Statement delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative to the United Nations, 15 February 2016.

I, too, thank Assistant Secretary-General Kang for her briefing.

New Zealand is pleased that, since the Council met on Monday, a second series of aid convoys were able to enter Madaya, Fu’ah and Kafraya yesterday and that a third series of convoys is planned in the next few days. However, as others have said, that 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 those 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 the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), are also using siege tactics. We demand that all those using siege tactics immediately meet their international legal obligation 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, Fu’ah and Kafraya.

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. It is a complex situation and the facts are still becoming clear. 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 to immediately grant requests for medical evacuations of the sick.

New Zealand and many others, including the Secretary-General, have emphasized numerous times that the Syrian Government must approve, without delay, requests for inter-agency convoys. As my colleague from Spain has just said, in resolution 2258 (2015), adopted only last month, the 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 crossline deliveries. We cannot accept that administrative delays continue to block humanitarian assistance from reaching those in need. As Ms. Kang said, the approval procedures must be simplified and carried out more quickly. 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 humanitarian workers have lost their lives since the conflict began. We do not want to see that number rise.

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 Council 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 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 lifesaving goods. We also call on countries with influence with responsible parties to use that influence to lift the sieges. If they stand by and do nothing, they too are complicit.

The situation is so desperate that all forms of aid delivery should be considered. In that respect, we would be interested in the view of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on the feasibility 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 such 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 humanitarian workers 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.