Statement delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations, 30 November 2016

Thank you Mr President. New Zealand welcomes today’s briefing on the events unfolding in eastern Aleppo and we thank the briefers and commend them and the brave people that have been working with them in such difficult circumstances.

Over the past five years, New Zealand has been highly critical of the Security Council’s failure to live up to its responsibilities with regard to the ongoing conflict in Syria. We have not been alone in doing so.

For much of this time this Council has remained largely silent as the country has unravelled and the fighting has become ever crueller and more brutal. Often we have been prevented from acting – or even speaking – due to the inability or unwillingness of some of the Council’s most powerful members to move beyond the politics and vested interests. This has prevented the Council from putting in place measures that would have saved lives.

The people of Syria have payed and continue to pay a terrible price for this inaction. So do their neighbours.

New Zealand has been working with Spain and Egypt to find a way through the impasse. We have sought to cut through the politics and the polemics to focus on agreeing action that can make a practical difference on the ground. We have tried to work constructively with all key players to this end. The draft resolution we put in blue yesterday is a manifestation of those efforts.

Our objectives in tabling this resolution are the same that have guided our engagement on this issue since joining the Council, and which led my Prime Minister to convene a high level meeting on this issue during our September Presidency: to reduce the violence, restore the ceasefire; to enable humanitarian assistance to reach those most in need; and to create space for a resumption of political talks on an end to the conflict.

A key focus has necessarily been on seeking to address the grave situation unfolding in Aleppo.

Over the past few months we have seen the presence of a few hundred al-Nusra terrorists in eastern Aleppo used to justify an all-out attack on more than 250,000 civilians. Every hospital in opposition-held areas has been destroyed. No humanitarian assistance has been allowed in since July, despite several pauses in airstrikes. And we have seen indiscriminate attacks from eastern Aleppo that have killed and injured many in western Aleppo.

In the past few weeks it has been become clear that the Syrian Government has eschewed efforts to establish a ceasefire and resume political talks in favour of pursuing a military outcome.

The result is another humanitarian catastrophe.

We urgently need a halt to the violence in Aleppo in order to get humanitarian assistance to those who so desperately need it.

We call on all parties to work in coordination with the United Nations to ensure humanitarian assistance is delivered to those who remain in eastern Aleppo. We are disappointed that the parties have not yet been able to agree on terms to implement the United Nation’s Four Point Plan.

We also need urgent action to protect those fleeing eastern Aleppo, and assurances regarding the fate of those taken into custody by the Syrian Government.

The draft resolution that New Zealand, Egypt and Spain submitted to Council members yesterday seeks to get a process going to put the protection of civilians at our highest priority.

The text represents the minimum that is required for a credible response from this Council and we urge all Council members to support it. But it will mean little unless we see urgent changes in the behaviour of the parties themselves, including some at this table.

Some may argue that our draft addresses yesterday’s issues and is no longer relevant to the situation on the ground, especially in Aleppo. An immediate ceasefire in Aleppo would undoubtedly address the most pressing humanitarian needs to get desperately needed humanitarian assistance to traumatised civilians and to allow those civilians who want to get out, to get out safely to a destination of their choice.

Some may argue the implementation of our resolution would give aid to the terrorists. We cannot exclude the possibility that terrorist groups may try to use a ceasefire to their advantage, but despite the rhetoric of terrorism that is regularly heaped on this conflict, the conflict between the Syrian Government and its people is not fundamentally about terrorism. Terrorism is an incident of the conflict, not its cause or rational. And sacrificing the lives of hundreds of civilians and putting hundreds of thousands into misery and suffering cannot be justified by waiving the banner of counter-terrorism.

Like Staffan de Mistura, we do not accept that the military advances in Aleppo will lead to the objective which this Council has allegedly been working on for so many years. A political solution leading to a stable and unified Syria living at peace with itself and its neighbours. While our immediate focus must be on saving lives, we urge all parties to the conflict to recommit themselves to a political solution, and a return to talks on a pathway towards achieving sustainable peace and national reconciliation.

Thank you.