Briefing to the security council by M. Staffan de Mistura, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Syria
Mr. President, Vassily Alekseevich, thank you so much for this opportunity. Dear members of the Security Council:
1. When I last briefed this Council on 16 May, I spoke of three bottom-line priorities: 1) de-escalation; 2) reviving the political process and; 3) bridging different groups of international stakeholders through high-level diplomacy. Let me report on where we stand on each of these elements.
2. On de-escalation, I regret to say, I have very little to report, or I have little positive to report. In fact, I am gravely concerned at the turn of events, particularly in the south-west. There, now, while we are talking, we see a full-scale ground offensive and aerial bombardment, as well as exchanges of fire from both sides. We, at the Security Council, cannot allow, I want to believe, this to become another Ghouta, Eastern Ghouta, or anther Douma, or another Eastern Aleppo, or Aleppo in general, where so many civilians were sacrificed and died. And yet I see things moving in this direction.
3. Let us be aware of what this would mean, if the south-west sees a full-scale battle-to-the-end: it could be like East Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta combined together, in terms of the population in areas that might be affected. Some 45,000 people, perhaps almost 50,000 I hear, have already been displaced due to fighting, mostly from eastern Daraa governorate to areas near the Jordanian border. This year alone, nationwide, more than 900,000 people have been displaced in Syria. Can you imagine? If we would add to that also the number of all those who are in eastern Daraa governorate. My colleague John Ging, who I see and greet from here, will brief you on these issues in more depth in due course.
4. And we must think also of the regional implications. As the Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, himself has said, escalation in the south-west poses significant risks to regional security and stability – a point I have myself constantly underscored. In fact, regional tensions continue. Just to give you one example: only this Monday, airstrikes were reported on Damascus airport, which Syrian state media attributes to Israel. We are not in a position to independently confirm this – nor has Israel made any statement on the matter. But we are concerned that a full-scale battle in the south-west could only add fuel to this type of tensions.
5. Our position – on Aleppo, on Ghouta and elsewhere in Syria – has always been to put the sanctity of human, civilian lives above all else. We have seen months of intensified back-and-forth regional dialogue on the south-west. We looked at it with interest, because we saw and we believed that there was some progress. So I urge, therefore, all parties - the Syrian Government, the armed groups and all interested parties - to draw on the lessons that we all learnt from Eastern Ghouta, Ghouta and Aleppo and elsewhere, and use the channels that already exist - and we know where they are, and we know they exist - and work on arrangements that prevent further human suffering, protect civilians and provide an exit from this potential further tragedy of the seven-years-old cruel conflict. I hope we will have an opportunity in the private chamber to debate on this issue, because we are concerned.
6. Now on the constitutional committee, we are beginning to see some movements towards a political process. Hence, we are concerned that military escalation could have the potential of compromising the progress that we are seeing on the political front.
7. During this month, we have intensified our efforts to find a way ahead for the implementation of the Sochi final statement - for the establishment of a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned, UN-facilitated constitutional committee, within the framework of the Geneva process and in accordance with Security Council resolution 2254.
8. The Syrian Government provided, 4.5 months after the Sochi declaration, a catalyst on 28 May, when they conveyed to my office in Damascus 50 names for their government list. I have expressed my appreciation to the Syrian Government for this important step. I have also expressed my appreciation to the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran, with whom I know the Syrian Government discussed this list and whose encouragement helped produce this movement.
9. After receiving the list, I decided to consult key regional partners – in Istanbul, Tehran, Cairo, and elsewhere. I saw senior officials of those countries, President Sisi of Egypt, Officials of the Arab League and opposition leaders. I was in contact with the Russian Federation at several levels, the United States and European countries. On the basis of these useful discussions, I determined that it was time to take advantage of this initiative of the Syrian Government and step up consultations and go deeper.
10. On 19 June, I held formal joint consultations at a senior level in Geneva, with the Russian Federation, the Republic of Turkey and the Islamic Republic of Iran. We discussed the best way to implement the Sochi final statement - to establish a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned constitutional committee, under UN auspices, in Geneva. I must say, it was a constructive meeting. Much of the discussion concerned the composition of the committee, as well as issues such as decision-makings and how to avoid deadlocks. The aim was to seek some preliminary understandings. Participants did exchanged opinions on these matters in a very interactive and constructive way. Some common ground actually emerged, preliminary, but emerged. Overall, a spirit of productive negotiation and potential compromise did emerge. I also detected that all three countries recognize the need for a constitutional committee that is credible in the eyes of the international community.
11. On 22 June, I met with officials from the European Union, who provided sound advice; I will shortly meet with High Representative Mogherini on these issues tomorrow.
12. On 25 June, I hosted joint consultations in Geneva, with France, in alphabetical order, Germany, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States. We discussed de-escalation arrangements in depth – a key element, obviously, underpinning progress on the political front. Views were exchanged on the importance of diplomatic bridging between different groups on Syria and prospects for progress on the constitutional track. There was a clear expectation from these countries -- and let me be frank, these countries are having an interest and a stake in the process, and also are the ones who could be important players in any potential reconstruction -- that any constitutional committee must be credible and internationally-legitimate, that it must contain a diverse and representative spectrum of Syrians, including those mentioned in the Sochi final statement, such as independents, civil society, experts, and women.
13. Based on my consultations with many stakeholders, I intend to maintain my prerogative to contribute to adjust the committee so as to ensure 1) its credibility and, 2) international legitimacy. And in terms of women, let me underscore my own expectation that any constitutional committee must include, at a minimum, 30% women. In this connection, I noted with pleasure, that in the government list that was provided to us, the 50 names, there was 26% women. Not enough, because we are aiming at 30%, but a very good signal. And I will certainly not be impressed by the arguments that others may raise, that there are not enough Syrian women competent on constitutional issues.
14. Just yesterday, for instance, over 200 Syrian women from diverse backgrounds met in Beirut for a conference organized by UN Women. Despite their differences, they agreed on many points including on women’s equal participation in decision making, including in any constitutional committee. I also take note of the recent letter of support for women’s full and effective participation at a least 30% representation in the constitutional committee, which was sent around to you and to us, by the representatives of the Security Council, Peru, Sweden and United Kingdom.
15. We now await an opposition list of names, and we hope this will come shortly, – on which serious work, I know, is being conducted while we are talking. And I will be proceeding also to facilitate the process of bringing the independents, experts, tribal leaders, civil society and women as indicated in the Sochi declaration, and frankly, in many of our common deliberations.
16. I should add that both meetings in Geneva underscored one important point, and I would like to underscore it myself, the support of key countries for the UN role in facilitating the political process in Geneva, including very much the constitutional committee.
17. Overall, these consultations represent a cautious - I have to be cautious having seen now we went sometimes one step ahead and two backwards - a cautious step forward. But let me be clear: this is a package, and that is something we discussed with everyone, where nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. That is why it is a work in progress. And I am also aware that this process will need the consent and engagement with the Syrian Government and parties, with full respect of their concerns and sensitivities -- the Government, the opposition, and civil society.
18. I will continue on my side to facilitate further movement in this direction to seek the support, counsel and advice of many – which is why I anticipate inviting the Sochi co-convenors back to Geneva in the coming weeks, as well as the six countries I saw on Monday and others, and then, of course, report to you, to the Security Council.
19. And let me also flag – if we are to move on a constitutional process, and towards what everyone in Syria tells us they want, a safe, calm and neutral environment, it will be important to start to see steps that have the prospect of restoring trust and confidence and social peace. And that is why we are concerned when we see unilateral legislative acts, such as the Law Number 10, which we understand, many refugees got very worried about, and frankly, I heard even very much neighboring countries such as Lebanon.
20. We also urge concrete action on the detainees file. Today a technical team, while we are talking, from my office is in Ankara for the Working Group on the release of detainees/abductees, the handover of bodies and the identification of missing people, of which the UN is a member together with Iran, the Russian Federation and Turkey. As you know, so far the outcome has been zero. However, we are not giving up. Today’s meeting is already the third meeting of the Working Group, which deals with a key humanitarian issue that affects thousands and thousands of Syrian people. What is necessary now is, and what we expect and what the Syrian people expect, are some concrete steps and results to alleviate the suffering of all those who are affected by this tragic situation. Members of my team, who are present in Ankara today, will continue to proactively support the Working Group, which was established in Astana.
21. I hope that all actors involved will demonstrate the required political will to produce some results in this field.
22. In the meantime, we continue to seek ways to bridge different groups of international stakeholders through high-level diplomacy – my third bottom line, and we have seen this taking place. Serious, robust and sustainable dialogue is vital, to underpin de-escalation, which is needed very much now, and the political process in general.
23. I discussed this issue with President Sisi in Cairo when I was there, who gave me some constructive ideas in this regard. And I believe we are already seeing an emerging web of international high-level discussions on Syria – frequent contact between the United States and Russian Federation, for instance, at many different levels; communications, at very high-level, between President Putin and President Macron, and President Putin and Chancellor Merkel; intensified talks between the United States and Turkey over various issues. All that, we can build on.
24. I have shuttled around all relevant capitals recently. And so I can say, with some authority or confidence, that there is some common ground to build upon, which could provide solid ground for some understanding. Many countries are not that far on issues, which are frankly easy to resolve or address, such as national sovereignty, unity and many others, and we have been working on it. Let me reiterate, once again, that the UN stands ready to use its good offices and competence and experience, we have a whole team working on this bridging of commonalities, to contribute to facilitating international dialogue in the search for commonalities.
25. So, in sum: First, Mr. President and dear members of the Security Council, we are moving cautiously in the right direction on the political front. And I ask for all of your support, including the support of the Syrian Government who is sitting in the Security Council [Chamber], in facilitating this effort – an effort that must ultimately be Syrian-owned and Syrian-led, because no country or no organization can simply impose a fait accompli on the Syrian people. That we know, but we need to move forward. Second message: currently, we are gravely concerned by battlefield developments and their potential to expand into regional tensions. So we do urge this council and all interested parties to help in finding an arrangement or a solution, in the south-west that will spare civilian suffering and large movements of displaced people and reduce potential tensions, so we do not see once again, seven year afterwards, perhaps when we are getting closer and closer to the end of this conflict, a repetition of what we saw sadly in Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta.
27 June 2018