UN Security Council: Syria Humanitarian Briefing

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

  • Peace, Rights and Security
Statement delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations, 21 November 2016

I thank Under Secretary-General Stephen O’Brien and Elizabeth Hoff from the World Health Organization for their briefings.  I commend them and their staff for their courage and determination in persevering in such difficult and dispiriting conditions.

Stephen asked the question: “Why are we having this meeting?”

We could have asked the same question for each of the past twelve months.

This Council has been powerless in dealing with the central problem in Syria.
Yes, important work has been done in addressing the particular menace of chemical weapons.

And as Stephen has reminded us, important humanitarian assistance has been able to get through under the cross-border arrangements called for by this Council.

But as we have heard today, cross-line access - also called for by this Council - has been systematically denied, blocked, obstructed and obfuscated by the Syrian Government or forces allied with it.

And our resolution on attacks on healthcare workers in hospitals has been blatantly ignored.

But most fundamentally, this body has been powerless in dealing with the most serious threats facing the Syrian people: the besiegement and bombardment of civilians; most notably in Aleppo, but as we have been reminded again today, throughout other parts of Syria. 

I am not going re-rehearse the horrors that flow from our inaction. They have been described more than adequately by Stephen, Elizabeth and others.

Looking around this chamber today, I felt I could see in the faces of my colleagues some of the shame I feel myself: that instead of responding to the clear breaches of international peace and security, this Council has been largely a witness to the horrors that have been described to us again today.

The situation in Syria is horrible and complex and many players, internal and external, are playing roles there.  A particularly unhelpful role is being played by terrorist groups. However, leaving aside the area occupied and controlled by ISIL, there is no amount of diplomatic diversion that can hide the fact that we are witness to a destruction of a country and its people lead by its own government and supported by a permanent member of the Security Council.

As is well known, after last month’s vetoes, New Zealand tried to advance a resolution that would have demanded an end to all attacks that risked death or injury to civilians in Syria, especially in Aleppo. It was deeply frustrating that this Council could not unite around a proposition as simple and basic as that.

Nonetheless, New Zealand, together with Egypt and Spain is again putting forward a resolution that is similarly modest in ambition.  Indeed, we consider it the bare minimum this Council can do. It approaches the conflict through a humanitarian lens. It established a ten day pause in Aleppo to allow the UN and its partners to get aid in and sick people out.  It re-establishes the cessations of hostilities in the remainder of the country.  It begins to deal with some very difficult issues - separation, the political process - but it does not try to provide all the answers.

We are aware that there are conversations going on elsewhere; this resolution is intended to be complementary to those conversations.  We are committed to taking this resolution forward and we urge Council members to support us in word and in action.


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