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

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

Statement delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative to the United Nations, 21 November 2016.

I thank Mr. Stephen O’Brien and Ms. Elizabeth Hoff for their briefings. I commend them and their staff for their courage and determination in persevering in such difficult and dispiriting conditions.

Mr. O’Brien asked the question as to why the Council is holding this meeting. We could have asked the same question during each of the past 12 months. The Council has been powerless in dealing with the essential problem in Syria. Important work has been done in addressing the particular menace of chemical weapons, and, as Mr. O’Brien has reminded us, important humanitarian assistance has been able to get through under the cross-border arrangements called for by the Council. But, as we have heard today, cross front-line access, also called for by the Council, has been systematically denied, blocked, obstructed and obfuscated by the Syrian Government or forces allied with it. And our resolution 2286 (2016) on attacks on health-care workers or hospitals has been blatantly ignored, as we have been told today.

Most fundamentally, the Council has been powerless in dealing with the most serious threat facing the Syrian people, namely, the besiegement and bombardment of civilians, most notably in Aleppo, and, as we have been reminded again today, throughout other parts of Syria, as well. I am not going to revisit the horrors that flow from our inaction. They have been described more than adequately by Mr. O’Brien, Ms. Hoff and others. Looking around the Chamber today, I felt I can see in the faces of my colleagues some of the shame that I feel myself. Instead of responding to the clear breaches of international peace and security, the Council has been largely just a witness to the horrors that have been described to us again today.

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

As is well-known, after last month’s vetoes (see S/PV.7785), New Zealand tried to advance a draft 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 the 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 draft resolution that is similarly modest in ambition.

Indeed, we consider it to be the bare minimum that the Council can do. It approaches the conflict through a humanitarian lens, establishes a 10-day pause in Aleppo to allow the United Nations and its partners to get aid in and sick people out, and re-establishes the cessation of hostilities in the remainder of the country. It also begins to deal with some very difficult issues, namely, separation and the political process, but it does not try to provide all the answers. We are aware that there are conversations going on elsewhere. The draft resolution is intended to be complementary to those conversations. We are committed to taking this draft resolution forward, and we urge all Council members to support us in words and in action.


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