National Statement by Sweden at the UN Security Council Briefing on the Situation in the Middle East (Syria – Humanitarian)
National Statement by Ambassador Olof Skoog on behalf of Sweden at the UN Security Council Briefing on the Situation in the Middle East (Syria – Humanitarian), Tuesday, 30 May 2017, New York
Let me begin by thanking Under Secretary-General O'Brien for his thought-provoking briefing to the Council this afternoon. Let me once again pay tribute to the UN and its partners.
I thank you in particular for raising the situation of the six-million Syrian children in need. Inside Syria, children are killed and maimed from the indiscriminate attacks on civilians. They are callously targeted in the schools and hospitals where they seek shelter and, perhaps, a modicum of normality in their shattered lives. A whole generation of Syrian children has had their childhoods stolen from them. We commend the efforts of UNICEF and its partners in responding to the needs of Syrian children. We underline the need to support Syrian children to access their right to education and the psycho-social support needed, if we are to avoid a lost generation.
The overall level of insecurity within Syria remains difficult to comprehend for those of us on the outside. The Syrian people continue to face danger and the threat of death every day. Every avenue must now be vigorously pursued to end the violence. We welcome the recent reduction of violence mainly in the four de-escalation zones arising from the most recent meetings in Astana.
Nonetheless, we are concerned by military offensives, primarily by the Syrian regime, outside of these zones. It is essential that de-escalation in one set of zones does not result in an escalation in violence and the besiegement of other areas.
One of the primary sources of suffering for those in besieged areas is a lack of access to even their most basic needs, such as food. Humanitarian access to areas besieged by the Syrian regime in April and May has been deplorable, with only one convoy, to Duma, getting through. This despite the decrease in violence. It is clear that a systemic change in the approval process is needed and now long overdue. We renew our call on Damascus to provide safe, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to all in need. We also call on the Syrian authorities to grant permission for humanitarian agencies to use the road between Aleppo and Qamishly, which has opened up for commercial traffic.
The Duma convoy shows that access can be achieved with active engagement from Russia. Our key message today is to urge the Astana guarantors' working group to prioritize implementing the humanitarian provisions of their Memorandum. We call on them to initiate a dialogue with the UN and its partners as soon as possible to agree on streamlined access procedures for the four de-escalation zones. As we heard today, the UN is ready to engage and has the capacity to deliver. If humanitarian agencies are granted unimpeded access to these zones they could reach all of the towns besieged by the regime, apart from one. This would be a significant breakthrough. As a co-penholder, Sweden has continued to engage with all relevant stakeholders and partners to seize this opportunity. The expectations are high on the guarantors to deliver on their commitments.
We are also concerned about increasing access restrictions being put in place by armed opposition groups and terrorist listed groups in Idlib, and by Kurdish local administrations. We urge those with influence over these groups to use it to bring a halt to this trend.
Let me also underline that increased humanitarian access, including in the de-escalation zones, is critical to sustain the Astana process as well as to improve conditions for results in Geneva. The only way to end this humanitarian crisis remains a political solution and we call upon all to intensify efforts in support of the next round of talks in the UN-led Geneva process.
On Thursday of last week we gathered under your chairmanship in this room to hold an open debate on the Protection of Civilians. In our remarks, many of us spoke about the situation in Syria, where, as the Secretary-General has said, the
protection crisis lacks comparison in recent history.
We reiterate our concerns regarding forced displacement to areas where there is a severe lack of protection for civilians. Any evacuation of civilians must be safe, voluntary, and to a place of their choosing. We remind all parties involved of their obligations under international humanitarian law.
Civilian casualties are no longer seen as a consequence of this conflict. Civilians and civilian infrastructure, such as medical facilities, are targeted as an objective to gain military advantage, particularly by the regime side. Despite resolution 2286, there have been over 400 attacks on medical facilities since the conflict began, with 30 hospitals reportedly attacked in April alone. This fundamentally undermines International Humanitarian law.
It is now incumbent on this Council to intensify our efforts to halt this trend and to build on the consensus during Thursday's important debate that civilians in armed conflict must be protected.