Swedish statement at the UN Security Council Briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria
National statement delivered by Ambassador Olof Skoog on behalf of Sweden at the United Nations Security Council Briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria, 27 July 2018, New York.
Once again, we are meeting to discuss a report from the Secretary-General that clearly outlines how the principles and rules of humanitarian law are repeatedly and systematically violated. International calls for an end to the violence in Syria, for humanitarian access and protection of civilians are ignored; the resolutions of this very Council disregarded. Yet, we must continue our efforts to push for a political solution to the conflict and to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people. In our responses to the effect of the Syrian crisis on children, we should be able to come together.
On 09 July, we met in this chamber for an open debate on children in armed conflict. The consensus amongst the member-states that spoke that day was clear: children in war must be protected. This sentiment was mirrored in the unprecedented support by member states for resolution 2427. The time has come for the Council to move from words to action and to implement this resolution.
As we have heard today from Under-Secretary-General Lowcock and Special Representative Gamba, our action is urgently needed. Time is running out for a generation of Syrian children.
Syria is the most dangerous conflict-affected country for children. Last year was the deadliest yet. And, unthinkably, the plight of Syria's children continues to worsen, with the number of children killed and injured in the first two months of 2018 almost surpassing last year's total.
This Council, the parties to the conflict and all member states listening to must now act to improve the situation of children trapped in the nightmare of the Syrian war.
To this end, I want to highlight four areas of the humanitarian response where we can and must do much better. Acting to protect children in Syria today in these four areas will not only improve their lives, but will help build peace in Syria and prevent a relapse into conflict.
First. Access. Over five million children in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Resolution 2427 calls on all parties to allow and facilitate safe and unhindered humanitarian access to children, and condemns unlawful denial of humanitarian access and depriving civilians, particularly children, of objects indispensable to their survival.
Under-Secretary-General Lowcock has reported to us today, and indeed every month, on the unlawful denial of humanitarian access. This is also having far reaching indirect consequences that are not always understood, but include negative coping mechanisms such as increased child labour, recruitment of children to armed groups and an increase in child marriage. The consequences are chilling - aid workers report that 14-year-old girls are mothers to more than one child.
We call on all parties to immediately grant access to all those in need, keeping all options open for the UN to reach as many people as possible, including cross-border, increased UN cross-line access, including to areas that have recently changed control, and to protect humanitarian workers so that they can continue to do their job.
Second: Education. As we have heard from SRSG Gamba, one in three schools in Syria are closed. The result is that over two million children are denied their right to education. School should offer a place of stability and safety for children; however, attacks on schools have been systematic and rampant. 67 attacks were reported last year; most inflicted by airstrikes. Children who have been besieged, such as those in Eastern Ghouta, have often been robbed of several years of schooling.
Resolution 2427 urges all parties to refrain from actions that impede children's access to education and strongly condemns attacks against schools. All parties to this conflict must cease all attacks on schools, and give all children, including those without civil documentation, access to schools. We call for the deconfliction of schools to be stepped up, particularly in the Idlib province. All attacks against schools in contravention of international humanitarian law must be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. We call on donors to step up funding for education as part of the emergency response.
Third: Mental health. The stress of war is often too much for adults. The effects on children can be profound and lifelong. Resolution 2427 stresses the importance of funding mental health and psychosocial programming in humanitarian contexts and ensuring that all affected children receive the support they need. The war in Syria has created a mental health crisis amongst children, with children exhibiting frequent symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Two-thirds of children have lost a loved one, had their homes bombed or suffered war-related injuries. The situation is further exacerbated by sexual violence, forced marriages, sexual enslavement and trafficking of both girls and boys. Less than 5 % of humanitarian funding in Syria is channeled towards protection, mental health, psychosocial services or education in emergencies. We encourage donors and the humanitarian community to help us change this today.
Fourth: Protection. 2017 saw the highest number, to date, of grave violations against children in Syria. The majority of the children killed and injured in Syria are victims of airstrikes, with systematic attacks against hospitals and medical facilities contributing to the high numbers of child casualties. Many have been separated from their families. Girls in IDP camps are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. Children with a perceived association with ISIL or Da'esh have unique protection concerns. Resolution 2427 emphasizes that children that have been recruited by armed groups should be treated primarily as victims of violations of international law, and urges a focus on rehabilitation and reintegration for children formerly associated with armed groups.
I reiterate our call on all parties to immediately implement resolution 2401 and existing de-escalation agreements in Idlib and the South, and to fully respect their obligations under international law, including International Humanitarian Law.
We specifically call on Syria to implement the optional protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict that it has ratified and to immediately cease committing the six listed grave violations. Sweden condemns all grave violations against children in Syria in the strongest possible terms.
Accountability for all violations and abuses against children and others must be ensured. We will not relent in our demands for justice at the international and national levels, We continue to believe that the situation in Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court. Until that time, we support the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) and other relevant mechanisms in their efforts to bring about justice for crimes committed Syria. We also call on our humanitarian partners to integrate protection earlier into the first response, and to donors to step up funding to protection efforts. This is particularly urgent in the south, and I would like to hear from Under-Secretary-General Lowcock if you are able to dispatch mobile protection teams that also focus on children cross-line, as you did cross-border to the south in June?
We will not stop calling for full respect for international law, including international humanitarian law, and humanitarian principles, not least access. Together we must shoulder the responsibility entrusted in us.
I want to voice my support for the three concrete asks made by the Representative of the United Kingdom just now. In particular, we are deeply concerned about the safety of humanitarian and medical personnel, civil defense workers, civil society, human rights activists and journalists that are at particular risk of being targeted by the Syrian forces. We will follow developments closely until our next meeting, when we will take stock of implementation of these three requests.
Were it not for the brave and determined efforts of humanitarian, health and child protection workers, the situation of children in Syria would be even worse. I want to commend the United Nations and its partner organizations for all the work that is being done to assist children in Syria.
On a monthly basis, UNICEF alone reaches 3 million people in Syria. I hope that today's meeting can help to renew our efforts to help and protect these children, to avoid losing an entire generation that deserves and needs our support.