‘You Have Lost Your Way,’ Syrian-Born Paediatrician Warns, Urges Delegates to Ensure Accountability for Attacks against Humanitarian Workers
Amid a worsening humanitarian situation in Syria, the Security Council must focus on its stated aim of maintaining international peace and security instead of tending to political objectives and geopolitical rivalries, Syrian-born paediatrician Amani Ballour told its 15 members today, as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy called for a “step-by-step, step-for-step approach” to advancing the political process.
“You have lost your way,” Ballour told the Council in an impassioned address, urging members to refocus on steps to deliver humanitarian assistance and alleviate the suffering of Syrian people. Noting that her organization, the Syrian American Medical Society, operates 40 medical facilities in north-western and north-eastern Syria, she painted a dismal picture of a health care system ravaged by more than a decade of conflict, including the intentional targeting of hospitals by Syria’s Government and its allies.
Colleagues work 20-hour shifts without a break, examining as many as 100 patients a day under the constant shadow of aerial bombardment, kidnapping and torture by armed groups, she continued. More than 800 health-care workers have been killed, and many others have fled the country, she said, calling on certain Member States not to use the veto to block efforts at independent investigations seeking to promote accountability for such attacks. Ahead of the birth of her first son in February, she urged the Council to address Syria’s humanitarian situation with renewed urgency, adding: “I urge you to think of your own children during your negotiations on humanitarian access and accountability.”
Geir O. Pedersen, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General for Syria, briefing the Council via video teleconference, said 2021 was “a year of deepening suffering of the Syrian people”, marked by violence against civilians and systematic human rights abuses, as well as escalating hunger and poverty and an imploding economy. Against this backdrop, he said resolution 2254 (2015) is a long way from being implemented in a manner that could ease suffering and restore the country’s unity and sovereignty. However, possibilities for progress must be explored in 2022. To break free of the “unacceptable status quo”, political and economic steps must be taken together, “step-by-step, step-for-step”, he stressed.
While bilateral consultations with key stakeholders have conveyed a picture of “mistrust on all sides”, he noted that there is also an interest in testing what is possible through a wider political process, an approach which will be pursued in the new year. Noting that his deputy, Khawla Mattar, is today en route to Nur-Sultan, where she will meet with Russian, Turkish and Iranian officials and others in an Astana-format meeting, he expressed hope that efforts by his team will succeed in reconvening a seventh session of the Constitutional Committee. However, all delegations — including the one that has not done so yet — must be ready to not only table constitutional texts but also commit to revising them in light of discussions. “No one should expect miracles or quick solutions; the path forward will be necessarily incremental. But I hope that this coming year we can work on concrete steps towards the implementation of Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).”
Also briefing the Council was Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, who said efforts are being made to facilitate regular, predictable cross-line operations, currently reaching 1 million people every month in north-eastern Syria. However, these deliveries cannot replace massive cross-border operations that remain essential to support 3.4 million people in need in the north-west. He therefore called on all parties to facilitate implementation of the United Nations’ six-month plan for predictable, sustained humanitarian operations.
Noting that needs have grown while funding has shrunk, he emphasized: “We continue to fail the Syrian people.” Violence continues to kill and injure civilians, winter is setting in and the humanitarian operation does not have sufficient funds to provide basic shelter, heating and warm clothes to all those in need. Further, COVID‑19 is wreaking havoc across Syria — with vaccination rates below 5 per cent — and many families are forced to buy basic items on credit, he said, adding: “It should be obvious that this is simply not sustainable”.
In the ensuing debate, Council members expressed concern at the unsustainable situation, encompassing escalating humanitarian needs ahead of a bitter winter, the COVID‑19 pandemic spreading through an under-vaccinated population, continuing violence and insecurity, and a stalled peace process. Many delegates offered contrasting views on sanctions, with some saying they were damaging an already flailing economy, while others emphasized that their use was entirely justified, given Syria’s recalcitrance on political and humanitarian concerns. Many underscored the need to facilitate the safe, sustained delivery of humanitarian aid, ahead of winter.
The United States representative was among those underlining the importance of cross-border operations, which represent a “vital lifeline” that cannot be replaced by relatively resource-intensive cross-line convoys. He expressed concern about threats faced by humanitarian personnel, including through landmines and improvised explosive devices. Pointing out that if the Council is unified, aid can be delivered through all modalities, and closed cross-border points can be reopened, he expressed concern about the closure of Al Yarubiyah crossing, which has limited access to essential medical supplies, including COVID‑19 testing kits.
Offering a contrasting picture, China’s delegate stated that the cross-border mechanism is politically and legally controversial and should be adjusted in a timely manner according to developments on the ground, with a gradual transition to cross-line delivery of aid. Noting that local authorities with ties to terror groups make cross-border delivery complex, he expressed support for the United Nations six-month cross-line humanitarian relief plan in the north-west, urging Turkey to provide timely access and safety guarantees. He also called for steps to be taken to mitigate unilateral coercive measures on Syria, which have caused immeasurable harm.
The representative of the Russian Federation said there is no alternative to advancing a settlement process that is led by Syrians and supported by the United Nations, without external interference or the imposition of artificial deadlines. The Russian Federation intends to hold the next meeting of representatives of his country, Iran and Turkey on 21 and 22 December in Nur-Sultan, he said, adding that the problem of detained persons is a priority for the Astana Group.
Meanwhile, France’s delegate spotlighted the Syrian regime’s obstruction of the sixth meeting of the Constitutional Committee and the lack of any progress since 2018 on the fate of disappeared persons, adding that without progress, there is no justification for the normalization of relations with the Syrian regime and that France’s position on sanctions will remain unchanged. He also highlighted the regime’s grave human-rights violations committed against returning refugees.
Syria’s delegate said the Government is making all possible efforts to facilitate cross-line access for the United Nations and its competent agencies, in line with resolution 2585 (2021). He expressed disapproval of the exaggerated figures of needy people in northern Syria cited in the report, and stressed the importance of closing Rukban camp, which has no other purpose than to increase the suffering of Syrian citizens, and to support armed groups.
Turning to the blockade, which he described as illegal, immoral and inhumane, he said the report ignores the disastrous effects of such measures, imposed by the United States and the European Union. On the humanitarian situation, he said that any objective assessment would conclude that Turkey’s regime is the main driver of suffering and called for it to be held accountable for its actions.
To those claims, Turkey’s delegate said his country is committed to ensuring the safety of those involved in the distribution of cross-line aid, who are subjected to shelling and attacks by Syria’s regime and its backers.
Also speaking were the representatives of Ireland, India, Norway, the United Kingdom, Viet Nam, Kenya, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia, Estonia, Mexico, Niger (Council President for December) and Iran.
The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 12:41 p.m.