Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Syria: Ban disappointed that President’s speech ‘does not contribute’ to ending suffering

UN - 7 January 2013 – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was disappointed that a speech made by Syria’s President Bashar al Assad on Sunday “does not contribute to a solution that could end the terrible suffering of the Syrian people,” the UN chief’s spokesperson said today.

“What the Syrian people desperately need at this time are real solutions to the crisis that is tearing their nation apart,” the spokesperson, Martin Nesirky, added in a news briefing at UN Headquarters in New York.

“The speech rejected the most important element of the Geneva communiqué of 30 June 2012, namely a political transition and the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers that would include representatives of all Syrians,” he continued.

In his 6 January speech – made in the capital, Damascus, and his first public remarks in around six months – President al-Assad reportedly put forward a peace plan involving an army ceasefire which would follow a halt to operations by rebel groups, as well as a national reconciliation conference and a new constitution, amongst other points. He was also reported to have described opposition groups as “puppets” of Western countries.

More than 60,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria since the uprising against President al-Assad began in early 2011. Recent months have witnessed an escalation in the conflict, which is now in its 23rd month.

The so-called ‘Geneva communiqué’ was issued after a meeting in the Swiss city of the Action Group for Syria, and it lays out key steps in a process to end the violence in Syria. Amongst other items, it calls for the establishment of a transitional governing body, with full executive powers and made up by members of the present Government and the opposition and other groups, as part of agreed principles and guidelines for a Syrian-led political transition.

The Action Group is made up of the Secretaries-General of the UN and the League of Arab States; the Foreign Ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – as well as the Turkish Foreign Minister; the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy; and the Foreign Ministers of Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar, in their respective roles related to the Arab League.

Just last week, the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, reiterated his belief in a political solution to the crisis in Syria – with the Geneva communiqué providing the basis for a peace process.

In his statement to the media, Mr. Nesirky said that Secretary-General Ban reaffirms his long-held view that there is no military solution to the conflict in the Middle Eastern nation.

“The Secretary-General and Joint Special Representative Brahimi have worked and continue to work towards a political solution to the conflict through a political transition that includes the establishment of a transitional Government and the holding of free and fair elections under the auspices of the United Nations,” Mr. Nesirky said.

“Now more than ever,” he added, “it is critically urgent that the international community comes together to assist the Syrian people build, as early as possible in 2013, a new and democratic Syria – one where the rights of all groups and minorities are properly protected.”

In late December, the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, warned of the increasing risk of sectarian violence in Syria, and called on all parties to the conflict to refrain from targeting individuals or groups based on religious or ethnic identity.

According to UN estimates, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance inside the country has quadrupled between March 2012 and December 2012, from one million to four million. UN humanitarian aid planning estimates that up to a million Syrian refugees will need help during the first half of 2013, with most of these located in Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt.

Mr. Nesirky noted that the United Nations remains committed to do its “utmost,” in cooperation with other partners, to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people, both inside and outside of the country.

“The United Nations will also continue to help the people of Syria fulfil their legitimate aspirations for peace, dignity, freedom, justice and democracy in a united and sovereign Syria,” he said.

The spokesperson also provided reporters with an update on Mr. Brahimi’s activities, noting that the Joint Special Representative met yesterday in Egypt with Moaz Khattib, the President of the opposition umbrella group, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, as well as with its Vice Presidents, Riad Seif and George Sabra.

Today, Mr. Brahimi was expected to meet with Qatar’s Prime and Foreign Affairs Ministers, and with Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday evening.

The envoy has been holding a series of meetings in the region and elsewhere, as part of his efforts to bring about a negotiated, political solution to end the Syrian conflict. In late December, he had been in Moscow where he met with Russia's Foreign Minister, and he also visited Damascus, where he met with President al-Assad.