The situation in the Middle East (Syria).
Amid a dire and worsening humanitarian and security situation, constructive diplomacy is urgently needed to help save lives and bring the 10‑year‑long conflict in Syria to an end, the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy for that country told the Security Council today, as speakers expressed disappointment that the much‑anticipated negotiations geared towards drafting a fresh constitution appeared to have run aground.
Geir O. Pedersen, briefing the Council on the sixth session of the Small Drafting Body of the Constitutional Committee held from 18 to 22 October in Geneva — bringing together delegates appointed by the Government, opposition and civil society — said that despite “frank, open and businesslike” interactions between the parties, by the final day, the 45 members of the body were unable to progress to a productive textual drafting process. Further, he noted that a commitment to meet twice before the year‑end was “regrettably not possible”.
Nonetheless, he emphasized that it is important for the Committee to continue its work with urgency and purpose. “I remain convinced that progress on the Constitutional Committee could, if done the right way, help to build some trust and confidence,” he stated, adding: ”But let me stress that this requires real determination and the political will to try to build some common ground.” He also noted that on the sidelines of these meetings, he raised the need to expedite collective efforts on the file of detainees, abductees and missing persons with the three Astana guarantor States — Iran, Russian Federation and Turkey — and will convene more meetings in this regard, pointing out that tens of thousands of people remain detained, abducted or missing.
Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, also briefed the Council, painting a dire picture of daily life in Syria, where more than 90 per cent of the population now lives below the poverty line, and is grappling with an acute water crisis, food insecurity and a resurging COVID‑19 pandemic.
Observing that many people make very difficult choices to make ends meet, he called for the expansion of early recovery programmes to sustainably address needs. While pooled funds have increased support for early recovery activities, much more is needed, he said, adding that he will continue to urge donors and agencies to enable communities to access basic social services and rebuild dignified lives. Noting that the World Food Programme’s (WFP) cross‑line delivery of food aid had reached Idlib Governorate, he said the Council must now ensure that aid is distributed swiftly, and for concerned parties to agree on a suitable distribution modality. “When it comes to delivering life‑saving aid, all channels should be made, and kept, available,” he said.
Also addressing the Council was Mounerfah Albarouki, General Coordinator of the Syrian National Conference, which is composed of Syrian women and men within the Syrian territories and abroad who belong to various independent political and civil currents. She said the group considers the Geneva Communique and Council resolution 2554 (2015) as the base road map for a way out of the tragic situation in Syria, adding that the political process was restricted to the constitutional track, and neglected all confidence‑building measures cited by the resolution. She called for the inclusion of the issue of forced displacement, housing, land and property ownership in the Special Envoy’s negotiations with Syrian stakeholders, also calling for a reconsideration of the so‑called “smart” sanctions, which she pointed out do not allow Syrian doctors in the diaspora to establish free, remote examinations for families in Syria.
In the ensuing debate, Council members discussed the Secretary‑General’s latest report on the situation (document S/2021/890), echoing its concerns over intensifying violence, lack of access to safe water, and abysmally low COVID‑19 vaccination rates amid intensifying transmission. Many speakers called for an immediate nationwide ceasefire, while some renewed their calls for an end to sanctions.
The Russian Federation’s delegate said it is important to ensure that the work of the Constitutional Committee remains led and implemented by the Syrians themselves, without outside interference or the imposition of artificial time frames. However, he stated that the success of such efforts will depend on the diplomatic skills of the Special Envoy, who must be in constant contact with the Syrians to resolve mutual mistrust and find mutually acceptable solutions.
The representative of the United States expressed disappointment over the stymied efforts of the Committee in Geneva and called on all parties to participate in the political process in good faith and change their unproductive behaviour. He expressed concern over reports that refugee returnees had been met with violence and torture at the hands of the Assad Government and associated militias, and pointed out that it is not surprising, in this light, that voluntary returns of refugees remain the lowest since 2016. On sanctions, he said the United States is committed to working with parties to ensure such measures are finely tailored and do not impede humanitarian aid and early recovery efforts.
France’s delegate, likewise, said that in the absence of a political solution, and when international human rights continue to be “trampled”, it is not possible to lift sanctions or facilitate the voluntary return of refugees. Noting that Council resolution 2254 (2015) provides a road map for a political solution to the conflict, she said the violent events of 20 October demonstrate that there will be no lasting peace without the resolution’s full implementation.
The representative of Norway, meanwhile, highlighted the importance of making progress on other parts of the resolution, notably on the release of arbitrarily detained persons. Noting that she had hoped for a more optimistic conclusion to the open discussions in Geneva, she urged all sides, especially the Syrian Government, to make the efforts required to advance the constitutional process.
Syria’s delegate emphasized his Government’s commitment to a Syrian‑led political solution, adding that drafting the constitution is an internal affair. External parties must not interfere with the work of the Constitutional Committee, or attempt to impose artificial timetables or predetermined conclusions, he said. Further, he said that Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected, warning against the illegal presence of United States and Turkish forces in his country. He observed that the 20 October attack in Damascus coincided with the Committee meeting, characterizing it as a clear attempt by terrorist organizations and their external sponsors to undermine the efforts of his Government.
Turning to sanctions, he called for them to be immediately and unconditionally lifted, stating that such coercive measures by the United States and the European Union are stifling Syrians and depriving them of food, medicine, health care, electricity and fuel.
Also speaking were the representatives of Ireland, China, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Mexico, Estonia, United Kingdom, Tunisia, Niger, India, Viet Nam, Kenya (as Council President for October), Turkey and Iran.
The meeting began at 3:03 p.m. and ended at 5:27 p.m.