Swedish statement at the UN Security Council briefing on the situation in the Middle East, Syria (humanitarian)
Statement delivered by Ambassador Olof Skoog on behalf of first the co-penholders, Sweden and Kuwait, and then Sweden, at the United Nations Security Council briefing on the situation in the Middle East, Syria (humanitarian), 13 December 2018, New York.
Thank you very much Mr President and thank you very much Mark for your briefing.
I will say a few words on behalf of the co-penholders, Sweden and Kuwait, and then follow on with some reflections in my national capacity.
With the adoption of today’s resolution, this Council has upheld its obligation to millions of people in Syria.
On behalf of the co-penholders, Kuwait and Sweden, I strongly welcome this decision. The renewal of the modalities in resolution 2165 for an additional twelve months will continue to save lives and alleviate suffering every day in Syria. The United Nations does not have an alternative route of reaching these people in need. It is an existential lifeline.
While the situation on the ground has changed much over the last year, the humanitarian needs unfortunately remain enormous. There are millions of people who still depend on humanitarian aid. This resolution is about ensuring that they receive assistance through the most direct routes, and that the relief reaches as many people as possible throughout the country.
The UN cross-border operations, based on resolution 2165, are necessary as long as the humanitarian needs remain and as long as humanitarian access from within the country is impeded.
As co-penholders together with Kuwait, our compass has been the humanitarian imperative to act. Over the past weeks, we have consulted all members of this Council and other stakeholders, including Syria and the neighbouring countries. We have been committed to facilitating a fair, impartial and transparent negotiations process.
It is well-known that there are different perspectives on the Syrian conflict in this Council and that discussions can sometimes be heated. The adoption of today’s resolution demonstrates, though, that in the face of urgent need Council members can come together to shoulder a collective responsibility. On behalf of the co-penholders, I would like to thank the representatives of all delegations for their constructive engagement during the negotiations on this resolution.
I would also like to thank you, Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General, and your team here in New York for their support. Most importantly I would like to pay tribute to the staff of the UN humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners for their tireless efforts to help the Syrian people.
Now, a few words as the representative of Sweden.
The Charter of the UN, Mr President, places the people at the forefront. But far too often the people are forgotten or neglected during our deliberations in this Council. Our meetings on the humanitarian situation in Syria serve as a reminder that the Syrian conflict needs to be first and foremost about the Syrian people.
The conflict in Syria has led to a humanitarian disaster with consequences far beyond Syria’s borders. As the conflict enters its eighth winter, 13 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and more than five million of them are children. Six million people are displaced within Syria, many of whom have been forced to flee more than once. Another five million have fled to neighbouring countries. Without any doubt a very heavy responsibility for this disaster inevitably rests with the Government of Syria, something the international community will never forget.
For years, this Council has dealt with one crisis after another in Syria, each of them a humanitarian catastrophe in their own right. The conflict has been characterised throughout by a blatant disregard for human dignity. Homs, Aleppo, and Eastern Ghouta, will not be forgotten.
Idlib, where three million civilians are trapped with no place safe to flee, could have been added to that list. It is key to uphold the fragile cease-fire in Idlib where a military offensive most likely would result in a new humanitarian disaster of unimaginable proportions. We urge the Astana guarantors, Russia, Turkey and Iran to ensure that the cease-fire is upheld and that civilians are protected.
This Council has on numerous occasions called on the parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, to allow safe, sustained and unhindered humanitarian access. Yet, substantial and arbitrary obstacles remain that hinder the delivery of humanitarian assistance throughout Syria. This includes areas that have recently been retaken by government forces and their allies. Even if an occasional humanitarian convoy is allowed to reach those most in need, the matter of fact is that humanitarian actors do not have the access that this Council has repeatedly demanded.
Syria is a clear case in point where the international legal order, built over decades, to protect the most vulnerable in times of conflict, has come under threat.
We have witnessed the frequent violation of the rules and principles of international humanitarian law. We have witnessed indiscriminate attacks in densely populated areas. We have witnessed deliberate targeting of schools and hospitals as well as attacks on humanitarian workers and medical personnel. And we have witnessed – over and over again – the refusal to grant humanitarian access to people in need of assistance. The integrity of the international legal order depends on us to continue to seek ways to ensure that those responsible for these crimes are brought to justice and held accountable.
During our two years in the Council, Sweden has repeatedly underlined the importance of upholding international law, including international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international refugee law, whether in Syria, Yemen or South Sudan. Upholding the international rules-based order is pivotal, both to prevent and terminate conflict. The rules and principles of international humanitarian law aim to limit the suffering and effects of war. We call on all parties to the conflict to comply by their obligations under international humanitarian law; to ensure the protection of civilians and humanitarian and medical personnel and to respect and protect civilian objects, hospitals and medical facilities.
When taking up the co-penholdership for Syria in the humanitarian track, Sweden clearly stated that our commitment would be to the Syrian people and the humanitarian principles. We have sought to de-politicise humanitarian matters and focus on the humanitarian imperative to act.
Nevertheless, we will leave the Council with a strong sense of frustration. We fully understand those who claim that the international community time and time again has failed the Syrian people.
Yet, today’s adoption of resolution 2449 proves that, when there is political will, the Security Council can make a real difference on the ground for millions of people.
I wish to pay tribute to Kuwait, our current co-penholder, for excellent cooperation, and of course to Egypt and Japan, with whom we shared the penholdership in 2017.
I take this opportunity to affirm Sweden’s full commitment to continuing our strong and wholehearted engagement to alleviate the humanitarian suffering in Syria and our support to neighbouring countries affected by the crisis.
The humanitarian community is undertaking a herculean task and we commend the courageous and selfless efforts of all humanitarian workers on the ground. Too many have paid with their lives throughout the conflict.
The humanitarian appeal for Syria remains significantly underfunded, as we have just heard. Only this year, Sweden has contributed over 50 million US dollars to the response in Syria. We must all do our share in making sure that the humanitarian agencies can continue carrying out their critical work to help the Syrian people.
Finally, we express our full support to the UNHCR and its assessment that conditions for safe, voluntary and dignified return of refugees are not yet in place. It falls upon the Syrian authorities to ensure that they are created.
We also reiterate our concern that the humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate in the absence of a political solution, in line with resolution 2254, which must be Syrian-owned and Syrian-led, including the full and effective representation of women. This is the only path to sustainable peace and stability.
We look forward to hearing from Staffan de Mistura on that point next week.
Merci beaucoup, Monsieur le Président.