Failure to end suffering in Syria, UN envoy expresses ‘profound regret’

Russian representative defends Syrian regime; US ambassador urges Assad to stop ‘delaying and distracting’ and release detainees

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NEW YORK: Geir Pedersen, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, gave a deep sigh on Monday as he began his latest briefing to the Security Council on a conflict he said will be remembered “as one of the darkest chapters in recent history.”

Speaking on the day that marked the 10th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, he noted that it has lasted approximately as long as the First and Second World Wars combined — and said that he regrets that the UN has been unable to help end the suffering of the Syrian people.

“Ten years ago, peaceful popular demonstrations were violently suppressed,” Pedersen told council members. “Syria was sent into a spiral of armed conflict. In time many countries and fighters from across the whole world came to Syria to fight in one form or another.

“It must sometimes feel to ordinary Syrians that they are all trapped in an endless and global conflict. (The) Syrian people are among the greatest victims of this century.”

During the past decade, Syrians have been “injured, maimed and killed in every way imaginable — their corpses even desecrated,” he said.

“They have been snatched from the streets, thrown into prisons or abducted, disappeared, mistreated, tortured, paraded in cages, and ransomed or exchanged in prisoner-swap deals.

“They have endured the unspeakable horrors of chemical weapons. They have seen foreign fighters flooding into their country,” where five foreign armies are actively involved in the conflict, he added.

“They have been displaced into city-sized camps, or to sleep in the open in olive groves and abandoned houses, only to be displaced again and again, in baking heat and freezing snow,” the Norwegian envoy said. “They have fled Syria, often only to face further poverty and discrimination, or worse, perishing at sea in search of refuge.

“They have experienced corruption, mismanagement, sanctions and economic meltdown. Syrian women have faced conflict-related sexual violence — from all parties — and a rise in early and forced marriages.”

Meanwhile, he added, the perpetrators enjoy “near-total impunity,” talks between the government and the opposition continue to stall, and the international community remains “divided, trapped in geopolitical competition, and caught in their own competing narratives.”

Pedersen, the fourth envoy tasked with leading UN efforts to end the Syrian war, took over the role in January 2019.

“I express the profound regret of the United Nations that we have not yet been able to mediate an end to this tragic conflict,” he said on Monday. His three predecessors made similar statements.

However there are signs of hope, Pedersen added as he highlighted the fact that Syria is enjoying a period of relative calm and the front lines have not shifted for a year. He called for this fragile calm to grow into a nationwide ceasefire based on Security Council Resolution 2254.

At the same time, however, he warned of the danger of a “prolonged stasis,” during which Syrians will continue to pay a heavy price in terms of “despondency and despair,” if the international community does not work together to help resolve the crisis.

“That is a grave danger, especially if Syria does not receive high-level and creative international diplomatic attention,” said Pedersen. “After all, this is among the most deeply internationalized conflicts of a generation, with many of the issues that matter most to the Syrians not even in Syrian hands.”

 

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