I have the honor to speak on behalf of the European Union.
The Acceding Country Croatia*, the Candidate Countries the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, Montenegro* and Iceland+, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Georgia align themselves with this declaration.
We thank you for your timely response to the crisis and for convening today’s meeting. We also thank the High Commissioner for Human Rights for her very clear and enlightening, albeit grueling, report.
The EU is appalled by the steadily deteriorating situation in Syria. Only a few weeks ago, the Syrian government had agreed to the cessation of the violence, the release of all political prisoners, the withdrawal of its armed forces and the unhindered freedom of movement of observers and journalists. None of these commitments has been met. Instead, the regime continues its ruthless and outrageous campaign of repression against the Syrian people and the massive, gross and systematic violations of human rights. More than 6000 Syrians are reported to have fallen victim to repression since the beginning of the crisis, and the situation is most probably worse. In addition, scores of peaceful protesters have been arbitrarily detained, tortured, raped and ill-treated.
You yourself, Madam High Commissioner, are on record that you are no longer able to count the exact number of the casualties. You have also stated that all evidence points to the fact that the involvement of the Syrian army and security forces may constitute crimes against humanity punishable under international law – as did the Independent Commission of Inquiry. The Secretary-General has called tirelessly for actions to stop those crimes. The Human Rights Council has, already three times, noted the overwhelming responsibility of the Syrian regime; so did the General Assembly in its current session. It is a key principle of the rule of law that perpetrators of crimes should be held accountable for their deeds.
The European Union has repeatedly called for an immediate end to the violence and for a peaceful and democratic transition. We have welcomed the League of Arab States’ resolution of 22 January, which calls for a Syrian-led process aimed at bringing about an orderly political transition and, ultimately, a democratic, pluralistic political system.
The Security Council’s recent inability to act in support of that resolution, owing to the veto of two members, is deeply regrettable. It is even more regrettable that this has served to the Syrian regime as a pretext for further dangerous backsliding and increased innocent civilian casualties. During the last few days, and especially since last Saturday, the Syrian government has ferociously escalated its brutal campaign throughout the country, with artillery, heavy weaponry and indiscriminate violence, leading to hundreds of casualties, including women and children.
The EU has also expressed strong concerns about the deteriorating humanitarian situation of the Syrian people in a great number of localities affected by the unrest. It has stressed that the Syrian authorities must urgently alleviate the suffering of the population living in these areas, protect the wounded and sick, guarantee unhindered access to medical care without any discrimination or reprisal and refrain from intimidation of those providing medical assistance. Instead of preventing innocent and injured civilians from seeking medical help, the Syrian government must immediately allow full and unimpeded access of relief personnel from international humanitarian organizations for the timely delivery of humanitarian aid to persons in need of assistance. The press must also be allowed to carry out its vital role of providing independent information on the events in Syria without fear of violence or repression.
The EU hopes that, at its next session, starting on 27 February, the UN Human Rights Council will be prepared to take appropriate action on Syria. It also looks forward to the next update report of the Commission of Inquiry with regard to all alleged violations of international human rights law, which will feed into the HRC discussions.
Given the Syrian regime’s continued use of violence against civilians, the EU is currently discussing a new round of sanctions to be approved by the EU Foreign Affairs Council in the coming days. As long as the repression persists, the EU will continue its policy of imposing additional measures aimed exclusively at the regime, not the civilian population. The international community must join its efforts to target those responsible for or associated with the violent repression and those who support or benefit from the regime.
The violence must stop now. We reiterate our strong support to the Syrian people and encourage the Syrian opposition to make all efforts to strengthen coordination on the way forward in order to achieve a peaceful transition to a Syria that is democratic, stable, inclusive; a Syrian in which all human rights, including minority rights, are guaranteed and in which all Syrians are equal, regardless of their affiliations or ethnicity or beliefs. The EU will continue to engage with representative members of the Syrian opposition which adhere to non-violence, inclusiveness and democratic values.
The EU has backed the bold and comprehensive initiative of the League of Arab States and will continue to support the Leagues’s ongoing efforts. The EU welcomes the call for the establishment of a Group of Friends on Syria. We call once more on all members of the UNSC to assume their responsibilities. The time has come to speak with one voice and demand an end to the bloodshed and a democratic future for Syria. We stand by the Syrian people and we once again call on the Syrian regime to end immediately the killing of civilians, withdraw the Syrian army from besieged towns and cities and cooperate fully with the Arab League, including with its 22 January initiative, in order to usher in a peaceful political transition in which the Syrian people themselves can decide their own future.
* Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.
+ Iceland continues to be a member of the EFTA and of the European Economic Area.