United Nations Security Council Briefing: The situation in the Middle East (Syria)

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

  • Peace, Rights and Security
Statement as delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations, May 4, 2016.

Thank you Mr President. We also thank the United Kingdom for convening this session and we think that it is very timely to have an open discussion in this chamber about the situation in Syria, in particular the situation in Aleppo.

New Zealand has been deeply concerned at the violence in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria. We continue to be shocked at the apparent indifference of the parties to the war, and their backers, all of their backers, to the suffering of the Syrian people.

The escalation of violence in and around Aleppo shows that the parties have been continuing to pursue their objectives by military means. And yet as we have said so many times in this room and the adjacent chamber, there can be no military solution to this conflict.

We welcome the news that it has been agreed between the United States and the Russian Federation to extend the cessation of hostilities to Aleppo and also Latakia and Eastern Ghouta. But if peace is to have any chance there must be a full reestablishment of cessation of hostilities to all of Syria and a recommitment to the peace process.

All sides must invest fully in the political process. This means respecting International Humanitarian Law. It means respecting the Council’s resolutions. And it means prioritising the welfare of their people over narrow political and military aims.

The current political process that was established last year under resolution 2254, represents the best chance we have had in five years to end this awful war. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity.

We all have a responsibility to support the talks, to support the Special Envoy, and to pressure the parties at the negotiating table to participate in good faith.

In our view, good faith means increasing access for humanitarian aid, negotiating the release of detainees, stopping the fighting, and engaging on the substance of a political transition.

It also means stopping attacks on schools and hospitals, and allowing medical supplies into humanitarian convoys. Just yesterday the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2286 reminding combatants of the rules of armed conflict, demanding protection for those who provide health care, and demanding accountability for those who flout those rules.

Most of all good faith in this context means adhering to the spirit of the cessation of hostilities which means stopping fighting and stopping attempts to grab land. What has happened in Aleppo in the last few days was all too predictable, as we heard reports over the last two weeks from the United Nations Representatives. While we have understood that there have been efforts to battle Al-Nusra, it is hard not to conclude that what has happened has been part of a grand plan to seize Syria’s second largest city before the peace talks seriously got underway.

New Zealand is fully committed to international efforts to combat terrorism. This should be an issue that unites us. But it had not been; and there has been a growing tendency to use the words “terrorism” and “terrorists” loosely and as a justification for any military response. This must stop. 

Any military action needs to be carried out with full respect for International Humanitarian law. This means, of course, avoiding attacks on civilians and civilian targets. The requirements of distinction, proportionality and the prohibition on indiscriminate attacks must be respected, even when fighting terrorists. 

And for the cessation of hostilities and the peace process to have any chance of succeeding, greater care is required to distinguish between those groups who are participants of the peace process, and those who are outside it, and greater weight given to the overall political need to advance the peace process. 

The talks that have been underway between the US and Russia, in coordination with the Special Envoy and others in the region, are the best chance we have in the short term to make progress and to see an end to fighting  particularly in and around Aleppo.

We welcome those talks, we welcome the recent announcement and we look forward to further progress in the area, for example, further geographical delineation and other measures to help restore and sustain the cessation of hostilities. 

While the US and Russian efforts are critical, the United States and Russia are not the only actors who can make a difference. New Zealand supports the ISSG and the UN Security Council putting their weight behind the political talks. 

We are open to any course of action that would be helpful and effective, and would welcome the views of the Special Envoy, the US and Russia in particular on how this Council might best support their efforts. 

We all need to remember that the stakes are high - the breakdown of the peace process would be catastrophic for the Syrian people, and for preserving what remains of this shattered country.  We look forward to discussing the press statement just distributed by the UK and early agreement on it.


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