Where global solutions are shaped for you | News & Media | Near verbatim transcript of joint press stakeout by UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, UN Senior Advisor Jan Egeland and WHO Representative in Syria Elizabeth Hoff

ACCESSIBILITY AT UNOG A A A A The United Nations in the Heart of Europe

Near verbatim transcript of joint press stakeout by UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, UN Senior Advisor Jan Egeland and WHO Representative in Syria Elizabeth Hoff

14 July 2016

SdeM. Good evening, bon après midi. I will make some overall comments of the situation and then I will take some questions and then after that I will definitely make sure and hope that you will make use of what Jan Egeland has to tell us about this humanitarian meeting. We also have the privilege of having some colleagues from Damascus so that could be an additional opportunity for your own questions and more information.

So let me give you a little bit on where we are, at least where we are here from this angle. As you know I was in New York for the Security Council, and there the briefing was an informal briefing so I cannot go in deep details and then I was in Washington and then in Rome. I will elaborate a little bit more. For the Security Council the main point and main focus, and frankly as also the case in Washington was to ensure that we have enough sufficient critical mass in order to give sufficient or concrete and effective start for the third round of Intra-Syrian talks, which as you know has a target date of August and that means coming soon up.

That is meant to be, these talks, this third round, I remind you and me, are meant to be a credible beginning of a road map towards a political transition, so that needs to be well prepared.

And in Rome, I had the opportunity of doing what I am planning to do in other capitals in Europe and elsewhere during the next few days, in order to brief them and consult them, they are members of the ISSG, and there I had the opportunity and it was a coincidence, I didn't really plan it, that also the Coordinator of the HNC was present, for consultations with the Italian authorities. That gave me the opportunity of listening privately to his ideas on how they are preparing themselves for the talks, when the talks will start.

Now there is currently a lot of informal diplomacy taking place, and particularly among the two co-chairs, and I think the next few days are crucial in order to make sure that we know where they stand. When the two co-chairs agree on something, as you know, that helps a lot the political process and even the humanitarian process.

If we do get a critical mass regarding, one: the non-constructive ambiguity which has been existing so far on the issue of al-Nusra, let me be clear on that, that is one of the main problems for the sustainability of the cessation of hostilities. We knew it from the beginning but it has become more and more recurrent.

And if we get some clarity or some critical mass on how to reduce or stop the indiscriminate aerial bombing taking place and at the same time some ideas for bridging the formula or some formulas for a political transition, we do have a critical mass for feeling that the Intra-Syrian talks’ third round will not only be effective, but perhaps the beginning of a concrete outcome on all those areas but in particular, political transition.

That's where we are at the moment, that's why it is so important to remind ourselves that it is definitely crucial to wish the best to those in informal or lateral discussions taking place between the two co-chairs. Obviously everyone else is important, and particularly the Syrian people and the Syrian interlocutors but that's where we will be able to do so if we see the feeling of critical mass taking place and therefore the opportunity for the Intra-Syrian talks to involve, engage the Syrian in what are definitely their own decisions on their own future.

That's basically a short summary on where we are today. Three questions to me and then definitely the floor is yours, and definitely questions to you Jan, and our excellent colleague from Damascus.

Q. You often talk about the two co-chairs. At the beginning, if I understood well, you decided to organize proximity talks in order to be able to listen to the Syrian people, the different groups of Syrian representatives, and since a while you often talk about the fact that an agreement should exist between the two co-chairs, meaning Russia and the US. Does it mean that today, in fact the future of Syria is in the hands of the two co-chairs?

SdeM. Well let’s put it into the real context. Do you remember the cessation of hostilities on the 26th of February this year? That was thanks to a remarkable, un expected and quite effective understanding between the two co-chairs. Of course everyone else particularly the Syrian sides, did have to be involved, did get involved, but they also actually respected that type of arrangement. That proved to us that in fact there is a need, particularly from the two co-chairs, who have been heavily involved through the ISSG, Vienna, that existed because of them, have a key role in helping everyone else to know in what direction we could all together go. That doesn't mean, on the contrary, that we are giving up at all on, first, engaging and involving the regional players, that's why the ISSG is there, and the Syrian part, that’s why the Intra-Syrian talks do not include the co-chairs or the foreigners or anyone else, that’s the time we can pick up the broad picture and we bring it into the detailed aspect of ownership but the critical mass, we have learned by experience, particularly now, can and should start with some type of understanding of the co-chairs. There is a responsibility that they feel they have and there is an expectation from all of us that that can be fulfilled. It is difficult, it is important but that's why countries like the Russian Federation and the US are what they are. That will be my answer to your point.

Q. I am sure you have seen the article in the Washington Post today about the proposed deal between Washington and Russia about targeting al-Nusra and other aspects. Would that be enough to give you satisfaction if this proposal bears fruit? And I also saw remarks from [Russian Federation Foreign Minister] Sergey Lavrov saying that you are neglecting your duties, it seems that he has lost confidence in you, and I just wonder, as one of the co-sponsors if he has no confidence in you, can you continue? Can you retain your position?

SdeM. That's a lot of conclusions there. First of all let me address the second part. I take the message which was sent to me by Sergey Lavrov very seriously because I understand his impatience and frankly I share it. And I think it is a message saying – look, we need to make sure not to lose the fact that there must be a momentum regarding Intra-Syrian talks. Well I think that the interpretation that you might be given that is we are not lazy at all about it, we are constantly working on it through the technical talks and through many other discussions. But it is also true and I am sure that that would apply both to Sergey Lavrov and John Kerry and anyone else who cares about a political solution to this conflict that the third round my friends, the third round cannot not be at least successful in launching what has been a target item called: political transition and therefore requires preparation, and if the preparations take place in a proper way, we could call for the talks anytime. So I take that as a stimulation of not forgetting the importance of not missing the third round in terms of timing, but I also share it as a message back saying we are ready, we want to do it, but to get something effective, we need help from the co-chairs because that will give a huge change for these talks to not be just another Geneva 2 which I am determined to avoid with the blessing I am sure of everyone else.

Regarding the article on the Washington Post, I will not make any comments on that. This is a newspaper analysis, let’s see what happens in Moscow in the next few hours and let’s hope that there is clearly some kind of general understanding or progress on it because it is important. One thing I already said and I think you must have noticed it, the ambiguity, the non-constructive ambiguity regarding the issue of al-Nusra was from the very beginning of the cessation of hostilities a clear indication that we will be having problems between those who claim to be part of Al-Qaeda and therefore Al-Qaeda is the one who bombed the twin towers, and at the same time happens to be very much involved in Syria. This ambiguity has to be clarified, otherwise it will not be helpful in any form of cessation of hostilities. But I know everyone is aware of it and we need to address that, while also addressing the issue about indiscriminate barrel bombing and aerial bombing on the civilian areas which has been continuing and cannot continue if we want to have serious constructive talks.

Q. The technical talks, have you had any hint from any of the parties, and particularly from Damascus, that they are indeed moving either sides towards a real political transition?

SdeM. I think you will acknowledge the fact that I tend to be very accurate in trying not to mislead you. And frankly the technical talks have been a form to gain time and gain information while waiting for the real moment of the Intra-Syrian talks. So I was not expecting and I am not expecting that the technical talks will then produce or are producing a breakthrough information or formula,that clearly needs to be done at the formal Intra-Syrian talks. But it is quite useful in getting into deeper details on issues which may not be controversial, and are required to be addressed, such as how to ensure the continuity of a state during a political transition, just to give an example. We do not want, at any cost, another Libya.

Thank you we now give the floor to Jan Egeland.

Jan Egeland. Thank you Staffan. In the humanitarian taskforce, we have done a midyear review and the facts are as follows:

Up until now, around 62% of the poor people living in besieged areas have been reached either once or several times over these months since we started in February. That is far from what we had hoped but it is many times better than all of 2015 combined.

Every single day there are new efforts to reach new places. Today we are moving towards al-Waer which is a besieged area in Homs. There are 75,000 people there and the 19 trucks trying to reach today, is a lifeline for the people there.
We had in July progress compared to all of the previous months in terms of permits granted from the government of Syria to go to besieged and hard to reach areas. For the first time, we had all of the besieged areas green light and with the full package of assistance. The one area we are still negotiating, unfortunately, is the number of people inside of these areas in need of relief, they say it is 75% of what we see as the needs inside.

However, July has not so far, given the practical results on the ground, that we have been hoping for. A number of reasons why is that including Eid that means that activities has slowed down. Permits given by the government centrally does not translate down to the security force whether it is loading, agreeing to all the items going through, including medical relief items, still unloaded in many places. Convoys are delayed and when they are ready to go there is fighting, because there is more fighting in more places, there is more bombing, there is more fighting along access roads, so for example the convoy that should have gone to Duma to complement the first convoy to that place has been on hold now for several days.
All in all it is now a very uphill battle unless we get humanitarian truces, pauses in the fighting, I see us being denied access, not only by the parties in the government but also by the fighting itself.

The priorities now are the following:

  1. We need to get back to the four towns. We were there the last time on the 30th of April and the clock is ticking. Malnutrition is growing in these areas. It is terrible in Madaya it is again, starvation is back, it will be a debacle for all of us if we have the same images coming out of Madaya which were there when we started our work. We are trying to disentangle the four-towns agreement , the office of the Special Envoy works with the co-chairs and other countries.
  2. We need to be able to reach eastern Aleppo. There are 200,000 maybe 250,000 maybe more people in eastern Aleppo. The main access road, called the Castello road, is now impassible, because of the fighting and it is on the verge of becoming yet another besieged location – our largest. We need to reach Eastern Aleppo. We need to reach there next week. But we also need some truce; some pause in the fighting.
  3. We are also very concerned of some 90,000 people in the so-called Berm, which is the border area between Jordan and Syria. It’s an inhospitable desert where 90,000 people are now trapped and it is incredibly difficult to reach them.

The one area that I’d like to invite my colleague – Elizabeth Hoff – to address is the medical services area. I consider, Staffan considers – we consider this to be the area where we have failed the most because we haven’t been able to provide access to our humanitarian colleagues in WHO, in UNICEF, in ICRC, in the Syrian Red Crescent, etc. And the biggest killer I think now in besieged areas is the lack of medical services. And the most horrific debacle for morality and international law is that medical facilities are deliberately targeted still in Syria more than any other place on earth. Elizabeth Hoff is the Director of the World Health Organization in Syria.

Elizabeth Hoff (WHO): Good afternoon. Based on some constructive meetings with all the health partners working from cross border and also from inside Syria, we have today put forward some keys asks to the ISSG members. Because we also want to recognize the good progress that has been made, we have delivered from inside Syria cross-line more than 1.2 million medical treatments to 18 besieged areas. But this is not sufficient, and we continue to see that medical items are being removed from the convoys. So we put forward the following five asks, it is:
  • The protection of health facilities and the health workers, is the principal one, as we have seen from a report which has been issued by WHO, from open sources that for 2014 and 2015, they have looked at 19 countries and Syrian Arab Republic has the highest attacks on health facilities and on health workers of those countries. What we have seen is they have reported 229 attacks in 2014 and 2015 together out of 594 in total, so 229 attacks happened of these total attacks in Syria. And we saw that there was an increase, that there were 93 attacks in 2014 and 135 in 2015 [in Syria]. And between January and June 2016, 40 attacks were reported [in Syria]. So we are asking the ISSG members to help us to come up with procedures to increase our efforts to protect these health facilities because what we have seen is that general advocacy messages has not really helped [inaudible] continue to go up unfortunately.
  • Then we are asking for sustained and regular deliveries of vaccines, medicines, medical consumables and medical equipment. And it is particularly disturbing to us that surgical equipment for burns, that you know are mostly affecting civilians, are continuing to be removed from convoys as well as antibiotics and psychotropics, so people if they are not properly treated, they cannot even die in peace because they are not receiving the necessary pain killers and palliative care that is needed in many of the besieged areas.
  • In addition we are asking for deployment of medical teams and mobile clinics and also vaccination teams to these areas. It is very good that we can go and deliver and increase the amount of medicines but in many of these areas there are no doctors and sufficient health personnel to provide the care that is necessary so we would like to send in on a regular basis, medicines, medical teams and equipment as well as mobile clinics where there are no health facilities.
  • We would like to do training and supervision for health care personnel that are working under these circumstances, and
  • not least we would like to provide mental health and psychological support to the people living under these difficult conditions.
  • We also asked for medical evacuations because it is happening but it is to a little degree compared to the needs. So we will develop a plan for medical evacuations with criteria and modalities and we would like to ask the ISSG members to support us, to ask the parties to the conflict to make sure that they can evacuate them on an emergency basis and not after having some sort of issued request because there is no time to wait for this.
  • And we would like to have the hospitals on the adjacent areas upgraded so that they can receive patients when there is an emergency.

Thank you.

Q. Jan you have mentioned that Aleppo was on the verge of being besieged, are you considering adding it to the list, making it 19 again, and could you tell us what will it take for you to do so?

JE. The UN operates according to three criteria, for declaring a place besieged: full military encirclement and I would say that east Aleppo is possibly meeting that criteria, no humanitarian assistance and no freedom of movement for civilians. Maybe all three criteria are there today and yesterday and since the weekend, but it has to be over three months for it to be officially declared as a besieged area. In fact many of the hard to reach areas where millions of people live, are encircled for a period, but it has to be over a sustained period of time. Really we must avoid eastern Aleppo becoming the 19th and biggest besieged area. There is ample time to avoid that happening.

Q. The question is for both of you. These restrictions that the Syrian government puts on deliveries of aid and medical supplies, they are human rights violations as I understand it, when a Syrian government official says no you cannot go in, or take your medical supplies in, or have to take off medical supplies from the trucks, do you take the name and pass it to the COI, because I think you should, if you don't, why not?

EH: I would like to say that for quite some time we have reported on a monthly basis with a break down on every item that was removed, whether they are rejected from the government or have been removed from the check points or by the national security, we are reporting on these items to the Secretary-General who is reporting to the Security Council and this is sufficient information that we are going out with directly.

JE: And it is not unclear who are the security forces in the place, which is the army unit besieging or the allied army unit besieging or armed opposition group besieging and it is also very clear who are the commanders and those are the ones that could be held accountable. However the humanitarians are there to provide assistance, it is human rights groups, it is the commission of inquiry, it is the High Commission for Human Rights and it is the Security Council and the member states that should follow up.

Q. I would like to have more info, if you can elaborate a little bit about the medical evacuations, how many people have you been able to evacuate till now, and how many would you like to evacuate and if you could give us more details please maybe the different cities where emergency evacuations are needed.

EH: Based on information that we have from health sector partners we know that medical evacuations are happening and we are not officially providing figures on this because we are afraid since we do not have any sort of formal agreement on the evacuation that this will be stopped. So this is one of the issues where we said we will develop a plan with clear criteria to put forward to negotiate with the parties of the conflict.

What I can say that for example after Madaya we were able through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society initially to send in mobile teams and clinics to identify who needed evacuations and we were able to send out, I would say too small, but still substantial number of patients with their families for treatment, and the same has been under the four town agreement , with Fouah and Kefraya, and we are talking about hundreds of patients for the four towns that have been evacuated. But we also know that when I said that what is important here is to have like an agreed upon deal on this because we cannot start to negotiate medical evacuations, a woman who is pregnant and immediately needs a C-section there is no time to then negotiate an agreement, we have to have a set up already so that we know what is predictable for the patients. And also it is not a good thing to have, like has many, a ratio from Fouah and Kefraya vis-a-vis what has to go from Madaya and Zabadani, Moadamiyah. We have to have really, an emergency is an emergency, and we have to have a clear set of agreements for this to happen. And I can tell you there are not enough medical evacuations and we have advocated for this for a long time as well as our health sector partners and especially Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society. It is going on but by far fewer numbers.

JE: And there are heartbreaking stories, every single week, from the humanitarian partners, either they are UN or Red Cross, Red Crescent or other people that they are consulting with telling that people are bleeding to death inside these areas. One third of the war wounded are women and children. It is not fighters but women and children bleeding to death because they cannot be evacuated or they are dying because they get insufficient aid, because there are no doctors there, there are no surgical equipment there, or they may even die because they are attacked in their beds in hospitals there. This is how low it has sunk in terms of medical relief in this war in Syria. The message was crystal clear for the co-chairs, Russia and the others today, we have to make progress on this.