30 November 2016
30 November 2016
Monsieur le Président, merci beaucoup pour cette opportunité.
I will be briefing, as you know, this very Council on 8 December. That will be the occasion when I will be elaborating more on the overall political process in Syria, which needs to keep its momentum, because as we always say, we cannot just allow facts on the ground to take place, we need also to constantly maintain a political momentum. So today, let’s focus on the immediate crisis in Aleppo, and as you know, and has been already indicated, my colleagues from OCHA, Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien, and from UNICEF, Regional Director Geert Cappelaere, will elaborate further on the humanitarian tragedy and the UN response, particularly and specifically on Aleppo. So, on my side, at least at this stage – of course I am available for question -, only a few points because the real floor is to those who are handling the humanitarian aspects.
Mr. President, over the last two weeks, both ground and air assaults on eastern Aleppo, and also attacks on western Aleppo, have intensified, culminating in the capturing last weekend by Government forces of several districts in the northern part of eastern Aleppo, thereby de facto splitting the largest opposition-held urban stronghold into two. It is estimated that almost 40% of the area previously held by armed opposition groups is now in the hands of government forces.
Over the past few days, thousands of civilians did flee from the eastern Aleppo neighborhoods to other parts of the city, and initial reports indicate that up to 16,000 people have been displaced – in fact the figure is growing by the hour as you will be hearing from Stephen O’Brien. It is likely that thousands more will flee should fighting continue to spread and further intensify over the coming days.
I have therefore strongly suggested, and I have the information that this has now been agreed upon by the Government, that Ali Al-Za’tari, our Humanitarian Coordinator and Resident Coordinator in Damascus, together with as many as possible international members from the UN Country Team, should be going to Aleppo as soon as possible, in order to rejoin the many of our Country Team colleagues who are nationals and have been working in order to assist the Syrian civilian population in Aleppo – both east and west.
Violence in Aleppo is not one-sided, let’s be frank, even if attacks on western Aleppo are not of the same scale. We have recently seen attacks from eastern Aleppo on residential quarters there, including the shelling of a school on 20 November in which reportedly ten children died and many more were injured. Stephen O’Brien yesterday – we were together in Brussels - reported that up to 25,000 people have been displaced in western Aleppo over the last few weeks. You will hear further updates – again as you can see, figures keep increasing.
And while we are focused today on Aleppo, we should remember that the war continues elsewhere too - Idlib, Hama, al-Waer, Homs, north of Latakia, Western Ghouta, north west of Damascus, Eastern Ghouta. Each deserves its own description, but the underlying theme remains the same: the continued dominance of military over political strategies, and the brutal price being paid by civilians in the process.
Tens of thousands remain still in opposition-controlled areas in Aleppo, and are living under constant threat of this fighting continuing. Others are at risk while attempting to flee the fighting. Adding to the dangers associated with attempting to flee across an active front-line, we have received credible reports that indicated that opposition groups have been in many cases preventing civilians from leaving areas under their control. There are also concerns that upon reaching areas controlled by the Government or the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), civilians perceived to have links or connections with armed opposition groups may have been detained. Tens of thousands of civilians on all sides are therefore in need of aid. The UN should be able to access those in need wherever they are by all means or routes possible, and without preconditions. In short, aid needs to be delivered to those inside and outside Aleppo, and those who have left must be protected from retribution. Our line will unavoidably – as has been always in the past, in other similar, difficult situations - be: the UN and its partners should be allowed and should be ready to reach all sides of eastern Aleppo with urgent humanitarian aid. That’s the principle. If then this was not immediately possible in a comprehensive and effective manner, the UN should nevertheless not lose time in helping all those who it can reach today in view of the current circumstances. The priority is reaching people – those who have been claiming, and worried about, and have been isolated from humanitarian aid, since June.
When I met Foreign Minister Mouallem in Damascus on 20 November, I addressed the issue of aerial attacks on hospitals in eastern Aleppo, as condemned by the Secretary-General on that same day, and I publicly suggested that a verification mission be sent to eastern and western Aleppo to assess damage to hospitals – which is also a suggestion that I think our Humanitarian Coordinator in Damascus has been making. I reiterate this call in this Council today.
Since there was no other plan that could stop the violence was coming forward, I proposed a political initiative for Aleppo – not a humanitarian one, but a comprehensive one, that is separate from humanitarian proposals. It required an end to the violence, the departure of Al-Nusra fighters from eastern Aleppo, and the preservation of local administration – not a separation, not an autonomy, but the preservation of the local administration – this guaranteed by those with the power to guarantee it. This proposal, in one form or another, has actually been discussed now for at least six weeks – at Lausanne, in follow-up meetings of some of the participants of the original Lausanne meeting, and in other discussions. I myself have continued to push these ideas, including most recently during my visit to Damascus and through contacts with the opposition and AOGs.
This proposal is still on the table, especially applicable in particular to that part of eastern Aleppo which is still under the control of the armed opposition with clearly a presence of Al-Nusra in it. While the situation on the ground is fast evolving, this proposal has obviously become less immediately applicable, but part of it, the departure of Al-Nusra and the actual stopping of the bombing, and humanitarian access, and preservation, I repeat, of the local administration, is still on the table. I am convinced that helping ensure the departure of those fighters that this very Council considers as terrorists (Al-Nusra) and who to this day remain in parts of eastern Aleppo still controlled by the opposition, should be and would be an outcome around which all in Syria and in the international community could still agree upon. I therefore urge concerned stakeholders not lose their focus on this practical initiative, which is still valid particularly at this delicate moment when the forecast could be that the fighting in eastern Aleppo may continue for weeks with a lot of collateral, tragic, effects. That may also spare innocent civilian lives and ensure the separation of terrorist elements from other armed groups.
Like I said, I would be short, and like I said, there is plenty of evidence that a military logic currently is prevailing, on both sides. This Council, on behalf of the international community, should call on all belligerents and their sponsors to ensure the full respect of international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians in Aleppo. But make no mistake about this: none of the military developments we are witnessing are pointing to what one could calla stable, ongoing, permanent “military solution”. Indeed, any sustainable solution to the Syrian tragedy, when it will come, will have to include a formula for the stability of the country, in order to guarantee the non-recurrence of the terrorist threat – and the return to what could be a stable Syria. And it is my strong conviction that such a formula will not be brought about without a negotiated political settlement to the crisis, one that involves a mechanism for sharing power and implementing the agenda set forth by this Council’s resolution 2254 (2015). I look forward therefore to my briefing you in person on 8 December next week to speak in further details of the options that may exist and should exist in order to continue pushing towards the attainment of a political process.
Thank you, Mr. President.