Transcript of Remarks on Syria (Humanitarian) at UN Security Council Stakeout
- Chemical weapons
- Human Rights
UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
Remarks by the Australian Ambassador to the United Nations, Gary Quinlan, and the Luxembourg Ambassador to the United Nations, Sylvie Lucas, at the UN Security Council Stakeout
Ambassador Lucas: Good morning. The Security Council just adopted the Presidential Statement on the dire humanitarian situation in Syria. I think we are all too familiar with the terrible statistics of the conflict – over 2 million refugees, almost 5 million internally displaced, close to 7 million in need of assistance, one third of the housing, Syria's housing, destroyed. And on current figures, 6,000 new refugees every day. And this is not taken only, as you know, as a terrible human cost but also placing an unsustainable burden on the neighbouring countries who have to cope – have more and more difficulties coping with this influx of refugees. I think you know, we have almost now 25% of the population in Lebanon are Syrian refugees, 20% are refugees in Jordan, and the situation also threatens the peace and the security in the region.
And over the last month, Australia and Luxembourg have (been) in very close contact with OCHA, UNHCR, (and) other humanitarian actors. We have been working on, discussing, trying to find ways for the Security Council to make a difference on the ground, how we could help the humanitarian actors, how we could amplify their messages and bring the weight, the authority, of the Security Council to their demands on the parties and in particular of the Syrian authorities.
And so we have now worked in this Presidential Statement which was just adopted and you have seen it. It's very concrete. It concentrates very much on six main issues. The issue of humanitarian access throughout the country, across borders and across conflict lines. The issue of bureaucratic impediments. The issue of respect for protection of medical and humanitarian personnel, facilities, ambulances. The issue obviously, the consequences of the refugee crisis on the neighbouring countries, and also how sustainable solutions could be found for assisting these countries so that development gains are not being lost. Very importantly the issue of human rights and international humanitarian law, including also the issue of grave violation and abuses against children because again, as you probably know, there is, the children, the very grave impact of this crisis on children. More than 4 million children are affected. And then also the issue of accountability for crimes perpetrated in Syria ever since the beginning of the hostilities.
So, the statement also recalls that without a political solution, the humanitarian situation will only continue to deteriorate and so we stress there again also the need for…(a) speedy conference, Geneva II. And also finally, that the draft takes into account the adoption of Resolution 2118 last Friday.
So, as I said, we have been working on this issue and my Deputy Prime Minister flagged this also last Friday, and also Ambassador Quinlan mentioned it that we have been – now that we have been able to make progress on the chemical weapons issue, we should not forget that we also needed to make progress on the humanitarian issue. And that we should not forget that conflict is continuing, that the humanitarian situation is ever deteriorating and I think this sends off (inaudible) that we needed to act quickly and this sense of urgency was very much shared by our Council members which can be seen through the fact that only three days after circulating our draft to the fifteen, we were able this morning to adopt this Presidential Statement. And I think you will see that it is a strong, common message by the Security Council to the parties, to the Syrian authorities, to react on all the issues I mentioned. I will leave it at that, and give the floor to Ambassador Quinlan.
Ambassador Quinlan: Yes, I join Ambassador Lucas in flagging the importance of this. We decided that after Friday night's adoption, which was a strong, united adoption of action by the Council, we needed to move very quickly, which we've done. They key point is, as Ambassador Lucas has said, this is a strong, unified statement from the Council. It has the endorsement, the agreement – actively – of all fifteen members of the Council and sends that unanimous message to all parties in Syria, to the Syrian authorities themselves, but also to other parties to the conflict, that humanitarian access, humanitarian assistance must not be impeded. As Ambassador Lucas has said, the steps, the measures that are incorporated in this statement are very practical and we now need to get down and do what we can to assist humanitarian agencies on the ground to implement them. It has always been the case that disunity in the Council has prevented as effective humanitarian action – operations, on the ground in Syria – as are needed.
I won't go through the overall statistics and metrics, but we know that the regional impact is enormous, it's regionally potentially quite catastrophic, but the humanitarian situation in Syria itself simply cannot be underestimated. And Sylvie Lucas has outlined the sorts of terrifying figures that we're seeing growing every single day – over one third of the housing has been destroyed and over two million refugees – one million of whom are children. One refugee is created in Syria every fifteen seconds. Since I've been speaking this morning there are another 11 refugees in Syria.
We're open to questions and then I understand that the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, will also say some things about what this means in terms of action on the ground.
Journalist: Question to either of you. What kind of guarantees out of this will change events on the ground, the statement here in New York?
Ambassador Lucas: This is a very clear, common statement of request by the Security Council. You know, a Presidential Statement is a decision by the Council. The Council Members also carry out this decision. And so, I think it will send a strong message that this is what the fifteen are asking of the parties. And it was our understanding, and perhaps USG Amos can confirm this, that this is something which will help humanitarian actors if they can speak with the weight of the Council behind them and argue – and this, I think, is a very strong message as such.
Journalist: Yes, I also was going to ask how you could enforce it. But could you describe where you see cross-border aid coming in? Is this through Turkey or where?
Ambassador Quinlan: The sorts of operational specifics of this, of course, are going to evolve… So there's no pre-determined approach on any of this. This is going to be up to the situation on the ground and the agencies concerned to identify need – humanitarian need – and then work with the Syrian Government and opposition forces in determining how best you can meet that need. The focus here is on access and assistance. Those sorts of operational details will evolve over time.
Journalist: It moved very, obviously, it moved very quickly from your proposal and it being adopted. It is reported that silence was broken and there were some changes. I have to admit that it all moved kind of quickly. Can you characterise how issues like who is going to identify the areas most in need are addressed? And also, more specifically, there is the group ISIS, one of the, now sometimes called ISIL. In any event, they've made a number of threats to humanitarian workers in Jarabulus. And it seems like – are these groups, do you think, listening to this kind of a statement? What's the contact between the Security Council or OCHA and the, described as extremist groups threatening aid agencies as spo..for spying, so they say?
Ambassador Lucas: Perhaps first to correct – actually silence was not broken as such. We have been going through some negotiations, we had some meetings on Monday afternoon where also Ambassador Quinlan and myself introduced the text, explained once more the rationale which we have been working with. And I think – and we have, as I said before, we have been working very closely with the humanitarian actors so as to react to the humanitarian asks USG Amos has been putting to the Council on several occasions, very clearly, that is what we need. So we have tried to work on these issues.
Obviously in a negotiation you always have a few comments. Not everybody… it would have been too nice if everybody would have said immediately…just, where can we sign? But I think it was a very good, very constructive negotiation. All Members understood the urgency of it, and also I think a message of last week of the, you know, of the High Level Segment of the General Assembly was very much we have to act on this issue.
Now, concretely, I think USG Amos can speak to that on the context how this will now be implemented, what does this mean, impact on the ground, their contacts with the various parties. And to make sure that, I think, here we are addressing in the statement, in this decision by the Security Council, very much all the various issues from bureaucratic impediments to agreeing humanitarian rules to making sure that the delivery of assistance can happen.
Moderator: Last question, thank you.
Journalist: I know you refer to the Presidential Statement as a decision by the Council. But isn't it true that a resolution would have been really legally binding? Whereas a Presidential Statement is an expression of the Council's will – it has more moral than legal authority. So could you indicate why the text could not be incorporated as is into the form of a legally binding resolution? Thank you.
Ambassador Quinlan: It's always possible for a statement, of course, to become a resolution over time. So it's not excluded as a possibility. The need here was speed. The need was speed, that's why we acted as quickly as we did. We all know that resolutions take a while to negotiate. Because they're legally binding people pay a great deal more attention – and quite properly so, I might say, including my own country – to the actual implications of every word in a resolution because they are legally binding. The point here is the need was speed and that's why we did this as urgently and as quickly as we could.