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INDEPENDENT NEWS AND COMMENT ON WORLD AFFAIRS
News In Brief
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17 January 2018 – “The United Nations is poised to increase its staff presence in Libya,” Ghassan Salamé, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), told the Security Council via video link. More UN staff will be working in Tripoli and they will visit more communities across the nation in efforts focused on the adoption of a new constitution, achieving national reconciliation and holding elections.
The draft constitution is currently undergoing judicial review. With extensive UN technical support six hundred thousand new voters have been registered in just over six weeks, raising the total on the rolls to over two million.
UNSMIL was established as a political mission after six months of armed conflict in Libya in 2011, to support the transition to peace. The efforts of UNSMIL had been pivotal to the relative quiet Libya has enjoyed over the last months, Mr. Salame said. He stressed that those extremely time-consuming conflict prevention efforts must continue if hope in the political process was to be maintained.
The political crisis in Libya has been accompanied by an equal humanitarian crisis, and the UN is set to launch a plan next week to deal with it. Of particular concern is the plight of migrants in Libya. In just the last weeks of 2017, thousands of migrants have been voluntarily returned for humanitarian purposes from Libya to their countries of origin, but thousands more migrants remain arbitrarily detained in centres, many of them in inhumane conditions.
Mr. Salame said that individual predatory agendas continued to dominate. “Conflict over resources is indeed at the heart of the Libyan crisis,” he said. The Mission was dedicated to advocating use of national wealth for public good rather than to special interests.
Noting that UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, had visited Libya from 9 to 12 January, Mr. Salame said he had urged Libyan interlocutors to truly commit to working together and implement the Action Plan to create the necessary conditions to end the transitional period.
Civil Society View
Hajer Sharief, Co-founder of 'Together We Build It,' a professional network for Libyan women, told the Council that the second anniversary of the Libyan Political Agreement, on 17 December 2017 had passed peacefully, due in no small part to the unity of the Security Council. However, the specter of violence remained; clashes occurred recently between forces affiliated with two rival communities in the area at the eastern vicinity of Tripoli. Tension has also heightened around the city of Derna.
18 October 2017: Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and Ivan Simonovic, United Nations Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, issued a statement calling on the Government of Myanmar "to take immediate action to stop and address the commission of atrocity crimes that are reportedly taking place in northern Rakhine state." The term "atrocity crime" refers to three crimes under international law: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The following is the rest of their statement:
"The Special Advisers have been following the situation in northern Rakhine state for several years and have warned that there was a risk that atrocity crimes could be committed there. Risk factors they identified included very deeply rooted and long-standing discriminatory practices and policies against the Rohingya Muslims population, a failure to stop acts of violence against that group and a failure to put in place conditions that would support the peaceful coexistence of different communities in Rakhine state. “Despite warnings issued by us and by many other officials, the Government of Myanmar has failed to meet its obligations under international law and primary responsibility to protect the Rohingya population from atrocity crimes. The international community has equally failed its responsibilities in this regard”, the Special Advisers stated.
The Special Advisers welcomed recommendations presented by United Nations Security Council Members during an Arria formula meeting on Myanmar on 13 October and urged for an immediate end to the violence in northern Rakhine state, full humanitarian access and the safe, dignified and voluntary return of refugees to their homes. In addition, they highlighted the importance of allowing the Human Rights Council independent international fact-finding mission to access northern Rakhine state to ascertain the veracity of the facts
A recent report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights describes vicious, well-organised, coordinated and systematic attacks by Myanmar security forces, often in concert with armed Rakhine Buddhist individuals against thousands of civilian Rohingya, committed with an intent to drive that population out of Myanmar and prevent them from returning to their homes. These acts are reported to be in response to attacks by militants on 25 August 2017 against Myanmar police posts and a regimental headquarters. United Nations sources indicate that more than 530,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since then. A few thousand Buddhist and Hindu civilians are also reported to be displaced while fleeing attacks by militants. “Once again, our failure to stop atrocity crimes makes us complicit. When will we live up to our countless promises of ‘never again’?” the Special Advisers asked. They emphasized that those implicated in the commission of atrocity crimes must be held accountable, whatever their status.
During the discussions at the Security Council, the Special Advisers were encouraged by what seems to be a consensus among the membership of the Council and the Government of Myanmar to implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, headed by Kofi Annan. They acknowledged as positive the appointment by the Myanmar Government of a ministerial committee to follow up on these recommendations. However, the Special Advisers noted, “True commitment will come with implementation. Any further delay in implementing the recommendations of the Advisory Commission, including on issues of citizenship, will mean further violence and destabilization for the region.” They also urged the international community to support the Myanmar Government in this regard.
Finally, the Special Advisors urged the Government of Myanmar to work towards a national identity in which all populations of Myanmar, including those that identify themselves as Rohingya, feel part of. Peace and development in Myanmar will only come with unity and peaceful coexistence of all populations."
11 October 2017: Media in Rabat are reporting that Horst Köhler, the new personal envoy of the United Nations Secretary General for Western Sahara will be visiting the region shortly. The appointment of Mr. Kohler, a former president of Germany, was announced in September.
Kohler's predecessor, Christopher Ross (United States), was declared persona non grata in 2012 by Morocco which saw him as a proponent for a human rights monitoring role for the UN mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO). Ross held the post from January 2009 to 2017.
During his preliminary consultations Kohler has declared his intention to “re-launch the political process in a new spirit and a new dynamic.” That effort is supported by Security Council resolution 2351 (2017).
10 October 2017: The following is the statement made by the Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to an open session of the Security Council (subheads below are ours):
Futile and Cruel Conflict
"The parties to the conflict in the country are pursuing a "futile and cruel military conflict, which is eroding the path to peace. At the same time, the people of Yemen are suffering from an entirely man-made humanitarian catastrophe.Clashes and exchanges of heavy fire have continued on all major frontlines, including Taiz, Marib, al-Jawf, al Bayda, Hajjah and Sa’adah governorates, and the Saudi-Yemen border areas.
The recent sharp increase in civilian casualties show the parties’ continued disregard for the loss of civilian life and their obligations under international humanitarian law.An airstrike against a residential suburb of Sana’a took place on 25 August 2017, has reportedly resulted in the killing of 14 civilians and the injury of 16 others, and has caused further damage to civilian infrastructure.
In Taiz city, shelling of residential areas from zones controlled by Houthi forces and forces loyal to Ali Abdallah Saleh has continued. In two incidents on 15 and 18 September, rockets fired - killed and injured tens of civilians, including eight children. In addition, on 23 September, the Coalition intercepted a Houthi missile fired towards the Saudi city of Khamis Al-Mushayt. The Houthis’ recent threats to expand the firing of ballistic missiles towards other countries in the Gulf region is a counterproductive escalation of rhetoric.
The recent resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council, supporting the national committee for human rights and establishing a Group of Experts to examine alleged violations and abuses of international human rights and international law is a significant sign of increased engagement of the international community and a step forward towards accountability and reducing future violations.
I have consistently reminded the warring parties of their responsibilities under international humanitarian law and human rights law, including their obligation to stop recruitment of child soldiers and to end sexual and gender-based violence. Targeting civilians and destruction of civilian infrastructure is unacceptable.
The conflict is creating a desperate situation in every facet of daily life. The economy is shrinking even further and the use of dwindling state revenues to fund the war continues to hinder the salary payments on which millions of Yemenis depend. There are continuing efforts to reactivate the Central Bank and the neutralization of the Yemeni economy as recently discussed in the Track II event held in Germany for the interest of repayment of salaries to Yemeni civil servants, and those in the education and health sectors. This will hopefully decrease the humanitarian and economic strife.
Severe Danger of Famine
Some 17 million individuals are food insecure and over one third of the country’s districts are now in severe danger of famine. The destruction of infrastructure and breakdown of public services have fueled the world’s worst outbreak of cholera, which has already killed more than 2,100 individuals and continues to infect thousands each week.
Future Yemeni generations will suffer and bear the burden of this conflict – including the massive destruction, the malnutrition, the lack of education and the economic deterioration. The outlook can only become bleaker in the absence of a political solution. An agreement to end the war is urgently required so that a new Yemeni unity government, supported by the international community, can begin the process of rebuilding the economy and state institutions.
I welcome the efforts of the World Bank and UNICEF to mitigate the impact of the economic crisis. The first disbursal of cash assistance to the most vulnerable Yemeni households took place on 20 August. The 400 million US dollar programme will reach all of its beneficiaries in the coming weeks and months. This programme is providing vital support to these households, and maintains a critical safety net system.
Leaders Uninterested in Solutions
In Yemen, there are no winners on the battlefield. The losers are the Yemeni people who suffer by this war. The people are getting poorer while influential leaders get richer. They are not interested in finding solutions, as they will lose their power and control in a settlement. The parties have to commit to end all hostilities and start discussions for a comprehensive peace agreement. A common ground must be found to relieve the effects of conflict, hunger and disease and increase the trust among each other. An agreement to secure access of humanitarian and commercial goods to Al-Hodeidah and distribution to the rest of the country, opening Sana’a airport and ensuring more consistent salary payments, will be an essential step to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. However, these steps cannot replace a broad solution that we are trying to achieve, which will be a part of a larger comprehensive peace agreement.
To achieve this end, I had meetings with Yemeni and international officials during the General Assembly session in New York, and continue to be in communication with the parties. I am currently in the process of discussing a proposal that includes humanitarian initiatives to rebuild trust and steps to bring the parties back to the negotiations table. We will discuss the details of this proposal with the government of Yemen and the alliance of the Houthis and General People’s Congress, who have committed to engage in a further discussion on the details of the proposal. We hope this commitment will translate into action and deepen their engagement with me on the basis of these initiatives in order to reach a peaceful political solution.
No Excuses, No Justifications
The bloodshed and the destruction of Yemen has to end. There are no excuses. There are no justifications. People are requesting the United Nations for a solution regarding the payment of salaries while others are hindering talks as if they were ignorant to the suffering of millions of Yemenis. Many of the powerful in Yemen benefit from the current conflict at a time their citizens face the worst suffering in the history of Yemen.
The Yemeni people want this war to end, at a time the gap between them and those in power grows. Yemeni youth, women and civil society groups are calling for peace, stability and accountability for crimes committed. In the southern governorates, past injustices and calls for greater autonomy remain unaddressed, and need to be tackled.
Yemenis have many positive ideas to address all of these issues in a peaceful manner if the parties are willing to be flexible and listen to the people. If they do not, the fissures in Yemen’s political and social fabric will become wider, and there is a severe danger of further fragmentation, with an increase in the potential of terrorism.
The United Nations utilizes all its political, logistical, administrative, and advisory facilities to support the Yemeni cause but only the warring parties can decide to bring peace. They are accountable for a failure. I reiterate that the only viable path for the future of Yemen is a negotiated settlement. The proposals that I have put forward meet the concerns of both parties and their implementation would have a real benefit for the Yemeni people.
Finally, I request the esteemed Council to use all the political and economic power to pressure all parties to commit to a path of peace. The parties must climb out from their trenches, and put an end to the hostile rhetoric. Instead of fighting over Yemen, let us cooperate for the best interest of Yemen.
17 July 2017: Ján Kubiš, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), told the Security Council on Monday that after retaking the northern city of Mosul from terrorists, the Baghdad must now pave the way towards national settlement and reconciliation by addressing the long-standing grievances, needs and aspirations of the Iraqi people. The road ahead was challenging, notably in reclaiming territories in the Governorates of Ninawa and Anbar, Hawija District in Kirkuk Governorate, and elsewhere.
Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Iraq (document S/2017/596), Mr. Kubis emphasized the need for demining, stabilization and reconstruction to enable the return of internally displaced persons. The enforcement of law and order, rule of law, justice and accountability, as well as reforms, good governance and development were also critical. “Da’esh’s ultimate defeat can only be secured through inclusive solutions,” he said, welcoming the guidance of the Al-Marja’iyya, who in their victory sermons, pressed those in power to view citizens as equals, regardless of religion, sect, ethnicity or nationality.
However, the rising sentiment in favour of collective punishment of families perceived to be associated with Da’esh was of concern. UNAMI had prioritized justice for those affected by human rights violations committed in the ongoing armed conflict. It was pursuing a national strategy that aimed to allow domestic courts jurisdiction over international crimes, which would complement international efforts to gather evidence on crimes committed by ISIL.
As the fight to eliminate Da’esh was nearing a close, the United Nations was repositioning its response to sexual violence to support the reintegration of survivors into their communities. It also had engaged with senior Iraqi officials on the establishment of the Inter-ministerial Committee on Grave Child Rights Violations.
27 June 2017: The FARQ rebels in Colombia have been fully disarmed. At a ceremony to mark the achievement, Jean Arnault, Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) and head of the UN Mission in Colombia, announced that the ceasefire in the country had been observed by both sides with very few exceptions.
UN Appoints New Youth Envoy
20 June: 2017: Jayathma Wickramanayake of Sri Lanka is the new envoy of the Secretary-General on Youth. She succeeds Ahmad Alhendawi of Jordan. The announcement from the UN noted that the "success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development depends on empowering young people as rights-holders, agents of change and torchbearers."
The UN said that Wickramanayake had "represented and motivated global youth development on an international level since the age of 21, notably during high-level United Nations initiatives including the declaration of World Youth Skills Day." She had "also played a key role in transforming the youth development sector at the national level, notably through the creation of a large movement for civic and political engagement of young people named 'Hashtag Generation'.
Born in 1990, Ms. Wickramanayake is reading for Master of Development Studies, at the University of Colombo and holds a Bachelor degree in Science, from the same university.
Wickramanayake is presently working as an officer of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service. She has previously served as Secretary to the Secretary General of the Parliament of Sri Lanka (2016-2017), Project Officer-Youth, One-Text Initiative in Sri Lanka (2015-2016), Member and Youth Lead Negotiator, International Youth Task Force of the World Conference on Youth 2014 (2013-2014) and Official Youth Delegate to the United Nations, Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development (2012-2013). She was furthermore a Senator in the Sri Lankan Youth Parliament (2013-2015).
3 June 2017: Horst Koehler, former president of Germany and IMF Managing Director, will be the Secretary-General's new personal envoy for Western Sahara, in charge of restarting talks between Morocco and the Polisario independence movement in the former Spanish colony. Morocco claimed the mineral-rich territory when Spain withdrew from it in 1975 and fought the local independence movement, the Polisario Front, until a 1991 UN mediated ceasefire. Plans for a referendum of the indigenous Sahrawi people fell afoul of Morocco's bid to include immigrants from the territory long settled within its borders.
In 2016, relations between the United Nations and Morocco became rocky after former Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon used the word "occupation" to describe the country's military presence in Western Sahara. Dozens of UN staff working for the MINURSO, the UN mission in the territory, were expelled. Tensions also increased following an armed face-off between Moroccan and Polisario forces in the remote Guerguerat area near the Mauritania border. Both sides withdrew their forces earlier this year.
Meanwhile, the UN reports that tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees in Algeria face hunger because the World Food Program has run out of funds for its program there. It has appealed for $7.9 million to keep the program going.
2 JUNE 2017: Aïchatou Mindaoudou, Special Representative of the Secretary-General told the Security Council today of the situation in Côte d’Ivoire where the United Nations is due to end its operation later this month after a 13-year presence.
She reported that in December 2016 the country's three main political parties had participated in legislative elections for the first time in the country’s political history. However, major problems remained. On 22 and 23 May 2017, former combatants whose salaries had not been paid had raised barricades and paralysed economic activity in the capital. In another incident, soldiers had attacked civilians, underlining the need for an immediate Government response.
Although much had been achieved since the mission’s deployment in 2004, challenges persisted in relation to the fragile peace, transitional justice and the training of troops. There was an urgent need to improve discipline within the armed forces and to ensure the full reintegration of former combatants into society. It was also critical to end impunity for criminal human rights violations.
Among the speakers in the Council was Marcel Amon-Tanoh, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Côte d’Ivoire. He noted his country's election as a non-permanent Council member that morning in the General Assembly. The Government was aware of the challenges it faced. In particular, it had to complete the building of an effective and professional army, a process that had recently been upset. Vowing that the withdrawal of UNOCI (on 30 June) would not slow the pace of national reconciliation and growth, he pledged to continue to work closely with the United Nations, and requested that the Organization provide its country team with additional resources.
25 May 2017: Espen Barth Eide, UN special envoy on Cyprus thinks the leaders of the Greek and Turkish communities on Cyprus are "far apart" on holding a final peace summit next month to try and reunify the island as a federation. After a second day of meeting separately with Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, he told the Press that getting agreement on the summit was "proving to be very difficult." Both leaders want a summit in Geneva, but the details of structuring the summit were proving difficult. That was “sad,” he said, “because for the first time in living memory there is a will by both leaders to actually dedicate themselves to a final conference on all issues."
A key hurdle is the 35,000 Turkish troops in the northern part of the island where the Turkish minority has been concentrated since the murderous communal troubles of 1974. Greek Cypriots want the troops gone as part of a reunification deal but the Turkish Cypriots, backed by Turkey, consider them essential to security and to any peace deal. The Greek Cypriot position is that the summit should agree on that issue before proceeding to others; the Turkish Cypriots want all issues on the table at once.
25 May 2017: David Shearer, the Secretary-General's Special Representative (SRSG) in South Sudan told the Security Council by video-link yesterday that it should back a common strategy to advance the peace process amidst the confused political process in the country. Speaking as head of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), he said that the "unity of purpose will send the best signal to South Sudan's political leaders to focus first and foremost on the plight of their citizens." Noting that governments in the region have "significant influence" he also called for a "coherent and unified regional position" to help end the three-year war.
A peace deal signed in August 2015 between the rival leaders under UN pressure led to the establishment of a transitional unity government in April 2016, but was shattered by renewed fighting in July in the same year. The situation now is somewhat hopeful following the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire by President Salva Kiir and the call for a national dialogue; however, the main rebel group (SPLM-IO) has charged that attacks were continuing in Eastern and Central parts of the country.
It is going to be difficult to judge the effectiveness of the ceasefire because seasonal rains are due to make most roads in the country impassable and reduce the scale of military operations for the next four months. The rains will also impede humanitarian efforts, for the small airstrips used to bring in supplies to much of the country will become unusable. Mr Shearer condemned "the unacceptable levels of violence that continue to be directed toward aid workers." They faced detention, threats, arrests, assault and killings.
24 May 2017, Sana’a - The United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, during a 3-day visit to Sana’a discussed how to prevent the spread of military activities with political leaders from Ansar’ Allah and the General People’s Congress and Representatives of other political parties. They also discussed how to ensure the resumption of salaries to all Yemeni civil servants nation-wide. He also met with members of the Yemeni Women’s Pact for Peace and Security and representatives of civil society organizations to discuss current political challenges, security concerns, the economic crisis and recent outbreak of cholera.
Mr. Ahmed drew the attention of political parties to the attack on his convoy on 22 May as he travelled from the airport to the UN compound. He reminded them that local authorities are responsible for the safety of all UN personnel in the country and urged them to investigate the incident, hold those responsible to account, and prevent any such incidents in the future.
The Special Envoy’s visit to Sana’a, follows visits to Saudi Arabia and Qatar where he met with government officials as part of his efforts to find a political solution to the conflict in Yemen. He also met with senior World Bank officials to discuss the growing food insecurity and economic crisis in Yemen.
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Damascus, 18 January 2018: The following is the text of remarks to the Press by United Nations Deputy Special Envoy for Syria, Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy following a meeting with Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad:
RER: Good evening, I had a two-hour meeting today with Dr. Fayssal Mekdad, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Syrian Arab Republic, which was held in the framework of the continuous consultations between the Office of the Special Envoy and the Syrian government, on different levels, to push forward the path of a peaceful settlement to the Syrian crisis.
I can say that our discussions today were useful because it took place in a frank atmosphere, where we reviewed the progress achieved in the political path since my last visit to Damascus, assessed the achievements the previous rounds of intra-Syrian talks, and discussed the ongoing preparations for the UN special meeting with the government and opposition delegations to be held in Vienna on 25 and 26 January. Mr. Mekdad told me that the delegation of the Syrian Arab Republic will be participating in the Vienna special meeting next week.
As you know, during his briefing to the Security Council on the 19th of December, the UN Special Envoy highlighted his vision for the political process, focusing on the second and third baskets of constitution and elections. He was very specific with regards to his vision on the constitution which is how the UN sees how to deal with this sensitive issue. This was the core of our discussion today.
I have expressed to the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs the Special Envoy's expectation of the participation of the delegation of the Syrian government in this special meeting, during which we seek to make significant progress in the implementation of the provisions of Security Council resolution 2254, in particular with regards to the constitutional basket.
I also clarified to Mr. Deputy Minister that the concrete progress we are looking forward to in Vienna requires constructive engagement on the part of the government and the opposition with the specific outline put forward by the Special Envoy in his latest briefing to the Security Council on 19 December 2017.
I would like to emphasize the fact that the Secretary-General of the United Nations and his Special Envoy to Syria have repeatedly stated that the UN is determined to continue its endeavors to bring the positions of the Syrian government and the opposition closer, which would lead to consensus on the full implementation of all the provisions of the aforementioned Security Council resolution, without preconditions and ensuring that the solution would be Syrian-made with the help of the United Nations.
Q & A
Timing and Intent
Question: Why did you set this specific date for Vienna? During this special meeting you will be discussing the constitutional process, and during Sochi also this will be discussed, is this an attempt to undermine the National Dialogue conference in Sochi, or will Sochi be a continuation to what will be agreed upon in Vienna, and also will the UN Special Envoy participate in Sochi?
RER: First of all, the UN Special Envoy has mentioned several times, including during his briefing to the Security Council, that he will call for another round of talks during the month of January, so this is not a surprise. Second, why in this time, and why in Vienna? I think that the invitation that we sent out yesterday mentions that it is due to logistical arrangements that we convene this round of talks in Vienna as it was not possible to convene it in Geneva, due to logistical arrangements regarding hotels, etc. The UN has two headquarters in Europe, in Geneva and in Vienna.
As for discussing the constitution, it is true the National Dialogue congress in Sochi will discuss a number of issues, the most important of which will be the constitution. The Security Council Resolution 2254 is clear; it gives the UN Special Envoy the mandate to set the mechanism and time frame for drafting the constitution. We are keen to find complementarity between the two paths, as with the case in Astana, and we are on continuous consultations with the Russians to ensure so. When things are clearer, which we hope will be achieved during the Vienna meeting when the Syrian parties come together, we can then decide on our position regarding Sochi in light of some details that we asked to receive clarity on.
Question: To what extent can the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura guarantee that the next round of talks in Vienna will not have preconditions, and why is the internal Syrian opposition still excluded from these talks?
RER: The position of the UN is clear: we do not accept preconditions, from any side, and this is our position that has not changed. We look forward to the sides coming and discussing what we propose, which is what I discussed today with Mr. Mekdad. As for preconditions from one side or the other, this is completely rejected.
As for the internal opposition, we are dealing with what the UNSC Resolution 2254 stipulates, which was clear, referring to three platforms, which are unified now in one delegation following the Riyadh II meeting.
Relation to Sochi
Question: Regarding the baskets to be discussed during the meeting, can we consider that the Vienna meeting is in preparation for the Sochi meeting?
RER: This is what we look forward to, and there is no doubt that the success of Vienna will be a success for Sochi. But as I mentioned we will focus only on the constitutional issues, as it is just a two-day meeting. This does not mean that any side cannot propose other issues, but as we seek to render Vienna a success so as to contribute to the success of Sochi, the UN Special Envoy for Syria sought to focus on the constitution.
Question: So there is coordination?
RER: We are in continuous consultations with the Russian side, which is the main sponsor of the conference.
21 December 2017: UN Special Envoy, Jan Egeland speaking after a meeting of the Humanitarian Task Force of the International Syria Support Group in Geneva. Edited transcript:
The facts are not good. I remember the last stocktaking in December 2016, we felt that now, it cannot get worse ... In many respects, 2017 got even worse. We are now in the seventh war year, and it is not getting better.
The number one indicator of how we are faring is the number of times civilians have been displaced. ... in 2017, 2.6 million times a child, a woman or a man had to flee inside Syria. In 2016, it was 2 million times. ...
It wasn’t equally bad through 2017. We had a good period from, I would say, end of May until August ... was more quiet, and we can thank the de-escalation zones agreement of the Astana partners for their influence on calming down this horrific conflict. But since August, it’s been very bad all over, and in October and November between 700,000 and 800,000 times a person had to flee in Syria. It is the two worst months for the two last years...
Of course no other place did so many people flee for their lives in the last two months as in Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor, where a cruel occupation of the so-called Islamic State ended in a very bloody retaking of territory.
If we look at returns, there is progress, so more people were able to return to their areas in part because it became quiet in some of the major cities. According to UNHCR, 720,000 people could return and did return home in the first nine months of the year, until the end of September, that’s many more than in the entire 2016 when 560,000 people returned. And many have seen the return increase as a sign that things have become better in 2017. Well, when three to four times more people flee as those who return, I don’t think it is a good balance sheet for 2017.
We failed too many people in 2017. For 2018, families are debating whether to try to return or not - as refugees and as internally displaced. A survey shows about half of the Syrians displaced have not made up their minds whether they will try to return or not.
Just over a quarter will return, 27 percent, and then many actually want to integrate where they are. So the family jury is out, really: should we risk it and go back or not, and at the moment most are seeing things as being too unsafe and there had been too little to return to in Syria as of late.
We have to do better in 2018, both in security and in providing facilities to return back to.
What about the main purpose of the Humanitarian Task Force... which is to provide support to the hard-to-reach and besieged areas? There are much fewer living in hard-to-reach areas at the end of December this year, compared to last year. Five and a half million people in hard-to-reach areas including all of the Islamic State held territories at that time, compared to 3 million people now. More than twice as many, 975,000 people, lived in besieged areas in December of last year, compared to the 420,000 in besieged areas today.
However, and in spite of there being fewer people to try to reach in besieged areas, ... In many months we reached only 10 or maximum 20 percent of the people in besieged areas. In December we haven’t reached a single soul. All our attempts have gone in vain, we haven’t gotten permission from the Government or from the parties concerned to go to a single besieged area, so far in December. So we are ending with the worst month, it seems, since we started our work in February last year.
That is in contrast to the overall humanitarian response is very impressive in Syria, there are a lot of very courageous humanitarian workers providing for a lot of people: 7.6 million people on average get some form of assistance every single month, 7.6 million people of the 13.1 million people in some need, well over half, get support every month.
About two thirds of this is delivered within Syria and from and to Government controlled areas, 37 percent. Over one third goes cross-border to opposition controlled areas, and that is why it was an enormous relief for us, who are humanitarian workers, that the Security Council did the right thing and extended the authorization for cross-border work for another 12 months, and they did that this week.
2.8 million people get assistance every single month on average through the cross-border relief given by non-governmental organizations and UN agencies.
... In eastern Ghouta, very close to Damascus, there are nearly 400,000 people and they are besieged. ...reached, over the last couple of months, only reached 28,000 of the nearly 400,000 people with food and other supplies. ... one third of children under five were stunted because of malnutrition, and 12 percent were suffering from acute general malnutrition, it was the most shocking finding ... it is next door to Damascus, where there are enormous warehouses full of what they need in eastern Ghouta. ... we have seen in October and November that food still available on the market is only available to the most affluent. The price now is eight times what it was in August and September, so a single mother with five children cannot afford to buy anything, she is reliant on supplies that we are unable to give because we do not get permission from the Government to go.
494 people were on the priority list formedical evacuations. That number is going down, not because we are evacuating people but because they are dying. I informed the task force today that on the 14th of December, while we were meeting and we were having a press conference, a nine months old child from a place called al-Marsh, in eastern Ghouta, died. The child had a tough start, congenital cleft palate, it is a condition that is bad in your mouth, but that was not the reason that the poor child died. The child died because of severe acute malnutrition and because not being evacuated in time to reach the doctor that could have saved the life of the nine-months-old.
The health crisis is a crisis within the crisis. Again, let’s remind ourselves: for many years, Syria has been the number one country in the world for attacks on health workers and health facilities ....
It is also a place where medical equipment, surgical materials and medicines had been removed or reduced in quantity from all UN inter-agency convoys during 2017, as it was before. It doesn’t mean that all medical equipment is taken away, but 50 tons were taken off and 123 tons of the WHO, World Health Organization, supplies went through. So more than the third is taken off and that is often the things that are most life-saving for the wounded, for those who need acute trauma treatment.
... it is not only eastern Ghouta, there are smaller groups of civilians in Foah and Kafraya besieged by armed opposition groups, as there are in Yarmouk, the old Palestinian refugee camp, and the reason we are not going there is this obscene tit-for-tat: I am not letting you get to the civilians I besiege unless my friends in another place get relief which means that no one gets relief.
Question: All of this year you have repeated what you have just said today that humanitarian aid had not reached the needy people, but at the same time during this year you have spoken many times about Russian promises, engagements, letters, meetings etc. promising that Russia will help to get this aid. So at the end of the year how do you assess these promises? The role of Russia on humanitarian access, what do you think that Russia can do better?
JE: Russia, Iran, China, Egypt, Algeria, Iraq with lots of [people] on the ground can all do more with the Government, that’s very clear. They are over there with military hardware, with soldiers, they can more, must do more. It has not all been bleak in 2017, we have had dozens and dozens of convoys to places where we would probably not have been able to go at all if it hadn’t been for diplomatic help by Russia and others. But we are ending now with complete paralysis this year and it is a shame. But I also haste to say that Foah and Kafraya are besieged by armed opposition groups, in Idlib there is a lot of others who have influence in Idlib, they haven’t been able to help us there either. There is homework for everybody and homework has not been done well enough by those there and those who suffer are of course the children in the cross fire.
Question: Last week in this room we asked Mr. de Mistura regarding this medical evacuation from eastern Ghouta and he did tell us that he raised the issue with the Government side during the talks but he couldn’t get a satisfactory answer from the Government side during the talks. In this case, are you still going to wait for a positive answer from the Government side or will you take a different step this time, or do you think the Government side is committing a war crime in eastern Ghouta right now because we are talking about 500 children, wounded and sick and no medical evacuation is possible.
JE: We are unarmed humanitarian workers, doctors, nurses, we cannot go to a besieged place, besieged and encircled militarily without permissions from those who besiege. And in eastern Ghouta it is the Government forces or Government aligned forces besieging so we are reliant on a green light and the so-called facilitation letters, that has not come, that could come tomorrow. There is no formal response yet, the list has been there in various forms since May, and the 490 plus names have been resubmitted several times over the last two months.
I think part of the problem, however, is that it is an ongoing war. It is true that there come mortars out of eastern Ghouta to Damascus and they kill and wound civilians in Damascus, it is true. Just as there are air raids killing even more people inside eastern Ghouta. That has nothing to do with the right of evacuating, and obligation to evacuate civilians, wounded.
It is true that there are detainees inside, and that they are in bad shape, there should be a detainees’ exchange, that should be completely de-linked from feeding children and evacuating children. It is true that it is an unsafe area and there is fighting there, but we can de-conflict, we can go, we are willing and able to go. There are even some commercial trucks going in and out of eastern Ghouta, of course we could do this medical evacuation, so I think really there is no argument against it, neither there, nor in Foah, Kafraya and Yarmouk which is another problem of other parties involved.
Question: Just to follow up, how about the war crimes? Do you think the Government side is committing war crimes?
JE: You know, I am the humanitarian worker, I leave to the lawyers and experts to characterize what it is under the law.
Question: You gave us the number of patients, but since news came out a couple of months ago, how many people have died, patients have died, in total, are they all children? And back to this reason, why the Syrian Government is not giving you the permission, does it have to do because the fighting is going on in Ghouta and missiles being lobbed from there, and what about the influence of Russia, my colleague has mentioned that, but is Russia toothless in this situation? Doesn’t it have the ability to pressure Syria, I mean it has been its faithful ally for a while now?
JE: We have confirmation of 16 having died on these lists since they were resubmitted in November, and it is probably higher. It is hard to monitor these lists because they are spread out over many places. I fear that there will be many more, and I fear that during this Christmas and holiday season there will be more deaths unless we get the evacuation going. They have to be evacuated to get the treatment they need to save their lives in the short, medium or longer term.
Back to Russia and others, this is a task force co-chaired by Russia and the US, we have gotten support in many places for convoys, de-confliction, diplomatic support and so on. We are working with the two co-chairs in a complex operation to reach Rukban, which is the desert area just on the Syrian-Jordanian border, haven’t been able to do that either in the recent weeks, I hope we can do it very soon. I believe all members of the task force want to help us, I think all can do more, they should be able to have influence commensurate with their military and economic investment in Syria. And at times I wonder, really, why there isn’t more influence, but I see a very bitter war where we are having a reduced impact as the months go.
We are getting no formal response but the arguments I hear are: you should rather be interested in other areas, you should know that we are being attacked from there, you should know that they have detainees that they do not release, you should know about all the bad things that the other side is doing, which is exactly what we heard from other sides also. We hear that on both sides of the conflict all the time, that’s why I say it has to be de-linked from that. I am saying also to the countries, you have to be blunt and say: forget about all of those other arguments, these are children, these are wounded, these are women, they have nothing to do with this bitter political military struggle.
Question: It is particularly about what you were saying about de-linking the two, because this is something I heard from quite a lot of senior humanitarian officials in the last few months, I am just wondering, you have appeared many times with Staffan de Mistura, the whole issue of aid access has been very public, and it is regularly mentioned as part of the peace process as part of the diplomatic process, and I was wondering whether you think that’s an issue as we see now very basic humanitarian access has become a bargaining chip, would you prefer to keep a much lower profile and just have your staff quietly, practically negotiating a little bit of access here or there, I know it is hard.
JE: It is a good question, I mean humanitarian work can be, and is routinely contaminated by political and military considerations. At the same time, there are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian problems. If we are going to get out of this quagmire it is because there will be political agreements really. So I hope that out of Astana meetings the next couple of days we will have some kind of impulse for a change on the humanitarian side. This humanitarian task force came out of a meeting at ministerial level of the [International] Syria Support Group in February 2016 in Munich, and within 72 hours we could roll to places where we’d never been before. So I want them to help me do my job and I want to repel any attempt to bring it in to our civilians, if you like, as a bargaining chip in a bitter political conflict.
Question: To follow up on your expectations on Astana, and also if there is any prospect of a peace deal, ceasefire, some sort of deal in eastern Ghouta, because I have read stuff about that but you haven’t mentioned it.
JE: I hope there will be a cessation of hostilities in and for eastern Ghouta. That would also certainly help us in getting in supplies before hunger grips the whole population, and also get wounded and medical cases out. The irony is of course that eastern Ghouta was declared de-escalation zone once, and for a period of time, it was - it is not anymore. We need re-energized efforts and I would be happy if it came now from Astana, the Special Envoy will be there, will come there, and we have a technical team, but this is led by Russia, Turkey and Iran.
Summary of statement by UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura
1 December 2017: The delegations gathered in Geneva for the Intra-Syrian talks received yesterday a paper on "12 Living Intra-Syrian Essential Principles" dated 30 November 2017. The nature and content of the paper are as follows:
26 November 2017: A Syrian "expanded opposition conference" has just concluded in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It is a response to negotiations sponsored by Russia, Iran and Turkey that are seen as an attempt to displace the UN Security Council sponsored talks in Geneva set to resume next week.
The meeting announced a negotiating team for the Geneva talks tasked to participate without any preconditions. The meeting affirmed that the implementation of relevant United Nations resolutions is the sole reference for the negotiation.and unequivocally rejected terrorism as a means to resolve the crisis in Syria.
A statement by UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura took note of the "broad and inclusive participation" at the Riyadh meeting, "including all opposition components identified in Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) and a wide range of others from both inside and outside of Syria, including independents - and female participants." He confirmed that the Syrian opposition delegation would be invited to Geneva for the intra-Syrian talks beginning on 28 November.
Geneva, 9 November 2017: Briefing by Special Advisor to the UN Jan Egeland
JE: We just finished the meeting of the Humanitarian Task Force, a very bleak report was delivered from us, on the UN side, I feel as if we are now returning to some of the bleakest days of this conflict again, at least the fears are that we are now returning with civilians in cross fire in too many provinces at the same time.
De-escalation in Many Areas
We have had a period of de-escalation in many areas, it helped a lot in terms of less displacement, less killing, less civilians maimed and killed. We are now having reports of attacks against civilians, displacement of civilians from Idlib and Aleppo in the northwest, through Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor in the north and the east, and intensively in the central regions, east of Damascus, in Hama and elsewhere.
Nowhere is it as bad as in eastern Ghouta, which is the area just next to the capital Damascus city, it is in rural Damascus, east of the capital. This epicenter of suffering has 400,000 civilians, men, women, and children, in a dozen besieged towns, and villages.
Since September, it has been completely sealed off until September when there was some access with the commercial and other traffic. Now the only life-line would be our convoys. This last week we were, again, unsuccessful in spite of all possible efforts to get convoys into these areas with food and medical supplies. The week before we had three convoys overall, including a large one into these areas that got the first supplies in for many months. The week before that, again, we were completely unsuccessful. Of course we cannot continue like that: if we get only in a fraction of what is needed, it will be a complete catastrophe.
The assessment that was done by our colleagues, they were only there for a few hours the week before this, a week ago, showed that there are now a growing number of acutely malnourished children. If you are acutely malnourished, you are very close to dying. That is why we need also the medical evacuation. Since May we have tried to have large medical evacuations from eastern Ghouta where the medical services have been so hard hit also by the war, and by the lack of supplies.
It is only a little bit more than a dozen patients that have been evacuated through the good efforts, heroic efforts, of the Syrian Red Crescent, so there is an accumulated number now of around 400 men, women, and children, I would estimate maybe three quarters of them are women and children that need to be evacuated now.
We have confirmation of seven patients dead because they were not evacuated, some of these are children. A list of 29 cases was given some time ago, of 29 cases that are the most critical cases, these will die if they are not evacuated, they include 18 children, and among them young Hala, Khadiga, Mounir and Bassem. They all have a name, they all have a story, they all have the urgent need to be evacuated now.
Evacuations Not Permitted
We are still not getting permissions to do this evacuation even though everything is ready. We’ve had minute and detailed planning with the medical groups still functioning inside these areas, with the colleagues in the Syrian Red Crescent, it is all coordinated with the World Health Organization, with the rest of the UN System, we know where to take the cases, we know what treatment they need. So why men in their 50s and 60s like me stop women and children from getting the medical service that will save their lives, is beyond my imagination. It can change tomorrow, if we get the green light we can do it.
Of course it is not by evacuating people you solve the problem. You solve the problem with an end to the fighting and the shelling and it is now cross-fire, there is air raids and shelling from government controlled areas into these areas, but there is also a lot of mortars coming out. I was in contact with colleagues in Damascus city last night, reporting of mortars going on their way.
400,000 in Need
The violence has to stop and we have to have general access then we can feed and provide to the 400,000 people. It is not just eastern Ghouta, there are also other areas and let me mention one, the Berm, which is in the south east of Syria, is a desolate area at the border with Jordan. Some 50,000-55,000 civilians are there. The last time there was a partial distribution to these people was in June. We now have, thanks to excellent cooperation with, among others, our two co-chairs, the Russian Federation and the United States, a detailed plan of how to go from within Syria, from Damascus to the Berm and then a further plan to be able to deliver inside this area, that is opposition controlled still. It is urgent that it happens because the reports of suffering within the Berm is tremendous.
There is hope in us making progress, not only on the Berm and on eastern Ghouta, with the fact that the Russian Federation did initiate a trilateral problem solving mechanism, with the UN, the government of Syria and the Russian Federation meeting in Damascus. It had the first meetings, still hasn’t produced the concrete results that were needed, but it is our strong feeling that the Russian Federation wants us to get the access and wants to help us, so we are hopeful that this trilateral mechanism will yield results and that they can yield results starting now.
Winter is Coming
My final point. Winter is coming, winter in Syria is as hard as it is in Europe, the difference between in Europe and in Syria is that people are now sitting after a 7-year war, longer than the second World War, they have little, if no, reserves, they have no heat in the house, they live in a ruin, it will be a horrific winter.
In eastern Ghouta the price of a food basket is ten times that of the average in the country, so people cannot afford food and that will be their situation as the harsh winter is coming.
Questions: De-escalation Zones
Question: Mr. Egeland, how many of the so-called de-escalation zones we have in Syria now, four or six, because Mr. de Mistura in his speech to the Security Council he mentioned another two de-confliction zones, so could you clarify this issue? The second question what is the population in Raqqa now and what was the population before the operation took place there?
JE: Well, on the de-escalation zones I don’t know what has been reported from the Astana partners, basically it is 2.6 million people I think, more or less, in these de-escalation zones, and they range from Idlib in the north to Daraa in the south. But listen, eastern Ghouta is a de-escalation zone, there is not much de-escalation there today, and there is not either access, so our strong appeal to the Astana partners that succeeded in delivering de-escalation, even to areas with horrific fighting, is please help re-establish calm, re-establish de-escalation. The exact number I do not know because I am not privy to those negotiations.
In Raqqa, we still do not have access to Raqqa city, as UN, the main reason is that the place is peppered with unexploded bombs, explosives from the Islamic State, that left all that they could in the worst possible way they could, they have been sabotaging work for civilians since the beginning, but also because of the fierce air campaign and the shelling, Raqqa has seen some of the worst fighting in modern times. It is not possible for civilians to return to Raqqa city, but there has been returns to some places in the vicinity. We are providing now supplies for some 400,000 people in or from Raqqa governorate, many of them are displaced in other areas.
Situation in Berm
Question: Sir, could you give us more details about the Berm city near Jordan border, how many people are trapped there? And what is the hope for you to be able to reach them? Thank you.
JE: The Berm, the main place there is called the Rukban, and our best estimates is around 55,000 people, there could be less, there could be more. These have previously gotten supplies from Jordan, we are now planning to go from Damascus with convoys to the Berm, very dangerous, very difficult, but we have a plan and we’ve had meetings where the Russians and the Americans have helped a lot in designing this plan that we hope can yield results in having supplies reaching the people inside the area. But it has to be done across front line operation, when it will happen, I don’t know, Insha Allah very soon.
Number of People
Question: What you have said goes against the sense of normality that the Syrian government tries to inspire outside, so why this is happening? What are the reasons behind hostilities are regaining (inaudible) and if you could tell us how many people since this new wave of violence is now outside of the reach of the UN, of humanitarian aid?
JE: The number of people in, sort of, besieged areas is between 400,000 and 500,000 now, so it is about half the number that was there when we started, it was closer to a million earlier. The people living in hard to reach areas are 2.9 million now, compared to around 4.5 million earlier, One of the reasons that this number has decreased is that the Islamic State is controlling less territory, but also other areas are calm now or calmer now than before, including Aleppo city that we can reach. We can reach for the first time Deir ez-Zor city by land, before we could only reach it with high altitude air drops that were spectacularly successful in feeding people but spectacularly expensive as well.
I do not know if I am saying things that are very different from others, what I really try is to reflect the exact, and full and utter truth. We have now gone through the list of air raids, shelling, mortars, going from opposition side, and it is endless the number of places that people have been hit, the number of civilians that have been wounded, the internally displaced people who hoped to find to refuge and are now again in cross-fire.
This can change fast, but at the moment it is very bad and the worst, the epicenter is eastern Ghouta and there are 400,000 people there.
Caught in Cross-fire
Question: Can you tell us since when is this?
JE: Well it has been gradual since over the last weeks but really I would say, the last ten days have been really bad. All schools in eastern Ghouta are closed. I should say, all of the remaining schools for the 400,000 people, some 200,000 of those will be children, schools are closed, it was deemed as hopeless to do normal education in the fighting that was there. In Idlib I think I counted five places that had air raids, in southern Aleppo governorate a lot of places as well. And that comes in addition to all of the violence in Raqqa and in Deir ez-Zor, where one has been fighting Islamic State.
And here also a comment, and perhaps in general, I think we should remind all of those who are fighting so-called the designated terrorist groups, that there are very good civilians among the so-called terrorists. These civilians have exactly the same right of protection against indiscriminate attacks as any other civilians anywhere really. And the number of people who have had to flee in Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor is so big that, you know, you wonder is this really warfare where one is sparing all civilians among designated terrorists as much as one can, I hope it is but it really begs the question.
Question: You just mentioned the designated terrorist groups the victories against the Islamic State and the recent victories, what impact did that have on the overall humanitarian situation, especially in albu Kamal today?
JE: Well, we are getting access to civilians, I mean because one has retaken areas held by Islamic State we humanitarians can operate, we can reach civilians, and people also can return when it is possible. But the cost has been tremendous, really. Again I repeat the question, was it really necessary to destroy the city to liberate it? Was it really necessary to displace everybody to free them? Maybe, but I think the question has to be asked, the cost has been tremendous both in Raqqa and now still in Deir ez-Zor area. But the positive side is now people can return and we can operate there. We were not allowed to operate by the ruthless Islamic State that held these territories.
400 Evacuation Cases
Question: I want to ask about the 400 medical evacuation cases, could you please elaborate on their stage, are they in a very serious condition, what kind of treatment do they need and where are they now? Thanks
JE: The 400 are now in clinics, in basements, in makeshift hospitals, inside the eastern Ghouta, besieged towns and villages. They range from acutely malnourished children that are in some cases acutely malnourished because their mothers were so weak that they couldn’t breastfeed. To save their lives you have to have a therapeutic feeding, it is a real operation to do it, and they need to be evacuated. And there are severely wounded civilians, children, women, men.
What I really really cannot understand is that these people cannot be evacuated and that these children and women meet this bureaucratic wall of inaction, I cannot see, so what about a ceasefire now in this area and a greenlight to all medical evacuations and that is of course our appeal to both the government side and to the rebels that are throwing mortar, grenades the other way and into civilian areas into Damascus.
8th Year of Fading War
Question: The war to some extent, had fallen from the front pages because people think it is kind of over, could you just address that, tell us what you think of war is over to what extent?
JE: We are now in the 7th -8th year of war, it is fading, we were counting, you know, grenades, and looking at each and every single house and clinic being hit in Aleppo, we are not even close to that now with the eastern Ghouta and the other places. But the suffering is the same. I hope our humanity is not having a time expiry date, after seven years it is over. These people need our solidarity and our help and our diplomatic efforts until this war is over, hopefully we are going into the last war winter, but it is going to be war winter and it is going to be among the toughest, in some areas the toughest, I fear for this winter we are coming into and our appeal to the some 23 members of the Humanitarian Task Force, is lift it up now to the highest levels of government. This is a manmade disaster, it can end.
26 October 2017: Speaking by video from Geneva, Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria briefed the Security Council on recent developments and plans for the next round of intra-Syrian talks. The following is the lightly edited text of the substantive content of the briefing:
"We are seeing very significant developments in the fight against UN-proscribed terrorists in Syria. Raqqa has been liberated by the US-led coalition; Mayadeen by the Syrian government and its allies; and action continues to eliminate the remaining Daesh pockets in Deir-ez-Zor. By and large, the deconfliction among the parties fighting Daesh has been so far working.
But we also see Daesh retreating into the desert and launching brutal asymmetric attacks in and near Damascus. Without an inclusive political process, there is a real threat that Daesh or similar entities could return and exploit the feelings of marginalisation and grievances. That’s why we need a political process. On another note, it is also clear that some recent public ceremonies in Raqqa did not send the right signal, indeed the wrong signal, about inclusion.
Very Mixed Picture
Meanwhile – apart from the southwest, where via the Amman arrangements the overall level of violence remains reduced despite some flashpoints in Beit Jinn – we are witnessing numerous reports of heavy shelling and even airstrikes. In Idleb and Hama, this might be attributed to actions by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham – al Nusra. But in other areas - Eastern Ghouta, southern Damascus and the Rastan triangle – there has been a trend of re-escalation rather than de-escalation, something that many fear might intensify if energies are directed from fighting Daesh somewhere else.
Let me also register my concern: we are not seeing an increased humanitarian access, in de-escalation areas and elsewhere as we have wished, but I will leave to my colleague Mark Lowcock to actually refer to it when it will be his own turn. As you know, we have seen some shocking images which we cannot independently verify allegedly emerging indeed from Eastern Ghouta in the last few days, and again I will leave to Mark Lowcock to elaborate on that when it will be his own turn.
The desired improvement on humanitarian access therefore continues to elude us, and this is due to many factors: the ongoing fighting in some areas, bureaucratic impediments or interference by parties to the conflict. Those with influence must work to enable the UN and its partners to deliver assistance by whatever modalities are available - cross-line, cross-border and regular programmes.
With a genuine sense of civic duty and commitment to support their own fellow Syrians, we are hearing constant messages coming from the civil society organisations were continuing to express alarm at the impact of the conflict on the protection of civilians, which are still being affected, including killing of civilians and the lack of humanitarian access. We all share this concern. That’s why I am raising it but again I will leave it to Mark Lowcock to elaborate on that.
So, it is a very mixed picture. Terrorism is on the defensive – but it will not be defeated by military means alone. De-escalation arrangements are being seriously sometimes challenged, but they are working. So the next Astana meeting should focus on putting the existing arrangements back on track and finalising the establishment of a proper monitoring system. And it is vital to see real action on the humanitarian front.
Let me turn to the political process, and let’s recall that
I have been carefully preparing a new round of talks therefore. Last week I was in Moscow to see the Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defence Minister Shoigu of the Russian Federation; and in Brussels to see the High Representative for the Foreign and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini to discuss with her the possibilities and the ways through which the Brussels conference in the Spring could move forward the political process by that time hopefully when it is established.
Yesterday I saw US National Security Adviser McMaster in Washington and I have just come to brief you after meeting with the US Secretary of State Tillerson here in Geneva – which is why, and I have to apologise to you, I am not able to be with you in person but I am through a VTC. While in New York I also consulted the Secretary-General earlier this week in New York and received very clear guidance. I am having now a range of other contacts, including with Syrian and regional players.
8th Round of Talks
It is my intention to convene round 8 of the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva on the 28 of November. I will continue to consult all concerned in this regard right up to that day. And we intend to have [in Geneva] formal plenary meetings as well as technical discussions over a period of time.
The workplan for round 8 in Geneva will be framed by resolution 2254 and the four baskets -- which each need to find an expression in a framework agreement to realize a transitional political process implementing 2254. I have asked for focus and realism because we need to get the parties into real negotiation over items where there is some prospect that they could begin to narrow the gaps and really negotiate.
Applying this logic, my considered assessment as the mediator is that, for round 8 – and I would like to ask you for your support on this – we should see if we can move some aspects of the agenda concretely forward – just far beyond exploration, and into negotiation.
Specifically, we should focus in my opinion in round 8 on two main points: one, the schedule and process to draft a new constitution; and two (and not necessarily in that order), the precise requirements for UN supervised elections as per 2254. Negotiations should all be informed by the overall framework of course of resolution 2254 – I said it already – and by the living 12 essential principles. I am ready to put on that occasion some initial thoughts to the parties as a starting point for serious negotiations.
I also believe the time has come for a serious step on detainees, abductees and missing persons – and I genuinely hope that this could emerge from the next Astana meeting. Indeed, we have made some suggestions already in advance on how to build on it; and we need to continue to push for progress however we can because that is probably one of the most important confidence-building measures that Syrians, thousands of them, would like to hear.
As we focus on negotiations on two key points – UN-supervised elections as per resolution 2254 and the constitution – we must continue discussions and preparations for negotiations on all baskets, including 1 and 4. It is hard to see how in fact this could succeed without looking at it in the context of 2254.
We will also do everything possible to ensure that we draw on the best contributions of civil society through the Civil Society Support Room that we have here and utilise women’s contributions and a gender perspective including via the Women Advisory Board, especially on the two main issues for negotiation in round 8 which I just mentioned.
Security Council Support
Now, I need your support to move ahead – let me first of all indicate what areas. We hope to see a successful, focused meeting in Astana on 30 and 31 October. Regarding Astana, I flagged already the serious challenges to the de-escalation arrangements, and the importance of advancing the detainee file. We must also be ensuring humanitarian mine action moves forward. We have a common interest in preventing further unravelling of interim de-escalation and ceasefire arrangements that have been put in place. That is what Astana was always meant to be about – and that’s what we want and hope that they would be able to, rightly, achieve it completely.
Second, those with influence over the Government should now exercise their influence and focus on how to ensure that it comes to Geneva ready to negotiate. I particularly raised these points in detail in my meetings in Moscow quite intentionally.
Third, we need to see a successful Riyadh 2 meeting soon – ideally before the next Geneva, and we will continue to coordinate on that. Now, we have heard about the fact that this initiative is likely to actually take place. And we sincerely hope that the initiative that was already an initiative by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia when they hosted the key meeting in 2015, and we have now a follow up in hosting Riyadh 2 meeting of the opposition, and we hope that will be proceeding accordingly.
It would be a mistake by all of us if we see the time is on our side. The best way to proceed requires indeed instead an intensified engagement amongst the key players in support of the Geneva process.
Let me note here that Syrian women’s rights advocates are calling for a minimum of 30 percent representation in the delegations of both the government and the opposition as negotiators. I urge the Syrian parties and – I do it all the time you know – and international supporters to actually strongly support this call.
Fourth, let’s remember the regional and international dimensions on Syria. I am doing my best as the mediator to consult widely, to focus international discussions on how concretely to support the Geneva process, and I frankly welcomed any suggestions from among you on how this can be done. In this regard, I welcome initiatives by which the international community could come together in supporting the UN efforts.
Finally, I wish to bring to your attention that the Russian Federation, when I was in Moscow, has briefed me regarding of their own initiative, or the initiative, or an initiative, to convene a large gathering of Syrians inside Syria, at the Hmeimim Russian military airbase, in the near future. We may perhaps hear more about this during our closed consultations, including from the Russian Permanent Representative, and I look forward to hearing that and the views of other members of the Council.
My focus in looking at this, at Riyadh, at Astana, at anything else is always the same: does it help to advance the UN-led process in Geneva as per resolution 2254 or not?
Some bottom lines
27 June 2017: Text of Security Council briefing by Staffan de Mistura, Special Envoy on Syria:
"As usual in Syria we have a mixed picture and I have to refer to it. There have been some interesting technical steps in advance of the 7th round of intra-Syrian talks that will take place as you know very well by now on the period of the 10-14 July. There are currently serious efforts on the other hand underway to deliver further agreements and implementation agreements regarding the de-escalation zones before an Astana meeting which is planned on the 4-5 July. But there have also been worrying developments which we cannot ignore and we will elaborate a little bit on that. We are at a time of testing whether the political will exists for real de-escalation and more meaningful political talks and move beyond preparatory talks.
Throughout this period, the UN has been quite active, convening joint technical meetings with opposition experts, seeking to support the efforts of the Astana guarantors on de-escalation, consulting widely including in Moscow and Paris and with many others, and laying the basis for a new round of the Geneva talks - and also having consultations with our colleagues in the European Union. Let me map this out for you and look to where we can go next.
Technical Consultative Process
In the last round of intra-Syrian talks in Geneva, I did announce the establishment of a technical consultative process - you remember, that was an additional layer that we believe can be very helpful in actually abolishing layers by accelerating the real talks. This technical consultative process was meant to develop relevant options on constitutional and legal issues that would need to be considered anyway and resolved anyway in relation to any proposals and positions put forward in formal sessions. This was designed in fact to help the formal talks to progress more expeditiously, and be better prepared by ensuring that any negotiated transitional political process would enjoy solid technical constitutional and legal foundations. Let me give you one example, some times ago as you will remember, we had a moment of truth in Afghanistan, many years ago, I was around and some of you were. And there was a feeling that nothing was moving forward until at a certain point there was a rush for conference in Bonn. Much of the work had been already prepared. Preparatory work which appears sometimes to be tedious, sometimes not conclusive, was immediately put in action and utilized as homework preparing for the Bonn conference. Well we are in a certain way doing something similar, waiting for the major Geneva conference, God willing.
We made it clear that the consultative process created was technical - as you know everything we do is political but the particular emphasis in this case were technical -, expert and non-binding in nature. It was not designed, and it is not designed to act as a negotiating forum, to take on the political responsibilities of the formal sessions, or to take on itself the Syrian people’s right to determine the constitutional future of the state of Syria. But it is a serious process because it does prepare for this.
You will recall that both the Government and the three opposition invitees to the intra-Syrian talks – those mentioned in 2254 – all agreed, last time, to participate in separate consultations under this consultative process, and indeed we were able to do so separately in the last round for - at least two days.
Since then, there has been a potentially significant new development. On 15 and 16 June, two days ago, opposition experts from the High Negotiations Committee and the Cairo and Moscow platforms convened jointly, together, in the same room, in Geneva at the invitation of the UN within the framework of the consultative process. This was the first time a joint set of UN meetings with the opposition invitees in one room has taken place, and not only for protocol reasons, but substantively discussing during the whole day among them and with us - and we believe we must build on this.
The opposition experts worked to develop joint technical options regarding the schedule and process for drafting a new constitution and its popular approval. They also discussed the principles involved, covering the substance of the so-called living 12 points that we did put forward in round 4. The experts also discussed these issues in the context of a negotiated political transition process within the framework of relevant resolutions of the Security Council.
While such expert meetings are by nature exploratory and non-binding, the joint meeting brought to light welcome similarities and common technical and perhaps even political understanding of various issues, and could potentially be the beginning of greater technical coordination among these three groups and we hope you will be helping us in supporting these three groups to do so in order to show unity.
The participants felt that more work could be even more productive, and my office has, therefore, accordingly invited them to participate next week in a further set of joint meetings in the framework of the consultative process on constitutional and legal issues, ahead of the seventh round of formal intra-Syrian talks, taking place as you know in July.
You will recall that the Government of Syria which was by the way the first to commit to the technical process, communicated to me that it would participate in expert meetings in the framework of technical consultation process during formal sessions of the intra-Syrian talks -- but not outside those formal occasions. I therefore look forward to experts from my team continuing during the 7thround the engagement that began with experts from the Government during the 6th round.
Naturally, the UN remains ready to engage with the Government experts at any mutually convenient time, including before and after formal talks.
Four Baskets of Issues
In my formal invitations to the forthcoming round of the intra-Syrian talks, I encouraged the invitees to prepare actively. I look forward therefore, to them engaging in an intensified set of discussions on issues across all four baskets – governance issues, constitutional issues, electoral issues, counter-terrorism, security governance and medium term confidence-building issues. I hope it will be possible to accelerate the peace talks. I am giving consideration to sharing some of my own thinking on certain issues in order to stimulate the parties.
If the environment is propitious, I am also ready to seek to facilitate direct talks between the Government and the opposition, hopefully unified opposition, in those talks, either at the formal or technical level. This is something that all sides have stated more than ones they want, and I hope conditions are being created that could enable this.
I also believe it would be important to aim for a further round towards end August or early September, in advance of the September General Assembly meeting.
Civil Society Role
Both during and between the upcoming rounds of formal talks and expert meetings, my team will continue to closely engage with the members of the Women’s Advisory Board of Syria and the Civil Society Support Room and listen to their suggestions and practical advice. In particular, my team and I continue to strive to engage with and hear the priorities of more women's organizations, including those working across Syria, inside Syria, during and between rounds of intra-Syria talks.
In this context, I should note that, following the last round round of intra-Syrian talks, we did activate our Civil Society Support Room, which allowed us to consult with more than 50 civil society organizations and experts from all walks of life and different expertise, from both within and outside Syria.
The more we engage with these interlocutors, the more we are convinced that civil society will be critical to preserving and indeed regenerating the social cohesion of a country that for too long has been torn apart by war.
Geneva and Astana Processes
As we advance the overall political effort unfolding under the auspices of the United Nations in Geneva, efforts are continuing by the three guarantors to finalize modalities for the implementation of the Astana de-escalation memorandum concluded on 4 May. A meeting of the guarantors is planned for Astana to be in Astana on 4 and 5 July. I plan to be present at that meeting.
With every week that passes, we know it, without a final arrangement for the de-escalation zones being indeed finalized, the fragility of the ceasefire regime and the risk posed by the fragility increases. I am aware of the genuine efforts currently being undertaken to try and overcome the remaining obstacles, as was witnessed by my own team of experts from my own office during the recently held technical-level meeting of the joint working group on de-escalation in Moscow.
The UN team continues to stand ready to provide technical advice, whenever and wherever needed. Because we need a success in Astana, as Astana desperately needs a success in the Geneva political process in order to consolidate what we are all trying to do. Let’s give de-escalation efforts a fair chance to succeed because that is what people are asking in order to bringing the violence further down and enabling confidence-building.
I also express the hope that the discussions aimed at finding a suitable formula for addressing the difficult situation that has emerged in the south of Syria, will also yield positive results.
What Has Been Achieved
As we plan for Geneva intra-Syrian talks and as the Astana guarantors work for de-escalation, let us recall what has been achieved and some of the challenges that are still to be met on the ground.
Since the three guarantor states signed the de-escalation memorandum on 4 May in Astana, violence is clearly down. Hundreds of Syrian lives continue to be spared every week, and many towns have returned to some degree of normalcy.
That is a good general trend, but it is not the same good trend everywhere. In some areas, the fight and violence has been continuing and in fact intensified.
The overall significant improvement of the security situation on the other hand has not, and we have to recognize that, regrettably, yielded equally significant progress on humanitarian access to areas where the needs are the greatest. The support of the ISSG co-chairs and other ISSG members has been helpful, and efforts are continuing. However, let me be honest, much more needs to be done - and urgently - to enable safe, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to all Syrians, wherever they are, particularly in the areas which have been difficult to reach.
Detainees, Abductees, Missing People
Let me also stress the importance of moving forward on the issue of detainees, abductees, missing people and on the important issue of humanitarian demining. Let me express here my appreciation to UNMAS for its continuing engagement in this regard.
Daesh in Retreat
We note that the fight against terrorism appears to be proceeding with Daesh under pressure and in retreat in various locations in Syria. The same time incident between the international anti-ISIL coalition and forces of the Government of Syria and its allies, including the downing of a Syrian military plane, have taken place.
As I see it, the ideal trajectory over the coming two weeks would be: progress in Astana on 4-5 July; then a further set of joint technical expert meetings with the opposition groups in the same week; and then a continued discussion and dialogue hopefully among international stakeholders (including at the G20 Summit in Hamburg on 7-8 July), in which Syria can not be avoided as a subject. And all this in support of both the Astana de-escalation efforts and the intra-Syrian Geneva-based political process. I hope that a combination of these elements would help shape an environment conducive for the next round of intra-Syrian talks in Geneva in the months to come.
The following are the transcripts of the press conferences by the UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura (SdM) in Geneva on 15 and 20 May 2017. They opened and closed the 6th round of intra-Syrian talks. The talks were more "businesslike" than previous Rounds and there was an important departure into an expert level of consultations to clarify and facilitate the main negotiating process. SdM's main points about the achievements of the Round are highlighted in red.
SdM: Let me read to you some comments and then of course I will take some questions, so don’t be intimidated by the formality of my comments.
Today we concluded a sixth round of the intra-Syrian talks. You must have seen and you have seen, it was a short round and this was intentional. We wanted a focused, concentrated round to actually deepen the process further and I think we have done that. As we seek to facilitate a political process as per Resolution 2254, during the round number five, the previous one, we discussed in parallel all four baskets of the agenda. Well this agenda remains and is the agenda of the talks.
However, for quite a while actually, we have noticed from all concerned, in one form or the other, about the fact that they felt there was a genuine need to ensure a stronger legal and constitutional foundation for any negotiated political transition process, and at all stages of such a process, so we got the message. Therefore, I took this time the decision to establish a process of expert meetings and to invite the parties to participate. Then, in order to stimulate them, I did indicate to the parties that I was going to share with them, which I did, an internal UN paper. The purpose was never to negotiate the paper, which was supposed not to become an object of negotiation for the Treaty of Versailles. It was basically an internal paper to give them an indication in what direction our vision could have been.
In fact rather than spend a lot of time, although we did spend some time negotiating or discussing the internal paper, which we had proposed, we actually moved beyond that and quite effectively beyond the paper, simply focused on what we wanted to have, what I decided, as I told you to have. And we simply started a process of separate experts meetings on legal and constitutional issues chaired by the OSE, the UN experts.
I am pleased that this process has indeed began. It began yesterday, we had only four days so we had to start after some preparation, and it began yesterday and continued indeed today and I look forward to push this additional element forward and enriching through that the UN facilitated intra-Syrian talks in Geneva. These expert meetings obviously, it is clear, do not aim and do not replace the main negotiating track. The intra-Syrian talks are focused on all four baskets and they are meant to assist, this process is meant to assist, the formal sessions to enable discussions at the political level to proceed more smoothly. Expert meetings can help identify complex issues, identify options and so on. We are not planning or aiming through this to draft a new constitution. We are not planning or aiming through this to draft a new constitution for Syria. This has to be done by the Syrians.
We are rather trying and we intend to pursue trying to lay the ground for the Syrians, to do exactly that in the context of an overall political solution which in terms is in the context, as you know, of Resolution 2254. So, because this was a short round and because it took us some days to ensure that everyone had reach a sufficient level of comfort to add this new important element to our work, we did not have the physical time for in-depth discussions in the formal discussions, in the formal sessions, to cover all four baskets and address the four baskets. But we did discuss several substantive issues of key concern to the parties and we intend to move ahead on all four baskets during the coming rounds while the new process of having expert meetings will also continue as I described.
Let me also note that the real efforts, and I have to admit there were real efforts, were made in this round to have experts from the Cairo and the Moscow platforms to attend the UN hosted expert meetings, which I just referred to you, with the main opposition delegation announced on the 11th of February. This was not yet possible, they are still been discussing and negotiating about it but we will continue to push for this effort since this would send, in our opinion, a positive signal that the opposition groups, at least at the level of the technical discussions, are willing and capable to work together.
We therefore urge the opposition sides to continue their efforts in this regard and our hope is, that in fact through this, there could be an additional element of unification of the opposition when we talk about very technical but important issues. I would also like to thank once again, and let me say it because I believe strongly in it, the Women's Advisory Board for providing timely and incisive contributions, even to this round, in fact very much to this round, which helped shape our own thinking and how to approach the talks.
We facilitated exchanges of views between them and the members of the ISSG in the margins of the talks and I would also like to indicate that next week, not here in Geneva but nearby, the Office of the Special Envoy will be promoting and pushing and working together with the civil society, within the context of the civil society support room, I'm sure you're familiar with that.
I would also like to thank the regional and international stakeholders who have been here, and have been actively involved and I'm going to see them very soon, for the close involvement in this round of talks, which certainly facilitated our work and that of the Syrian parties. Last night I went to Mont Pèlerin to brief the Secretary General, Antonio Guterres in detail on the talks, and he, you should know, continues to follow them very closely. For him Syria is a priority, and to appeal to all Syrians to support this very difficult but important process of intra-Syrian talks.
As you may also know, I had also today a constructive and timely trilateral meeting with senior representatives of the United States and Russia early this afternoon. We discussed the talks and beyond. I plan to brief the Security Council early next week as a customary and as a customary and as my duty I will be consulting with the Secretary General on dates for the next round of talks. Together with my team we also feel that it might be very useful to have an internal review of where we stand because things are moving but we want them to move even more deeply and more intensely and incrementally. We also feel the need to do an internal review so we can stand and actually better approach the next round as effectively as we can.
Based on all this, I would be letting the invitees know what preparatory steps can be taken before the next round of talks which will happen as soon as we have, in a position of doing so, and frankly and the expert process and I think sometime in June, but I will not commit a date at this stage due to many elements that are taking place. We will let you know. Let me add one last point which is something we are noticing and I hope the participants are noticing, although sometimes they feel differently, this round of talks there is less rhetoric, more business-like atmosphere and we make incremental progress. Our goal remains clear, a negotiated framework agreement and a negotiated political transition process as per [resolution] 2254. One step at a time, thank you very much.
Q: Mr. Special Envoy thank you, how do you comment on Mr. al-Jaafari saying today that any of the four baskets has not been discussed during this round, where as you and Mr. Ramzy were saying that you will try to accelerate at least one or two of the four baskets, and you will try to move in parallel. My second question, is about the Russians, do think that since the process of Astana, they are helping or they are standing in the way of these talks? Thank you.
SdM: Well, first of all let me say that I think I indicated it when I was reading, that we have been focusing this time, in particular, on one incremental progress, or if you want process. And therefore, four days, four days is not a lot of time in order to make everyone feeling comfortable with novelties, and this is a novelty. So we agreed with every side that in fact in view of this, we did not have the time to go deeply into all four baskets, and that we intend to do so at the next round, but what we did is deliverable, and therefore no one disagreed that we didn't have more time to do so.
Regarding the Russian Federation, I must say that as far as this round has been concerned and perhaps I can say for all the rounds, but since you asked me for this round, the Deputy Foreign Minister Gatilov, was extremely supportive to what we have been trying to do, and it is not a secret that, I think, he must have had meetings with the government delegation in particular, but also with others, in order to ensure that this round would be productive. I believe that there is an interest in the guarantors of the Astana initiatives, that there should also be a progress in Geneva. One, because the Astana initiative is still fragile, let’s be frank, and we don't want it to be fragile, we want the de-escalation to take place and be effective. And therefore, if it is fragile and is still moving in the right direction but needs to be consolidated, any movement on the political process will be, in a way, mutually supportive and frankly for us too, if we have talks in the middle of massive barrel bombings and any other types of major battles, that is not helping the political process, so the two things are generally, mutually supportive.
Q: It seems that the two main parties did not value the interests of the format that you launched, as you did several times here, how would you interpret that, and is it for you a move aside or a move forward, or a move backward? Because they tend not to understand the format as you do.
SdM:You must have been covering other political international negotiations and debates; you know very well that there is always the possibility, especially by one side or the other, to actually want to give a little bit of a different interpretation. I base myself on facts, and the fact is we have a process, and the fact is we had already four meetings of this process, that is what matters, then of course we all have the right and I will never oppose the possibility of qualifying or commenting on what is your understanding and your hopes about it. The fact is we have it. Thank you.
Q: I am a journalist living inside Syria, so what we feel inside is different from what you feel here in Switzerland or the rest of the opposition outside Syria. Therefore the time that passes would cost us blood and losses in lives. In parallel with these negotiations, there was a US aggression on the Syria army, which was fighting ISIL, the US and European siege (sanctions) continues. I asked a year ago about the fate of this siege, and when they are going to lift this siege and the forced measures on the Syria people, and you promised to discuss this issue with them, what happened in regards to this subject.
A while ago, you said that you spoke with high level US officials; did you discuss their crime of their aggression on the Syrian army?
SdM: I'm not going to comment on how you qualify the events which have been taking place, what I would like to say is that we did discuss with everyone in the present whatever the military events have been affecting people in Syria, but you see I would really like not to comment on it. Every day, every day and you are the one who can testify it, you actually rightly said so. Every day in the last four years, there is something related to the people of Syria, in Syria, which is connected to a military activity, so if I had to comment on each one of them, I would not be able to.
Secondly, I am not going to comment on it at this moment for two reasons, I would like to focus, if possible, at least on this press conference on the talks and actually on what we have been discussing at the talks. Three, I don't have enough elements at this stage to make any comment anyway, but thank you.
Q: Mr. de Mistura mentioned that the experts committee which is going to start its work with the opposition and the government in the presence of UN experts who are going to head the cession. He mentioned that we do not aim at drafting a new constitution for Syria, but Syrians are the one to draft the constitution, and we would pave the way for Syrians to find a political solution, the question is, what will be the role of the experts, whether it is the formulation of specific constitutional provisions or general lines of the Syrian constitution, and are there specific ideas in which foreign experts from the UN are involved?
SdM: You are quite correct in quoting what I just said; it is exactly what is the intention of our decision to establish this group of experts. I think we should leave it also to them to establish the best way we can proceed. We are meeting separately, we are not yet in a combined environment yet, even this is proximity, remember, but every meeting it is chaired by us, by our experts, and it is on the basis of our own meeting with each of the different group of experts, to then establish how to proceed further in the preparation. We are not going to draft the new constitution, it is very clear, but this can help a lot, believe me.
Q: We started this process a couple years ago with sort of a timeline of months, in which we are going to have elections and constitutional development, and that seems to be junked, and we also had questions about sieges and trying to get detainees deals and ceasefires, and these things are rumbling and rumbling with no apparent progress and this latest round, it sort gives the impression of now getting mind in a kind of subcommittee and small print, rather than making a great leap forward towards actually some sort of real progress and real conclusions. So can you give us any reassurance about things moving ahead and a timeline for example, how we really junked this timeline, could you give a time when we can actually see a conclusion?
SdM: History is not written by, I learned it long time ago, sadly, especially in a conflict environment, written by timelines that we setup artificially, they could be a target, a dream, a wish, a day for us to try to aim at, even conferences we decide on a certain day for a conference and then events, fighting or explosions will then postpone it or cancel it, so I don't think we should be focusing on that. It is true we have, and we will have, and constantly use some type of timelines in order to be able to push ourselves and those who are participated to the meetings to actually see that there is an obligation to which they are committing themselves. But facts on the ground will, and can and unfortunately will probably still change whatever plans we have. Meanwhile we have to continue working, preparing for what, for the moment when the actual environment will be ready for the real discussion about how we get a political solution. Example, you know that we had in the memorandum in Astana, there is one or two dates which have been mentioned, they have been doing it based on experience, that you have to have some timing on which you will then aim, but it does not mean that on that very date there would be an outcome, we are in the most intractable, so far, conflict of recent history.
But we're not going be passive and even small incremental moves, you will see when the solution will be arriving, you will be, I hope with us saying, well it is good that you had that expert new mechanism, because by the time we would be already to actually discussing constitution, all that would have been already put aside or prepared, that is, plus, any momentum provides some type of hope that we are not just waiting for the golden day, but we actually working for it.
Q: When would you be able to find a unified delegation representing the opposition, which is your main task in accordance to resolution 2254?
SdM: I am not sure that my main task is to unify the opposition. What is my task is to invite all the parts which are mentioned there, and they are clearly mentioned by name you know, and to ensure that they come and they participate.
Now the Government has been constantly complaining that they are not dealing with a unified opposition at the same time sometimes they are also telling me why you're not inviting these, why you're not inviting them, which slightly contradict the original wish of having a unified [opposition]. So, what I can do and I have been doing and even using this new process to try to stimulate it, is to actually push for a reasonable understanding of an umbrella in which the three components, according to [Resolution] 2254 could have at least some type of common line.
I think it is possible and I think they are talking and I think we may be getting there. This time, there were serious discussions in the hotels and here. Not yet but it takes some time perhaps.
Q: Mr. de Mistura, you talked about the committees, that they would continue during meetings of the upcoming rounds, does that mean stopping discussion on the other four baskets, until the end talking about this subject, or would the work continue in parallel with the other baskets?
SdM: Thank you for asking this question because obviously I didn't clarify that. No no, the four baskets and the official discussions will, and have to continue but we do have now a new process which can and should take place while the talks take place and perhaps even between them, so that we actually go much more business-like, especially on a subject that we believe covers every other subject which is the constitutional ideas and issues, but thank you for asking me this because obviously I was not clear. Well, ladies and gentlemen, we move forward, Thank you.
SdM: I have here with me Stephanie Koury, who is our director in the office we have in Damascus, and on my right side Ambassador Ramzi, who has just been back from a short mission to Damascus.
This is basically a preparatory meeting in order for us to try to give you an idea in what direction we're going, and basically also give you some ideas on when we can also interact again, because I think it's only fair that you should know this is a little bit different than the other meetings. First thing to tell you is that we are having all the delegations coming, all of them. When you say all, that means those mentioned according to 2254, and you're familiar with it and basically as we have had in the last rounds of talks.
The agenda - it is not true what I read that there is no agenda - the agenda is the one we achieved already and we agreed upon, already in the previous two rounds, in which we agreed on four baskets, as you remember, all of them important, all of them in parallel.
The intention, however this time, is to go a little bit more deeply and actually be more business-like, both in our meetings and in the way we hope we can get some progress. Even the rooms will be smaller, the type of meetings will be a little bit more interactive and proactive, and more frequent. We will also choose some subjects to be focused on, in order to be able to get more movement from each of the baskets or some of the baskets in particular, that will depend on our discussions with the delegations.
There is no doubt that this meeting was urgent also in view of the Astana memorandum. We are working in tandem, in a way. Of course if Astana did not exist, we will still have the Geneva talks, you can imagine, but in view of the fact that the Astana memorandum has been signed by three major players, and that we witnessed it and that the people of Syria and ourselves want a de-escalation in the conflict, we would like to be able to make sure that meanwhile the two are working in some form of thing. I give an example: everybody's been telling us and we agree, that any type of reduction of violence, in this case de-escalation, cannot be sustained unless there is a political horizon in one direction or the other. That is exactly what we are pushing for.
Now there are dates which are mentioned in the Astana memorandum, one is getting very close to now, the 19, 20th, so you can see the timing coinciding somewhat. Then we have another one in early June, and in fact our intention is to have the continuation of this round of talks, continuation as if we had one moving and then waiting for a moment, due to Ramadan by the way as well, and logistics, during Ramadan continuation.
The targeted end date of this is around Saturday or Friday depending on how we get to a certain point. The idea therefore is to re-launch the continuation of this round, sometime during Ramadan, we will then indicate the proper date.
Now, regarding logistics, due to the fact that these meetings are, this round of meetings, particularly focus on trying to get a little bit more into business-like approach, we will not have stakeouts, as we have been used to have. We may have them again at the next round, but trying to go a little bit more into a business-like approach to be available for eventual stakeouts, if and when we deem on my side and my team that being the case. That will also, in a way, try to apply also to the players, the participants, of course. We will urge them not to talk to the media every five minutes or every time there is a meeting, but that doesn't mean that this will work. So I will leave it to their own judgement. And you [should] know that Alessandra would be able to brief you: we are having a slightly different arrangement in terms of stakeout which is a little bit more ecological.
I will stop there at this stage, because this is simply a curtain raiser, I intend definitely to give you the opportunity of having an idea on where we will be by Friday or Saturday and then, as I said, I am keeping my hands free for intervening, if we require or feel that there is a need for it.
Q: You mentioned Astana and the connection with the Geneva process, and Ambassador Ramzi just came back from Damascus, and we could hear the President Assad say to Belarussian television that the Geneva meeting is only for the medias, and that the only one which counts is Astana. So what kind of commitments can you feel from that party to the talks with that kind of quotes, and I don’t know whether Ambassador Ramzi could elaborate on the kind of connection he had in Damascus with the government in that regard?
SdM: I will give the floor to Ambassador Ramzi, because he has just returned and he made some declarations himself in Damascus. I would not obviously want to comment or getting into any type of comment regarding declarations made by President Assad. What I can say simply [is] that his delegation has arrived, and they are empowered to serious discussions and they are here to work. So, Ambassador Ramzi.
Ramzy: Thank you Special Envoy. As the Special Envoy indicated, during my trip to Damascus, we confirmed the agenda, the four baskets and we will move in parallel, that is very clear, but we had also said earlier that it is possible that we can accelerate one or two of the baskets, and they do not disagree with that. What I heard in Damascus is that they will deal constructively with whatever proposals we will put forward.
I have no reason to doubt that. I think we will see that when we will meet with themtomorrow. They are engaged in the Geneva process, they have indicated that they want to work with us on the political process as outlined in Security Council resolution 2254, I think that has been absolutely clear in my meetings. So I do not see that the government is not going to take the kind of attitude that we feel is necessary to keep the political process moving ahead. Thank you.
Q: Mr. de Misutra, during the previous rounds, and up to this moment, there have been no direct meetings between the Syrian opposition delegation and the Syrian government delegation, I wonder, when would be a direct meeting between the two delegations to directly discuss the political process?
SdM: I did refer to it last time when we met some of your colleagues. Of course, for a mediator, the ideal is reaching the point when the two sides or the different sides can meet in the same room and the mediation takes place between the two, but it is also true that when there are still substantial differences, and no one can deny there are still substantial differences, the best method is still proximity talks.
Do not forget, we did have an occasion where everyone sat in a major room in this building to signify, in fact, their interest eventually to be able to be in the same room at the end of the day. But at this stage, unless I see any opportunity that leads me to actually reach that point, I’m still going to apply the golden rule of the mediator among people who still disagree, which is proximity talks.
Q:Monsieur l'envoyé spécial, est-ce que vous pensez que la reconquête de Damas qui va bientôt avoir lieux, le fait que le régime ait reconquis Alep, change sa position justement dans ces discussions de proximité vis à vis des autres groupes, et est-ce que l’intention aussi de discuter du fait que ces zones où l’on va installer petit à petit la paix ne puissent pas être vérifiées par un organe des Nations Unies? Est-ce que vous allez discuter de ce fait durant ces proximity talks? Merci.
SdM: Avant tout, tout ce qui se passe sur le terrain a un impact sur les négociations ou sur les discussions politiques. Il n’y a pas de questions sur ça. La preuve c’est que dans le passé nous avons eu des développements sur le terrain qui ont immédiatement eu un impact négatif ou positif, ça dépend du point de vue et surtout ça dépend des circonstances. Dans le cas spécifique, je peux vous dire qu’évidemment on [ne] va pas ignorer ce qui se passe sur le terrain et on ne peut pas l’ignorer. Deuxièmement, je ne peux pas vous dire quel impact cela va avoir parce que ça va dépendre de la réaction des différentes délégations.
Sur la question des “de-escalation areas”, je ne sais pas comment l’appeler moi-même en français, nous avons quand même beaucoup insisté sur le fait qu’il y a quand même une “labor division” entre nous et Astana. Astana, il y a trois pays importants qui ont [de]l’influence, qui ont aussi la volonté, la possibilité d’insister pour qu'il y ait une vraie “de-escalation”, qui se sont engagés à Astana, entièrement, signant un papier, un mémorandum, pour qu’il y ait un progrès. Et ils ont un timetable. Je ne pense pas, et je n’ai aucune intention d’interférer avec ça, au contraire je pousse avec la communauté internationale pour que cet accord puisse devenir opérationnel sur la base des réunions à Astana, et s’il y a des difficultés cela devrait être discuté à Astana et dans le contexte d’Astana. Comme ça, chacun se sent engagé dans ce que l’on a promis ou essayé de promettre de faire, donc je m’arrête là pour le moment sur ça.
Q: Also on Astana, and also on this de-escalation zone, how do you see the idea of the participation of foreign troops in order to assure those areas? How does this fit in your political process here? Thank you.
SdM: Decisions regarding international monitoring presence and observation are decisions which go far beyond my own thoughts. In other words is not up to me to suggest or promote that. It is up to the Security Council on the basis of recommendations coming from the Secretary-General. What I can say is that any type of decision that may be taken by the Security Council, eventually, in order to ensure that a de-escalation becomes real, is something that we would certainly look at. We have had in the past, in other conflicts, the international presence of observers but it was decided by the Security Council.
Q:Mr de Mistura, sometimes you ask about the American role in the political process. Do you feel satisfied today or now about the engagement of the American administration in the political process here in Geneva?
SdM: The word “satisfied” is something that one should not always use the with a mediator because the mediator will only be satisfied once the mediation has produced an outcome. But I am encouraged by the increasing engagement, increasing interest by the US administration in finding a de-escalation, a reduction of violence and in the possibility of a comprehensive implementation of [Resolution] 2254. I am, and therefore we are in touch with the US administration. Myself [I] have been in Washington more than once and I know we have been discussing with them in Astana and here. So from that point of view that would be my answer.
Q:Special Envoy, Kurds are part of all the delegations you invited to the talks. But [we] can see [that] Kurdish national council is part of the HNC. According to my information, they sent you a letter regarding demands of Kurds for the future of Syria. Could you tell us please if you got any letter from the Kurds or from their government delegation on the vision for the Kurds for the new Syria or [for] the future of Syria from the government or from the opposition? Thank you.
SdM: I am not going to elaborate on the type of letters I am getting. You have to understand that and you seem to be more informed than I am so anyway it is probably a rhetorical question. We are reading every letter we receive and I certainly take those letters seriously, I will stop there. You should know that in the delegation of HNC I have been assured there are Kurdish representatives and that the Kurdish community in Syria, made by the Syrians is an important community that no one of us should ever ignore. Thank you.
Q:Good afternoon Mr de Mistura, just to pick up on both points that were brought up by my colleague here and Laurent who mentioned the comments that Mr Assad made on Belarus television. There are questions of course about when are you going to get the two sides together. I mean, when are you going to show some concrete evidence that proves that what Mr Assad reportedly said is actually not true, that there is actually relevance to this process? And I would also like you to please elaborate, how concerned you are about how events on the ground may be going faster than you are in the sense that we have seen some evacuations from inside Damascus for example and that the entire capital appears like accepting fully the return of the control of the government. So why continue with the Geneva process?
SdM: You are questioning your own engagement into it. Anyway, let me be serious about it, first of all President Assad has a tendency of answering questions with questions himself when you see the interview, so I will do the same if I may. Why would you think that President Assad is interested in sending 15, 18 people led by a very senior and highly experienced diplomat like ambassador Jaafari who is the same one and sending him to Geneva for several rounds and coming today in order to discuss issues on the political process if he did not believe in what Ambassador Ramzi just told you, that they are interested in, and potentially involved into the political process? So I would just ask you that question.
Q (follow up): As Laurent mentioned, he (President Assad) said the reason he is doing it is for the cameras so that is the answer he is giving. What do you say?
SdM:I would say that I am aware much more that what the Syrian delegation says to the camera and in the meetings that they have done so far with us on the four baskets, and I want to believe and hope in the next day's meetings, are much more substantive than just those general comments that are made for the cameras. But facts will prove it.
You raised about the fact on the ground, I think I replied to a certain degree that the facts on the ground do have an impact. I cannot tell you today what impact will they have and they are having, because we have not yet started this round. In the past, they did [have an impact] and we are taking them into account to, in our own discussions. That is all I can tell you at this stage.
Q:Is there any sanction, any punishment if the Syrian government is turning up here, just as a smokescreen to cover what they are doing on the ground, they can just keep coming, you are acting in good faith, but if they are not, there not much that the world can do about it. The other question I wanted to ask you is, you said that we need to aim for a political horizon to sustain the de-escalation and you hoped to reach a certain point this week, and you also mentioned possible need for Security Council involvement so what will we see this week, have you got some goal in mind, when the Security Council get back involved in the Geneva process?
SdM:Now, you're going a little bit further than what would be a curtain raiser, and it’s your duty and your job. And my job is trying to do my job during this week, so can I elaborate on that at the end of this week?
Q: Just a follow up, it seems that if Mr. Jaafari is turning up here, just to keep the cameras rolling and to provide a smokescreen, he can do that, I don’t know quite what words to use on life T.V, but you are being involved in this process and unwittingly, been slightly used for diplomatic purposes, does not that bother you, if that is what is going on?
SdM:First of all, if being a mediator and trying to find common points is being used, I think I would accept that, because the alternative is no discussion, no hope, no political horizon, just waiting for facts on the ground to take place, and that I think is something that the mediator has to take into account. Secondly, I think I am also, perhaps, using the fact that there is a resolution 2254, which has engaged everyone, and there is no alternative, as far as we believe, to simply facts on the ground, because facts of the ground alone would not produce the outcome in Syria.
So we continue pushing, I will not elaborate on what I expect at the end of this week. Everything is connected, there are big important meetings taking place, they will be taking place, there are discussions taking place in other capitals, they do have an impact on what we discussed, but I'm not going to elaborate now.
Q: Good afternoon Mr de Mistura, since you are referring to 2254 I'd like your views and Mr Ramzi's as well. In the months of April alone, there were between 23 to 30 attacks on medical facilities, we are a few days before the World Health Assembly with the world health community will be in the Palais [des Nations]. What is your message, why is this carnage continuing and why is it getting not sufficient attention from world leaders?
SdM: The attacks on the medical facilities will be remembered as one of the stains horrors and justices, outrages, of this conflict. This has been a pattern and been a regular pattern and has been an increasing pattern, even recently. So I am convinced that the WHO, which has been the case in the past, will strongly refer to it. We are and every time we have a meeting both at the CTF or HTF or bilateral meetings, we are raising it very strongly. One day, history will judge even more harshly what has been the worst case scenario in terms of protection and respect of medical facilities, thank you.