Comments in Consultations: Syria
- Human Rights
- Protection of Civilians
UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
Comments in consultations by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations
The presentations from our four briefers (Valerie Amos, Antonio Guterrez, SRSG Zainab Bangura, SRSG Leila Zerrougui) were stark – and compelling. We cannot ignore them.
We are clearly at a tipping point. The Secretary-General said to the Council on Monday (15 April) that the international community's capacity to respond is reaching its limits. The President of the ICRC (Peter Maurer) said the same to the Council last month.
We now have a terrible convergence of four key factors;
- The military conflict is intensifying. There is no political solution in sight. The violence can only worsen as both sides fight it out. The impact is already unsustainable but it has reached a point at which the effects are becoming exponential not incremental. If Damascus becomes a scene of major conflict, we face a major exodus of the population – Damascus is a city of nearly three million and only 55 miles from Beirut and 23 miles from the Lebanese border. As the PR of Lebanon told us this morning, Lebanon is already at breaking point from refugee flows.
- The presenters spoke to the terrible numbers of internally displaced (4.25 million) and those in need of assistance (6.8 million). I won't repeat all the detail but would highlight three things – one-third of Syria's housing has been badly damaged or destroyed; over half the hospitals badly damaged, and a one-third of them no longer operational; about one-quarter of the schools are no longer operational. The ICRC President told us that the data is now showing that the number of deaths from secondary causes is becoming bigger than those killed in conflict.
- Refugees – who now number 1.3 million – are increasing by 8,000 a day. In January it was 3,000; in February 5,000. Almost one in four in Lebanon are now Syrian. And one in six in Jordan, and rapidly increasing. UNHCR estimates 3.5 million refugees this year. But all previous estimates were understated – as the rate of violence increases exponentially, refugee numbers will also. As we've heard this is a major threat to the stability of Lebanon, Jordan, increasingly Turkey, and spill-overs into Iraq.
- The humanitarian delivery system is collapsing. It is becoming much more dangerous to operate on the ground, and this will worsen. It is underfunded. But more seriously the obstacles to access that USG Amos has outlined are preventing operations – every relief truck now requiring two Ministers' written approval; 50 checkpoints between Aleppo and Damascus; continued blockages of visas; the reduction in NGOs allowed to operate (from 110 to 29).
The op ed this week in major newspapers by five UN Agency heads was unprecedented – the message was that the UN system is in danger of having to suspend some operations. As Valerie Amos said, "We cannot do business this way. We are losing hope."
The Council simply cannot say nothing faced with this. We have heard from OCHA and the UN system that a unified statement from the Council reflecting the scale and urgency of the crisis would help the UN to deliver humanitarian assistance. The UN system has pleaded for our help.
Based on this morning's briefings, it certainly seems to Australia and I think other Council members that at the very least we should authorise the President to present agreed Press Elements to the media. I think these could be simple and pick up all the key points put to us today.
- Condemn violations of international humanitarian law and human rights. Reaffirms the protection of civilians. Condemn the threats to children and from sexual violence.
- Call for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access from all parties and the need to facilitate this.
- Call for funding to be delivered.
- Note the regional impact and refugees
- Call for the safety of humanitarian personnel.
If agreed we (Australia) could draft up Press Elements now and present them at the end of our consultations. I think it very important that we agree these points quickly for use today – given the urgency of the humanitarian briefings this morning and ahead of our consultations with Mr Brahimi tomorrow morning.