Africa: Permanent Mission of South Africa to the United Nations On the Humanitarian Situation in Syria

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Statement by the Permanent Mission of South Africa to the United Nations, during the United Nations Security Council Video Teleconference Meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria

Thank you, Mr President,

Allow me to thank the Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mr Mark Lowcock, for his timely briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria. We also take note of the briefing by Ms Susannah Sirkin, Director of Policy and Senior Advisor at Physicians for Human Rights.

Mr President,

Let me begin by reiterating South Africa's call for a cessation of all hostilities across Syria and for safe, unimpeded and impartial delivery of humanitarian aid throughout the country and assistance to all who require it, no matter where they are.

The prolonged conflict has left lasting effects throughout Syria and has left a permanent scar on the people of Syria. Children born in the last decade have known no peace. They have known only war and seen the devastation around them.

As we have seen from the Secretary-General's latest report, the humanitarian situation in Syria remains dire, with women and children bearing the worst of the conflict and deteriorating humanitarian circumstances. South Africa is deeply concerned that the number of people throughout Syria who are now food insecure, has reached 9.3 million in the past six months, the highest number ever recorded in Syria.

We call on all parties to put humanity first and seek a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Such a peaceful resolution requires a cessation of hostilities and a recognition of Syrian sovereignty and its territorial integrity.

The situation in Syria can only be resolved through negotiation and dialogue, and South Africa, therefore, calls 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,

The spread of the COVID-19 virus remains a threat in Syria, with a significant increase in positive cases in the past month and the potential for a further increase in the coming months. We appreciate and commend the efforts taken by the UN and its agencies, the Syrian Government and local authorities for the steps that have been taken to curb the virus.

Preparedness and response planning are essential components of any humanitarian response. This is even more critical in a situation where the health system is fragile and there are large groups of people staying in overcrowded spaces such as refugees and IDPs, the elderly, and people with underlying health conditions who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

The situation is exacerbated by the lack of adequate water and sanitation infrastructure as well as a shortage of qualified health personnel, medical equipment and supplies.

In this regard, the unilateral sanctions imposed on Syria have had a further deteriorating impact on the economic and humanitarian situation in the country. The impact of the conflict is exacerbated by these measures, which has led to a further deterioration of the economy thus affecting the livelihoods and food security of ordinary Syrians throughout the country. The intended impact of these sanctions, which surely is not to resolve the conflict, must be questioned. Measures adopted by the international community and individual Member States should be to save lives and improve the humanitarian situation, not lead to further hardship.

Mr President,

South Africa notes that the 5 March ceasefire is holding in northwest Syria. However, we remain concerned about the increased sporadic violence between, and within armed groups, and the apparent indiscriminate use of weaponry between various non-State armed groups, that has resulted in the injury and death of civilians.

Reports indicate that armed groups appear to have taken advantage of the focus on the COVID-19 pandemic, to escalate attacks in various areas. We should not allow armed groups to take advantage of the international community's focus on stopping the spread of COVID-19, to escalate attacks.

We also express concern at the reports of burning of large swathes of agricultural land, further exacerbating the food security situation.

Mr President,

South Africa is also deeply troubled at the continued detention of individuals, including women and children by parties in areas under their effective control. It is unacceptable that people are detained seemingly without cause. In this regard, South Africa wishes to call on all parties to the conflict to abide by their obligation to respect international human rights law and international humanitarian law concerning persons deprived of their liberty. We continue to call on the parties to release detained civilians, particularly women, children, the elderly and vulnerable groups, which during these times of COVID-19, include the sick and those with underlying medical conditions.

Additionally, South Africa also wishes to reiterate that all measures to counter terrorism should comply with obligations under, and respect for, international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

In closing, Mr President,

The Secretary-General has clearly stated in his report "that the provision of humanitarian assistance requires timely, safe, sustained and unimpeded access by the United Nations and all humanitarian partners to people in need across the Syrian Arab Republic".

South Africa fully supports the Secretary-General in his call, and will continue to advocate for the provision of humanitarian assistance to all Syrians in need, through all available and direct means and modalities, including through cross-border and crossline deliveries. We commend the UN, the World Health Organisation and other aid organisations, working with the Syrian government, for the improvement in the facilitation of crossline humanitarian assistance, while noting the Secretary-General's report that crossline assistance has to be bolstered by cross-border assistance.

I thank you.

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