Briefing: The situation in the Middle East: Aleppo, Syria

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

Statement delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations. December 13, 2016.

Twenty three years ago, I sat behind my Ambassador as this Council discussed Rwanda. It was the most horrible experience. And as I prepared to come here on my posting this time, I was often asked by my colleagues, what will be your Rwanda moment? I think it’s probably arrived. Then as now, there were credible reports coming in of atrocities being committed. Then as now there was someone at the table, a party to the conflict that had their own views, but in the end, the truth came through.

I choose to believe the Secretary-General when he comes to this Council and tells us there are credible reports of atrocities being committed. I choose to believe the Secretary-General and the people working for him when they say the issue is not terrorism, but it is barbarism.

This was a scenario we had desperately hoped to avoid when we worked with Egypt and Spain to try and get a Council resolution to stop the violence and provide orderly access for the United Nations and other humanitarian partners to support the needs of a beleaguered city. We made the same plea in consultations last week when we came to some rough agreement about what we might say to the media, except that the one important point that we asked for, that the UN must be involved in the access and then the evacuation arrangements, was not allowed to us by Russia. And that is the problem we have today. The UN is not on the ground, the UN is not able to verify, so it’s no good coming back and telling us you’ve done all these reports and investigations yourself because no one’s there to check on you.

The tactics being used in eastern Aleppo go against basic humanity. Such short-term tactics do nothing to counter terrorism.

They fuel radicalisation and rather than hastening the end of the war, they make peace more distant.

We share the criticisms of the Secretary-General of this Council’s failure to act. We have called attention to those failures repeatedly over the past months. We have tried to remedy that failure by putting forward resolutions to address the issue. And we have failed. We have failed. In one sense, it is a collective failure of the entire Council. But in another sense, it is a specific failure because a Permanent Member has used the veto to prevent Council action to address a serious humanitarian crisis. That veto in our view is against the deep spirit of article 27, paragraph 3 of the Charter that we all operate under and it is a cynical attempt to use a provision to advance military aims of one of the participants to the conflict.

Now, the Secretary-General has come to us today in this urgent session and said; we need to act, we need to address this situation. So we really want, we urge Russia, we urge Iran, we urge Syria to work with us. We can only focus on the immediate right now, but saving lives must be our focus of attention. We need to get the United Nations on the ground. We need to get the United Nations able to help people both who want to leave be allowed to leave and those who need humanitarian assistance to get it when they can.

Of course we know that peace and stability will only be restored ultimately through a return to dialogue, reconciliation and meaningful political change. But those things seem very far away right now. Let’s right now concentrate on what has to be done in the immediate hours.

Thank you.


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