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Council Has Not Exercised ‘Pre-eminent Responsibility’, Says Secretary-General
The current battle for Aleppo must be followed by an immediate end to violence by all sides, unfettered humanitarian access and genuine engagement without preconditions on a political solution to stop the conflict, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council today.
During a meeting called by France and the United Kingdom, Secretary-General Ban told the 15-member Council that, over the last 48 hours, the international community had witnessed an almost complete collapse of armed opposition front lines, leaving them with only 5 per cent of their original territory in Aleppo. Expressing concern about reports documenting an intense bombardment that had killed scores of civilians as well as summary executions by pro-Government forces, he said that, as the front lines had shifted, children had fled along dangerous routes and families had lost contact with their loved ones.
“We have collectively failed the peoples of Syria,” he declared, emphasizing that the Council had not exercised its pre-eminent responsibility. In solidarity with the people of Aleppo, the immediate task was to stop the carnage, he said, calling on the Syrian authorities and their allies to honour their obligations under international humanitarian law and to allow the remaining civilians to leave the area.
In recent days, he continued, the world had seen nothing less than an all-out effort by the Government of Syria and its allies to end the internal conflict through military victory. However, military solutions would neither end the conflict nor solve the refugee crisis, he stressed. The consequences of such a dehumanizing approach could be a further acceleration of radicalization, leading to the next iteration of Al-Qaida and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) while sending a frightening signal to the millions who had fled the violence.
In the ensuing discussion, France’s representative said that his delegation and that of the United Kingdom had called for today’s meeting because the worst-case scenario was now taking place in Aleppo. Before the international community’s eyes, massacred civilians were filling the streets of Aleppo. The city was a black hole that had destroyed all United Nations values, he said, warning that they carried the promise of more tragedies to follow. Those with the means to act, the Russian Federation foremost among them, must put an immediate end to the bloodbath, he stressed.
Echoing that sentiment, the United Kingdom’s delegate expressed concern that pro-Government forces were going door to door, executing people who were not terrorists. The Council had failed because the Russian Federation had misused its veto to prevent even a seven-day ceasefire, he said, expressing hope for an agreement that would grant the United Nations access to Aleppo.
Similarly, the representative of the United States said it was extremely difficult to obtain information from opposition-controlled areas, calling upon the Assad regime and the Russian Federation to stop their assault on Aleppo and to allow impartial observers into the city. Their ghastly tactics would not stop when the city fell, but would continue elsewhere, she warned.
The Russian Federation’s delegate said that the rise of terrorism in Syria had been a result of the invasion of Iraq by the United Kingdom and the United States. Drawing attention to the latest developments, he said the Syrian authorities were back in control of Aleppo, while militants only held 3 square kilometres. For its part, the Russian Federation had helped more than 100,000 civilians to leave eastern Aleppo and had completed the demining of more than 31 hectares of urban structures and 18 kilometres of roads.
Other speakers encouraged parties to the conflict to abide by international humanitarian and human rights law. Angola’s representative underscored the difficult path ahead for the Government of Syria and the opposition, saying they would require dialogue to avoid more civilian deaths. Angola strongly urged the parties to choose the path of dialogue instead of violence, he said.
Syria’s representative said that, since the beginning of the war, some Council members had submitted draft resolutions and called emergency meetings on the basis of false testimonies. The Secretary-General had also rushed in to make a statement on Aleppo on the basis of unconfirmed information. Describing the Government’s actions in Aleppo as an expression of its constitutional rights to protect its citizens, he said that Syria had abided by international law. It was hypocritical to judge the Syrian authorities on the basis of unverified testimonies, he said, pointing out that the Government had counter-testimonies detailing the actions of armed terrorists. “This is not the fall of Aleppo, this is the liberation of Aleppo,” he said.
Also delivering statements were representatives of New Zealand, Ukraine, Uruguay, Malaysia, China, Japan, Egypt, Senegal, Venezuela and Spain.
The meeting began at 12:13 p.m. and ended at 1:54 p.m.
BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that, since November, the Syrian Government forces and their allies had captured large areas of eastern Aleppo and during the last 48 hours, the world had witnessed an almost complete collapse of armed opposition front lines, leaving them with only 5 per cent their original territory in the city. Expressing concern about the reports documenting intense bombardment killing scores of civilians and summary executions by pro-Government forces, he said that as front line had shifted, children had fled across dangerous routes and families had lost contact with their loved ones.
“These are humans, including innocent women and children, who deserve protection,” he continued, noting that, despite communication obstacles, more and more of their voices had reached the United Nations. The Russian Defence Ministry had reported yesterday that it had helped more than 100,000 civilians to leave eastern Aleppo, including 40,484 children, and that 2,215 militants had laid down weapons and left the area. The Ministry had also stated that there were no “opposition”, “humanitarian organizations” or “human rights defenders” in Aleppo and that the eastern part of the city had been under the full control of terrorists. Mr. Ban said negotiations were ongoing between the parties for an evacuation deal, facilitated by the Russian Federation and Turkey, emphasizing the Organization’s readiness to support such efforts.
He pointed out that the Council and Member States had repeatedly underlined the importance of prevention in addressing the challenges of international peace and security, citing the abundance of early warnings regarding the situation in Aleppo. His Special Envoy had warned that Aleppo could be destroyed by the end of the year if urgent action was not taken and had proposed concrete measures to address concerns regarding Nusrah Front without risking the unnecessary loss of life or the destruction of cities.
“We have collectively failed the peoples of Syria,” he said, adding that the Council had not exercised its pre-eminent responsibility. That failure compelled the international community to do even more to offer the people of Aleppo its solidarity. The immediate task was stopping the carnage, he said, calling on the Syrian authorities and their allies, the Russian Federation and Iran, to honour their obligations under international humanitarian law and to allow the remaining civilians to leave the area.
In recent days, he said, the world had seen nothing less than an all-out effort by the Syrian Government and its allies to end the country’s internal conflict through a total uncompromising military victory. “I do not accept recent statements by the Syrian Government and Russian Ministry of Defence that there are no opposition groups or humanitarian organizations present in eastern Aleppo,” he said.
The Syrian conflict, he said, would not end as a result of what happened on the battlefield in the next days. Neither would military advances solve the refugee crisis. The consequences of such a dehumanizing approach could be to further accelerate radicalization leading to the next iteration of Al-Qaida and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) while sending a frightening signal to the millions who had fled the violence.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said he had, together with the United Kingdom, called for the meeting because the worst-case scenario was now taking place in Aleppo. Massacres of civilians were being committed before the eyes of the international community. Corpses of civilians and dead children filled the roads of Aleppo. The worst thing was that the abomination had been predicted. Civilians must be allowed to leave, safe access for humanitarian aid must be authorized and the massacre must stop. He vehemently called on those who had the means to act, foremost the Russian Federation, to put an immediate end to the bloodbath.
He said the tragedy of Aleppo was not the path towards peace in Syria. At the end of the abyss, there was just a promise of an endless conflict, with the terrorist groups being the main beneficiaries. Aleppo was a black hole that destroyed all values of the United Nations and carried the promise of more tragedies to follow. The mechanisms that had made that situation possible should be analysed, as it called into question the Council’s credibility, he said, noting that France and Mexico had called for the suspension of the right of veto in the Council.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said Bashar al-Assad forces, propped up by the Russian Federation and Iran, had redefined horror. Pro-Government forces were going door to door executing people and none of those civilians were terrorists. Citing reports of women committing suicide to avoid being raped and of people burned alive, he urged the Russian Federation, Syria and Iran to respect the rules of war. The Council had failed because the Russian Federation had misused its veto, even to prevent a seven-day ceasefire. He hoped that the Russian Federation and others could at least agree to grant the United Nations access to Aleppo, to join the call to hold accountable anyone who committed war crimes and to help bring peace to Syria through a political solution. If not, Aleppo would become a city only known to the dead. The fall of Aleppo would not be a victory for Mr. Al-Assad, because he would have sacrificed his country.
SAMANTHA POWER (United States) said it was extremely hard to get information from the area that was held by the opposition. The Assad regime, Russian Federation and Iran had done everything possible to isolate the city so nobody could verify what was happening. Up to 100 children had been trapped in a building under heavy fire, she said. She called on the Assad regime and the Russian Federation to stop their assault on Aleppo and to allow impartial observers into the city.
She said the Assad regime and the Russian Federation appeared to be set on getting the last square inch of Aleppo, no matter how many civilians had to be killed. Humanity demanded that the most basic rules of war were observed. When there was a full account, the Assad regime, Russian Federation and Iran could not say they had not been involved. Aleppo would join the ranks of events in history that defined evil, such as Rwanda and Srebrenica. Three Member States of the United Nations were contributing to a noose that had been tied around civilians. The ghastly tactics that had been used would not stop when the city fell, but would continue elsewhere, she warned.
VITALY I. CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said that the rise of terrorism in Syria had been a result of the invasion of Iraq by the United Kingdom and United States. It was strange that the United States’ representative had delivered a statement like Mother Teresa, given that country’s political position. The Syrian authorities were back in control of Aleppo, while militants only held 3 square kilometres. For its part, the Russian Federation had helped more than 100,000 civilians to leave eastern Aleppo, including more than 40,000 children. In addition, the Russian forces had completed the demining of more than 31 hectares of urban structures and 18 kilometres of roads. Recalling resolution 2254 (2015), he said some were seeking a regime change in Damascus.
GERARD VAN BOHEMEN (New Zealand), drawing attention to the latest reports, said atrocities continued to be committed. For its part, New Zealand, along with Egypt and Spain, had tried to stop the violence and ensure that humanitarian assistance reached those in need. The United Nations must be involved in all efforts, he said, decrying that the Russian Federation had not permitted civilian evacuations. Despite efforts to remedy that situation, the Council had failed collectively, he said, urging both the Russian Federation and Iran to work with the international community.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said he was appalled at reports of mass atrocities, especially since that situation had been predicted and could have been stopped. Council members had twice attempted to avert that disaster, but had been prevented by the Russian Federation. The atrocities, however, had not been confirmed by the Russian military. There were also disturbing developments around Palmyra, where Da’esh had taken over. As the Syrian regime and the Russian Federation had chosen to solve the conflict militarily and had used a scorched-earth policy, they must face the consequences of their crimes, he said, calling for a sustainable ceasefire in Aleppo. He also called on all parties to protect civilians and abide by international law and human rights law.
LUIS BERMÚDEZ (Uruguay) said that despite the intense rate of Council meetings, Aleppo continued to disappear in an endless, macabre spiral. Children, mothers and old people who had died in Aleppo had not been terrorists. The responsibility for the recent events would fall on the Syrian forces and their allies, with all parties to the conflict being held accountable for their crimes. He was concerned by progress of terrorist groups around Palmyra, where Da’esh had taken control. The only solution was an immediate ceasefire in Aleppo and the rest of Syria.
ISMAEL ABRAÃO GASPAR MARTINS (Angola) said it was the collective responsibility of all to ensure that all parties to the conflict abided by international humanitarian and human rights law. The Government and the opposition had a difficult path ahead them, which would require dialogue in order to avoid civilians being killed. He strongly urged parties to choose the path of dialogue instead of violence.
SITI HAJJAR ADNIN (Malaysia) underscored the need to stop extrajudicial killings, including of women and children, and attacks on civilians in eastern Aleppo. She also reiterated a call for political dialogue and the access of humanitarian personnel, as those were the minimum required steps to restore stability in the area.
WU HAITAO (China), while acknowledging the complexity of the conflict, stressed that the international community must work together to achieve the overarching goal of establishing lasting peace in Syria. Any efforts must be conducive to the resumption of peace talks, he said, adding that the United Nations must support that process.
KORO BESSHO (Japan), sharing concerns over the worsening humanitarian situation in Aleppo, underscored the need for an urgent response. With extreme cold and heavy rains, more than 800,000 internally displaced persons were reported to be facing very dire circumstances. Recalling the Council’s view of “humanity first”, he called for advancing a political process based on resolution 2254 (2015). The long-lasting conflict had deeply scarred the Syrian people, physically and psychologically, he said, emphasizing that hatred provided fertile grounds for extremism.
IHAB MOUSTAFA AWAD MOUSTAFA (Egypt) said Council and Assembly meetings during the last three months had achieved little. The people continued to suffer despite the recognition that there could be a solution if there were good intentions. Syrian territories had become a breeding ground for terrorists and foreign interventionists. The Syrian people had witnessed what no human being should have to watch. Fighting terrorism was not a pretext to tear apart society or kill children. The proliferation of terrorism, however, was not an exaggeration. Extremist ideas were penetrating with support from outside forces. It was time to confront the phenomenon decisively. A military solution on the ground would not provide stability for the Syrian people, he said, calling on the Secretary-General to prepare for negotiations between the Government and the widest spectrum of opposition groups as soon as possible.
GORGUI CISS (Senegal), expressing deep concern for military activities in Aleppo, said light must be shed on the killings. Condemning the ongoing destruction of public infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals and water installations, he called for a cessation of hostilities and full compliance with a humanitarian pause in fighting. All parties, especially the Government, had the responsibility to abide with humanitarian and human rights law. Calling on those who had influence to do all they could to breathe new life into negotiations, he said the Council must live up to its responsibility and focus on ending violence, resuming a cessation of hostilities and fully implementing resolution 2268 (2016).
HENRY ALFREDO SUÁREZ MORENO (Venezuela) said the Syrian crisis was similar to the one in Libya, noting that interventionist agendas had violated States’ sovereignty. Describing terrorism as a principle cause of conflict, he said that it had undermined the security situation and led to the displacement of thousands of people. He also stressed the need to provide humanitarian assistance in an impartial manner.
ROMÁN OYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain) said history would remember that the Security Council had failed to prevent the crisis in Syria. Endorsing the Secretary-General’s statement, he called upon the Syrian authorities and those with influence on concerned parties to facilitate an agreement, which would ensure the evacuation of civilians.
Mr. CHURKIN (Russian Federation), taking the floor a second time, said the removal of fighters had been achieved a few hours ago and the Syrian Government had established control over eastern Aleppo. In that regard, cessation of hostilities was not a question.
BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said that, in the eyes of the United States’ delegation, the Syrian Government was responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity. The Syrian Government was innocent of all charges of such crimes. Since the beginning of the war, certain members of the Council had attempted to submit draft resolutions and called emergency meetings on the basis of false testimonies. The Secretary-General had also rushed in to make a statement on Aleppo on the basis of unverified and unconfirmed information. If the Secretary-General was unable to verify reports from Aleppo, he asked why Mr. Ban had made that information public, undermining the Syrian Government and allies in their fight against terrorism. The Syrian Government’s actions in Aleppo were an expression of its constitutional and legal rights to protect its citizens against terrorism. That expression had guided its actions and Syria had abided by international and human rights laws.
He denounced claims that the Syrian Government was deliberately targeting civilians in Aleppo. Presenting photographs of the Syrian forces operating in Aleppo, he said those actions had protected civilians. It was hypocritical to judge the Syrian authorities on the basis of unverified testimonies, he said, adding that his Government had counter-testimonies detailing the actions of armed terrorists in Aleppo. Taking action against terrorists was the prerogative of the Government, as was the case in countries around the world that were combatting terrorism. “This is not the fall of Aleppo, this is the liberation of Aleppo,” he stressed, adding that the terrorists had threatened the security of that city and his Government was liberating it from them.