UN Security Council Must Reverse Its Failure

On 16 March, Special Representative of the Syrian National Coalition to the UN, Dr Najib Ghadbian, wrote to the UN Security Council.  On the fourth anniversary of the Syrian revolution, the letter makes the following key points: 

  • The Assad regime is responsible for over 93% of civilian deaths in Syria. 
  • ISIL and the Assad regime are intimately interlinked with one fuelling the other.  It is no accident that only 6% of the regime’s so-called “counter-terrorism” operations have targeted ISIL; and only 13% of ISIL attacks have targeted Syrian security forces. 
  • ISIL cannot be defeated without tackling its root cause – the Assad regime. 
  • The Security Council has failed to have an impact on the crisis and has failed to enforce its resolutions.  Its resolutions haven’t even slowed the death rate.  Resolution 2118 may have reduced the number of chemical weapons.  But the regime still uses them.  And it is still killing at scale with other weapons. 
  • The letter urges a comprehensive approach to the crisis in Syria, including: 
    • Sanctions against the regime and its backers;
    • Protection for civilians through the establishment of safe zones inside Syria;
    • Increased humanitarian commitments to the Syrian people;
    • Accountability for the many war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the regime. 

You can read the letter in full below and at this link.  You can see the Caesar Exhibit, which documents the Syrian regime’s torture and murder of thousands of detainees, at the UN’s Conference Room Building South Wall until 20 March 2015.

Text of Letter dated 16 March 2015

H.E. Mr. François Delattre
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations
President of the UN Security Council

Your Excellency,

This month, the crisis in Syria marked a sombre milestone: four years have now passed since the start of the Syrian revolution.  Our peaceful calls for freedom and equality were met with indiscriminate force by Assad’s forces.  In the years since, Assad has systematically increased the scale and scope of his violence: heavy artillery, cluster munitions, chemical weapons, and barrel bombs have killed more than 220,000 of my compatriots.  The Assad regime has displaced more than half of our citizens and tortured tens of thousands of innocent people—over 11,000 of them to death as documented by the Caesar Exhibit currently on display at the UN.

Assad’s forces bear the overwhelming responsibility for the war crimes committed in Syria.  The Syrian Network for Human Rights estimates that more than 93 percent of civilian deaths are caused by Assad’s forces and pro-regime militias.  Physicians for Human Rights has found that Syrian regime forces are responsible for 97 percent of medical personnel deaths throughout the past four years and 88 percent of deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on medical facilities.  And the UN Secretary-General has, in his reports to the Security Council, shown that of Syria’s 212,000 besieged citizens, 87 percent are in areas besieged by regime forces and militias (S/2015/124).

Assad’s forces have targeted Syrian civilians using barrel bombs and chemical weapons, as confirmed by the independent Commission of Inquiry (A/HRC/28/69).  They have also incubated the terrorist extremist threat now rife throughout Syria.  The devastation caused by Assad’s brutality has fueled the proliferation of terrorist extremists, and turned Syria into a base from which twisted extremist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al Nusra can terrorize civilians in neighboring Iraq, the region and beyond.  Assad has also purposefully facilitated the rise of ISIL by buying its stolen oil and putting money in its coffers.  ISIL and the regime have strategically avoided one another in the battlefield: just 6 percent of the regime’s so-called ‘counterterrorism’ operations have targeted ISIL and just 13 percent of ISIL’s attacks have targeted Syrian security forces.  

Terrorists like ISIL and tyrants like Assad are intimately interlinked: ISIL takes advantage of Assad and Assad takes advantage of ISIL.  Both must be defeated and both must be held accountable for their crimes.  The UN Security Council has repeatedly condemned the widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by Syrian regime forces, including in resolutions 2118 (2013), 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014) and 2209 (2015).  It has also condemned ISIL and al-Qaeda atrocities, including in resolutions 2199 (2015), 2178 (2014), and 2170 (2014).

Despite the 11 resolutions that the UN Security Council has adopted in relation to the situation in Syria throughout the past four years, the crisis in Syria has continued to worsen.  76,000 more people have died in the past 12 months.  Needs are up by nearly a third.  More than a million more children have been displaced throughout the past year.  And two-thirds of all Syrians inside the country are now in desperate need of emergency assistance.

The status quo is not working.  The Security Council—and the world—are failing the Syrian people.  Existing Security Council resolutions are not being enforced, to devastating effect: monthly casualty figures show that the Council’s action has not even slowed the death rate.  Resolution 2118 may have reduced the number of chemical weapons.  But the regime is still using them.  And it is still killing at scale with other weapons.  The Security Council’s failure to take meaningful, enforced action is costing Syrian lives.

To stop the slaughter in Syria and bring about the political transition set out in the Geneva Communiqué, the world must act decisively to defeat ISIL and its root cause - the Assad regime.  On behalf of the Syrian people and my colleagues in the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, I therefore ask that you: 

  • Adopt a comprehensive solution to the conflict in Syria that is capable of both destroying the terrorist extremist threat and creating the conditions needed to force Assad to the negotiating table.  Only a comprehensive and intensive effort to defeat ISIL and its root cause - the Assad regime - will effectively degrade and destroy groups like ISIL and lead to the peace and prosperity the Syrian people deserve;

  • Sanction the individuals and companies that support Assad’s killing machine.  The Security Council has adopted strong, clear measures prohibiting the provision of oil exports, ransom payments and external donations to ISIL.  Similar provisions should be adopted to sanction those who aid and abet Assad.

  • Protect Syrians inside Syria by establishing a Safe Zone.  Assad’s aerial bombardment has already taken the lives of too many civilians.  By authorising a Safe Zone inside Syrian territory, thousands of Syrian lives would be saved and the 3.9 million Syrians currently living in refuge could begin the process of returning to Syria.
  • Increase humanitarian commitments to the Syrian people.  Despite the soaring needs in Syria, crisis appeals by UN agencies are only 57 percent funded.  The funding shortfall is forcing organizations like the World Food Programme to downsize their services to refugee populations in need.  This is unacceptable.  The world must act with greater urgency to meet the growing needs of Syrian civilians, whether they reside inside or outside of Syria.  The Third International Pledging Conference for Syria held in Kuwait City on 31 March provides an opportunity to do so.  It is vital that members of the Security Council contribute generously.

  • Ensure accountability by referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).  All those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity must be held accountable.  An ICC referral would deter future war crimes and bring justice to victims across Syria.

Your Excellency, it is time to end the conflict in Syria.  Together we can.  Existing Security Council resolutions, including UN Security Council resolution 2118 (2013) and 2209 (2015) provide the legal basis through which to do so. It is vital that they be enforced. Through the Security Council’s collective action, 2015 can mark the year in which the crisis in Syria ended and the aspirations of the Syrian revolution are realized.    

Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.

Dr. Najib Ghadbian

Special Representative of the Syrian National Coalition to the United Nations

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National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces
Committed to a free, democratic, and pluralistic Syria.