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Pedersen Says he Believes there are Possibilities for Progress on Syria

Pedersen Says he Believes there are Possibilities for Progress on Syria

Tuesday, 21 December, 2021 - 07:00
Children attend class in make-shift classrooms at a camp for the displaced by the village of Killi, near Bab al-Hawa by the border with Turkey, in Syria's northwestern Idlib province on December 20, 2021. (Photo by AAREF WATAD / AFP)

UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen said Monday he believed there are possibilities for progress in the Syrian conflict that need to be explored in 2022, adding all parties confront a “strategic stalemate” amid “grave risks and costs to all by simply trying to muddle through with the unacceptable status quo.”

“Despite no shift in front lines, we have seen continuing violence against civilians and systematic human rights abuses -- including against women and girls,” Pedersen told the UN Security Council in a briefing.

“Levels of hunger and poverty have escalated as the economy has continued to implode, with 14 million people in need, the highest number since the conflict began,” he said.

“Many tens of thousands remain detained, abducted or missing,” he added.

The envoy told the Council that “13 million Syrians remain displaced inside and outside the country – many of their children not knowing their homeland – their prospects for safe, dignified and voluntary return not improving – and a continuing challenge for Syria’s neighbors.”

He stated that Syria remains fragmented into several areas as de facto authorities entrench their control on the ground, “and five foreign armies continue to jostle in the theater.”

“Syria continues to radiate instability -- a haven for mercenaries, drug trafficking and terrorism.”

“Six years since its adoption, we are regrettably a long way from implementing Security Council resolution 2254,” he said.

“But I do believe there are possibilities for progress that need to be explored in 2022. Why do I say this? There are two main reasons for this. First: because all parties confront what I call a strategic stalemate on the ground that has now continued for 21 months, with no shifts in front-lines – making it increasingly clear that no existing actor or group of actors can determine the outcome of the conflict, and that a military solution remains an illusion. And second: because there are grave risks and costs to all by simply trying to muddle through with the unacceptable status quo -- especially given the humanitarian suffering, the continuing displacement crisis, the collapse of the economy, the de facto division of the country, the dangers of renewed escalation, and the continued threat of terrorism,” Pedersen stated.

“I have been highlighting these dynamics in all my engagements. With each passing month, I have sensed a wider realization than before that political and economic steps are needed -- and that these can really only happen together – step-by-step, step-for-step.”

He said that his sense from engagements with regional countries and Syrian stakeholders is that there is still great mistrust on all sides. A common message that he hears from many is that “we have made steps, but those on the other sides have not.”

“I have begun consulting senior officials from key stakeholders – Syrian and international – in bilateral consultations with me in Geneva. These are now underway and will continue in January. This is a first set of consultations in what I believe needs to be a rolling process,” said Pedersen.

He hailed that so far, Russia, the European Union, Turkey and Qatar have participated in bilateral consultations with him in Geneva, saying he looked forward to engaging further participants in the New Year. He asked each stakeholder not only their priorities and demands, but also what they are prepared to put on the table in that context, to help move the process forward.

He stressed that while the political solution in Syria must be Syrian-owned and Syrian-led, many issues are not solely in the hands of the Syrians.

“We have seen that when key stakeholders work together with mutual steps on issues of common concern, at least some progress has been possible,” he said.

“US-Russian channels helped lay the groundwork for Security Council resolution 2585, and it is important that we maintain and build on this. As the Secretary-General has stated in his recent report: ‘We must continue to take every opportunity to address humanitarian needs, including through further increasing access and further expanding early recovery efforts’.”

He revealed that while in Nur-Sultan, his team will attend a meeting of the Working Group on the Release of Detainees/Abductees, the Handover of Bodies and the Identification of Missing Persons, “where we continue to urge meaningful progress on the various aspects of the file.”

“They will also review the most recent release operation under the Working Group’s umbrella when, on 16 December – in an operation observed by my office – five persons from each side were simultaneously released in northern Syria.”

“As I work to advance a broader process, I am actively engaged in seeking to reconvene the Syrian-led, Syrian-owned, UN-facilitated Constitutional Committee. In October and November, Deputy Special Envoy Mattar went twice to Damascus for consultations regarding a new session and also met in Istanbul with the Syrian Negotiations Commission and the Co-Chair it nominated. Just over a week ago, as I have mentioned, I travelled to Damascus, where I met with the Foreign Minister and the Co-Chair nominated by the Syrian Government.”

He said it was important that the delegations not only table constitutional texts but that they all – including the delegation that has not yet done so – are ready to commit to revising them in light of the discussions.

“We need a productive drafting process according to the Committee’s mandate. The Committee must work, as its Terms of Reference outline, ‘expeditiously and continuously to produce results and continued progress’.”

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