Security Council Briefing: Syria

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

New York, 12 March 2018

First, let me thank the Secretary General, Mr. Guterres, for his briefing. Through him, I would also like to thank all UN and other humanitarian personnel on the ground. They work under extreme circumstances.

Sixteen days ago, the Security Council showed a rare example of unity regarding Syria when it adopted resolution 2401. I do recall the glimmer of hope that day, in this Chamber. All of us agreed that all parties to the Syrian conflict must cease hostilities, to enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and to enable evacuation of the critically sick and wounded.

Yet one day after the adoption of resolution 2401, the Syrian regime, supported by Russia and Iran, launched a most violent ground offensive to conquer the enclave of Eastern Ghouta. This offensive came on top of a relentless air campaign that had started one month ago.

Resolution 2401 calls for a cessation of hostilities without delay. Unfortunately, it’s the military offensive that continues “without delay”.

Elsewhere in Syria, including in Idlib and Afrin, violence continues to threaten the civilian population as well. This Council must do everything in its power to advance the full implementation of resolution 2401.

In this regard, I would like to make the following three points:

  1. Humanitarian aid
  2. Monitoring of the Cessation of Hostilities
  3. Accountability

1. The immediate delivery of humanitarian aid

My first point: the immediate delivery of humanitarian aid. Last week, we were deeply shocked to hear reports that medical supplies, including surgical supplies, insulin and even trauma kits, had been removed from convoys by the Syrian regime.

Medical supplies save lives and provide relief to the inhumane suffering that too many Syrians are going through. Medical supplies cannot be used as weapons by terrorists. There is no justification for denying medicines and medical supplies to the wounded and to the sick.

The first humanitarian convoy that did receive authorization from the Syrian regime to deliver aid to Eastern Ghouta, was not able to fully unload because of resumed fighting. The convoy that arrived last Friday finally was able to deliver aid, including medical supplies, for 27.500 people.

However, OCHA is still waiting for authorization to complete the delivery to Douma for all 70,000 people that was initially approved by the Syrian authorities.

We call on all parties to immediately allow sustained and unimpeded access to deliver supplies to people in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. This applies to Eastern Ghouta, as well as to all in need throughout the country.

2. Cessation of Hostilities - need for monitoring

My second point: cessation of hostilities and the need for monitoring. Resolution 2401 calls for an immediate nationwide cessation of hostilities. A strong monitoring mechanism is needed urgently, in order to ensure implementation. We agree with the French suggestions in this regard.

Since the adoption of resolution 2401, air strikes have continued, even increased, especially on Eastern Ghouta. We hear the Russian Federation say that these strikes are targeted at terrorists.

However, we underline once more that the exemption to the ceasefire for attacks directed at UN listed terrorist groups does not provide an excuse to ignore the basic principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution.

According to the latest report of the Commission of Inquiry, the siege of eastern Ghouta continues to be characterized by the use of prohibited weapons and attacks against civilian and protected objects, which we condemn in the strongest terms. We also condemn the shelling of Damascus from Eastern Ghouta.

We call upon all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law at all times.

Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura should facilitate negotiations between armed opposition groups, the Syrian regime and Russia in order to advance the implementation of resolution 2401.

One concrete and helpful step is to evacuate UN listed terrorist groups from Eastern Ghouta. A first evacuation of 13 imprisoned terrorist fighters reportedly has taken place last Friday. It is crucial that any evacuation of armed fighters takes place in a safe and orderly fashion.

We call on the UN to prepare for putting in place the necessary monitoring mechanisms in this regard. We call on Russia to accept the offer of the Special Envoy to facilitate further evacuation of UN listed terrorist groups from Eastern Ghouta.

Civilians should never be forced to leave against their will. Forced displacement may constitute a war crime.

3. Credibility of the Council and accountability

My third point: the credibility of the Council and accountability. Despite the unanimous adoption of resolution 2401, we have seen no cessation of hostilities. We have seen no significant improvement in the humanitarian situation on the ground in Syria. This also has a negative impact on the credibility of this Council.

It is vital for the functioning of the rules based international order that decisions of this Council are respected and are implemented. As a Council we have a collective responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.

However, we should not forget that the responsibility, and indeed obligation, to execute the decisions of this Council lies with individual member states.

The human suffering in Syria, especially in Eastern Ghouta, must end now. We need a full cessation of hostilities in all of Syria, including Eastern Ghouta, Idlib and Afrin.

And we call on the Russian Federation in particular to use its influence and to do its utmost to achieve this, thereby also upholding this Council’s credibility.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the siege of Eastern Ghouta is entering its fifth year. The war in Syria will enter its 8th year later this week, on March 15th, as others have said. 

One wonders how the Syrian regime thinks to ever achieve the legitimacy to govern the people it now pounds into submission or death.

As the High Commissioner for Human Rights has stated during the 37th session of the Human Rights Council:

“What we are seeing in Eastern Ghouta, are likely war crimes, and potentially crimes against humanity.”

The perpetrators of these crimes must know they are being identified; that dossiers are being built up with a view to their prosecution; and that they will be held accountable for what they have done.

We thank the Commission of Inquiry for its important work to date. We recall the resolution of the Human Rights Council of the 5th of March that calls on the Commission to investigate the situation in Eastern Ghouta.

We call on all Council members to support referring the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria to the International Criminal Court. And we also urge all States to increase their support for the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism.

For now, however, our common efforts should be directed at the immediate relief for those millions in Syria in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

For this we need the cessation of hostilities to be implemented immediately, and in a sustained manner. We need a continuous pause in the fighting of 30 days, as demanded by resolution 2401. If implementation continues to fail, this requires a response of this Council that goes beyond where we stand now.

We thank the Secretary-General for his perseverance and endless efforts to uphold the norms and values of the UN Charter, international human rights law and international humanitarian law, as well as for promoting compliance to resolution 2401.

We call on Council members to follow his example.

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