UN Security Council: The situation in the Middle East (Syria Humanitarian)

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

Statement delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative to the United Nations, 23 December 2016.

Over the past two years, New Zealand has worked with this Council to try and improve the humanitarian situation in Syria.  We have been honoured to work with our co-leads, Jordan and Spain last year, and Egypt and Spain this year.  We secured some modest achievements, most notably the two annual renewals of the humanitarian access resolutions first pioneered by Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg. 

In Council terms, these resolutions and Resolution 2286 on attacks on healthcare facilities and workers were important achievements, especially when viewed against a background of near paralysis in the Council on the political track on Syria.

However, in terms of real world impacts, what has been achieved under those resolutions is a tiny fraction of what has been needed to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people.

During our term we witnessed some deeply disturbing trends: systematic attacks on hospitals and on medical and humanitarian workers; obstruction of food and essential supplies to civilian populations as a tactic of war; use of indiscriminate weapons with zero regard for civilians; and use of chemicals as weapons. These tactics of war undermine the basic tenets of international humanitarian law and should concern us all.

The need to address Syria’s humanitarian crisis should be something on which all Council members can agree, and for the most part, that has been the case.  However, as we saw graphically last month, when humanitarian objectives do not square with the war-fighting aims of those with decision-making powers on this Council, the humanitarian objectives are the ones that are pushed aside - which is not how International Humanitarian Law is supposed to work.

Last month’s vetoes of the simple resolution that New Zealand put forward with Egypt and Spain was but the latest example of an attitude that has troubled New Zealand deeply during our time on the Council.  That is, the apparent indifference of a number of Council members to human suffering, even on a large scale.

While this has been most apparent in the case of Syria, where a series of vetoes has been cast over the past 5 years, it is equally apparent in the Council’s actions or inability to take effective action, with respect to the crises in Yemen, South Sudan and Sudan. 

We welcome the recent adoption of resolutions allowing the UN to observe evacuations in Aleppo and the renewal of cross-border and crossline humanitarian access. The Council’s priority must be to address persistent efforts by the Syrian Government to prevent the full and effective implementation of these resolutions, which we have witnessed with depressing regularity over the past two years.

Now, as Mr Ging has reminded us, we must ensure the protection of civilians fleeing eastern Aleppo, Fouaa and Kafraya. Longer term, we must ensure that the protection of civilians is prioritised throughout Syria and in the many other towns and communities that remain besieged or under ongoing bombardment.

We welcome the determination others have shown in recent weeks to act when the Council will not. We hope the resolution adopted in the General Assembly this week can lay the groundwork for action to bring justice for the victims of this conflict.

We also welcome the Board of Inquiry findings on the attack on the UN and SARC humanitarian convoy in Big Orem. The information that the attack was highly likely perpetrated by the Syrian Air Force is deeply disturbing, as was the obstruction and delay by the Syrian Government in issuing visas to the investigators. We hope the Council will be able to unite in welcoming this report and in condemning all attacks on humanitarian workers.

We pay tribute to the dedication and commitment of many, including the United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, to achieve peace in Syria; to OCHA Under-Secretary-General Stephen O’Brien and Mr Ging and their teams for their unwavering dedication and efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need; to the courage and sacrifice of humanitarian agencies and workers in Syria; and to the generosity of neighbouring countries in sheltering the millions of Syrian refugees.

We also thank our fellow humanitarian co-leads over the past two years, Spain, Egypt and Jordan, for their generous collaboration and their determination to help improve the humanitarian situation in Syria.

While the provision of humanitarian assistance is vital, it is only treating the symptoms of the conflict. External actors must set aside vested interests and narrow allegiances and prioritise action to end the conflict and promote genuine reconciliation

As we all know, only a political resolution with meaningful reconciliation and genuine political and security sector reform can provide a lasting peace to the civilians of Syria.

Thank you.


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