BRIEFING TO THE SECURITY COUNCIL BY THE JOINT SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE UNITED NATIONS AND LEAGUE OF ARAB STATES FOR SYRIA
19 April 2013
Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Security Council,
1. I thank you Mr. President for giving me the opportunity to brief the Council once again on Syria. This is an honour indeed and I am Very much aware that I’ll be speaking under the Chair of the Distinguished Ambassador of Rwanda, a Country where people know a thing or two about repression, injustice and suffering, all things we shall be saying much about during our conversation this morning.
2. Yesterday, the Council held an open session and heard from Valerie Amos, Antonio Gueterres, Zainab Bangura and Leila Zerrougui Who described the dire humanitarian situation in all its manifestations. They spoke with the authority of their respective high positions and the intimate knowledge they have acquired of the situation. They spoke with eloquence and emotion about the sufferings of millions of Syrians inside and outside their country. They highlighted for you in particular the unbearable conditions under which children live and die and the many humiliations Women and girls have to endure.
3. To what you heard yesterday, there is nothing I can add – except perhaps the following remarks:
a) let us spare a thought for the tens of thousands of prisoners and detainees held in official prisons and secret detention centres, most of Whom are routinely subjected to torture and humiliating and degrading treatment. And let us once again call for their immediate release.
b) let us remember that even when they still have a roof over their head, and some income, practically every man, Woman and child in Syria, except the very privileged few, live in constant fear; fear that the next car bomb may go off in front of their home; fear that their Work place may be blown up or forced to close; fear that the bakery of the neighbourhood Will be destroyed; fear of being arrested by one of the many security branches; fear that one’s child will be kidnapped. In short, everyone in Syria today lives with terror in their hearts that a catastrophe is waiting to affect their shattered lives.
c) let me express once again my appreciation of, and my gratitude for the generosity of those Governments, organizations and individuals who have given s0 much to help needy Syrians at home and abroad, The same appreciation and gratitude go to tireless Workers – Syrians and foreigners – who, at considerable risk some of the time, work round the clock to try to bring aid and comfort to those same, needy Syrians.
d) and last but not least, let me underline the important point made yesterday to the effect that We cannot expect the generosity of donors and the dedication of aid Workers to solve Syria’s problem: you all know better than I do that the generosity of donors and the dedication of aid Workers is not the solution.
Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Council,
4. All in this room are aware that efforts to bring the violence to an end and to restore peace have not been successful so far. I am personally, profoundly sorry that that my own efforts have produced so little. l apologize to the Syrian people for having, in the end, done so little for them during these past eight months and to you, in this Council, for having had only sad news to report to you, each of the four times I have addressed the Council.
5. It may be useful for our purpose, today, to rapidly look back at the past efforts to tackle the Syrian conflict. There may be a lesson or two that can be usefully learned for the future.
6. It is generally agreed by all, including in circles that are very close to the heart of power in Damascus, that the crisis could have been solved in its prime infancy – indeed in its first few days, when those kids Wrote graffiti on some Walls in the Southern city of Dar’a. It is said that President Bashar Al-Assad was advised to travel to Dara’a, apologise to the victims and their families, offer generous compensation, dismiss the Governor and those Who Were responsible with him for the brutality and hold them to account, announce there and then a comprehensive package of reforms that would be diligently and honestly implemented. That did not happen. In his long TV interview two days ago, President Bashar Al-Assad made a reference to this episode and said that “he was right NOT to have followed that advice!!
7. The Arab League then tried to help. Its efforts culminated in the Arab Observer mission led by General Al-Dabi from the Sudan. It is said that the mission Was doing reasonably Well but the cooperation from the parties Was not, apparently meeting the expectations of Arab States; the conflict Was expanding much faster than the efforts to end it.
8. Kofi Annan Was then brought on as Joint Special Envoy of the Secretaries-General of the United Nations and the League of Arab States. His 6-point plan was immediately endorsed by the Security Council and the necessary UN observer mission, UNSMIS, was deployed to monitor implementation.
9. Kofi Annan then brought together the now famous Action Group of Countries Whose Foreign Ministers met in Geneva and produced another remarkable document: the Declaration of 30 June, followed by its Action Plan. Unfortunately, Kofi’s creativity and diligence also fell short: the steps needed to implement the plan were not taken.
10. Kofi’s admirable and creative ideas were defeated by the determination and confidence of each party to the conflict that they can Win on the ground and, as Kofi himself said, by the lack of unity in the international community, and especially inside this Council to give his plan the necessary support to overcome the strong resistance he was encountering on the ground.
11. When I arrived on the scene, I thought I should try to overcome the difficulties Kofi encountered by concentrating my efforts in two directions: (i) talk to the parties to the conflict inside and outside Syria, as Well as to their respective regional and international backers and; (ii) see if the Security Council would unite again to effectively support the Geneva communique’ and Action plan and my own work aimed at creating the conditions conducive to its implementation.
12. I was constantly asked to produce a Brahimi plan. But what l was Working on Was how t0 help produce a Syrian plan to implement Geneva, which specifically said that what was needed was a Syrian-led process. Unfortunately, progress at the local and regional levels was almost nil and, at the international level progress was both far too slow and too modest.
13. Then, on 30 January, came the surprising initiative of Moaz Al-Khatib, the President of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF), the opposition organisation set up in November 2012. As you will recall this initiative came soon after my previous briefing to this Council on 29 January 2013. In that briefing, l had said, amongst other things, that there were no prospects, that Syrians could accept to talk to one another to put an end to the Violence and agree on a process for a political, peaceful solution.
14. Moaz Al-Khatib’s initiative seemed to prove me wrong on that particular point. Indeed, that initiative, in its simple, almost naïve form, was a breath of fresh air and a ray of hope in a profoundly bleak situation. It was, as a French expression puts it: “un coup de pied dans la fourmilliere”, a stir in the pot, a stone thrown in dormant waters, a vigorous shout to all concerned that said, “Yes, peace is possible. Let us make it happen.”
15. Sheikh Moaz asked nothing more of the Government than to deliver passports to Syrian expatriates who needed them and to release the tens of thousands of political prisoners. He later lowered his demand to the immediate release of Women prisoners only. These were not really preconditions: a simple reminder of purely humanitarian problems and demands that Were unanimously made by Syrians of all Walks of life and political and religious persuasion as Well as by people the world over.
16. The Government in Damascus was surprised and embarrassed; its reaction was slow and confused. After some contradictory declarations and a Visit by Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem to Moscow, the Government at long last, declared it was ready to meet with a delegation representing the opposition in what they called a “pre-dialogue” in Moscow, Geneva or Vienna. Meanwhile, Moaz AlKhatib’s own colleagues in the Coalition took a different direction. Meeting in Cairo, in February, they rejected their Chairman’s proposal and decided that, in the future, no initiative would come out from their organisation except from the General Assembly- all seventy or so members of them.
17. The next step came from the League of Arab States, whose Council of Ministers adopted a resolution on 6 March 2013 inviting the Coalition to form what they called an Executive body, to attend the Arab Summit on 26 and 27 March and represent Syria in all the agencies of the League of Arab States system, until elections are held in Syria. The Ministerial resolution was endorsed by the Arab Summit.
18. If the language of that resolution is to be taken literally, this means that, for the League of Arab States, the Geneva process is to be considered obsolete; no dialogue or negotiations are possible or necessary.
19. If in this depressing environment, we want to nonetheless find some hopeful signs, l would point out to the acceptance by the Coalition, for the first time that, under some conditions, they would consider a political process. And also the fact that the Government has at long last moved from the position that the vague dialogue they were promoting would have to take place in Damascus and agreed to meet the other side outside of the country.
20. Even these meager, positive elements were soon put in question by Mr. Hitto, the Prime Minister Designate of the Government that the Coalition is trying to form, when he solemnly declared that his side shall not participate in any dialogue with Damascus. On his part, President Bashar Al-Assad in his long television interview two days ago again spoke of the opposition and of his understanding of dialogue in terms that are hardly encouraging.
21. On the ground, fighting has intensified, causing more victims, more destruction and more dislocation of society. That is why Valerie Amos told you yesterday that there are now 6.8 million people who need aid inside Syria and Antonio Gueterres that the number of refugees will go up to 3.5 million by the end of the year. If you add to those already staggering numbers, that of hundreds of thousands of Syrians Who left their country but are not officially registered as refugees, we would be saying that almost 50% of the Syrian population are being gravely affected by the conflict. I wonder if this is not a depressing record in the history of conflict, reminiscent perhaps of the exodus of Palestinians from their land in 1948 and 1967.
22. Over the last few Weeks, a great deal of attention has been focused on Al-Qaeda, Jabhat Al-Nusra and other similar groups fighting the regime in Syria. Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahri, the leader of Al-Qaeda International, and Jabhat Al-Nusra itself have confirmed what was already common knowledge and that is that Jabhat Al-Nusra and other like-minded groups were formally affiliated to Al-Qaeda or shared in its ideology and practices.
23. Equally confirmed is the fact that Al-Nusra and its sister organisations were more important than originally thought. The Financial Times yesterday seemed to know that they represent only 10% of those who are engaged in the armed struggle against the regime. There also is more talk than ever about non-Syrians participating in the lighting in Syria, mostly Arabs but also other nationalities from Asia and Europe, East and West. Are all these foreign volunteers lighting in the ranks of Al-Nusra and its sisters or are they spread more or less evenly among various armed groups? l don’t know. Nord do l know how credible are the numbers of those foreign fighters that Vary considerably from one source to another. Four months ago, a reliable source close to the regime estimated the number of foreign fighters at a few hundred men and Jabhat Al-Nusra at 3 to 5,000. Another source, now speaks of no less than 30 to 40,000 foreign fighters.
24. Foreign presence on the side of the Government is also a reality. Both Sayed Hassan Nassrallah the Secretary-General of Hizbollah and an official spokesperson in Tehran have confirmed that they were militarily present in Syria. How many; where; and doing what? There again, I do not know for certain. And again, these numbers vary widely from one source to the other; with some saying that Hizbollah is only protecting religious Shia shrines and the Iranians providing a few military advisors ,and others claiming that the Well-coordinated Hizbollah-lran presence counts thousands of fighters actively engaged alongside Government forces, plus advisers helping the regime form what they call the “People’s Army”, a decentralised militia force acting locally to replace or support the shadowy and much feared Shabiha gangs.
25. Until recently, the debate was moving back and forth from prediction of imminent fall of the regime to claims that the armed opposition was loosing momentum. I fear the debate may now shift to arguments about the importance of Al-Qaeda and associated groups and how that Will, or should, affect the attitude of regional and international players.
26. I hope that, the tree is not going to hide the Wood. To learn who is who in the Confrontation in and about Syria is necessary and important. I think it is fairly certain that the regional dimension of the Conflict in Syria is growing: features of a proxy War are more and more apparent but the conflict remains essentially a savage civil War between Syrians, and the sectarian dimensions of the crisis are perhaps more important to Watch and understand than the participation of foreigners in the struggle. As for extremism, Syrians and international partners have ever reason to be concerned over its effects on the present situation and on its possible long term influence. The Way to contain extremisms and reduce its influence is t0 more actively act to end the conflict.
27. Going forward, the choice for Syrian parties and for the international community has not changed and will not change:
is it going to be a deadly, destructive fight to the finish because each party and its supporters are convinced that total victory is not only possible but certain for them, or are these parties and their supporters going to agree, at long last, that there is no military solution to this conflict and that a serious negotiation is urgently needed to Work out a political solution?
28. Many worthy ideas are floated around and discussed in many quarters on how to move forward. From the Quartet set up at the initiative of President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, to Russia, to China, to the Friends of Syria and to many learned academics and journalists. All have in common, a demand for an urgent end to the violence and a negotiated process, mediated by a qualified and accepted party.
29. Antonio Guterres spoke to you yesterday with the autority of his Office and the intimate knowledge he has of the present situation in Syria. His speech also drew on his experience as a former political leader in his country, Portugal. Permit me to remind you of a few of his words: I quote: “helping Syria’s neighbours deal with the human fallout of this terrible conflict is crucial for preserving the stability of the entire region. This is not just another refugee crisis – what happens in Syria and in the neighbouring Countries potentially has much wider, even global, implications… Failure to give these countries [Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and others] the support they need to continue providing sanctuary to so many suffering Syrians would not only mean to abandon a people, and a whole region. It would be the world blindness to its own best interest” End of quote.
30. Antonio Guterres also said and I quote again: «there is no humanitarian solution for the Syrian crisis. That is why it is so dramatic that we are not even seeing an inch of progress towards a political solution”. And he asks: “Isn’t there any way to stop this fighting to open the door for a political solution?”
31. That last question was addressed to you, Mr. President and to your colleagues, the members of the Security Council. Are you not the court of last appeal when peace and security are at risk? And where are peace and security mpre at risk today than in Syria, a country which is literally drowning and taking down an entire region down with it?
32. Yes, the problem is difficult, the situation becomes nore complex by the day, the regime is not quite ready to listen, the opposition not as united as it should be around an established leadership and a credible, constructive political programme. Yes, this situation appears to be totally hopeless, with no light to be seen at the end of a long tunnel Syria is lost in.
33. In an article written with Sarah Birke and published only 3 days ago, Peter Harling of ICG a very perceptive observer of the Syria and the Middle East scene says and I quote: “Given a chance, (Syrian) society may pull through; it might fare better still of the conflict draws to a close and the aftermath is skillfully handled. With each day of the conflict – today is day 763 – those cjances become slimmer, diminishing Syrians’ sense of national identity and their pride in their society … With incremental indecisive interference from all sides, further escalation is almost inevitable. Syria’s all out civil war, if it comes to that, will no doupt go down in conventional wisdom as an outburst of communal hatred, inevitable within a mixed society. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is product of an international standoff. However Syrians suffer, the was in their country is not in their hands”: it is conflict that disfigures Syrian society more than reflects it.” End of quote.
34. Might it be said, Mr. President, that the solution of that war is in your hands, members of the Security Council?
35. That does not mean, of course that Syrians have no role to play in the search for a solution to the crisis in their counctry, Important developments need to take place before a dicisive shoft away from the existing violence towards a political process can be credibly initiated. In particular, on the side of the opposition, a more consistent and sustained effort to reiforce and expand unity and discipline in their ranks inside and outside the country, among civilians, among armed groups, and between civilians and the military.
36. Also on the side of the opposition and some – noy all – of their supporters, an understanding that external military intervention is neither likely or desirable; nor can such an intervention be provoked. Furthermore, it is perfectly legitimate for them to demand that President Bashar Al-Assad leave office and his regime be dismanteled. But, these are abjectives, and processes needed to be elaboratedd to achieve them. Every conflict needs at a certain stage to be politically addressed. It is high time, after two long years, to start working, with others on such a political process for Syria. Moaz Al-Khatib’s initiative in February should be further developed not discarded.
37. On the side of the regime, it is equally urgent to give up the dream of a military victorty. That is not going to happen. Nor is it realistic to expect that somehow because of the perceived growing importance of Al-Nusra, a spectacular shoft is to going to push the regime and the West into an unholy alliance to fight Islamic terrorism. President Assad, two days ago, said very clearly that what is taking place in his country is war. He does not agree that this is a civil war (nor does the opposition, in fact). But surely, a war cannot be brought to an end through a vague dialogue with mainly the supporters of one’s own side. It needs a negotiation between the warring parties. Nor should the dialogue be expected to lead to limited or cosmetic refoms. That has been tried and did not work.
38. In this context, I will venture to add this: President Assad consistently insisted that, as a Syrian citizen, it was his right to run for election if he wished. As far as I know he does not say that he shall run after the end of his current mandate. Could an appeal to made him to voluntarily forego that right and undertake not to run? This would not be a defeat for him but a huge constructive and honourable contribution to save Syria.
39. Much debate has taken place about the flow of arms and how it can be checked. Tow years on this conflict, it is unrealistic to expect that the flow of arms can be stopped to one side but not to the other. The way to go is to respond to the repeated pleas of the Secretary General that the flow of arms be stopped to all sides in Syria.
40. Nor would it be reasonable to expect a total embargo on the delivery of arms to be efferctive for any length of time if a political process that includes a viable and verifiable cease – fire is not crafted and accepted by all shortly thereafter.
41. May I finally remind the Council of the suggestions I made during my last briefing on 29 January. I believe these suggestions remain valid and there is even more urgency today for the Council to consider acting on them.