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"Time is running out"

Remarks to the Human Rights Council by Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Deputy Joint Special Envoy on the Syrian crisis

Geneva - 27 June 2012

Madam President,

Thank you for this opportunity to speak in the Human Rights Council about Syria and on the efforts of the Joint Special Envoy to facilitate a political solution. You have just listened to the presentation by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 19/22 on Syria, and you will hear a further report of the Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry. I will confine my remarks to the political implications of the situation on the ground and to the efforts of the Office of the Joint Special Envoy.

We all know that the situation of human rights in Syria is inextricably linked to the political dimensions of the conflict. At the core of the Syrian crisis are egregious violations of human rights, and the escalating violence that has unfolded in the last fifteen months has only increased the threat to human rights, as is often the case when the absence of a political perspective turns into violent confrontation.

Madam President, as Members of this Council are aware, the violent crackdown on anti-Government protests which started in March 2011 in Syria led to armed mobilization by opposition groups, and the country is now engulfed by various types of violence, including sectarianism, with serious implications for the region.

In an attempt to address the crisis, during the past few months the Government pursued a series of initiatives, including a constitutional reform, the holding of parliamentary elections in early May and the inauguration of a new Cabinet on 25 June. These initiatives were taken unilaterally, and as such did not help build any trust among those who oppose the present regime; in essence they preserved the existing institutional structure; they have not succeeded in ending the crisis. In a context of increased violence in the country, large segments of the Syrian population continued to mobilize against the Government, the Government’s military response and the attacks by opposition forces have intensified, and public support for the armed opposition appears to have increased.

Since his appointment as Joint Special Envoy for Syria on 23 February 2012, Mr. Annan has worked intensively to chart an alternative course, based on the conviction that a military solution to the conflict would be catastrophic for the Syrian people as well as the region. He has engaged in that spirit with Syrian leaders as well as influential international and regional states regarding the requirements for the resolution of the crisis through peaceful means.

In March, he put forward a plan, the six-point plan, that was endorsed by the Security Council and accepted by the Syrian authorities. The plan is designed to offer a ladder to de-escalate the conflict through a sequence of steps, the first of which was the responsibility of the government of Syria, which was given an opportunity to make a strategic shift by ending armed violence in a way that can then be reciprocated by the armed opposition groups.

UNSMIS was authorized by the Security Council in that context, and its record rapid deployment - UNSMIS was at full operational strength on 30 May – was a further sign of the commitment of the international community to the peaceful resolution of the conflict and to the six-point plan.

UNSMIS worked actively in support of all aspects of the six-point plan, and the observers, by establishing facts, contributed to building the international consensus. But their main task was to monitor and supervise a cessation of violence, which required the full commitment of all parties.

However the agreed cessation of violence in all its forms, effective as of 12 April and which was the basis for the Mission’s deployment, held only briefly. The second week of May saw a return to unrestrained and increasing hostilities, which have now reached or even surpassed pre-12 April levels.

Based on actions observed by UNSMIS over the past few weeks, Government forces appear to be seeking the military defeat of the Free Syrian Army. UNSMIS reported that the Government has been engaged in a major coordinated effort to reclaim urban centres hitherto under opposition control, increasingly directed at larger towns, using a combination of helicopters, armoured units, artillery, and infantry, supplemented by militia forces.

The armed opposition elements have also increased the tempo of their military operations in support of their goals. This has been realized through increased attacks on government installations and senior military officers, and an increase in asymmetric actions including assassinations and use of Improvised Explosive Devices causing both Syrian military and civilian casualties.

The levels of violence ultimately rendered UNSMIS’ own mandate implementation activities untenable. On 15 June the Mission in Syria temporarily suspended its operations in light of the violence, obstacles to monitoring access, and direct targeting of its personnel and assets. On 26 June, subject to security conditions, UNSMIS began visits to hospitals and schools in order to monitor, observe and report the impact of the violence on civilian population, and whether these institutions are being used for the purposes for which they were established. UNSMIS is also looking at whether people have safe and impartial access to medical facilities and documenting where violations in this respect are occurring.

The situation is being reviewed daily with the hope that operations can resume as soon as possible. On 25 June, UNSMIS Head of Mission, General Robert Mood, sent identical letters to Syrian Government officials as well as leaders of the armed opposition to remind them about their responsibility towards civilians and urge the cessation of indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force. I share the Mission’s deep concern about the escalating crisis.

Amidst this insecurity, around one and a half million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Despite the conclusion of an agreement with the government, and some deliveries under difficult circumstances, a major gap remains between the needs and the ability of aid workers to deliver the assistance. We are concerned about the military occupation of hospitals, health facilities and schools, and about the serious and widespread psycho-social trauma caused by the conflict. In this regard, the impact of the conflict on children is of particular concern.

As the Joint Special Envoy told the General Assembly and the Security Council on 7 June, the six-point plan is clearly not being implemented. There is no cessation of violence, and human rights, which figure prominently in Mr. Annan’s six-point plan, are violated: people continue to be arbitrarily detained, and more are rounded up by the day. In such a context, there is no political space that would allow for meaningful political dialogue.

Mindful of the importance in that context of deepening political engagement with all stakeholders, the Office of the Joint Special Envoy as well as UNSMIS developed and maintained regular contacts with a wide range of leaders and members of the Syrian opposition, in order to identify common ground for engagement at the national level.

The opposition remains divided between those who favour a peaceful political transition, those who reject any understanding with the Government, and those who support continued armed resistance. Political space for political mobilization remains tight, and represents a factor in the fragmentation of the opposition. In addition, public statements indicate a growing distance between opposition leaders inside Syria, particularly within the armed elements of the Free Syria Army, and those based outside the country. There is also a generational divide which further highlights the complexity of the crisis in Syria.

Many Syrians are of the view that no meaningful political process can be initiated so long as military operations continue, and thousands of people remain in detention and at risk of further abuse, torture, or summary executions. At the same time, we know that a sustained cessation of violence and progress on the implementation of the provisions of the other five points of the six-point plan cannot be achieved without a credible political perspective.

Madam President,

At the moment all sides appear to not believe in the possibility of a political solution. Absent meaningful freedom of expression and of assembly, the Syrian people have not had adequate opportunity to engage with outsiders or with each other on sensitive political issues, and they have been rightfully fearful to do so. Political goals are being pursued with military means.

In order to help the Syrians pull back from the brink of war, the Joint Special Envoy called on the Security Council to apply joint and sustained pressure, and to ensure that there are consequences for non-compliance with his plan. He has also worked with key Member States with influence in Syria to seek their constructive engagement with their partners in the Syrian Government and in the political and armed opposition towards a political solution. Over the past few weeks, these efforts focused on the creation of an Action Group on Syria which the Joint Special Envoy intends to convene on 30 June in Geneva.

Throughout the preparatory discussions for this meeting, which is envisaged at the ministerial level, the Envoy has made clear that it was essential for states with influence to agree among themselves in order to effectively support a Syrian-led transition process to be negotiated and agreed by the Syrians themselves. The Envoy is using his best efforts to facilitate a common position on the proposed outcomes of the Action Group. Those outcomes will have to be meaningful and concrete in order to help alleviate the crisis.

Madam President,

The Syrians need to live together in peace again, and this requires a framework for a negotiated settlement that protects all communities and ensures a balanced dispensation of power. This framework must address the legitimate aspirations of the people as well as the serious consequences of the conflict. It must be grounded on and ensure full respect for human rights – and it must surely include measures to ensure accountability, transitional justice, and national reconciliation. A political agreement can only be pursued if the people know that violence and human rights abuses are coming to an end.

International unity is of vital importance in that respect. To this end, the Joint Special Envoy and his team will continue to work intensively with Member States and with all major interlocutors inside Syria to help bring about a peaceful and comprehensive settlement of the crisis. But this effort cannot be open-ended. Time is running out. Syria is spiraling into deeper and more destructive violence. The people of Syria desperately need the international community to come together now and exercise its full influence before it is too late.

Thank you, Madam President.

Source: UN News Centre; www.un.org

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