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Transcript of Remarks at Security Council Press Stakeout - the Humanitarian Situation in Syria

Thematic issues

  • Chad
  • Darfur
  • Guinea
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Human Rights
  • Humanitarian
  • Peacebuilding
  • Protection of Civilians
  • Sanctions
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Syria


Remarks to the press by the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations and President of the Security Council for November 2014, HE Mr Gary Quinlan, following UN Security Council consultations on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

Transcript, E&OE

AMBASSADOR QUINLAN: Good evening. It has
been a long day in the Council. The Council is still meeting in closed consultations,
discussing South Sudan and then discussing the DRC, with briefing from Under-Secretary-General
Hervé Ladsous in both.

As you know, this morning we held a meeting on the reform of UN sanctions. This was an Australian initiative as part of our presidency. In fact, Australia and a number of other states – Finland, Sweden, Greece and Germany – have co-chaired a High Level Review of sanctions, which was inaugurated in May. And what we sought today was to have an initial discussion in the Council of some of the results of that Review and it was a very good meeting. And it was an open meeting so I don't really need to add any more about what was discussed but we're happy to provide you additional material separately about that.

We also adopted two resolutions this morning.

The first was a three month extension of the mandate of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau. We've extended that by three months until 28 February next year. And that will allow the Council to receive and consider the report of the Strategic Assessment Mission to Guinea-Bissau which is underway. We'll consider that before considering the mandate again and adjusting it if that needs to happen.

The second resolution we adopted extended the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan for a further six months – until 30 May next year.

Under that new mandate UNMISS will continue to focus primarily on the protection of civilians, on creating conditions for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, monitoring and investigating human rights abuses and violations and supporting the peace process and the implementation of the cessation of hostilities agreement. And working, of course, very much hand in glove with IGAD, the regional organisation in the area.

The decision to extend the mandate for that period was informed by the Council's regular interaction with SRSG Ellen Løj and it was on the recommendation specifically of the Secretary General in his report to the Council on 17 November.

We're obviously all very concerned at the situation in South Sudan. Over 1.8 million people have been forced from their homes due to the fighting. Over 100,000 are living in UNMISS protection sites, as you know. And it is the biggest aid operation being undertaken in any single country.

The humanitarian cost of this conflict has already seen a great number of deaths and destruction. And the fact is that this is a man-made disaster and a violent power struggle between the two chief architects in South Sudan's political elite. It can be stopped if they move back from the current pursuit of their own selfish, narrow, political interests. And that's the united view in the Council.

The Council will at some stage need to address appropriate measures in this situation. We took a decision some time ago that we were prepared to do so and there has been discussion among individual Council members about what those appropriate measures could be. We all know what they are; they would be targeted sanctions, possibly including an arms embargo. That discussion will take place at some stage in the near future. And there's a briefing taking place on South Sudan in the Council consultations room at the moment.

We have also just finished an extensive briefing in the open chamber, as you know, from Valerie Amos on the current humanitarian situation in respect of Syria. And we've had follow-up consultations which we have every month on that briefing. I don't need to repeat what was said in the open chamber by Valerie, who will not be addressing the stakeout as a result. She has indicated that her statement is already available on the website.

We should note, however, a couple of incredible statistics that we're witnessing. There are now 12.2 million people in need of assistance – that's up from 10.8 million. That's 1.4 million more than last month. And 7.8 million are internally displaced, and as we know something like 40% at least – the figure is probably now bigger – of housing has been destroyed in Syria. And that's obviously an increase as well. The figure last month was 6.5 million for internally displaced. If you look at refugees, the officially registered refugee numbers are 3.2 million. When Australia came on to the Council at the beginning of last year the figure was 500 000. So we can see what all of this means.

Under-Secretary-General Amos told us that more 'hard to reach' locations have been accessed by humanitarian agencies since Resolution 2165 on humanitarian access was adopted in July. But access to besieged areas – that's not 'hard to reach' areas, but besieged, there are 221 000 people in a number of besieged areas – that's still being restricted for both the UN and other humanitarian actors. The point about the modest increase in access to 'hard to reach' areas has to be put in context – there are 287 'hard to reach' areas; only 22.6% of people in those areas are being reached; 22.6%. And if you look at the question of the besieged areas, there are now 221 000 people in them – that's a small decrease by the way because some of these areas are targeted deliberately to de-populate them as part of Assad's military strategy. That's 221 000 people who are in desperate situation – no access to anything. Since July when we adopted 2165 on humanitarian access, no more than two convoys, small convoys per month have been able to get in. And in October and November, only one in each month. So that's the sort of dimensions of what we're facing.

I should say that Resolution 2165 runs out early January, 9 January. It had a limited life span. And the co-authors of that resolution – that's Luxembourg, Jordan, and Australia – have flagged in today's meeting that we'll be having consultations urgently over the next couple of weeks about extending that mandate for 12 months. As we have been requested to do specifically by Valerie Amos, speaking on behalf of the entire UN system and with the support of the international humanitarian community. So we need to do that, the Council needs to do that, over the next few weeks.

I think that's probably all I have to say. I've got to go back into the Council in a moment as well.

JOURNALIST: A very quick one. Any plans to add any further
crossing points to the four that are already in the resolution? And are you
happy with the access that these four crossing points have provided for aid

And just on South Sudan, the Council was told three weeks that a draft would be circulated to establish a sanctions regime on South Sudan. What's the hold up there, what's happened?

AMBASSADOR QUINLAN: On South Sudan, I think
the immediate focus is on getting the latest information on what's happening
on the ground, number one. The second point was that IGAD has been sponsoring
the political discussions, negotiations, using its good offices to try and get
a renewed commitment again to the ceasefire and to a broader political settlement.
IGAD was due to meet people now; it gave 15 days – until 24 November – to come
to a solution. That date has passed now. The Council had wanted to wait to see
what progress might be made within that 15 day period. And IGAD is now involved
in private discussions with the parties to see how they can pull this together.

The Council has always wanted to take its lead from IGAD and has been strongly supporting IGAD. We need to stand back just for a moment and I imagine this is what's being discussed right now in the consultations [by Council members] to see what our next steps will be. On the idea of measures, a number of Missions are very keen to have a discussion on that if there seems no other option.

In relation to Syria, the request from the UN system has been that the four current border crossings is sufficient in the renewal and we respect that. And that's probably what we would be focusing on. In terms of the reach, the success, the access they've had: obviously it's a lot less than we'd hoped but the reality is you've got difficult security conditions on the ground; also it takes time for humanitarian agencies to scale up their activities and start approaching things a bit differently. And we need extra funding – they're only 48% funded, the UN system, of what their current needs are – 48% is what they've got. So we need to do more on funding.

There is a sense, however, that we will be able to scale up. And that's obviously going to be a focus in the renewal of Resolution 2165. And the present numbers are not insignificant – we're talking about hundreds of thousands of people who are now getting access to food, medicine, and so on. We need to do better but this is a terrible situation; in fact, what one member of the Council called "a bottomless pit". Every time we start doing more, the needs grow.

JOURNALIST: So just a follow-up on Michelle's. So you didn't
introduce any new elements to the draft and when are you going to introduce
the actual draft?


JOURNALIST: Just because since that you mention the humanitarian
situation is worsening in Syria, why are you not able to introduce any new elements
in this draft?

AMBASSADOR QUINLAN: The focus here in 2165 is access because
access is what the immediate issue is – to get as much humanitarian access to
as many people as we can, as quickly as we can. We believe the model we've put
in place with the appropriate scale up of activity by the UN and its agencies
and other agencies since NGOs and the UN are now working much more closely as
a result of 2165 on cross border access than they did previously, that we have
the potential to improve a lot the amount that's going in. And we'll be moving
very quickly. I mean, we have to adopt this extension of mandate quickly because
it runs out at the beginning of January.

JOURNALIST: On Syria, the Secretary-General's report says,
along with many attacks by the Government, that the international coalition
airstrikes have killed 50 civilians. It's in paragraph 15. And I wonder, one
did it come up? And two, what do you think of that number? Is that kind of acceptable?

And I also wanted to know, on Darfur – you said that the Council will be taking up that report into alleged under-reporting. What's the status of that and have you received a letter from Darfur groups about the rapes in Thabit and will it be circulated, etc?

AMBASSADOR QUINLAN: On Syria, no, the question
did not come up of those deaths. And no deaths of that kind are acceptable.
But the question did not come up, no one raised that particular issue.

On Darfur, yes, we expect there will be discussions. The hold up has been identifying the appropriate briefer. I just wanted to be clear, Matthew, we're talking about the report that the Secretary-General has given the Council access to on alleged misreporting, yes?

Our expectation is that that will be discussed fairly quickly in December. We're not the President in December and don't control the Programme of Work for December – it will be Chad who are very focused on this, of course. That Programme of Work will be discussed on Monday in bilateral meetings, as is usual, with each individual Council Member, and then the Programme will be adopted on the Tuesday. But then we would expect consideration fairly early.

It has simply been a question of trying to identify the right briefer. Someone who knows the detail and is seen as a good, disinterested, if you like – if anyone is disinterested in anything in life – a disinterested briefer. So that's the issue there. Nothing more than that.

On the question of the petition from Darfuri groups – yes, I received that overnight by email. It also was copied to the Secretary-General I notice and Valerie Amos and Under-Secretary-General Hervé Ladsous. I can't speak for their reaction and what they're doing about that yet but in our national capacity as Australia – this was not a formal request to circulate this to the Council – we circulated it to all members today. I expect when we have discussions on UNAMID and Darfur, which are expected to be next week if the Programme of Work that is being talked about is endorsed on Tuesday. I expect that all those elements that are set out – and I have read the petition – they will all be the sorts of issues that we'll be taking up and I have to say a range of them, a number of those issues are precisely what we've been talking about in the Council. No one is happy about what's happening in Darfur, no member of the Council is happy. And when you talk about the rape allegations in particular, we had very candid and forceful discussions about that from the Secretariat – DPKO and others, SRSG Bangura. There was no lack of candour in what they were saying. And I reported to you on that, I think, at the time.

JOURNALIST: Mr President, are you going to add any new elements
to the new draft resolution on 2165 to support Mr de Mistura's new approach?
Is there any need, is there any paragraph that may facilitate his mission, especially
on Aleppo? And any updates on his business? When is he coming back to the Council?

AMBASSADOR QUINLAN: In answer to new elements in response
to Stefan's initiative, the answer is no. We're waiting to hear back from him.
When he presented to the Council at the end of last month, he outlined his initiative,
his thinking, what he had in mind. He was given a substantial degree of latitude
by the Council, encouraging him to go out and develop in a practical sense what
that initiative would mean. And that's what he wanted from the Council, that's
what he was seeking. And that's what's been happening. We now need him to come
back to the Council with a more fully formed idea of what he has in mind and
what the reactions have been. And the likelihood of being able to do this. Plus
talking into account the sorts of issues that people have mentioned to him as
having to be particularly considered. One of them, for example, is what precisely
would the nature of these ceasefires, these freezes, be? How would you arrive
at them? We have to be sure we're not playing into anyone's military strategy
in that process. So the answer to that question is no. Extending this 2165 resolution
would be very simple as we would see it – that is, the three co-authors – very
simple, because the task is so obvious: simply extension.

JOURNALIST: What do you anticipate (from consultations on
the DRC)? Was this something that was called especially because of some new

AMBASSADOR QUINLAN: Yes, there have been reports, you would
have seen, in the last couple of days of further killings in a place called
Beni. And of activities of a terrorist group known as ADF. That's what people
will need to look at, and generally the situation in the north and north-east
of the Kivus. But I'm just going in to the discussion now.

Thank you.

Last Updated: 18 June 2015
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