we all agree al-Nusra is a terrorist organisation listed by the United Nations Security Council, so we are talking about them, al-Nusra a terrorsit organisation and identified with al Qaeda despite any cosmetic changes to their name. According to our estimates, the group has a maximum of 900 fighters in the city of eastern Aleppo. I hear lower numbers from some sources. I hear higher numbers from other sources. The UN is in a position to make an estimate more accurate every day, and in fact, we also have means to do so, and there will no game of numbers here - maximum 900 without question, probably less than that, some of them have already left, because they are cowards, they tend to normally do that, that’s what they did in the past. And they are, as we know, all of them listed.
10. As I have repeatedly stated, their presence should not be used as an alibi -I used this word carefully, but with calculated care- the presence of perhaps maximum 900 al-Nusra terrorist fighters -they are the only fighters we identify as terrorists, you identify as terrorists at any rate- should not be used as an alibi for the continued assault, bombing, for which there cannot be any justification.
11. Yesterday, during the press stakeout following the meeting of the ISSG Humanitarian Task Force in Geneva, I floated one idea consisting of the following elements:
- An immediate and total halt of the bombing of eastern Aleppo.
- The evacuation of the al-Nusra fighters from eastern Aleppo – in dignity and with their weapons – to Idlib or to any other place in Syria;
- Keeping the local administration intact and ensuring that it can continue do its work unhindered; and
- Some form of international presence.
12. Obviously, official guarantees will be needed to ensure the safe exit of the al-Nusra fighters, including from the Russian Federation. As I have stated before, I am personally ready physically to accompany them, should this help to convince them to accept my proposal and not keep the whole city and population of eastern Aleppo as their hostage.
13. Guarantees, also including from the Russian Federation, will also be needed to ensure the ability of the local administration, including local security, to continue functioning without any government interference - without any government interference. For this reason, an international presence would be welcome and needed, drawing on ideas already discussed in the context of the cessation of hostilities. And those guarantees have to be given in writing.
14. The detailed plan of the evacuation of the al-Nusra fighters, with Russian guarantees for safe passage and potential appropriate UN presence, has to be worked out. We should also of course continue to consult with concerned Syrian parties and relevant member states with influence on the sides, to convince al-Nusra to leave the place. In this respect I take note of the Syrian National Coalition’s statement that they will discuss the proposal with AOGs in Aleppo and on the basis of UN providing guarantees. Other senior representatives of the opposition have remained open to entertaining favourably aspects of this proposal, in view of the fact they may not be able to say so but they too also feel that al-Nusra in a way is becoming an alibi for an indiscriminate bombing, and this should not be left untouched.
15. Let me be clear on a few points: First, this is separate and distinct from efforts for urgent medical evacuations and humanitarian access. If that takes place, we will be delighted, you can imagine, and we don’t want the two things to be contaminated.
16. Second, nothing of what I described can happen without prior cessation of the bombardment of the civilian areas and a ceasefire. For instance, we have to prepare this to make sure that civilians are reached, in a safe environment, and those of al-Nusra, who we hope will decide to leave, can do so safely. And third, nothing here is a substitute for any action that you, as the Council might take. The two things are disconnected, mine is a cri du cœur, as they say in French, it is an appeal and a proposal in order to try to unlock what otherwise is going to be an ongoing complete destruction of the city.
17. Fourth, this is NOT a call, as some have said, for the evacuation of the Armed Opposition Groups from eastern Aleppo. It is not a call for the evacuation of the Armed Opposition Groups from eastern Aleppo. It is for the voluntary evacuation of al-Nusra, the terrorist organisation listed by yourselves. And it therefore is clearly different from existing local agreements. It is not one of the local agreements that you are famously aware of – and we are too. It is an idea floated by me that a group identified by this Council as a terrorist group should safely leave in dignity, despite the way they treat us, in order to save a great city, to save 275,000 people from an appalling fate, and to remove an alibi for an ongoing indiscriminate bombing. If al-Nusra are 900 people, then 900 will have to leave. If they are less, then less will leave. We will be actually involved in that. The point is that every Nusra fighter will leave the city and the rest will stay if they want to.
18. Fifth, it is NOT a call for the evacuation of the civilian population of eastern Aleppo, just the contrary, and this has been misinterpreted by some in the media. It is not an evacuation of the population, no ethnical cleansing, just the contrary. It is the contrary of that, in fact it is a call for them to be able to stay where they are, without Nusra terrorists or indiscriminate bombing used as argument to destroy al Nusra – and with guarantees and humanitarian aid, and their own independent current administration.
19. Sixth, local administrations should be allowed to perform all functions, including judicial and public safety functions, -also in self-protection against spoilers- with the support of the non-Nusra AOGs in situ. This would naturally, as everything in this context, be a temporary arrangement until there is a political solution to the crisis agreed upon by all parties. We will always be in favour of one Syria, this is however, at the moment, an emergency.
20. Seventh, any arrangement would have to clear that appropriate weaponry would be allowed to remain with elements of the armed opposition (non-Nusra) groups who would provide public safety inside eastern Aleppo.
21. Eight, unimpeded humanitarian access to eastern Aleppo and civilian and commercial traffic should also be allowed, provided no weapons are being transported, by putting in place monitoring arrangements along the lines already discussed with respect to eastern Aleppo under the 9 September agreement between the US and the Russian Federation, which remains still unimplemented.
22. Last but not least, while this is a call for immediate halting of all military operations across the entire city of Aleppo, with the frontlines staying as they are as of the time of entry into force of this possible agreement, it DOES NOT lessen our appeal for an immediate return to a nationwide cessation of hostilities, which always will remain our major target. Nor should it provide justification for intensified fighting elsewhere in the country. Let me stress that as the United Nations, we put every idea we have in the context of getting back urgently to a political process.
23. We are in an emergency situation, that is why we are meeting today, and it requires emergency efforts. This may be a way to save 275,000 people from more horror and death, and save one of the great cities of Syria, the Arab world, and the world from every other consequence, and enable a modicum of co-existence and perhaps trust-building within Syria and among and between the major outside players if this takes place, and take a leap forward towards a reduction in fighting and a real political process. I am full of respect for any decision that this Council will want to take, and I will not interfere with that, and I am always open to better ideas – but concrete ideas please, to save Aleppo. But I am not open to no ideas. The writing on the wall I said yesterday is there – if this continues, and the alibi of al-Nusra stays there, and the bombardment continues to take place, by December you and us will be watching the destruction of eastern Aleppo, hundreds of thousands of refugees moving towards Turkey, our conscience saying: in October we could have stopped it, and another Srebrenica or Rwanda being on our consciences. I have gone through that period, I don’t want to be part of it. That’s why with you I hope we can find a concrete formula.
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