Statement by the South African Mission to the United Nations, during the United Nations Security Council Open Video Teleconference Meeting on the Humanitarian situation in Syria, 19 May 2020

Thank you, Mr President,

I would like to thank Mr Lowcock for his comprehensive and frank briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria. Let me take this opportunity to thank the hundreds of humanitarian actors, volunteers and implementing partners who continue to risk their own lives for the improvement of the lives of others.

Mr President,

The humanitarian challenges facing Syria are a direct consequence of the continued conflict. While we recognise the right of the Syrian Arab Republic to restore its control over the whole of its territory, South Africa is concerned about the conflict in the northwest region as well as the continuing conflict in the northeast of Syria, particular its impact on the humanitarian situation. We urge all parties to seek a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Such a peaceful resolution requires a cessation of hostilities and a solution which upholds Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity.

For this to occur, external support for armed groups must cease immediately, as we cannot allow external role-players to use this devastating conflict in Syria as a proxy for their own interests.

Mr President,

The humanitarian challenges are being compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. The last few months have demonstrated that even the world’s best and most highly funded health systems are straining under the impact and spread of the virus. In Syria, the last nine years of conflict have resulted in a fragile health system with a shortage of qualified health personnel and medical equipment and supplies as well as damage and destruction of health and medical facilities. A cessation of hostilities throughout Syria and the safe, unimpeded and impartial delivery of humanitarian aid and assistance to all who require it, as well as the easing of sanctions, thus remain imperative.

Millions of people, whose lives have already been marked by suffering and displacement, have taken refuge in camps, shelters and informal sites that have limited access to essential services such as medical services, shelter and water and sanitation infrastructure. Social distancing and regular handwashing are a luxury many have no access to.

With confirmed cases of COVID-19 now in Syria, including the particularly vulnerable northeast region, delivering life-saving assistance safely is now more challenging than ever. Preparedness and response planning are an essential component of any humanitarian response effort and we commend the UN and its partners for their comprehensive COVID-19 response plan and encourage the international community to fully support these efforts. As has been mentioned previously, refugees and IDP populations in overcrowded camps, with the elderly and people with underlying health conditions, are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

Mr President,

As has been reported in the Secretary-General’s review of the UN’s humanitarian cross-border and cross-line operations, cross-line deliveries in the northeast are an essential component of the humanitarian response operation. Now is not the time to limit or reduce humanitarian assistance to this region, particularly given the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the northeast. Gaps in the delivery of aid must be addressed.

In the northwest, the Secretary-General’s review indicated that there is no alternative to the cross-border operations that can match the current scale and needs of humanitarian assistance. Where there is a need for assistance, all efforts must be made to ensure that humanitarian cross-border assistance is provided, using the most direct means.

In conclusion, Mr President, all parties must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure. We, as members of the Security Council and the international community, must be united in support of both the political and humanitarian tracks to avoid a further humanitarian catastrophe and additional loss of life.  South Africa calls on all parties to exert every effort to fully implement Resolution 2254 and bring peace, security and stability to all of Syria.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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