Speakers Voice Concern over Humanitarian Situation, Stress Importance of Ceasefire.
Syria remains desperately in need of cross-border and cross-line humanitarian aid, as well as political confidence-building measures, the Security Council heard today from senior United Nations officials.
Geir O. Pedersen, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, introducing the Secretary-General’s latest report on the country (document S/2022/956), painted a stark picture of dark streets and unlit houses in a country where parents are skipping meals so their children can eat. Amidst rampant fuel and food shortages, even those who receive regular salaries are now in need, he said, cautioning that the situation will only get more severe as the winter progresses. Highlighting Council resolution 2642 (2022), he called for enhanced cross-border and cross-line access, as well as the implementation of early recovery projects.
While the current patchwork of bilateral agreements has brought about a relative reduction in violence, he stressed that these fragile arrangements do not amount to a comprehensive nationwide ceasefire. The maelstrom of conflict dynamics in Syria includes sporadic pro-Government air strikes in the north-west, Turkish air strikes in the north, strikes in Damascus and the south-west attributed to Israel, intermittent clashes on contact lines and attacks by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), he said.
On the political process, he underscored the need to resume and make more substantive the Constitutional Committee meetings in Geneva. Recalling his visit to Damascus two weeks ago, he called for increased dialogue and step-for-step confidence-building measures. Social trust remains in short supply, he said, paying tribute to the resilience of Syrian women. There is a growing realization in all quarters that allowing the status quo to continue is simply not an option, he added.
Also addressing the Council today was Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, who pointed out that more than 12 million people — more than half of Syria’s population — are struggling to put food on the table. The resurgence of cholera in 2022 has put the health-care system under increased strain, while winter will be especially cruel for the 2 million living in tents, camps and makeshift shelters, he said.
Highlighting funding shortages, he noted that the winterization response is only 21 per cent funded, while the country’s 2022 Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan is only 43 per cent funded. The Council must ensure the delivery of assistance to all those who need it, no matter where they are. Despite funding and operational challenges, the Organization’s humanitarian partners delivered life-saving assistance to 7.8 million people each month in 2022, he pointed out.
Outlining a variety of humanitarian efforts, from monitoring water quality to training health-care workers, he added that every month in 2022, nearly 600 trucks delivered food and other essential aid across the border to north-west Syria. The massive scale of such cross-border operations cannot be substituted by cross-line deliveries through convoys, he emphasized. Not renewing Council resolution 2642 (2022) will jeopardize humanitarian assistance delivery to north-west Syria when people need it the most amidst a cholera outbreak in the middle of winter, he warned.
In the ensuing debate, many Council members called for a comprehensive ceasefire and expressed concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation, even as they differed on steps forward, especially with the impending expiry of Council resolution 2642 (2022), which reauthorized the cross-border humanitarian aid mechanism in Syria until 10 January 2023.
Syria’s delegate described the cross-border humanitarian aid as an ambiguous mechanism, noting that it was a temporary measure taken under exceptional circumstances that no longer exist. The insistence of the United States and European Union countries to extend that mechanism, under the pretext of humanitarian aid, is selective and discriminatory, he said. Pointing to the systematic pillage of his country’s oil, wheat and gas by United States occupying troops, he also called for the lifting of unilateral coercive measures. His Government is bolstering national unity and social cohesion, he said.
China’s delegate, stressing the need for a political solution, also said that cross-border aid was an interim arrangement. Eventually it has to transition to cross-line aid, he said, calling on the international community to advance cross-line aid with the same vigour. He was among those who pointed to the detrimental impact of sanctions.
Unilateral coercive measures, Iran’s delegate said, remain one of the key causes of appalling conditions in Syria. Also calling on the international community to address the discriminatory distribution of cross-line humanitarian aid delivery, he condemned the robbery of the Syrian people’s natural resources, particularly oil products, and called for a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political process.
The humanitarian situation, the Russian Federation’s delegate said, does not set the most favourable context for discussions on extending the cross-border mechanism — not because his delegation is against helping Syrians, but because the international community must help all Syrians without politicization. Condemning Western countries’ unilateral sanctions against Syria, he said international terrorists from Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham are profiting from deliveries through the cross-border mechanism.
However, the delegate of the United States said that there is simply no substitute for cross-border assistance. He underscored that the Organization’s cross-border operations are among the most secure and transparent in the world and highlighted various efforts by his country, including funding of early recovery projects. He also called on the Assad regime to reconvene the Constitutional Committee and implement a comprehensive nationwide ceasefire.
The representative of Türkiye also emphasized that the scale, scope and efficiency of the cross-border operation has no match or substitute. Urging the Council to support the mechanism beyond January 2023, he highlighted the persistent low financing for the humanitarian response in Syria and stressed that a sustainable solution to the Syrian conflict can be achieved only through political means.
Syrians are having to work harder than ever just to survive, said the representative of Ireland, speaking also on behalf of Norway as co-penholders. All channels of access should be consistently available when it comes to delivering life-saving aid to people in need, he said, as he encouraged the continued increase in the frequency and size of cross-line convoys. “We cannot abandon these people at a time of acute need,” he emphasized.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Brazil, Gabon (also on behalf of Ghana and Kenya), Norway, United Kingdom, Albania, France, Mexico, United Arab Emirates and India.
The representative of the Russian Federation spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The meeting began at 10:15 a.m. and ended at 12:25 p.m.