Warning of the prospect of a long-term civil war in Syria, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Thursday reiterated his call for the international community to work together to resolve the ongoing crisis in the Middle Eastern country.
"We face the grim possibility of long-term civil war destroying Syria's rich tapestry of interwoven communities. This would have tragic implications for Syria's people and could affect stability across the region. We cannot let this prediction come true," Ban said in a message delivered on his behalf to an international consultative meeting on Syria, taking place in Tehran, Iran, Thursday.
"All of us have a responsibility to the people of Syria. We must use all of the peaceful means in the UN Charter to help them unite around a Syrian-led transition process that is based on dialogue and compromise by all sides on the ground, not bullets, arrests, abductions and intimidation," he added.
Syria has been wracked by violence, with an estimated 17,000 people, mostly civilians, killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 17 months ago.
Over recent days, there have been reports of an escalation in violence in many towns and villages, as well as the country's two biggest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, with the latter reportedly the centre of intense combat between Government and opposition forces, involving both aerial bombardments and heavy weaponry.
In his message, the UN chief noted the General Assembly adopted a resolution last week, which stressed the importance of making rapid progress on a political transition and encouraged Member States to provide active support to this end.
"For this consultative group, this means that it must take concerted efforts to persuade Syria's leadership to change course and embrace a political transitions," Ban said.
The UN chief noted that the primary responsibility for stopping the violence lies with those on the ground, particularly the Syria Government. "But their refusal to lay down arms does not absolve the rest of us of the need to act. I urge all of you to face up to the collective responsibilities we shoulder," he said.
The Secretary-General stated that a first move by the Government is vital, as "its intransigence and refusal to implement the six-point peace plan has been the greatest obstacle to any peaceful political process, ensuring the distrust of the opposition in proposals for a negotiated transition." The opposition, too, he said, should be more forthcoming in favour of opportunities for a political solution.
"Most importantly and urgently, all sides must protect civilians and abide by their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law," the Secretary-General noted.
Put forward by the outgoing Joint Special Envoy for the UN and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis, Kofi Annan, earlier this year, the six-point 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, and unrestricted access to the country for the international media.
The Secretary-General also noted that agreement reached by the Action Group on Syria, at the end of June in Geneva, Switzerland, in which it strongly condemned the violence in Syria and outlined the steps for a peaceful transition there, including, among other points, the establishment of a transitional governing body that would exercise full executive powers and that would be made up by members of the present Government and the opposition and other groups.
"For the first time, the international community was able to agree on a path that should lead to a state that is genuinely pluralistic and democratic," Ban said. "This was an important step in support of the Syrian-owned process. This was a genuine opportunity for a better future for all Syrians that offered a process with which all can seriously engage."
Also on the issue of Syria, the UN expert on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani, said Thursday that disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law has led to a "severe internal displacement crisis in Syria."
Expressing deep concern about the situation of the estimated 1.5 million people reportedly recently internally displaced by the conflict, Beyani called upon all the parties involved to ensure respect for international law, including human rights and humanitarian law, in all circumstances, so as to protect and assist internally displaced persons (IDPs), and prevent conditions that may lead to further forced internal displacement of persons.
"It is imperative that all parties to the conflict respect international humanitarian and human rights law, particularly the right to life and the right to physical integrity, and ensure the protection of IDPs as civilians," Benyani said.
The Special Rapporteur also urged the Government of Syria to allow full and unrestricted access to IDPs by humanitarian groups so that they are able to reach those in need.
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs like Mr. Benyani, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on a country situation or a specific human rights theme.