Inter-American problems and regional policy
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin’s remarks at the IV Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region, June 30, 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to welcome the participants of the IV Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region.
I would like to reaffirm our continuing support for a long-term political settlement in Syria based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254, and our respect for the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic. Russia has always been and still is on the Syrians’ side in their resistance against terrorism, which must be ultimately eliminated on Syrian soil. We invariably advocate building up humanitarian assistance to all Syrians without political motives or preconditions. We were guided by this while making the decision on participation in the fourth Brussels conference. At the same time, I reiterate our conviction that all the key issues for Syria, such as bringing refugees home or providing humanitarian assistance, as well as advancing the political process, should never be discussed without the proper representation of the legitimate government of the SAR, a UN member country.
It is regrettable that shortly before the conference, on May 28, the European Union decided to extend its unlawful unilateral sanctions against Syria bypassing the UN Security Council. Prior to that, on May 7, a similar decision was made in Washington, and later, on June 17, it was reinforced by the enactment of the so-called Caesar Act. In words, this bill and sanctions are supposedly aimed at protecting the civilian population in Syria, but in reality, they are crippling the Syrian economy and hit ordinary Syrians. It should also be noted that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’s call to suspend the restrictions in the face of a common global challenge, the coronavirus pandemic, has been virtually ignored.
Today, with mounting concern, speakers have talked about a serious deterioration in the socioeconomic situation in Syria. Dramatic figures have been cited. We share these alarming assessments. The Syrian economy, infrastructure and social facilities have indeed suffered enormous damage as a result of years of armed confrontation and terrorist aggression. But one of the reasons for the current difficult situation is the unilateral sanctions, and their negative effect cannot be compensated by donor contributions or the declared humanitarian exemptions, which are not actually working. Syrians who have survived the worst years of the war and rampant terrorism are now being hit by “economic strangulation” and the sanctions blockade, which is nothing short of a collective punishment.
At the same time, the situation on the ground remains tense, in particular in territories not controlled by Damascus, especially around Idlib and east of the Euphrates, where Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and ISIS terrorists continue to make sorties and feel at home. In addition, most of the overcrowded camps for internally displaced persons are located in these areas, and there is virtually no sustainable access to them, also due to the illegal presence of the international anti-ISIS coalition. It is also regrettable that these camps, set up more than five years ago, are still active, while the countries and forces controlling these territories are pursuing their own goals such as plundering Syrian hydrocarbon resources, an asset that should rightfully be owned by all Syrians.
The coronavirus pandemic and the closing of the borders have suspended the sustainable process of the return of Syrian refugees (over 580,000 people have returned to Syria since 2018). However, refugees have again started to arrive in Syria from Lebanon now. The return of internally displaced persons to their homes has continued uninterrupted. All these people need support and assistance in exercising their legal right to a voluntary, safe and dignified return to their places of permanent residence. All Syrians who wish to return to their homeland should be helped, not encouraged to stay in the host countries, which have been bearing this heavy burden long enough.
In this regard, we advocate launching comprehensive humanitarian assistance to all those in need around Syria without politicisation, discrimination or preconditions. A reduction in cross-border humanitarian deliveries has shown that aid can and should be delivered from within Syria. We expect that the joint UN/ICRC/SARC humanitarian convoy, initially scheduled for April 20, will finally reach Idlib through the cross-line soon. I would like to remind you again that the cross-border mechanism, created in 2014 as a temporary and emergency measure, no longer meets the current situation on the ground or the norms of international humanitarian law. Humanitarian assistance to all Syrians should be continued and increased in accordance with the norms and principles of international humanitarian law, including UNGA Resolution 46/182, that is, in coordination with the government of the SAR.
Finally, we need to emphasise once again that the political settlement of the Syrian crisis based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254 has no alternative. This resolution clearly states that the inclusive political process should consist of and be led by Syrians with the support of the UN. In this regard, we attach great importance to the continuation of inter-Syrian Constitutional Committee consultations in Geneva due to resume at the end of August. The Syrians need to be given the opportunity to determine their own future, without dictatorship or outside interference, based on our common commitment to respect the country’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.