ABU DHABI, 15th March 2016 (WAM) — Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, today marked the fifth anniversary of the Syrian conflict, which has left 250,000 dead and displaced half the country’s 23 million people, by calling for its end. He warned that if this opportunity is missed, the consequences for the Syrian people and the world are “too frightening to contemplate.”

He urged the warring Syrian parties, regional and international stakeholders, and the Security Council to ensure the success of the intra-Syrian talks taking place in Geneva. He repeated his call to the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. In Syria as elsewhere, peace without justice is not sustainable.

“Five years ago thousands of Syrians took to the streets calling for political change, only to be met with violence and repression. Recalling the origins of the conflict is important as we mark this grim anniversary. The destruction that engulfed Syria following those hopeful days of March 2011 was not inevitable.”

“If we miss this opportunity, the consequences for the Syrian people and the world are too frightening to contemplate,” he said.

The UN chief said, “The Syrian authorities could have responded peacefully to the legitimate demands of the people with genuine dialogue and reform. Regional and international actors could have united to help Syria stabilise rather than use it as a battlefield for regional rivalries and geo-strategic competition.”

“Instead, over 250,000 Syrians have been killed. Nearly half of all Syrians have been forced from their homes, seeking refuge within or outside the country. The world has been confronted with an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe. Terrorist groups such as Daesh and Al Nusra Front have capitalised on the chaos. Foreign fighters and sectarian militias, nightly, have poured into Syria to join the fighting. Syrian men, women and children feel abandoned by the international community.”

He said the Syrian conflict has been the scene of the use of chemical weapons, siege and starvation as a tool of war, unlawful detention, torture, and the indiscriminate and criminal shelling and aerial bombardment of civilians. “Those responsible for these crimes must be held to account. I repeat my call to the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. In Syria as elsewhere, peace without justice is not sustainable.”

“The global consequences of failing to resolve the Syrian conflict are now lamentably clear. It is in this context that renewed international and regional diplomacy and commitment to finding a solution to the Syrian conflict is vitally important. The formation of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and the commitment of its members to use their influence with the parties to increase humanitarian access to besieged and hard to reach areas in Syria and to implement a cessation of hostilities has created a rare opening and given reason for hope.”

Ban Ki-moon said the U.N finally moved beyond mere calls on the parties to uphold their obligations under international law to concerted and concrete action to reduce violence and aid civilians in need. “Diplomacy is finally making a difference in the daily lives of the long suffering Syrians. Remarkably, as the violence has fallen in the past two weeks, the Syrian people have returned to the streets, demonstrating peacefully as they did five years ago.”

As welcome as these developments are, they alone do not represent a solution to the Syrian conflict,he said. “That can only come through a comprehensive political settlement to the conflict that addresses the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and builds on a nationwide ceasefire. Building on the call in Security Council resolution 2218 (2013) for a political transition, Security Council Resolutions 2254 (2015) and 2268 (2016) now provide a political path and timeline for pursuing this goal.”

U.N. Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has this week convened intra-Syrian negotiations in pursuit of the full implementation of the Geneva Communique as the basis for a Syrian-led political transition.

Ban Ki-moon appealed to Syrian parties, regional and international stakeholders and the Security Council to fulfil their responsibilities and to help make these negotiations successful.

WAM/MMYS