On 21 September 2016, as President of the Security Council, New Zealand convened a high-level meeting on the situation in Syria, aimed at focusing the world’s attention on the crisis at a key stage in the conflict.

Prime Minister John Key presides over the high-level UN Security Council meeting
Prime Minister John Key presides over the high-level UN Security Council meeting on Syria.

High-level meeting on Syria

The high-level meeting on Syria, presided over by New Zealand’s then Prime Minister Rt Hon John Key, was the feature event of our second Presidency of the Security Council, in September 2016.  The debate took place during the United Nations’ annual 'Leaders’ Week'.

The meeting attracted Presidents, Prime Ministers and high-level representation from all members of the Security Council, including those states that had a key role to play in resolving the crisis.


New Zealand focused the world’s attention on Syria at a critical point in that conflict. The situation in Syria remained a tragic and particularly difficult issue throughout our term on the Security Council. The conflict had continued for more than five years by September 2016. Well over 300,000 Syrians had been killed, half of the country’s population has been uprooted and much of its infrastructure lay in ruins.

New Zealand took the unusual step of choosing such a divisive and politically fraught issue as Syria as the prominent event of our Presidency. But it was the right thing to do, particularly because world leaders and key players were in New York and able to participate in the discussion.

Humanitarian access issues in Syria

In addition to convening the high-level meeting, New Zealand played a leadership role on humanitarian access issues in Syria throughout our term, together with Spain, Jordan and Egypt.

This important work aimed at improving the access in Syria for medical and other humanitarian workers to alleviate the suffering of Syrian civilians caught up in the conflict. Our work also enabled New Zealand to have an outsized influence on arguably the most important item on the Security Council’s agenda.

New Zealand consistently spoke out against attacks on civilians in Syria and worked with Security Council members to try and change the actions of the parties to the conflict to reduce the suffering on the civilian population.

New Zealand continued this action throughout our time on the Council, including in the final months of our term when the situation in the Syrian city of Aleppo became particularly grave.

Speaking up for what was right

New Zealand worked behind the scenes with Council members to try and reach agreement and advance draft resolutions that would have a meaningful impact on the ground. We spoke up for what was right, even when it was difficult to do so. We sought to overcome the formidable differences to find workable solutions.

New Zealand’s commitment to improving the dire situation in Syria, and particularly the impact on civilians, delivered on our commitment as an elected member to address the “big issues” before the Security Council.

Our focus on Syria was consistent with our view that these issues should not merely be the domain of a few (invariably permanent) members but that elected members also had a responsibility to speak up and play an active role.