Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, on the current situation in Syria. Published on the Passauer Neue Presse website on 27 September 2016 www.pnp.de .
Ms Kofler, the agreed ceasefire in Syria didn’t last long. Aleppo is under severe attack again. How on earth can these war crimes be stopped?
Although it might seem futile in view of recent events, the answer is only by persistently trying to work towards a negotiated solution. That begins with small steps: first a ceasefire needs to give people a little breathing space and allow them access to humanitarian assistance. Then it needs to go further: our role cannot be restricted simply to alleviating suffering. We need to work towards a long‑term solution that leads to real peace. But a humanitarian ceasefire is the first step.
How can humanitarian assistance now even be provided?
Humanitarian assistance is possible if the necessary funds are made available and international humanitarian law is respected. Only recently the Federal Foreign Office increased support for the Syrian civil defence organisation the White Helmets for this year by two million to seven million euros. Yet the attack on an aid convoy last week has shown that those providing assistance in Syria put their lives on the line. That deserves our greatest respect, and it is at least as important to provide political support – by unceasingly calling for humanitarian law to be respected. For this would provide protection for the helpers.
According to UNICEF, 100,000 children are trapped in eastern Aleppo alone. Yet the Syrian army continues to carry out air attacks. The children’s fund speaks of a ruthlessness comparable with the atrocities committed during the Second World War. Is it enough just to appeal to Russia and Assad?
Appeals on their own will undoubtedly not lead to any change in behaviour. But they are important, so that we can continue to make clear who is violating international law on a large scale in this case. Of course, terrorist groups are also murdering people in Syria. But the large‑scale deployment of deadly weaponry from the air against civilian targets is something we are only seeing from the Assad regime and the states supporting it. The appeals therefore need to be accompanied by ongoing efforts to find a basis for negotiations. And these efforts are continuing tirelessly with the involvement of the Federal Foreign Office.
Thousands of refugees from Syria will continue to make their way to Europe and Germany. How should Brussels and Berlin now respond to that?
First, we need to work on speeding up our family reunification procedures further. At the same time, of course, we need a pan‑European solution for taking in the refugees. The answer to these questions must be found not only in Brussels but also and above all in the respective European capitals.