Statement by Ambassador Jerry Matjila, the Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, during the United Nations Security Council Video Teleconference Meeting on the Humanitarian situation in Syria, 29 July 2020

Thank you, Mr President,

Let me begin by thanking, Mr Mark Lowcock (Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs) for his frank briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria. We also thank Ms Amany Qaddour, Regional Director of Syria Relief and Development, for her briefing.

Mr President,

Reports of increased security incidents and airstrikes in various pockets of Syria are of great concern to South Africa. While South Africa, welcomes the general maintenance of the ceasefire agreement in the northwest of Syria, reports of the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), landmines, air and ground strikes and incidents involving explosive remnants of war cannot be ignored, especially due to the resulting injury and death of civilians, including women and children.

South Africa, again, calls on all parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international human rights and international humanitarian law on the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, such as schools, health facilities, and water reticulation facilities. South Africa recommends that these facilities be regarded as neutral by all parties to the conflict. The continued loss of civilian life is unacceptable.

Mr President,

These continuing security incidents and violence have a direct impact on the socio-economic and humanitarian situations in Syria. The deteriorating economic environment has seen a significant impact on the daily lives of Syrians with over 9 million people food insecure and many households are engaging in negative coping mechanisms in order to make ends meet. These negative coping mechanisms are having a destructive psychological impact on civilians who have already been devastated due to nine years of violence resulting in injuries, deaths and detention of loved ones.

The deteriorating economic circumstances in Syria are having a direct impact on the already dire humanitarian situation. South Africa therefore reiterates its call for the immediate lifting of all unilateral sanctions currently being imposed on Syria, especially given the growing spread of the COVID-19 virus throughout Syria.

With the rising number of COVID-19 cases, it is important that humanitarian response efforts should focus on preparedness and response planning to minimise the potential impact of COVID-19 on the vulnerable refugee and IDP populations. Testing, especially in locations susceptible to the spread of the virus, such as detention centres, formal and informal refugee and IDP camps, is essential in this regard.

Mr President,

South Africa is concerned by the impact of the reduction in humanitarian border crossing points. We welcome the extension of the humanitarian border crossing at Bab al-Hawa for twelve months as this is the only way essential humanitarian assistance is currently being delivered to northwest Syria. The twelve-month mandate renewal will also allow the UN’s humanitarian agencies and parties the necessary time to adequately plan and prepare for their important and continued efforts.

In view of the reduction of the cross-border assistance mechanisms, focus must turn towards the improvement and enhancement of the cross-line assistance mechanisms. The scaling up of cross-line assistance is essential to close the humanitarian assistance gap resulting from the closure of the Al Yarubiyah and Bab al-Salaam border crossings.

In this regard, we also reiterate our call for the safe, unimpeded and impartial delivery of humanitarian aid and assistance to all who require it, in line with the provisions of international humanitarian law.

I have a question for Mr Lowcock. Given the dire economic and humanitarian situation, as you talked about in your statement, and the increasing needs, especially for children, women and those with disabilities, does Syria have oil fields and if so, where are they located, who controls them and why are you unable to use the proceeds from the oil that is produced, for the relief agencies to assist the Syria people?

In conclusion, we reiterate that the situation in Syria can only be resolved through negotiations and dialogue and thus, call on all parties to exert every effort towards the full implementation of Resolution 2254 (2015) to further avoid the displacement of Syrians and loss of innocent lives.

Mr President, when there is no progress on the political front, the humanitarian catastrophe will further deteriorate and there will be further loss of life and destruction. An alternative to war must be found.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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