Remarks by UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, at the EU-Hosted High Level Event on Syria

This post was originally published on this site

27 September 2018

SdeM: Thank you, thank you, Federica for organizing this, for hosting this event, and for the words you just said. This is a very timely meeting, and an important one.

The UN and the EU have had an exemplary cooperation since the very beginning of my mandate, and even before, and I welcome very much your intention to be persistent and also to have a new Brussels conference, because we need to review every year where we are, but also to launch new initiatives.

Clearly Syria is very much on the agenda of both the EU and the UN and rightly so. So, I will not discuss many things, I will just focus on two priorities, if you allow me.

The first one is, civilians, civilians, civilians. Syrian civilians. Protection, humanitarian assistance, access, funding. We will hear it from, Mark Lowcock and from you, Filippo [Grandi] how much this is a priority, this should be our priority.

In that context, Idlib. Idlib is a main priority and will remain so for reasons that you are all familiar with. The civilians of Idlib have raised their voices, particularly women actually – and I refer to them because we saw them with our own eyes – and many of you in this room have raised your own voices regarding the fate civilians in Idlib. And these voices have contributed to what has been a very remarkable MoU. Those voices have been heard, and should be heard even in the future.

The recent Russian-Turkish deal is welcome, very much welcome. Think where we were about two – three weeks ago when we were waiting to see the worst case scenario, and we look forward there for to its implementation. We hope all sides will continue to engage in good faith, putting protection of civilians first, and looking to address the threat of terrorism strictly in accordance with international humanitarian law.

We must also be vigilant, for obvious reasons, because the constant danger of international escalation. We had those winds coming up when the Idlib crisis appeared not to be solving itself.

Despite this risk, let’s not miss this opportunity: there is a chance for open conflict to wind down. It is not over, the conflict is still there, but there is a chance to help it, and major players, we know, are talking.

That brings me to our second priority: the political process, or the political solution.

Today, the government has strengthened its position against terrorism, we know that, so there is no reason for not them feeling more at ease to actually engage in a political process, and all sides have been receptive to a constitutional process.

We also heard that on the occasion of the MoU, both President Putin and President Erdogan both said, this is a window of opportunity to be used for accelerating the political process.

Logically, that would mean that real talks can begin, and common ground could start to be found. Now we have identified, out of 2254, which still remains the main point, a vehicle to begin this process – it is a UN-facilitated, Syrian-owned, Syrian-led constitutional committee.

The Government and the opposition delegations have been identified and accepted. And a balanced list of Syrian civil society, experts, independents, tribal leaders and women has been put together by us.

The UN has carefully and flexibly consulted on that list, and on the rules of procedure. So, in theory we could be starting next week, we can and there no reason not to do it in October.

Imagine the signal, dear friends, it would send if in the next months we could start a constitutional commission, which had been announced anyway already eight months ago during a very important meeting in Sochi, in which the UN has participated.

That could be a stepping stone to a new social contract – and to broader steps to create a safer, calmer, more neutral environment, leading to UN-supervised presidential and parliamentary elections – as per resolution 2254.

This is not just a mantra, it’s a true possibility, Federica. And you are right in saying we should not miss this opportunity.

It is precisely now – when we have stepped back from confrontation in Idlib – that we should be saying: let us put this real political process in place and build some confidence building around it.

Frankly, dear friends, the Syrian people have the right to expect that, especially at this moment. And there is no doubt at all that, if that process was moving and was generally delivering, it would help unlock, many, many, other things.

That is why everyone will look now to see if this constitutional committee can move in October, not at Christmas, not next year, in October. That is why we are going to push for that and to make it move.

Let us also not forget that there is a need to build some confidence.

Will detainees now finally start being released? We shall talk about this, and we have been talking about it for now many months. Let us see if it starts happening.

Will Law 10 and similar legislation be indeed suspended, so that housing, land and property are properly addressed? There is a solid discussion on this between our team in Damascus and the Government of Syria – but we would like to see some conclusion on this and some real results.

Will refugees have the confidence to return home because they see some sort of genuine change taking place? Some political vision taking place? After all, this is not only a question of bricks and mortar – but confidence.

The political process can provide that one, if we put it in action. The political process must ultimately, and we all know it and we will always say so, help to restore ultimately the Syrian’s sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity – and Syrians must lead the effort.

But the Syrians themselves are asking us to help them to find a way out of this conflict. They need to be helped and encouraged by all of you. And frankly, the UN needs your help too. That’s why we thank you for doing this today.

Help means help. It means friendly advice, yes, we are getting it; good ideas, yes; but at some point, it means genuinely supporting the UN when it seeks, on your behalf, to move the process ahead, after many many months of extensive consultation.

So, we are in that period now, and I trust I can continue to reach out to each of you in order to get this type of support.

In this way, I believe we can see a balanced and credible constitutional committee up and running. It will take time, but it will start to move and create some new dynamic in what is otherwise a process that, so far, has been very slow.

I said at the beginning of last month that we were getting close to a moment of truth. Dear friends, that is exactly what I am saying: the Idlib deal gives us a moment of hope, but also a window of opportunity not to be missed.

Federica, I really want to say once again how much we have been feeling constantly accompanied by you personally, by your team, and your member countries in what is a common goal.

Thank you.

New York, 26 September