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Remarks to press by Australian Ambassador Gary Quinlan and Ambassador Sylvie Lucas on humanitarian action in Syria

Thematic issues

  • Humanitarian
  • Syria

Remarks to the press by the Australian Ambassador Gary Quinlan and Luxembourg Ambassador Sylvie Lucas following UNSC briefing and consultations on humanitarian action in Syria

Transcript, E&OE

Question: Ambassador Churkin… said he would veto Chapter VII, that his text doesn't have any enforcement mechanisms, that he spent a lot of time on it and he's very disappointed (inaudible)…

Ambassador Quinlan: As you know the three co-authors drafted a text. A very strong text. It was focused on the fact that we had non-compliance [with Resolution 2139] and we had to take measures, because that's what we committed to do in February. So that was our starting point. Now, we haven't changed that…and we have had discussions about that text, with the Russians and Chinese and so-on, to see how we could make something work. Our starting point all the way through has been that the people who can tell us whether it would work or not, what we had in mind, how cross-border would work, were OCHA. It's the UN and its partners who determine how things will work.

I think I heard Ambassador Churkin say there are members of the Council – I know he wasn't referring to the co-authors – but members of the Council who don't want to work with the Syrian Government. It's not a question of us working with the Syrian Government. It's a question of the UN being able to work with the Syrian Government – the UN and its partners. They're the people delivering aid in a way that is neutral, impartial, independent – and it is delivered on the basis of need. So that's a furphy, that's a straw man. It's not a question at all. What we're talking about is not politicising the delivery of aid. We're trying to have a system whereby the UN, which is neutral in the way it does these things – but has to effectively deliver the aid – is able to do so. So all along we've been intensively negotiating with OCHA to find a way out.

Now, Ambassador Churkin put forward a proposal that certainly was worth looking at – the monitoring mission that he has characterised. The question is, how would it work, not only on getting relief goods across the border, but then what would happen to those goods? Because we had goods which were taken across the border in March – during the only cross border approval that the Syrian government has given in this region – that are still in warehouses. Medical goods still unable to be distributed because they will not agree to allow the goods to be distributed on the basis of need. This is all pretty simple. It's very simple actually – the challenge we face and what OCHA and the UN partners are trying to do to free this up.

What we would effectively be doing in the way in which the Syrian Government is approaching the model that has been put forward by Ambassador Churkin is reducing the level of access and increasing the restrictions on what little distribution there is to areas other than Government-controlled areas …that is unacceptable. It cannot work and it's unacceptable for the UN, for the people who actually have to do the job. We certainly don't want to have a resolution which in fact legitimises that sort of unacceptable system. But look, that's where we're at. This morning's discussions were good, were positive. We heard from OCHA what will work and what will not work. Ambassador Churkin was very favourable to what OCHA described as the way in which an arrangement or a mechanism – whatever facilitation or monitoring arrangement – might work. So that's a good sign. We now have to work to see whether we can operationalise that. And we're doing that as a priority. Sorry I've spoken for too long. Sylvie?

Ambassador Lucas: I think you have explained it very clearly. I think it's not like it is being implied that the co-authors are sitting there and looking at it, missing an opportunity to do something. Our wish is really – and that's why we have been looking very closely into this and had all this discussion back and forth and back and forth – our aim really has always been, even when we started with the PRST last year, the first resolution, the aim is how to get the humanitarian assistance in to all the people in need. Again, in a neutral way, and not politically directed.

You know all the figures that Ms Amos gave this morning. Some 85% of the aid at the moment goes to Government controlled areas, and not to areas controlled by the opposition. So it's not that we don't want to, and that we don't want to engage at all, but it is complex and there are quite a few sticking points still there. As Ambassador Quinlan just said, the fact that Ambassador Churkin actually ended the meeting basically saying after Ms Amos had been very clear: How could it work? What could work? And he said that actually – that he agreed with that. So we will now continue our discussion on that basis and we'll see. So this is not about Chapter VII. This is about if we put something, if we work on what we had earlier in 2139 where we demanded that all parties, particularly the Syrian authorities facilitate access in the most direct routes, cross border, cross lines, that this is finally being done and it is being done in a way where it really brings assistance to the people in need and not ends up somewhere in a warehouse or where you again find the Government imposing what can and cannot be delivered and actually restricting even further.

Ambassador Quinlan: Just to make one further point. Ambassador Churkin brought a proposal in good faith which we've been working on. The problem is not Ambassador Churkin's proposal. The problem is the way in which the Syrian Government wants to implement it. This is a government, remember, that has reduced access over the last four months since resolution 2139: each month, successively, new procedures, new restrictions which have reduced the amount of aid going to people. Only one per cent of people in besieged areas are getting aid. But more interestingly, the amount of food aid going through is going down by big percentages of people every single month. Now you can't go past those statistics. What they've introduced in the past two months are new procedures re-centralising systems for aid which are taking away local flexibility where aid sometimes was starting to get through. They've reversed all of that. So it's not a question of Ambassador Churkin's model, it's how the Syrians want to implement it. They wrote a letter to the Security Council last Thursday night saying that the introduction of anything in the new resolution – they called it a new "initiative" by us – was and I quote "an attack" on Syrian sovereignty. This is about the delivery of aid. The delivery of aid is an attack on Syrian sovereignty? This is the problem we face. It's the Syrian approach, which is all about restricting distribution of the aid, not the question of an access model, which we are very closely looking at to see if we can make it work.

Question: So after today's briefing are you still now planning to circulate a text to the full 15 or are you going to continue negotiating with the P5?

Ambassador Lucas: I think we'll take on board everything that was said this morning, including on this very particular issue, try to look once more at the language and then certainly also try to advance quickly in this respect. I don't want to give concrete deadlines – and if we first have one more talk and then introduce to the 15 – but the 15 are aware of what we have been talking about. We have kept them informed about it and I think it has been very clear in the consultations this morning that everybody shares this sense that not only for the credibility of the Council, because we said clearly, unanimously, on the 22nd of February if 2139, if the provisions are not implemented, then we declared we intend to take further measures. But more importantly the aim of all these efforts is to get assistance in and I think that's very much shared by everybody. And that's why we also don't want to go backwards and to impede what is being done for the moment, what might be done by various actors in this respect. So this is something which has to be very carefully done but I think we want to proceed quickly now.

Question: If the Russian model and the formula is not the issue, it's a matter of getting the Government to actually implement it, it seems like whatever model, whatever mechanism is proposed before them, they're not going to implement it. What price are you going to impose on them for not doing so, because that's been the fundamental problem, right?

Ambassador Quinlan: That will be in the resolution.

Question: But Ambassador Churkin – his message to me it sounded like Chapter VII is useless because even if we do put Article 41, Chapter VII, they still won't implement it. So what options do you have?

Ambassador Quinlan: Let's just have this discussion with Ambassador Churkin.

Question: [inaudible]– do you plan to implement any part of it in your resolution [inaudible] monitoring mission?

Ambassador Lucas: That's part of it, I mean the idea which was put forward by Ambassador Churkin was actually [inaudible] monitoring. But also I would like to point to the fact that the first [inaudible] if you look at the report, they already said that the UN stands ready to put in place practical arrangements to facilitate access. And that's it. That's the same whether it is facilitation arrangement or monitoring mission…you wish to reassure everybody this is really all about humanitarian convoys. It's always about the access and then having such a mechanism and facilitation. But we also want to make sure that if you put this is in the resolution that it also can work, and then comes the difficulty, while I think we were very close then suddenly came in a lot of conditionality from the Syrian side, on top of this outrageous letter sending, you know, this was implying that this was an attack on Syrian sovereignty, I think that is not the case. A [inaudible] takes care of its population and doesn't declare a policy as you might have seen in the latest reports the UN Secretary-General very clearly says that all these restrictions come because there is a deliberate policy declared by the Syrian government to not have certain goods delivered to opposition areas and you know this is against humanitarian law. This is arbitrary denial and we want to find a mechanism to get assistance in and that's what the discussion is about.

Ambassador Quinlan: I think we can conclude, but one point I will leave you with: we understand the Syrian Government has never made one single complaint to the UN that anything other than humanitarian material was in any [UN] humanitarian convoy into the country. What they've been concerned about is removing some of the humanitarian goods from convoys, not other goods, and the humanitarian goods they've been removing are medicines. They're not allowing, as a matter of policy – this is the phrase used in the Secretary-General's report "as a matter of policy"- there has now been a decision to remove life-saving medical goods. Now this is unacceptable by any standard, anywhere, at any time.

I think that's it folks.


Last Updated: 10 June 2015
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