United Nations Special Envoy For Syria Geir O. Pedersen Remarks at The 8th Annual Brussels Conference “Supporting The Future Of Syria and The Region”

27 May 2024

United Nations Special Envoy For Syria Geir O. Pedersen Remarks at The 8th Annual Brussels Conference “Supporting The Future Of Syria and The Region”

Thank you so much. I think it's clear to all of us why this meeting is so important: because after 13 years of war and conflict, the Syrian people’s suffering is deepening, levels of funding have dropped to their lowest levels, two out of every three people need aid, yet programming is stretched thin, and indeed political will to push for a solution is in very, very short supply. Your generosity today when it comes to pledges and disbursements is therefore key and it will make a real difference to millions of Syrians. So please be generous to the Syrian people. Let me highlight five different issues. I will try to be relatively brief but give you the highlights.

First, of course, as many of you have mentioned, we meet against the backdrop of escalating tensions that have engulfed the wider region in recent months. The war in Gaza has had a direct impact on Syria. We need a ceasefire in Gaza. I am equally concerned about the continuing and ongoing conflict within Syria. Violence is continuing in different parts of the country. We are seeing regular spikes in hostilities, which continue to kill, injure, and displace Syrians. We need immediate de-escalation and a nationwide ceasefire in Syra in line with Security Council resolution 2254.  

Secondly, I am worried that trendlines on Syria are going all in the wrong direction. The country remains tragically fragmented, at least divided geographically in four different parts, with millions of Syrians living outside of Government control, and six foreign armies, multiple de facto armies, militias and terrorist groups operating across Syria. And on top of that, we are seeing massive challenges to basic state services across Syria against the backdrop of institutional degradation. This should be a serious concern for all of us.

The economic situation has never been this bad and the humanitarian needs never this high – underscoring the importance of donor generosity and, importantly, ensuring that sanctions exemptions are fully in place and fully utilized.

The tragic file of the detainee and missing persons crisis is as acute as ever and wholly unresolved – action on this remains a key. Women and girls face gender-based violence, early and forced marriages, threats to personal security, profound suffering, and futures are slipping away.

Syrian refugees are caught between increasing pressures and resentment in host countries, and lack of confidence that the very real protection and livelihood concerns they cite about returning to Syria have not been sufficiently addressed. We must protect the dignity and wellbeing of Syrian refugees wherever they are. Host countries need more support, as do those who choose to return. And here I think we should listen very carefully to the High Commissioner (for Refugees) when he will speak later today.

This is why – thirdly – progress on the political track is urgently needed. You all know that Security Council resolution 2254 was adopted in December 2015. It still remains the only agreed upon roadmap for a solution to the Syrian crisis. I think it is important that we remind ourselves that no one actor can determine the outcome of this conflict. We all agree there is no military solution. But it also important that we remind each other that we need the Syrian parties to come together, we need the Government, we need the Opposition. But we also need all key international actors. We need the Iranians, we need the Turks, we need the Russians, we need the Americans, we need the support of the Arabs and the Europeans.

But none of you can solve this problem alone. This is of course a major challenge with the current geopolitical climate. So, while the importance of de-escalation and humanitarian assistance cannot be understated, a strategy of containment and alleviation will not stabilize the dangerous and unpredictable situation in Syria – just as it hasn’t elsewhere in the region. And this is for me a key message today: deep and complex conflicts cannot be simply managed or contained in perpetuity – there must a political horizon for resolving the conflict.

In the Syrian context, resuming the Constitutional Committee could be an entry point – as you all know we have agreed with the Syrian Government and the Syrian Opposition that there should be 50 representatives from the Government, 50 from the Opposition, and 50 from civil society, that should meet and develop a new social contract for Syria. Step-for-step confidence building measures could be another entry point: there are concrete ideas on the table and the invitation to a deeper dialogue remains.

However – and this is my fourth message – these entry points to progress, even if they were to move, would not, alone, stem the tide. With Syria’s territory, society and structures drifting apart, we need to explore a new, comprehensive approach. This needs to address the full range of core issues and involve all stakeholders necessary for progress to be made. I acknowledge that the Syrian parties and regional and international stakeholders may not today be ready at this moment to move decisively on a comprehensive agreement. But my hope is the following: that we, through preparatory discussions with each actor, the parameters of a credible, balanced and realistic solution for the Syrian conflict may emerge more clearly, thereby preparing the ground for such a time when real diplomacy will be possible on Syria. We must be ready.

And last but not least – my fifth message – diverse segments of Syrian society, including Syrian women and youth from all parts of the country, are keen to contribute towards a comprehensive solution. Regular engagement with civil society representatives and with women’s groups, networks and organizations therefore continues to be vitally important. I think one aspiration Syrians share is clear: they want the negative trends we are seeing to be reversed, and they know that essential to this is an inclusive, just and sustainable peace. And I do believe that with pragmatism, realism and frankness from all sides, all of us must prioritize the unwavering pursuit of a political solution to end the conflict, realize the legitimate aspirations of all Syrians, and restore the unity and sovereignty in Syria in line with Security Council resolution 2254. I will continue to do everything I can to help the Syrian parties, the Syrian people, and the wider international community to move collectively towards these goals in line with my mandate.

Thank you.