Thank you Mr President for convening this important meeting today. I would like to thank Mr. Pinheiro for his briefing and for all the vital work done by the Commission of Inquiry. The information the Commission is collecting, including details of individuals believed to be responsible for violations and abuses, will be invaluable in future accountability processes.
We have heard from the Commission that access to Syria is still a significant barrier to their work, made more urgent by recent military offensives by the Syrian regime. Under the United Kingdom Presidency, G8 countries last month, issued a joint call on all parties to allow access, and the United Kingdom continues to call on the Syrian authorities for full and unfettered access for the Commission of Inquiry.
Within Syria nearly seven million people are now in need, with more than four million people internally displaced, around half of them children. The health system is on the brink of collapse, and the high summer temperatures exacerbate the dangers posed by a lack of waste management and contaminated water supplies.
But the problems go well beyond Syria’s borders with 1.8 million refugees in need of assistance in neighbouring countries. Thousands more refugees cross the border each day, in an increasingly poor state, often with little more than the clothes on their backs. This is placing an immense strain on the stability and economies of neighbouring countries.
By the end of the year, 10 million people could be in need of assistance, almost half the pre-crisis population of Syria.
And yet the violence continues.
We are deeply concerned by the new levels of brutality reached in this conflict, which the Commission of Inquiry has documented in its latest report. Five thousand Syrians are dying every month. The regime has resorted to bombarding civilians with artillery, war planes and missiles. There is credible evidence that they are using chemical weapons against their own people and as the Secretary-General said last week, more than 100,000 have now been killed. We must not forget that behind this statistic is the suffering of real people; all with their own individual stories.
We are particularly concerned by the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Homs. Where fighting has intensified, civilians remain trapped, and access continues to be denied.
And we are concerned by reports of sexual violence perpetrated against women, men and children as part of the conflict in Syria, in detention facilities as well as during home raids. Fear of sexual violence has reportedly led to women and girls fleeing across the border. Sexual violence destroys lives and tears apart communities seriously damaging prospects for peace and reconciliation.
As part of the United Kingdom’s Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, we have recently deployed members of UK Team of Experts to the Syrian border. Building upon previous work in the region, they are supporting the highly respected international organisation Physicians for Human Rights in a project which trains and mentors Syrian health professionals and human rights defenders to document evidence of serious human rights violations, including sexual violence.
We will share as much information as we can with the Commission of Inquiry to assist with their work on accountability and impunity. As part of this project, Physicians for Human Rights will submit documented cases of torture and sexual violence to the Commission.
We welcome and strongly support the Commission’s call for the UN Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court. All parties must be held accountable for their actions.
We also support the Commission of Inquiry’s judgement that abuses committed by the opposition do not match the scale or intensity of human rights violations committed by government forces or government-backed militia.
In Syria, the Assad regime has been waging a brutal war against its own citizens for more than two years. With such an appalling record it is grotesque that Syria has put itself forward for election to the Human Rights Council this year. Members elected to the Council, the United Nation’s foremost human rights body, should have a strong track-record of protecting and promoting human rights. Syrian membership would seriously undermine the credibility of this important body.
We all want an end to the conflict, to stop Syria fragmenting, to let the people decide who governs them and prevent the growth of violent extremism. The international community needs to recommit to working with the Parties in a meaningful way towards a viable political settlement, based on last year’s Geneva Communiqué.
On Friday, Security Council members met informally with the newly elected leadership of the National Coalition. This delegation led by President of the Coalition Ahmed Al-Jarba, stressed the Coalition’s strong commitment to maintaining the unity and diversity of Syria. He outlined their vision for a democratic and pluralist state for all Syrians and reaffirmed their rejection of all forms of extremism and terrorism. In addition and importantly, the Coalition stated clearly their commitment to a political solution through the full implementation of the Geneva Communique. And their readiness to attend negotiations as soon as it was clear that the regime were also committed to the implementation of the Communique and to political transition.
Let us remember that what started off as peaceful protests over two years ago has become a protracted conflict between a murderous regime, aided and abetted by Hizballah and Iran, and its own people. The UN must ask itself, for how much longer? We must not accept Assad’s rhetoric – that the only alternative to his regime is extremism and terrorism. There are millions of Syrians who want a peaceful and democratic future and we should be on their side.
I thank you.