Statement delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations, January 15, 2016.

Thank you Mr President. I too thank Assistant Secretary Kang for her briefing.

New Zealand is pleased that since this Council met on Monday, a second series of aid convoys have been able to enter Madaya, Foua and Kefraya yesterday and a third series of convoys is planned in the next few days.

However, as others have said, this is just scratching the surface. That gets aid through to about 62,000 people. Humanitarian workers need safe, unimpeded and sustained access to the nearly 400,000 people trapped in besieged areas throughout Syria. It has now been confirmed that many of these people are suffering through conditions as horrific as we have seen recently in Madaya and elsewhere.

The Syrian Government is responsible for besieging some areas; but others such as various opposition groups and ISIL are also using siege tactics.

We demand all those using siege tactics immediately to meet their international legal obligations to allow humanitarian access.

Tit-for-tat granting of humanitarian access is unacceptable. Civilians should not be used as pawns, as has been happening in Madaya, Foua and Kefraya.

Only 25 kilometres outside of Damascus, people in Madaya have been waiting since Monday to be evacuated so they can receive the medical care they urgently need. There’s a complex situation and the facts are still becoming clear. But what is clear enough, is that the need is urgent.

While we are pleased that humanitarian agencies have received approval for the entry of mobile clinics and medical teams to support treatment, we cannot understand the Syrian Government’s unwillingness to grant permission for people to be evacuated.

We call on the Syrian authorities immediately to grant requests for medical evacuations of the sick.

Mr President,

New Zealand and many others, including the Secretary General, have emphasised numerous times that the Syrian Government must approve, without delay, requests for inter-agency convoys.

As my Spanish Colleague has just said, in Security Council Resolution 2258, adopted only last month, this Council expressed its concern at the decline in convoy approvals by the Syrian authorities and requested that they respond expeditiously – and positively - to all requests for cross-line deliveries.

We cannot accept that administrative delays continue to block humanitarian assistance from reaching those in need.  As Ms Kang has said, the approval procedures must be simplified and must be much quicker.

Delivering aid in Syria is extremely complex and dangerous for the people delivering the aid. It would be unsafe to try to deliver aid without government consent and risk attacks. Over 80 humanitarians have lost their lives since the conflict began. We do not want to see this number rise.

Mr President,

Intentionally starving civilians as a method of warfare has happened repeatedly during the Syrian conflict.

What we are seeing today in Madaya is an alarming echo of the siege and starvation of civilians in Homs in 2014. The deliberate starving of civilians is not a natural, collateral effect of conflict. It is a conscious decision made by the besieging parties. It violates international humanitarian law. It violates this Council’s resolutions. It may constitute a war crime. New Zealand and Spain intend to invite the World Food Programme to brief on access to food in besieged areas at the next Syria Humanitarian consultations on Syria on 27 January. 

In the meantime, New Zealand demands that the Syrian Government and other parties to the conflict immediately lift all sieges in Syria and allow the free movement of civilians and life-saving goods.  We also call on countries with influence, with responsible parties, and I say parties plural, to use that influence for the lifting of the sieges. If they stand by and do nothing, they too are complicit.

Mr President,

The situation is so desperate that all forms of aid delivery should be considered. In this respect, we would be interested in OCHA’s view on the potential operational advantages and challenges of delivering assistance via airdrops. Lifting the sieges and parties abiding by their obligations under international humanitarian law would help build trust and momentum ahead of the upcoming talks in Geneva. We look forward to discussing these matters in more depth with Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura on Monday.

We all know that only a political solution will end the suffering of the Syrian people. Let me conclude by commending the bravery and tireless work of the humanitarians working on the ground, including the United Nations, led by Humanitarian Coordinator Yacoub El Hillo, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Red Crescent.

Thank you.