27 February 2016
Mr. President, Members of the Security Council,
1. On behalf of the Secretary-General, I welcome the adoption – I hope soon, of a resolution, which will address the issue we worked on for long. We have come a long way since the first meeting of the International Syria Support Group in Vienna on 30 October 2015. Much has also transpired since I last briefed this Council on 5 February 2016. That was the day when I did suspend the intra-Syrian talks in light of the positions articulated by the parties and for the lack of progress on the ground.
2. Three weeks later and as a result of the heavy-lifting by members of the ISSG – in particular its co-chairs – of the two Task Forces which have been formed in Munich on 12 February 2016, we have aid delivered in the last 10 days to almost 110,000 people. 200 trucks were moving inside Syria to reach people with aid. The first WFP test air drop in Deir Eizzor took place, in order to reach an area of 230,000 people under siege by Daesh. Perhaps most importantly, we have a provisional agreement on the terms of a cessation of hostilities as announced by the Russian and US co-chairs at the beginning of this week. This cessation of hostilities is in fact meant to come into effect in about one hour from now at 00:00hrs Damascus time.
3. So this Council meeting has a special significance on this exceptional day and night for the Syrians. Consequently I will be giving, with your permission, a rather unorthodox briefing. Rather than walking you through the implementation of 2254 – on which you already have the Secretary-General’s letter of 17 February 2016, I will focus on the post-Munich developments, many unfolding in almost real time.
4. As an outcome of the Munich ISSG meeting we now have specific obligations for ISSG members and for Syrians to fulfill. There is a mechanism to that effect. There is an agreed set of actions and an immediate timeline.
5. You have just deliberated on a resolution that will hopefully endorse all of these steps. Then let me give you an idea of the hard work that brought us to this stage.
Let me give you’re the [description of what you are to adopt].
Sustained Humanitarian Access and Humanitarian Task Force
6. This Council is well aware of the detailed briefings on the overall grave humanitarian situation in Syria. Over the last month alone, the report on the implementation of resolution 2139, the report of the Commission of Inquiry, as well as the Secretary-General’s letter of 17 February painted quite a tragic and harrowing picture of the desperate conditions of civilians, including many women, children and the sick people in besieged communities across Syria – besieged by the government, by the opposition, by Daesh. To this we should add the unprecedented level of internal displacement and the growing number of Syrians embarking on often a fatal journey across land and sea to seek safety and asylum in Europe and elsewhere.
7. Humanitarian issues have taken a center stage in the latest ISSG deliberations in Munich, leading to the establishment of the ISSG Task Force on Humanitarian Access, which has met already three times since 12 February.
8. My office, including my Senior Adviser on Humanitarian issues, Jan Egeland, and the UNCT in Damascus, led by the UN RC/HC, Yacoub El Hillo, have worked hard, together with implementing partners (such as SARC) to generate a humanitarian plan as requested by the ISSG. In the first instance urgently needed humanitarian aid was indeed delivered to the besieged areas identified in the Munich statement: Madaya, Zabadani, Mohadamiya, Kafr Batna (which is part of Eastern Ghouta), Kefraya and Fouah. Thanks to the prompt operational response of our WFP colleagues too and the generosity of ISSG members such as Germany, the US, the Netherlands, as well as technical support offered by the Russian Federation, we also witnessed the first test run drops to Deir Ez Zor, which is a difficult environment.
9. To date, the task force members, we believe, have lived up to their commitment in Munich by using their influence with the parties to ensure an increased flow of assistance – not enough, but quite an increase. These remarkable efforts were not without difficulties or still some serious delays – that is why the task force is addressing those. We are still waiting for approval for aid delivery for an additional 170,000 people. Simplifying approval procedures by the government has yet to occur. We had a meeting yesterday between the UN team and Deputy Foreign Minister Mekdad. I have personally addressed these issues with the Syrian Government during my visit to Damascus last week and I will continue to follow these matters closely, because of their vital importance and follow-up to Munich.
Regarding the Cessation of Hostilities and Ceasefire Task Force, Mr. President, Members of the Council, less than three hours ago I joined the Russian and US co-chairs at the first meeting of the Cease fire Task Force in this very room. In the presence of ISSG members, the two co-chairs, who have been working all week with partners and reaching out to the parties on the ground, outlined the terms of the Cessation of Hostilities announced on 22 February in a joint press release by the Russian Federation and the United States. The two co-chairs today noted that the principal Syrian parties have announced their willingness to participate in the cessation of hostilities beginning 00:00, Damascus time, which basically less than an hour from now.
11. Armed opposition groups have announced their commitment to: 1) fully implement resolution 2254 and participate in the UN-facilitated political negotiations – this time we want them to stay there, and not leave at least until the end of the first phase; 2) cease attacks with any weapons, including rockets, mortars, and anti-tank guided missiles, against the Syrian Armed – and any associated- Forces; 3) refrain from acquiring or seeking to acquire territory from other parties to the agreement; 4) allow humanitarian access; 5) use proportionate force (i.e., no greater than required to address an immediate threat) if and when responding in self-defense.
12. On the other hand, the Syrian Armed, and associated forces, committed to abide to exactly the same points. This means ceasing attacks with any weapons, including aerial bombardments by the Syrian Air Force and the Russian Aerospace Forces, against the armed opposition groups and parties to the cessation of hostilities.
13. The Ceasefire Task Force will oversee the cessation of hostilities. Under the co-chairmanship of Russia and the United States, its primary functions include: (a) delineation of territory held by Daesh, Jabhat al Nusra and other terrorist organisations designated by the Security Council –which are not part of the cessation of hostilities; (b) communications to promote compliance and de-escalation of tensions; (c) assessment of the nature and credibility of incoming non-compliance reports to determine response measures; (d) determining and addressing patterns of persistent non-compliance, before referring the matter to the senior official or higher level. The OSE will support this effort in its Secretariat capacity, and through a “Permanent Alert” centre – better described as operations centre – which will be fielding and disseminating information to the co-chairs and the wider ISSG. We – the UN – are in turn not expected to characterise, assess and/or deconflict information received, a function that shall remain with the co-chairs, which is the Russian Federation and US, in consultation with other ISSG members.
14. The cessation of hostilities agreement, preceded by lengthy and detailed discussions in Geneva and in capitals, and the outcome of intense consultations and negotiations, including at the highest level, is in itself a major achievement. I think the Security Council will recognize this. The communication of their commitment by the Syrian parties essential in ending the war, is an important step.
15. Task Force members today agreed to reach out to respective contacts among Syrian parties to explain the functioning of the Task Force, ensure confidentiality of discussions within the taskforce itself, and refrain from making public comments about non-compliance reports being reviewed - in order to give time for that noncompliance to be addressed. My Office, as Secretariat of the Taskforce, will, on the Taskforce’s behalf, issue periodic public briefings on the status of the cessation of hostilities. The current resolution also sets clear reporting requirements. Other parts of the UN system retain the ability to comment on the situation in Syria within their respective mandates.
Mr. President, Council members,
16. The initial indication of consent by the parties to the conflict is encouraging, but what we need is for the parties to abide by the terms of the agreement. Much work now lies ahead to ensure its implementation, and the international community, the ISSG and the Syrian parties must remain steadfast in their resolve. Today’s resolution, which we hope will be coming, will be a further manifestation of the ISSG commitment to deliver the parties to this agreement. Saturday will be critical. Tomorrow. In fact, from midnight. No doubt there will be no shortage of attempts to undermine this process. We are ready for it and we should not be pressed, and address it realising it is part of the cessation of hostilities. The onus remains with the co-chairs, the relevant members of the Ceasefire Takskforce and all of us to work fast to defuse tensions from potential cross-wiring and disinformation and incidents. Parties would need to demonstrate restraint in the cases where there is still discrepancies of information on the presence and affiliation of groups. Daraya is a case in point. On our part we will do all we can to support this important effort. My teams both in Geneva and Damascus will be on rotating duty as of midnight tonight to follow-up on this.
17. In adopting resolution 2254, this Council made it abundantly clear that only a negotiated political solution can bring an end to this horrible five-year conflict. The resolution also acknowledges the close link between a nationwide ceasefire and a parallel political process. Confidence in the political process will indeed – we all know it and people in Syria have been reminding us -, increase the prospect of a ceasefire; in turn, a reduction in violence would help create conditions conducive for negotiations. Progress on a cessation of hostilities will drastically improve the conditions on the ground, leading to significant scaling up of humanitarian delivery across Syria.
18. As the Secretary-General concluded in his letter to the Council, the agreements reached in Munich present a precious opportunity for the early and credible resumption of intra- Syrian talks. Assuming, therefore, the cessation of hostilities largely holds and that humanitarian access continue unabated, I intend to reconvene the talks, based on consultations with the Secretary-General and hopefully with your approval, on 7 March, with the same representatives of the Syrian government and opposition, as well as the group of individuals associated with the Moscow and Cairo meetings.
19. As I told the parties from the onset of talks on 29 January, the agenda remains the same, based on resolution 2254, which aims for a comprehensive political settlement through negotiations on a political transition process pursuant to the Geneva Communiqué. It is my intention to focus on the core issues, as defined by you in this resolution 2254: securing agreement on a credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance; a schedule and process for drafting a new constitution; and elements/schedule for the holding of fair and free parliamentary and presidential elections on the basis of the new constitution. We need to build on the momentum which has emerged since Munich to help the parties reaching an agreement on these matters within the shortest time possible. I count on the ISSG, but also the Security Council, to help ensure that the parties come to Geneva again, ready this time to engage on the substantive issues. I hope that the resolution you may be adopting soon will be a good signal in that direction.
20. While the primary focus of the talks is on governance, I also intend to ensure pressing issues, or confidence-building aspects, that matter most to the Syrians continue to be addressed, including the release of any arbitrarily detained persons, among which women and children, and people kept hostage.
21. I am also bound, per resolution 2254, to ensure the participation of the broadest spectrum of Syrians. As I mentioned in my last briefing, in addition to representatives of the government and opposition, I consulted and will continue to consult with civil society and women, and will continue this practice. They make a remarkable contribution to our work. Since the recess of the talks, both the Civil Society Support room, a platform aimed at facilitating the participation of civil society organisations here in Geneva, and Syrian Women’s Advisory Board have continued their preparations. They will help me to do my job. Furthermore, UN Women, which has worked closely with us over recent months, has seconded a gender adviser to my office to support both my work and that of the Women’s Advisory Board.
In conclusion, Mr. President, Members of the Council,
22. We have so far together maintained the ISSG momentum. It now needs to be sustained. Both Task Forces are making progress. Let’s admit it. Not enough, but progress. That was unimaginable only two months ago. The outcomes from both are first steps, but a first step towards sustained and unimpeded access throughout Syria; and a first step towards a more durable nationwide hopefully ceasefire. I cannot over emphasise how important determined and sustained political will is to the good faith implementation of this cessation of hostilities for making this agreement hold.
23. On humanitarian issues, it is essential not to lose focus. Our position remains clear: all sieges must end, the UN and other humanitarian partners must be granted unhindered and sustainable humanitarian access without preconditions and civilians must be allowed freedom of movement. The ongoing support of the ISSG, and this Council, remains therefore critical.
24. As for the cessation of hostilities, as we hope it will be respected, it will not only create conditions conducive for the resumption of meaningful negotiations, but it will above all send a long-awaited signal of hope to the Syrian people that after five years of conflict there may be an end and hope to ending to their suffering. These are all sentiments reinforced by ISSG members in today’s meeting and soon endorsed – I hope - by your own Security Council, once approved.
25. On all this aspects, the UN is there to support. All should do their share. We will do ours, the Secretary-General confirmed it. Critical fault lines are being addressed now, carefully and cautiously - be it which groups participate in the cessation of hostilities or which areas are accessed and how and which priority basis. This will remain a complicated and painstaking process, but we should not give up – since nothing is impossible, especially at this moment.
26. Going forward, I will continue to heavily count on the ISSG to resolve any ambiguities related to the talks as they arise and will keep you fully informed of progress.
27. Resolution 2254 was a ray of hope – a moment, and a moment that still continues, of hope. It expressed unanimously the international community’s grave concern at the continued suffering of the Syrians, the persistent and brutal violence and the perverse impact of terrorism and violent extremist ideology.
28. We are now at a crossroads –we have the possibility to turn the page in the Syrian conflict – after almost 5 years of one of the bloodiest conflicts in recent years. It is potentially, a historic junction - to bring an end to the killing and destruction and to start a new life and new hope for the Syrians.
Thank you very much.