Statement delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative to the United Nations, 26 October 2016.

Today’s briefing highlights once again the horror of the situation in Syria. After nearly six years, the conflict gets even more brutal and shocking. The situation currently unfolding in eastern Aleppo, where the presence of a few hundred terrorists is being used as a pretext for indiscriminate attacks that are bringing misery and death to more than 250,000 civilians, presents a new and profoundly disturbing low. We need to ask ourselves how the situation has been allowed to get so bad, but more importantly, what are we going to do about it?

Bringing humanitarian relief to the people of Syria remains an urgent priority. New Zealand will continue working with Spain and Egypt as co-leads in the Council’s consideration of humanitarian issues in Syria, but it should be clear to everyone that even if, by some miracle, the Syrian Government decided to relent in its wilful obstruction of humanitarian assistance — and we see little hope of that happening — that alone cannot make much of a difference on the ground unless the bombs stop dropping and the cessation of hostilities is restored.

It was that fundamental reality that led New Zealand to push Council members to set aside the recent history of failed efforts and focus on what the Council can now agree to do to help stop the slaughter and make space for humanitarian relief and a return to dialogue. We knew that it would not be easy and that we would get pushback from various quarters. Even so, we considered it our responsibility as a member of the Council to try to find a way for the Council to act. The continued inability of the most powerful members of the Council to effectively address this issue is nothing short of tragic. General Assembly politics are being put ahead of people and, once again, preventing agreement on effective international action.

We are appalled that Russia will not step back from its current assault on eastern Aleppo for long enough to allow the seeds of peace to begin to take root, or use its influence to change the Syrian Government’s behaviour. Humanitarian pauses may give some glimmer of hope but, for now, the bombardment of eastern Aleppo and its civilian population has resumed. It is brutal, cruel and indiscriminate. It is fundamentally at odds with international humanitarian law. It must stop. We must also register our deep disappointment that other permanent members declined to engage meaningfully on the key provision in our draft of what effective Council action might look like, other than to insist on language that had already proven unacceptable.

Earlier this week, we had a curious situation in which one side of the debate said that the key paragraph in our draft resolution (S/2016/846) was not acceptable because it would stop all air attacks over Aleppo, and the other side said that it was not acceptable because it would not. Both cannot be right. Yet for now, there is no prospect of navigating through these mutually inconsistent positions.

We understand that a third failed draft resolution in as many weeks would serve no one, and certainly not the people of Syria. But the problem we are looking to address has not gone away, and neither will we. We will continue to push for effective political action to halt the catastrophe that is unfolding, and our draft remains available as a basis for possible future action by the Council. But for any Council action to be effective, the Council has to come together and live up to its responsibilities under the Charter. We know that the divisions on the issue are acute and reflect the sad realities of today’s international situation, but while we cannot escape those realities, the Council must be more than an echo chamber of developments elsewhere. We need to at least be willing to try to get past the current divisions and distrust. If we do not, the performance of the Council and its members in addressing the Syrian tragedy will be judged harshly by history.

Sides with influence over the parties on the ground, and those directly involved in the conflict, bear responsibility for the ongoing slaughter. But Council members bear responsibility for how the Council responds, or fails to.