Statement by Sweden at the Security Council Debate on the Situation in the Middle East and North Africa

Published

Statement delivered by H.E. Mr. Olof Skoog, Permanent Representative of Sweden, at the United Nations Security Council Debate on the Situation in the Middle East and North Africa, Monday the 25th of June 2018, New York.

Thank you, Mr President, for organising this broader debate on a region that, unfortunately, makes up a very large portion of the agenda of the Security Council, and where members of the Council have far too often been divided.

And, I also want to thank the Secretary-General for his, as always, thought provoking intervention on the situation in the Middle East and North Africa this morning.

We align ourselves with the statement to be made later on behalf of the European Union.

Mr President,

Throughout history, the Middle East and North African region has acted as a confluence for many of the world's peoples and religions, and as a conduit for trade and human interaction for the benefit and advancement of the region and beyond. In the process, the region has gifted us an unrivalled wealth of history and culture. Today, Middle East and North African region is home to a vibrant young population, who strive to be active citizens in inclusive and open societies and to build better futures for themselves and their fellow citizens. This brings great hope. Yet, many aspirations are still held back.

Intensified internal conflict and sectarian violence polarise countries across the region. Increasingly, conflicts in the Middle East are interlinked. And, there is a risk of regionalisation, which could have global consequences.

The ambition to create a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, which has been supported by the Security Council, has not materialised. Indeed, there have been setbacks in diplomatic efforts in this area. Sweden, together with the rest of the EU, will continue to fully support the nuclear agreement with Iran and its implementation.

The challenges in Middle East and North African region take up an increasing portion of the agenda in the Council. At the same time, it could be argued that in no other region, has the Council been more divided and flagrantly failed to meet its responsibilities. During our membership as an elected member, we have tried bridge the divides and to contribute to constructive, results oriented discussions, aimed at making a real difference on the ground. It was in this spirit that we hosted the Secretary-General's retreat in Sweden in April. We came away with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to collective efforts. It is only by working together that we can shoulder the great responsibility entrusted by the Charter on this Council. The permanent members of this Council have a particular responsibility in this regard.

We must enhance our efforts for the millions of civilians affected by conflict, who depend on us to uphold international law and to ensure protection and humanitarian assistance for those most in need. The region is currently the scene of some of the worst humanitarian disasters in modern times. Every day, courageous humanitarian workers risk their lives to provide assistance to people in need. For this, we are grateful. We need to support them.

The very system that we have built over decades to protect the most vulnerable in times of armed conflict is under threat. The principles and rules of international humanitarian law are frequently violated, including through indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure and humanitarian workers, inhuman and degrading treatment of detained persons, and the refusal to grant humanitarian access to people in need of assistance. Even the international prohibition against the use of chemical weapons has been violated. So far, this has been allowed to happen with impunity. This must change. We have a responsibility to ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes are brought to justice, and held accountable.

Mr President,

Military strategies will not deliver sustainable peace. Only inclusive political solutions and peaceful settlements can end a conflict once and for all. The brutal war in Syria is well into its eighth year, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has gone unresolved for seven decades, and the protracted conflict in Yemen has just escalated even further. The UN is the only international institution with the legitimacy - and the credibility - to facilitate the political processes needed to end these conflicts. The leadership of the Secretary-General – and the use of his good offices – is essential. We, in the Security Council, must do all we can to provide him with the support, and unity, and backing that he and his special representatives need.

Mr. President,

Regional and international dialogue and cooperation must be the primary means of peacefully resolving disputes. There is a need for a common framework in the Middle East, for discussion and cooperation on issues of mutual interest and challenges, including security. The experience of other regional security arrangements, such as the OSCE, including the Paris Charter, could serve as a model as several speakers have mentioned this morning. Such a framework should seek to establish common norms and a comprehensive and collaborative concept of security. More than anything, it could help build well-needed confidence and trust between all the countries in the region.

Such a regional framework could also serve as an effective counterpart and partner for the United Nations in the efforts to prevent conflict and promote peace – much like in Africa, where the UN's close cooperation with its regional organisation, the African Union, has proven essential.

The interconnected nature of the challenges we face, make international and regional cooperation not only desirable, but essential. Terrorism and violent extremism affects us all and we must continue our joint efforts to fight it. This is an integral part of the Security Council's responsibility to maintain international peace and security. For the fight against terrorism to have any chance of succeeding, it must always be conducted with full respect for international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights, and can never be used as an excuse for indiscriminate warfare or inhumane treatment of detainees.

Mr President,

As we continue to work to end the crises of today, we must improve our capacity to prevent new conflicts from developing. This means identifying and addressing conflict risks and drivers early, so that we can take early action to sustain peace and prevent conflict before it emerges. These drivers include youth unemployment – more than half the population of the region is under 25 years old – chronic underdevelopment, and a lack of economic opportunities. However, as we agreed when we adopted the resolution on youth, peace and security earlier this month youth can be a powerful force for peace and prosperity.

Women also have a powerful role to play in building the region's future. There are established links between gender inequality and political instability and underdevelopment. The full and effective participation of women at all levels is necessary to achieve stability and sustainable development.

Indeed, we know all too well the drivers of conflict, but this means we also know how to prevent them. It includes building strong, unified, tolerant, open and free societies, where respect for human rights, and legitimate and credible governance institutions, prevail. The 2030 Agenda represents a framework to address the root causes of conflict and is one of our most powerful tools for economic and social development in the MENA region, as in every other region.

Mr President,

I started my remarks today recalling the cultural and historical legacy that the Middle East and North African region has given to the world. Today's challenges may be testing the resolve of the international community and the strength of our system for collective security; yet, they are not insurmountable. Meeting them will require a determined effort by the countries of the region, compromise and an unwavering commitment to the principles upon which our international system is built. It is a common responsibility, not least for this Security Council – and we have to shoulder it too. In the words of former Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjöld: "Only he deserves power who every day justifies it."

Thank you, Mr President

Contact

Lisa Laskaridis
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