United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Mr. Geir O. Pedersen’s Remarks to the Brussels V Conference “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region”
Let me start by thanking my friend the High Representative of the EU and Vice-President of the Commission, Mr. Borrell – Ministers, Excellencies, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
Earlier this month we all commemorated the tragic tenth anniversary of the Syrian conflict. On the day of its observance, I addressed the UN Security Council. I reminded its members of the disastrous trajectory of a country that ten years ago was a middle income one and whose people today have been reduced in its vast majority to destitution and suffering, with 60 percent at risk of going hungry this year – a population half of which are displaced from their homes, millions now surviving as refugees or as internally displaced persons.
The Syrian people, men and women, have suffered countless acts of military violence and violations of international law. Many families – from all areas and all backgrounds – have lived through the torment of having one of their loved ones detained, abducted or gone missing. Their country remains torn by territorial fragmentation. Syrian women have been impacted in disproportionate and unique ways. And the pandemic has only added further strains on a society and an economy decimated by a decade of war and by mismanagement, corruption, disconnection from the world markets and economic difficulties in neighbouring countries. The Syrian civil society that the High Representative and I engaged this morning in the context of the CSSR platform, despite the diversity of their opinions and experiences, unanimously reminded us of the imperative to address the manifold plights of their communities. You will hear their common messages during this session.
Since we met in June of last year, the situation on the ground in Syria has seen a relative calm, with stable frontlines for now over a year. But let’s not be misled by this calm. In a context where military tensions remain high and frequent eruptions of violence continue to occur, where hospitals and civilians are still getting hit, and where five foreign armies operate in proximity from one another, flames can ignite anew at any time. Progressing towards the nationwide ceasefire that Security Council resolution 2254 has called for remains more urgent than ever.
It would be equally misleading to ignore the threat that groups recognised as terrorists by the Security Council continues to pose today. The resurgence of these groups and the territorial hold of some of them cannot leave the international community indifferent. At the same time, it is clear that this challenge can only be addressed in manners that uphold international law and the principles of the protection of civilians.
High Representative Borrell, Excellencies,
I stand fully behind the words of the UN Secretary-General and my colleague Emergency Relief Coordinator Lowcock, to express my hope that the generosity of the international community will be reaffirmed today. I also echo their call that the effect of sanction measures needs to be mitigated so Syria’s capacity to access humanitarian assistance and medical support is not hindered. And I recall their important appeals for the extension of the UN’s mandate to deliver critical cross-border and cross-line humanitarian assistance.
But we all know that the realisation of this humanitarian imperative only serves to reaffirm the need for a political settlement to the conflict – one that upholds the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria at the same time it meets the legitimate aspirations of its people in line with Security Council resolution 2254.
I and my team continue intense diplomatic engagement with the Government of Syria and the Syrian Negotiations Commission. In particular, I am still in the process of facilitating a way forward to put in place the conditions for a successful sixth session of the Constitutional Committee. We need renewed resolve by the Syrian parties, supported by the international community, to complete the constitutional reform mandated by resolution 2254 in order to allow for free and fair elections, administered under UN supervision with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, able to participate.
The constitutional track is of course only one of the aspects of the comprehensive set of issues outlined in resolution 2254. We need real action on detainees, abductees and missing persons. And we need to achieve the establishment of the safe, calm and neutral environment to which all Syrians are entitled, and which will be indispensable to create the necessary conditions for the safe, voluntary and dignified return of Syrian refugees.
I remain heartened by the determination of Syrian women to take their full place in this political process. High Representative Borrell and I just received another testimony of their steadfastness when we met this morning with the members of the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board, the group that supports my efforts to ensure the mainstreaming of gender perspectives in all aspects of the process.
Above all, what is required today to be able to respond to the staggering challenges facing Syria and the aspirations of its people to achieve peace is indeed international unity. Unity in pledging the necessary financial support, of course. Unity in backing the efforts of the UN to facilitate the implementation of all aspects of resolution 2254. And unity in promoting the identification of mutual and reciprocal steps that will enable progress to that end.
This may necessitate in due time new ways for the international community to come together to discuss what can be put on the table – and how to structure this discussion through cooperative diplomacy. We are all very much aware of the differences that exist – but we need to overcome them. This will not happen without flexibility and a spirit of compromise, and the realisation that the end of this tragedy is in the interest of all of us – Syrians first and foremost, and the region and international community at large. I believe all stakeholders realise that there is no military solution to this deeply-internationalised conflict, and that it cannot be left in a state of ‘no war no peace’. We must signal that Syria remains central to our concerns, that we are determined to work to advance the political process. And I count on your continued support.