Security Council Briefing: Syria

Statement by H.E. Karel J.G. van Oosterom,
Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations in New York

New York, 27 July 2018

Thank you very much, Mr. President, for convening this meeting on this important subject with these impressive briefers.

We thank Under-Secretary-General Mark Lowcock and Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children And Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba for their sobering briefings. Frankly speaking, I was shocked to hear again about the terrible suffering of Syrian children. Children should be protected – also in times of war. Yet, such protection is completely lacking in the Syrian conflict.

We express our strong support for the mandate of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. We are grateful for the extremely valuable work that the Special Representative and her team have done regarding Syria; valuable work in spite of the lack of access and the lack of cooperation by the Syrian regime. It is deplorable that the Syrian regime ignores its international obligations, even when it comes to the protection of children. We expect the upcoming country report to address these issues in clear terms, and we support the idea to have more frequent country reports.

Today we are talking about the humanitarian situation in Syria, but let us not forget the fate of the 6.5 million refugees who have been forced to flee their country.

Mr. President, in my statement I will address three points:

  • The situation in southern Syria;
  • The situation in Idlib;
  • The continuing violation of humanitarian law and humanitarian principles in Syria.

1. The situation in southern Syria

My first point, Mr. President: the situation in southern Syria. We express grave concern about the violence in southern Syria. Hostilities in the last few weeks were marked by civilian casualties, attacks on schools and hospitals, and the rapid displacement of nearly 180.000 individuals. We strongly condemn the recent series of suicide attacks by ISIS.

As Staffan de Mistura told us on Wednesday, 180.000 civilians have become internally displaced, as a result of the ground offensive and aerial offensive of the Syrian regime and its allies in the south-west. Some of the IDP’s near Quneitra remain without shelter, they are exposed to the sun in temperatures reaching up to 40 degrees Celsius. Humanitarian partners based in Damascus are not granted access due to a lack of necessary approvals by the regime. Cross-border humanitarian operations are suspended too.

The Syrian regime should respect international humanitarian law. The Syrian regime should provide sustained access for humanitarian actors and protection to all people in need. And this includes IDP’s located near the Golan border.

We  call on all parties to provide cross border humanitarian convoys with the necessary security guarantees. And this includes the relevant guarantors of the de-escalation zone, as it was called at the time. Cross-border aid delivery remains of paramount importance. It must be facilitated where it is the most effective, or where it is the only way to reach those in need.

Let me welcome the humanitarian operation that has led to the evacuation of a group of White Helmets and their family members from southern Syria. The Kingdom of the Netherlands is currently looking into the possibilities of a contribution to the resettlement plans. We pay tribute to the selfless work of the White Helmets in all parts of Syria. The White Helmets have saved countless Syrian civilian lives.

Let me underline that all sides of the conflict should accept and protect all aid workers. It is deeply disturbing that, instead, many have to fear for their lives because of the advance of Syrian troops and their allies. We regret that especially the White Helmets have been targeted both on the ground as well as here by slanderous accusations at the UN.

Let me underline the points made by our French colleague about the need to guarantee the safety of journalists in conflict.

2. The situation in Idlib

Mr. President, this brings me to my second point: the situation in Idlib. Currently, the Idlib region is completely surrounded by forces of the Syrian regime. We are deeply concerned about the fate of the 2.3 million civilians in Idlib, of which 1.3 million are displaced persons from elsewhere in Syria. They are under constant threat of airstrikes and of hostilities between armed groups. An assault by the Syrian regime will lead to a humanitarian catastrophe with grave regional consequences.

Let me stress that the civilians in Idlib are neither terrorists, nor combatants. Civilians must be protected during armed conflict. Medical facilities need to be protected too, as this Council so clearly underlined in resolution 2286. The Astana-guarantors have a particular responsibility to work on arrangements to prevent further human suffering, protect civilians and provide a non-violent exit from this growing tragedy.

In our opinion, this Council should give a very strong signal to the regime and its allies not to attack Idlib. And we regret that we are unable to agree on such a strong signal last Wednesday in our meeting.

3. The continuing violation of humanitarian law and humanitarian principles in Syria

Mr. President, my third point: the continuing violation of humanitarian law and humanitarian principles in Syria. Years of bombardments, sieges and deprivation by the Syrian regime have in the past months led to the regime taking over several severely damaged areas. Even now, UN access to these areas is consistently denied by the regime.

The UN is often banned from inter-agency convoys. This means that UN coordination and monitoring of the distribution of aid is hampered. As a consequence, aid is not being delivered to those who need it most.

Let me give an example. Between January and April 2018, a mere 22% of aid in territories controlled by the Syrian regime was delivered to those in acute need. This is simply unacceptable.

We therefore call on the Syrian regime, the Russian Federation and Iran to immediately allow unimpeded and sustained access for all humanitarian actors. If the regime continues to obstruct OCHA’s ability to work from Damascus, they effectively block the possibilities for principled, evidence-based humanitarian action in Syria. As a consequence, many more innocent people will suffer. And as a consequence, many more innocent children will suffer.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Mr. President. Let me stress the need for accountability for the ongoing crimes committed in Syria by all parties. We will continue our efforts in that respect both on the Council and off the Council.

We call on those with influence to ensure Syrians in need can be helped by the UN. Furthermore, they should convince the regime to reconsider Law Nr. 10, as just stressed by our French colleague.

Complying with international humanitarian law and providing humanitarian access remain essential to improve the conditions of the suffering Syrian civilians. This in particular applies to the suffering of Syrian children, as Virginia Gamba so clearly described.

Respect for international humanitarian law is key if we want to prevent a repetition of Eastern Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta and Dera’a.

Finally, we call for assurances that humanitarian workers in areas that have recently changed control will be protected. And we call for assurances that humanitarian services for the people in those areas will continue to be available.

Thank you very much, Mr. President.

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