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Friday 16th November 2012 | 10:05
FCO press release
The future of Syria hangs in the balance. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrian civilians are under attack or displaced from their homes, and this should give real urgency to our discussions today.
The purpose of this meeting is to agree ways in which the international community can increase political and non-lethal practical support to the Syrian opposition.
We should now able to step up our efforts considerably because of the formation of Syria’s new National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. I congratulate everyone involved in achieving this breakthrough.
The people of Syria desperately need to see an end to the violence that is destroying their country.
This has long required the emergence of a clear alternative to the Assad regime: a new leadership that can be part of a genuine political transition in Syria, and that reflects the needs and aspirations of all Syria’s communities. The new National Coalition is an indispensable and welcome step forward in that process.
I have just held positive and warm discussions with some of the new Coalition’s leaders, President Al-Khatib and Vice-Presidents Atassi and Seif, on their first official visit to Europe.
As they themselves acknowledged, their work is just beginning. They must develop their structures, widen their support among the Syrian people, and set out a credible plan for political transition so that they can work with the international community to end the conflict.
We wish them well in this vital work. And we hope they will make swift progress so that we will be able to go on to recognise them as the sole legitimate representatives of the people of Syria.
It is for the Syrian people to choose their own future, but in the United Kingdom we are giving strong advice on areas which we see as urgent priorities for the National Coalition:
First, we urge the Coalition to finalise its structure and appoint a final Vice-President, so that it can turn its attention in earnest to drawing up a detailed political action plan and working together on a political process for Syria. We call on them to produce this urgently, ahead of the next Friends of Syria meeting which we hope will take place next month. It is vitally important that the National Coalition set out a clear vision for Syria’s future; one that resonates with all sections of its society and is inclusive of them.
Second, we also look to all elements of the opposition to show a clear commitment to human rights. We are particularly concerned by the reports of sexual violence and rape against women and children in Syria by regime forces. I raised this with the National Council leaders this morning, and urged them to make clear their abhorrence of these crimes, and to consider and propose ways in which there can be accountability and justice for atrocities being committed today, in a future free Syria. We also urge the Coalition itself to commit to upholding applicable international laws including humanitarian and human rights law, and to work with humanitarian agencies to provide unfettered access across Syria.
The National Coalition will have the strong support, advice, encouragement and friendship of the United Kingdom in all these areas.
For our part, we as the international community must do more to help save lives and reduce suffering in Syria, including through the united response at the UN Security Council that we in Britain continue to strive for.
But our focus today should be on practical assistance on the ground.
That requires new understandings between the Coalition and those countries represented here today.
An important first step would be reaching agreement to establish a mechanism to co-ordinate international practical assistance to the Coalition, and to strengthen their capacity to deliver essential services inside Syria areas where the regime no longer has control.
I also believe it is essential that many more countries give generously to UN relief funds for Syria, which the UN describes as “critically under-funded”, as winter approaches and suffering increases.
I hope that this meeting will lead to positive and tangible outcomes that will strongly support the Syrian opposition, and that in months to come we will be able to look back the meeting in Doha and this one here today as milestones on the way to an open, peaceful and free Syria.