Remarks by United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Mr. Geir O. Pedersen to Brussels IV Conference Ministerial Meeting
High Representative of the EU and Vice-President of the Commission [Josep] Borrell, Ministers, Excellencies, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me thank the European Union for hosting virtually this fourth Brussels Conference.
As you all know very well, the conflict in Syria is now in its tenth year. Syrian men, women and children have experienced death, injury, displacement, destruction, terror, indignities, instability, de-development and destitution on a massive scale during this terrible decade.
They are now hit by new factors, only adding to their deep, deep suffering. The dangers of COVID-19 remain acute for a vulnerable and conflict-stricken country like Syria. And there has been a rapid further collapse of the economy. We have seen soaring currency and inflation, rapidly rising food prices and shortages of medicines. Today, nine out of ten people live in poverty, and millions going hungry or malnourished - as we’ve already heard.
Let me therefore repeat what the High Representative Borrell and Under-Secretary-General Lowcock have already said, and thank the donor countries whose massive assistance to humanitarian funding is the essential lifeline of support today for millions of Syrians, both those inside the country and refugees. Let me also repeat the thanks to the countries hosting Syrian refugees – particularly Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
It goes without saying that it is vital to maintain the provision of humanitarian assistance to all Syrian civilians who need it, with full, sustained and unimpeded access. Let me reiterate the call of the Secretary-General for all modalities to be used to that end – including cross line and cross border access.
As you are very well aware, my mandate is to facilitate such a political path out of this crisis – based on Security Council resolution 2254.
The obvious first element is an end to violence, and for all to leave aside illusions of a military solution or military victory. I am relieved that calm in the northwest has been by and large holding since the Moscow agreement in early March by Russia and Turkey. My hope is to see this calm further consolidated and expanded to the other areas, to address the insecurity in the northeast and the unrest that is mounting in the southwest.
Indeed, I reiterate my call for a nationwide ceasefire - heeding the Secretary-General’s global appeal, the need to be vigilant about COVID-19, and resolution 2254. I also believe the challenge posed by groups listed as terrorists by the Security Council must indeed be addressed - through real international cooperation, and in a manner that protects civilians and upholds international law.
I reiterate my appeal for the Syrian government and all other Syrian parties to carry out large-scale, unilateral releases of detainees and abductees, and meaningful actions on the missing persons.
The Syrian parties have launched a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned Constitutional Committee facilitated by the United Nations in Geneva. They met for the first time at the end of October last year. This brings together 150 nominees, almost 30% of whom are women, from the government, the opposition, and civil society together with one mandate: to prepare and draft for popular approval a constitutional reform as a contribution to a political settlement. The drafting body, consisting of 15 from each group, should meet in Geneva, COVID-19 restrictions permitting, towards the end of August. It is my hope that they will be able to meet on a regular basis throughout the rest of the year.
Of course, a constitutional discussion will not address the full range of dire realities Syrians grapple with. The Committee’s work can however be a door-opener to unlock a broader political process. Any such process would need to see changes on the ground in Syria. This is also vital for the safe, informed, voluntary and dignified return of refugees.
A credible process this will require a renewed political effort, particularly between international players. Yes, there are real and substantive differences among international players – differences that we have seen, for instance, in debates over sanctions in recent weeks. But, and let me emphasise this, there are common interests too – to end the suffering of the Syrian people, to prevent further displacement, to prevent the resurgence of ISIS, to contain COVID-19, to see stability in Syria, and indeed, to support United Nations Security Council resolution 2254. The differences cannot be resolved nor the common goals pursued by positioning alone. I believe it will require mutual and reciprocal steps to build trust among Syrians and within the international community and support the gradual implementation of resolution 2254. We need real diplomacy, with the interests of Syria and regional stability at the forefront of all minds. We all must work for a Syria where the people no longer suffer, where the sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of the country is fully restored and respected, and where the Syrian people are able to determine their own future.
High Representative Borrell – you and I had the privilege of engaging together yesterday, as I do on a regular basis, with Syrians from inside and outside Syria, who are members of the Women’s Advisory Board or who participate in the Civil Society Support Room. We heard their views on a range of topics – on many issues, a common line; on others, including sanctions of course, different opinions. But they all left us in no doubt of the suffering and frustration of the Syrian people after a decade of conflict, and also their hopes for a genuine political process leading to a political settlement. They also reminded us that there can be no sustainable peace in Syria without the meaningful participation of women – something I and my team are doing everything we can to enable. To their credit, they have nominated three among their number to deliver a common message to us today – Dr Houda Atassi, President of the Union of Civil Society Organizations, who is based between Beirut and Gaziantep; Mr. Ahmad Sheikh Sidi, from the Center for Civil Society and Democracy, who is based in Turkey, and Mr Anas Badawi, a dental student and President of Y-Peer Youth Network in Syria based in Damascus. Let’s listen now to their video message.