National Statement by Sweden at the Security Council Briefing on the Situation in the Middle East (Syria)

Published

National Statement by Sweden, Ambassador Carl Skau, at the Security Council Briefing on the Situation in the Middle East (Syria) Thursday, 26 April 2017

Madam President,

I thank Under Secretary-General O'Brien for his comprehensive briefing today. Each month he returns to this Council to report on the humanitarian situation in Syria. Each month the situation becomes more acute. The number of people driven from their homes increases, the number not knowing where their next meal will come from grows, and the number of people maimed and killed rises.

Mr Under Secretary-General,

We have heard from you again today about the worsening plight of the Syrian people. Over six million people brutalized, displaced and trapped in Syria in need of humanitarian assistance. Five million people wrenched from their homes and their loved ones to seek refuge in the region and beyond – if they survive the journey. Now they are waiting. In besieged towns and villages, in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey; waiting for the assistance they need, waiting for the war to end. Waiting for the moment when they can begin to rebuild their lives.

Madam President,

Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that their wait will end soon. As we have heard today, rather than decreasing, there is increased militarization and violence on the ground, leading to large numbers of civilian casualties and more internal displacement.

It seems that humanitarian considerations are wholly subordinate to military objectives. There continues to be a complete disregard for the laws of war and obligations to protect civilians. Cynical military tactics - that blatantly violate international humanitarian law by deliberately targeting civilians - are being used to gain military advantage, particularly by the government forces.

The upcoming Astana meeting on 3rd of May offers an opportunity for the ceasefire guarantors to make progress on de-escalation. We expect they will take this opportunity to deliver. A failure to do so also threatens progress in the upcoming UN-led talks in Geneva.

While emphasizing that the Syrian regime and its allies bear the responsibility for the overwhelming majority of violations of international humanitarian law in Syria, we also note that recent airstrikes on Raqqa have allegedly led to civilian causalities and hit civilian infrastructure. This compounds the suffering of the people in Raqqa, who are already the victims of senseless torture and murder at the hands of Daesh. We urge the International Coalition against Daesh to take greater care in order to protect civilians in Syria.

Madam President,

The reality for many of those who have been forced to live under siege for years, is that, when the opportunity does arise to leave, they are cruelly being moved to areas scarcely more safe or stable than those that they have left.

The UN has repeatedly expressed concern over local agreements preceded by besiegement, starvation and bombardment, and resulting in the forced displacement of civilians. This tactic of bombing and laying siege so as to enable so-called local agreements must stop.

We recall the warning from the Secretary-General that, under international humanitarian law, forced displacement may constitute a war crime. We reiterate his call that any evacuation of civilians must be safe, voluntary, and to a place of their choosing. We urge parties to ensure the full compliance of any new local agreements with international humanitarian law. We encourage the UN, other relevant organisations, and member states with influence to intensify dialogue with parties and actors, primarily the Syrian regime, to this end.

We understand the predicament that local agreements present for the UN and other humanitarian agencies. They are not informed of the terms, have no access, and the security situation limits the possibility to be present during subsequent relocations. However, we must make every effort to avoid another Rashidin. Until the fighting stops, we must continue to explore options to increase safety for civilians; for example, by using cameras or other tools as a form of protective presence.

The deplorable situation for those relocated to Idlib is of grave concern. Regime airstrikes on hospitals and schools in Idlib must stop. Civilians must be protected and humanitarian access must be granted. We call on those with influence over armed groups in Idlib, including Turkey, to use their influence to counter restrictions on the ability of humanitarian agencies and NGOs to do their work. Until the situation improves, we might all want to advocate alternative destinations for civilians with better protection and access. We encourage the UN to inform the Council in its next report about the situation in Jarablus, which is another main destination area.

Madam President,

We want to take this opportunity to express our strong support and admiration for the UN and other humanitarian organisations' tireless efforts to deliver assistance to populations in need in an extremely challenging context. They continue to encounter unacceptable obstructions and barriers to the access they need on a daily basis.

We renew our call on the Syrian regime to grant safe, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to all those in need of assistance, including in locations subject to local agreements. Access is a question of political will. In many cases a binary choice exists, between agreeing to provide lifesaving aid to women and men, boys and girls, or not to do so. We fully support Japan's call, on behalf of the co-penholders, for the Syrian authorities to implement the UN's simplified approval process.

Let me underline our deep concern about the deteriorating situation in East Ghouta, which we raised with the Syrian Permanent Mission earlier this week. We invite Council members to join us in calling for pause in fighting to allow humanitarian agencies to reach all in need, through the routes they prefer to use, as has been requested by the UN since October last year.

In addition to the well-known access constraints, particularly to areas besieged by the Syrian regime, we are increasingly worried about new access restrictions such as those now being imposed in Idlib and by local authorities in Kurdish-controlled areas.

Madam President,

Every day longer that the people of Syria wait for assistance and an end to this conflict is an indication of the failure of the international community and this Council. Of our failure to show the courage to take tough decisions necessary to put humanitarian needs above political considerations; Of our failure to live up to our responsibility to protect the people of Syria by ensuring a ceasefire and respect for international humanitarian law; Of our failure to deliver a peaceful end to the suffering for the people of Syria. How much longer must they wait?

For many, including thousands of children, their dreams for the future are already shattered; the least we should be able to do is give them the support they need to end the nightmare they are living today.

Thank you.

Contact

Lisa Laskaridis
Head of Press and Communication, Permanent Mission of Sweden to the UN
Phone +1 212 583 2543
Mobile +1 917 239 0941
email to Lisa Laskaridis