Statement by Ambassador Jerry Matjila, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, during the United Nations Security Council Meeting on the Political and Humanitarian Situation in Syria, 25 November 2020

Thank you, Madame President,

I thank Ms Khawla Matar (Deputy Special Envoy); and Mr Ramesh Rajasingham (Acting Under-Secretary-General; and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator) for their briefings on the political and humanitarian situation in Syria.

South Africa would also like to welcome our colleagues, the Permanent Representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Syrian Arab Republic and Turkey to today’s meeting.

Madame President,

I will be addressing three elements in my statement today namely, the Political, Security and Humanitarian situations in Syria.

Firstly on the political situation Madame President, South Africa welcomes the recent package of agreements agreed to by the Co-Chairs of the Constitutional Committee on the agenda and dates for upcoming meetings.

The progress made in agreeing on an agenda of national principles during the fourth round of talks, starting on 30 November, and on constitutional issues in the fifth round of negotiations, is commended. We hope that this spirit of cooperation continues during these important discussions. South Africa calls on the parties to build on this momentum and engage in a constructive manner to further the political process.

Real and tangible progress in the Constitutional Committee, as well as with regard to a cessation in hostilities, requires the withdrawal of all external interference, including in terms of support provided to armed groups. The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria must be respected.

Madame President,

The second element, which I would like to address is the security situation in Syria.

Let me start by expressing my deep concern at the continuing violence that has seen an increase in ceasefire violations and hostilities in the Northwest of Syria. This has led to the death and injury of a number of civilians, including humanitarian workers.

On 4 November, reports of the deaths of 8 civilians, including 2 aid workers, due to a number of airstrikes in southern Idlib are truly alarming. I would like to take this opportunity to commend the dedication and strength of all humanitarian workers who continue to deliver essential services in the face of these challenges.

The use of IEDs, landmines and unexploded ordinance in addition to the increasing reports of airstrikes and shelling, all contribute to the growing number of civilian deaths and injuries. When will enough be enough?

South Africa urges the parties to fully adhere to the Idlib ceasefire agreement and to refrain from any actions that may escalate tensions even further. In this regard, South Africa fully supports Special Envoy Pedersen’s call for a complete and immediate ceasefire nationwide, in line with the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire in the face on the ongoing global pandemic.

We appreciate in this regard the cooperation between Russia and Turkey in ensuring relative calm in the Northeast.

Madame President,

The third and last element which I would like address is the humanitarian situation in Syria.

The severe economic difficulties, compounded by the continuing hostilities, the increasing spread of the COVID-19 virus and the onset of harsh winter conditions, have created a unique set of circumstances that have contributed to the humanitarian situation in Syria. It is of great concern that the number of positive COVID-19 cases have more than doubled in the last month.

South Africa reiterates its position that all those who require humanitarian assistance, should be provided with it, no matter who or where they are. And as we have heard here today and in previous briefings, millions of Syrians are in need.

In this regard, the safe, unimpeded and impartial delivery of humanitarian aid and support, in line with international humanitarian law is more important than ever.

This includes using all available methods of aid delivery, including cross-border and cross-line assistance. We call on the Government of Syria to continue to strengthen its cooperation with the UN and its partners towards the improvement and enhancement of cross-line humanitarian deliveries, particularly in areas where cross-border assistance is limited.

Without this crucial assistance, the Syria people will continue to face growing food insecurity, and the long-term effects of malnutrition, particularly with the harsh conditions of winter setting in.

South Africa once again, requests the Secretary-General and OCHA, in their reports to the Council, to include the effects and impact of both direct and indirect, unilateral sanctions on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

Many Council Members have previously stated that it is the Syrian civilians who are bearing the heaviest impact of the humanitarian situation, surely this should not be worsened by the additional weight of unilateral economic measures?

Madame President,

An important aspect in making progress on the political process is the need for confidence building measures, including the release of civilians, particularly women, children, the elderly and those with disabilities from detention. These steps can assist in building trust and encourage the compromises that necessary in any negotiation process.

As we have said many times before, the situation in Syria can only be resolved through dialogue and negotiations and the full implementation of Resolution 2254 (2015).

I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the combined briefings on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria.

Discussing these two important aspects of the Syrian conflict together provides a comprehensive view of the situation on the ground in Syria and offers Council Members an opportunity to be briefed on and discuss holistic options to make progress towards a peaceful, stable and prosperous Syria.

I thank you, Madame President.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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