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, 20 December 2018

Thank you very much, Mr. President.

We thank Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura for his briefing. On behalf of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, we thank you, Staffan, for your leadership, for your dedication, for your tenacity and for your commitment during your tenure as Special Envoy on Syria. We admire you. In the most difficult circumstances, you retained your empathy, your compassion, your humanity. We are specifically grateful to you for not compromising on amplifying the voices of civil society and Syrian women in particular, to which we attach great value.

Mr. President, I will focus on three points today:

  • The Constitutional Committee;
  • The fate of detainees and missing persons;
  • Accountability.

1. Constitutional Committee

On my first point, the Constitutional Committee. We fully support the efforts of the United Nations to convene the Constitutional Committee. We acknowledge the efforts of the Astana guarantors in finding a way forward on the UN’s middle third list of representatives on the committee.

Let me underline that a credible political process demands a constitutional committee that is credible, balanced and inclusive of all Syrians. The Constitutional Committee needs to be acceptable to all parties, including the Syrian opposition. A committee that would not meet these conditions would lack the necessary international legitimacy.

We call on the United Nations to continue to monitor and ensure equal representation in the Constitutional Committee. We repeat the importance of a minimum of 30% female representation in the Constitutional Committee and its sub-committees. We also call on the UN to take a leading role in the establishment of the working methods and procedures of the Committee, including on a balanced chairing agreement.

We are supportive of the UN not closing the door on the Constitutional Committee and for going the extra mile.

We are looking forward to the incoming Special Envoys views on the achievability of the necessary package for a credible, balanced and inclusive constitutional committee.

If it can be achieved, we would surely welcome a first meeting in Geneva.

If the stamp of legitimacy cannot be given, we will support the incoming Special Envoy to find an alternative way forward under Security Council Resolution 2254.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands reiterates that the establishment of the Constitutional Committee is not an end in itself, but is part of a broader political process based on Resolution 2254 and the Geneva Communiqué.

2. Detainees, missing persons and torture

Mr. President, on my second point: detainees, missing persons and torture. We express grave concern about lack of progress on the 'detainees' file.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been arrested, imprisoned and/or disappeared without due process by the Assad regime. We are gravely concerned by the appalling situation in prisons as was described in the latest report of the Commission of Inquiry that referred to torture and sexual violence.

UNHCR and ICRC should have access to prisons.

We are horrified about the 'death notices' of prisoners that the regime sends out to family members. And we are staunch advocates for support and access to information about prisoners for family members.

We call on parties involved to invest in confidence building measures on the detainee issue. The Syrian regime should start a process of releasing all political prisoners.

We are looking forward to the incoming Special Envoy to prioritize the detainee and missing persons issue as an integral part of the political process.

3. Accountability

Mr. President, this brings me to my third point: accountability. Once more, we underline that lasting stability in Syria cannot be achieved without accountability of those responsible for war crimes.

We repeat our support for the IIIM and we emphasize that the Kingdom of the Netherlands will continue to actively promote accountability.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands reiterates its call for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court. We regret that this Council has been blocked from doing so by the use of the veto.

Let me also underline that structural changes are needed in the political situation and in the governance of Syria:

Conditions for safe, voluntary and dignified return need to be met. This is currently not the case.

The protection of housing, land and property rights need to be guaranteed. This would make reconciliation and return easier.

We need a credible and inclusive political transition firmly underway, before the EU would even begin to consider reconstruction aid for Syria. I would like to quote the words of my Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok: “It is unthinkable for the Kingdom of the Netherlands to finance a regime which is responsible for war crimes.”

Conclusion

In conclusion, Mr. President, the Syrian conflict forms one of the darkest and one of the most violent episodes of our times. Unfortunately, it is far from over.

There are those who believe in a military solution. But there is none. Military victories will not lead to stability and safety.

In this respect, I reiterate our call on all parties to intensify their efforts to uphold the ceasefire in Idlib and to find a negotiated and sustainable political solution.

In the end, only an inclusive political process can solve the Syrian conflict. The Kingdom of the Netherlands will continue to contribute to this goal.

Let me also take this opportunity to salute all countries that contribute to the counter-ISIS coalition. The coalition has achieved great progress, but much remains to be done. And here too, we stress that extremism will not be defeated without a political solution for Syria.

Let me finish by welcoming Geir Pedersen as the new incoming Special Envoy and by expressing support for his upcoming work on the basis of Security Council resolution 2254.

We call on Mr. Pedersen and both current and incoming Security Council members to commit themselves to the fight against impunity: the Syrian people deserve justice.

To use the words of Staffan de Mistura:

Justice is “like a candle light, that should never disappear. We need that light, because one day, sooner rather than later, that candle will be giving a feeling of hope to those who lost so many people due to this horror.”

Thank you, dear Staffan, for keeping that candle light of hope and justice alive.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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