Remarks to the press on humanitarian action in Syria
UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
Remarks by the Australian Ambassador to the UN, HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Jordanian Ambassador to the UN, HRH Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, and Luxembourg Ambassador to the UN, HE Ms Sylvie Lucas, at the UN Security Council Stakeout
AMBASSADOR QUINLAN: Good afternoon everybody. We have just had a very good resolution adopted in the Security Council on humanitarian access in Syria. Good, because the Council was united and because we’ve adopted a very practically-focused, operational resolution.
The Council has been united in this unanimous decision because all of us recognise that every month, every day, the situation on the ground in Syria gets worse. Six thousand, seven thousand new refugees every day – one Syrian family is displaced every minute. The Secretary-General has been reporting to the Council every month since we adopted Resolution 2139 in February on the implementation of that resolution. His judgement has been that it is not being implemented and that is why the Council has taken the action we have today.
The test for us three co-authors – and I want to acknowledge and thank Luxembourg and Jordan for the wonderful leadership we’ve been able to show together to get a resolution like this. The test for us has been what kind of change we can make on the ground. We’ve worked very closely with OCHA and the UN system to deliver a resolution which we believe actually will help people. The advice to us is that the additional four border crossings will allow access by humanitarian agencies of the UN to at least an additional 1.3 million people – and hopefully as many as 2 million people – if the openings are properly utilised.
It’s a very practical resolution but obviously it means nothing if it’s not implemented. We’re confident now that the UN system will be in a position to actually implement this resolution in close cooperation with the neighbouring countries.
I’ll hand over to my two co-authors, but I’ll make one final point: Security Council resolutions are binding and in this resolution the Council has affirmed that we will take measures if it is not implemented.
AMBASSADOR LUCAS: Thank you very much. As you have heard, actually as the three co-authors, we had hoped that it would not be necessary to have to adopt a new resolution. But for all the reasons just stated and recorded by Ambassador Quinlan (it was). Unfortunately, resolution 2139 was not implemented – the situation has further deteriorated. So we had to look for further measures to ensure humanitarian access and finally get assistance to all those throughout Syria. And it was done. So we looked at this and I would like to specify a little bit what was in the provisions of this resolution once more.
First, the Council decided that the United Nations humanitarian agencies and implementing partners are authorised to use the routes across conflict lines and the border crossings of Bab al-Salam, Bab al-Hawa, Al Yarubiyah and Al-Ramtha, in addition to those border crossings already in use.
The UN will no longer need formal authorisation by the Syrian authorities in order to use these four cross borders or other direct routes, to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches people in need. Humanitarian assistance -and I would like to really draw your attention also very much to the fact that the resolution specifies we’re speaking about humanitarian assistance, including medical and surgical supplies. You know that there have been major problems in this respect. The Council decided with the resolution it adopted this morning that all impediments to the provision of humanitarian assistance must be immediately dismantled.
Equally important: the provisions of operative paragraph 6, which clearly states that the distribution of aid will be done on the basis of United Nations assessments of need, and not on the basis of mappings done by Damascus. This clearly indicates that the Council will no longer tolerate humanitarian action becoming privy to political calculations or military and strategic considerations.
And I wish to stress also that these provisions are not only clear, they are legally binding. Its implementation will be closely monitored by the Security Council. As you have seen, the resolution extends the monitoring mechanism which was implemented by resolution 2139 [inaudible] report to the Security Council. It is extended also to this resolution. So every month the Council will get information (on) how this resolution is implemented. And as stated, in case there is non-compliance with this resolution or with Resolution 2139, the Council affirms its determination that it will take further measures.
Allow me just to, before handing over to the Ambassador of Jordan, just to add a few words in French, if you’ll allow.
(Speaks in French)
I will now hand over to my colleague.
PRINCE ZEID: Thank you. I’ll say a few words in Arabic, if you will.
(Speaks in Arabic)
QUESTION: Ambassadors. Are you concerned about the actual implementation in terms of the terrorist groups that have been on the borders of Iraq and Jordan – ISIL and Islamic Front? I mean, how are you going to implement it if they are sort of going at some of these particular border crossings? And Prince Zeid – it seems you’ve substituted a different Jordanian border crossing in the last few days. Is that because of it?
PRINCE ZEID: In large measure we’ve been guided by OCHA on this. In respect of the substitution of the crossing point of Tal Shihab to the crossing point of Al-Ramtha, you’re absolutely right. It’s because of security concerns at that specific point. We requested that we, instead of making reference to Tal Shihab, we make reference to the crossing point at Ramtha and OCHA agreed with us on this assessment. So, we had no opposition when it came to changing this crossing point once it became clear that OCHA had no problem either.
QUESTION: At the other crossing points if there are problems with these groups will you have to, you know, play it by ear and switch them or do you anticipate problems? Any of you?
AMBASSADOR QUINLAN: This is a very operational resolution. The point is that OCHA and the UN system operates every single day in Syria, including in areas related to the border, and they certainly struggle with the issue of cross-conflict lines. What you’ll see in the resolution is we’ve not only provided for cross-border in a very operational way, these four openings, but also re-emphasised – as we did in February – that access across conflict lines is essential.
OCHA and the UN system have been dealing with this for almost four years – three and a half years now since the conflict began. They make operational decisions every day on the ground. They will continue to do so. And of course they will do this taking into account, above all, the security of their own humanitarian personnel. But in fact the operations are determined by OCHA and of course this is going to be hard. This is innovative – we know that – but the situation is so desperate that it called for this kind of strong action. So let’s see how it evolves. We will of course be reviewing this every month on the basis of the Secretary-General’s report and we will be able to, as a Council, make judgements month-by-month on the advice of OCHA and the UN system precisely on how it’s going.
QUESTION: To follow up on Maggie’s question – is there any kind of security going with the, accompanying the convoys? Because what’s to stop the medicine and surgical supplies from being looted again? And secondly, what plans are there for feeding the people in the Aleppo area?
AMBASSADOR LUCAS: Again, I think this resolution, like Ambassador Quinlan pointed to, OCHA (has been) working on these issues for the last three and a half years. And obviously they will continue to [inaudible] all the humanitarian agency on [inaudible] – they will have to evaluate the situation, as such. This resolution doesn’t change that and doesn’t put into place another mechanism. Now as Zeid was saying, for its delivery as such, it’s a practical delivery. They have to evaluate the security situation, being in contact with relevant parties in those areas – and judge how they will move forward. It is not foreseen by this resolution to have forces accompanying the convoys, as such.
As you know, it is foreseen to have a monitoring mechanism but on the other side of the border, present as the loading of the convoys is being done. Then these convoys are going to cross the borders and an important issue that I pointed to is that distribution will be done on UN assessed needs. I think that’s an important point because as we have seen before, sometimes these convoys were re-directed into warehouses and supplies were taken out by Syrian authorities, and some of these supplies are still sitting there. And I think that is very much an issue here. And OCHA will obviously work on all these issues and work out all these details, like they have been working these last years.
What has changed here is that the Council is clearly saying to the sides that they are authorised to use routes across conflict lines and these additional border crossings. They are authorised through a decision by the Security Council.
QUESTION: My question’s regarding the safety of those humanitarian personnel. (The Syrian Permanent Representative to the UN) Mr Ja’afari spoke of three Red Crescent staff who were killed by terrorist groups. How are you going to face such groups if they attack the convoys?
And is there any thinking of a further resolution under Chapter VII to address terrorism in Syria?
AMBASSADOR QUINLAN: I think that as we’ve indicated, this system has to be implemented by OCHA and the UN agencies. They give top priority to the security of their own personnel and this will continue. Our resolution reaffirms that this is a priority for the delivery of assistance. That it has to be done with full regard to the security of the humanitarian workers. We have every confidence that that will happen – but of course, this is difficult. In fact, the number of personnel who have been killed operating for SARC – the Syrian Red Crescent – is 34, not 33. We follow this situation very closely, and in fact, the work done by NGOs and the Red Crescent within Syria to deliver aid has to be recognised and has to be admired. But the operational decisions on all of this will be made by OCHA and the UN system – and of course, this will remain a priority for them. And I think that’s really all we can say at this stage.
In relation to Chapter VII…The resolution is strong and in operative paragraph 10 the Council affirms that it will take measures – not steps, measures – in the event of non-compliance by any party with either this resolution from this morning or 2139 from February.
So now we have to ensure it is implemented. The language of this resolution, which does create new binding obligations on the parties, is when you look at it, quite strong.
QUESTION: Ambassador Churkin said that you would have to come back to the Council, it would have to be a whole other process…
AMBASSADOR QUINLAN: Yes, I think this should be the final question unless my colleagues want to say something.
Matthew, that was always going to be the situation. Always there would need to be a further decision by the Council if the Council determined we faced non-compliance on the basis of an assessment by the Secretary-General. So what Ambassador Churkin said is absolutely correct. The Council would need to look at this again and take a decision on what those measures would be. The important thing is that we’ve taken the decision to take measures. Let’s leave it until a further decision on any of the detail. Thank you.
QUESTION: How long until the cross-border (inaudible) is started?
AMBASSADOR QUINLAN: That’s being worked through with OCHA and neighbouring countries.
AMBASSADOR LUCAS: Just to say that this resolution very much stresses that this whole mechanism has to be deployed expeditiously. And I know that it’s a concern certainly of the UN agencies…as it was stressed in successive reports by the Secretary-General. The Secretary-General always underlines a call for action by the Security Council and he called for action specifically also on this issue of the cross border because it would give access to in between 1.4 and 2 million people. And I think that’s why the accent is on this. But again also, and I would like to stress this once more, Resolution 2139 with all its provisions, remains in force and again also the mechanism, what we now have is a monitoring, a reporting mechanism to the Security Council, clearly says we will have reporting on both resolutions. It’s not that this one is superseding, but we tried to address this very specific point that the Secretary-General has been telling us since February now: “look, because of the decisions that have been taken by the Syrian Government, here we have a major problem. Help us there.” The Council now has acted, the Council has authorised UN agencies and the implementing partners to use these routes. And so we will hear how it will be done. Thank you.
QUESTION: (inaudible) monitors in place?
AMBASSADOR LUCAS: Again, as the resolution says, to be deployed expeditiously…I think it’s not the Council’s business to get into these kind of details. This needs to be worked out by OCHA with the neighbouring countries, the three neighbouring countries concerned and all of the details worked out. And this mechanism, as the resolution says, the mechanism is to be established under the authority of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and the Council will be informed about implementation. We will have a further rendezvous at the end of this month to hear the reporting on the resolution 2139 and what we have already on first elements on talks to implement this resolution.