President, 12 years ago, the Syrian people peacefully took to the streets to demand freedom, political reform, and a government that respects and upholds human rights. The Assad regime met those demands with brutality. The ensuing conflict has cost the lives of more than half a million and left over 12 million displaced.
With resolution 2254, this Council agreed unanimously on a political path out of the conflict that would protect the rights of all Syrians, with civil society, women and minorities playing a critical role.
Eight years on, there has been next to no political progress. The conditions that perpetuated the conflict, including the behaviour of the Asad Regime, have not changed. Regime complicity in the production and trafficking of Captagon is a recent example. As ever, the regime and its allies profit whilst the Syrian people and the region suffer the consequences.
President, as Lubna Alkanawati has clearly articulated, despite the untold hardship faced by women in Syria, many continue to play vital roles in the pursuit of justice, accountability, and peace, often in the face of harassment, intimidation and fears for their own safety. We commend them for their courage.
The UK recognises the enormous generosity of regional states hosting Syrian refugees, and will continue to support them to do so. Whilst we hope that Syrian refugees will ultimately be able to return home, we agree with the UN’s assessment that conditions in Syria do not currently allow this.
It is essential that international law is respected and that any refugee returns are voluntary, safe and dignified.
The onus must be on the Assad regime to substantively change its behaviour and provide verifiable protection assurances for prospective returnees, many of whom fear prosecution on their return.
If the regime wants to show its behaviour has changed, genuine engagement on the missing and detained would be an important step towards demonstrating a safe environment for refugee returns.
As the recent conclusions from the Arab Contact Group have noted, UN Security Council resolution 2254 remains the only viable route to a lasting and inclusive settlement in Syria. While we welcome recent efforts to make progress on the political track, proof of the regime’s good faith will be in concrete steps to guarantee the rights of the Syrian people and to engage substantially in meetings of the Constitutional Committee.