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With Syria at pivotal moment, UN officials press for united action to end crisis

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) briefs the General Assembly on the situation in Syria.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) briefs the General Assembly on the situation in Syria.

With Syria at pivotal moment, UN officials press for united action to end crisis

Amid growing atrocities and little evidence that the Syrian Government is living up to its commitment to stop the ongoing violence, United Nations officials today urged the world community to act with one voice to end the crisis in the Middle Eastern country.

“Syria is at a pivotal moment. And so are we,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a meeting of the General Assembly. “Syria and the region can quickly move from tipping point to breaking point. The dangers of full-scale civil war are imminent and real.”

Today’s meeting comes in the wake of the recent massacre in Houla, where 108 people, including 49 children, many of whom were under the age of 10, were killed, as well as reports of large-scale killings in Mazraat al-Qubeir, near Hama, which the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) is currently trying to verify.

“We condemn this unspeakable barbarity and renew our determination to bring those responsible to account,” said Mr. Ban, who added that UN observers, who were initially denied access, are working now to get to the scene. While trying to do so, they were shot at with small arms.

“We join forces at a grave and grievous hour,” he stated. “The situation in Syria continues to deteriorate. Each day seems to bring new additions to the grim catalogue of atrocities.”

There is “too little evidence,” he said, that the Syrian Government is living up to its commitments under the six-point plan presented by Kofi Annan, the Joint Special Envoy of the UN and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis, and many elements of the opposition have declared they will no longer respect the plan.

The plan calls for an end to violence, access for humanitarian agencies to provide relief to those in need, the release of detainees, the start of inclusive political dialogue that takes into account the aspirations of the Syrian people, and unrestricted access for the international media.

“The inability of either the regime or the opposition to engage in any meaningful political dialogue makes the prognosis extremely grave. And the longer this conflict goes on, the more difficult the path toward peace and eventual reconciliation will become,” warned Mr. Ban. “The international community must recognize these realities – and act, with unity and collective will.”

He added that the so-called ‘Annan Plan’ remains the centrepiece of these efforts. “We must continue to support it with stronger steps to ensure compliance… No one can predict how the situation in Syria will evolve. We must be prepared for any eventuality. We must be ready to respond to many possible scenarios.”

Mr. Annan reported to the Assembly that, despite the acceptance of the six-point plan and the deployment of UN observers to Syria, the plan is not being implemented.

“It is your shared interest – and our collective responsibility – to act quickly. The process cannot be open-ended. The longer we wait, the more radicalized and polarized the situation will become, and the harder it will be to forge a political settlement,” said Mr. Annan.

“The international community has united, but it now must take that unity to a new level. We must find the will and the common ground to act – and act as one. Individual actions or interventions will not resolve the crisis.

“As we demand compliance with international law and the six-point plan, it must be made clear that there will be consequences if compliance is not forthcoming,” said the envoy. “If we genuinely unite behind one process, and act and speak with one voice, I believe it is still possible to avert the worst and enable Syria to emerge from this crisis.”

General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser urged all Member States to unite in cooperating with the Joint Special Envoy and to impress upon the Syrian Government and all parties the need for a cessation of violence in all its forms, and for a rapid and peaceful solution to end the crisis.

“We need to have a frank and results-oriented discussion on Syria. Time is pressing. The lives of tens of thousands of Syrians, and the stability of the region, are at stake. The credibility of this Organization is also at stake,” Mr. Al-Nasser stated.

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stressed that the serious deterioration of the human rights situation being witnessed in Syria demands the full attention and engagement of Member States.

“People are dying as we speak,” she said in a statement that was delivered by the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonovic.

“I urge the international community to unite here in the General Assembly, as well as in the Security Council, and to speak with one voice to all Syrians – including the Government and armed opponents – in order to convince them to pull back from the brink and begin genuine negotiations for a peaceful process of change. There would be a terrible cost for not doing so.”

The Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Nabil Al Araby, said that the League does not call for the Security Council to resort to the use of force or military options, but rather for using political, economic and commercial pressures enshrined in the UN Charter.

“I call for backing and supporting the measures incorporated in the six points to end this crisis and to achieve a peaceful, political solution that will enable the Syrian people to live in freedom and democracy,” he said. “It is not acceptable, ethically, that the Syrian people continue to suffer.”

Mr. Ban and Mr. Annan are also scheduled to brief the Security Council later today on the situation in Syria.