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, 11 September 2018

Thank you very much, Madame President

Madame President, thank you, personally, for your impressive words of commemoration of the victims of 9/11. The Kingdom of the Netherlands stood and stands in full solidarity with the United States. Our thoughts are with all those who lost loved ones on that terrible day, 17 years ago.  

Madame President, let me thank the Russian delegation for providing us with an update on the results of the Third Trilateral Summit of Astana guarantors in Tehran.  

I will focus on 3 points today:

  • The risks of rapid escalations;
  • The responsibility of the Astana Guarantors; and
  • The need for the Protection of Civilians.

1. The risks of rapid escalations

My first point, Madame President: the risks of rapid escalations involving regional and international players is great. The potential consequences of an escalation of violence are horrific.

That is why there is, in our view, an urgent need for a real shift of the focus towards diplomacy, at the negotiating table, with the goal of bringing a non-military solution closer. Only a political solution, in line with Security Council resolution 2254, can end the conflict in a sustainable and peaceful matter.

2. The responsibility of the Astana Guarantors

Madame President, that brings me to my second point: the responsibility of the Astana Guarantors and the need for a complete cessation of hostilities. Frankly speaking, Madame President, the Kingdom of The Netherlands is disappointed with the results of the Tehran Summit. In our view, it is the responsibility of the Astana guarantors to uphold the ceasefire and de-escalation arrangements that they have previously agreed to, and to protect civilians as a matter of priority.

During the Tehran Summit, the Astana guarantors reiterated their pledge to seek a negotiated solution to Syria’s seven-year conflict, but in practice we see that two out of the three guarantors are instead getting ready for a full scale military offensive in Idlib. On the day of the summit and over the weekend we saw escalation instead of de-escalation. It is a continuation of a well-known pattern of fighting in de-escalation zones that reminds us of Eastern-Ghoutha and Dara’s earlier this year.

If the Russian Federation and Iran are serious about a non-military solution and de-escalation they need to cease further military build-up around Idlib. They must stop the aerial attacks immediately. It is crucial that the de-escalation zone is upheld. There needs to be an immediate and complete ceasefire.

We share Turkish concerns about escalating violence in Idlib and imminent humanitarian catastrophe. Turkey already hosts 3,5 million Syrian refugees. The Kingdom of the Netherlands has appreciation and respect for this. We fully share the Turkish concerns. 

3. The urgent need for the Protection of Civilians

Madam President, this brings me to my next point: the urgent need for the Protection of Civilians, also when countering terrorism. In our view, all parties involved should exercise utmost restraint, put protection of civilians first and allow unhindered humanitarian access. 

Civilians are not the ones that should leave Idlib. We are skeptical about the concept of corridors or protected evacuation routes. Not in the least because of the enormous amount of civilians in Idlib. If attempted, for example in the case of medical evacuations, these must be in line with the Minimum Standards for Humanitarian Evacuations, as the UN has circulated before.

Parties need to uphold International Humanitarian Law throughout Syria, and in particular in Idlib. Any measure to counter terrorism must comply with obligations under international law, in particular human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law. Combating terrorism is no excuse to attack without distinction or proportionality.

Recent peaceful protests from civilian population in Idlib against violence and against extremism show that Idlib is not a 'hotbed of terrorism'. This also became very clear during the Arria meeting last Friday, where Bassma Kodmani stated that civilians are a strong asset in countering terrorism.

And as Special Envoy De Mistura said last Friday: “There must be and is another way than all out military escalation.”

There are alternatives to a full-blown military offensive. We can and should prevent a terrible tragedy while at the same time allow the issue of Security Council-designated terrorist groups to be addressed. We call on all actors to use their influence on warring parties in Idlib to put the protection of civilians first.

And if separation of Al Nusra from armed groups is the central issue in Idlib, then we need to listen to the Special Envoy further on how to operationalize this. If the Astana guarantors want international support for their efforts in this regard, then guarantors must also be transparent about what exactly they are planning. And I repeat: Any plan must put the protection of civilians first.

Let me also stress the importance of unimpeded and UN humanitarian aid and of the protection of hospitals, schools and humanitarian aid workers. We are shocked about reports of White Helmets being targeted once again over the weekend in so-called double-tap strikes. Over the weekend three hospitals were struck. Two Syrian Civil Defence Centres and an ambulance system were hit. Their coordinates were well-known and deconfliction had taken place. This development and these actions are of extreme concern to us.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands will continue our efforts to achieve accountability for these crimes. Impunity cannot prevail. And referral of the situation in Syria to the ICC remains the best option, in our view.

Conclusion

The Kingdom of the Netherlands underlines once again the need to find a non-military solution for Idlib, where almost 3 million people are stuck today.

We need an inclusive, UN-led political process on the basis of resolution 2254, with a political transition aiming at addressing root causes and laying to rest the source of conflict.

As long as a sustainable political transition is not in place there will not be reconstruction funding from our side.

Thank you very much, Madame President.

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