Speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok at the Syria side event at the Human Rights Council, 15 March 2021

10 years old.

That's the age of the Syrian boy named Youssef who recently walked into a Dutch motorway petrol station near Eindhoven, wearing a torn coat and carrying a bag of clothes. 

We can only guess how he got there.

But we can be sure it was a journey full of hardship. Hardship he had to endure alone.

‘Do you know where my father is?’, was the first question he asked the attendant.

When the responding police officer saw the boy at the petrol station, he was struck most of all by his dazed expression.

As if you could see the war in his eyes.

A war that’s precisely as old as Youssef himself.

To end impunity

Today we are commemorating the start of a decade of atrocities. Of hospital bombings that turned safe havens into places where people fear for their lives. And of horrifying torture practices. To silence brave people who dared to speak out. Or to punish those who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I will spare you the grim statistics that are already seared into our brains.

But I’d like to share a more hopeful fact. One that is also enshrined in the number 10.

For 10 years, we have been talking about Syria in the Human Rights Council. And not sporadically. No, at every meeting. Without exception. Because we want justice for the victims. Because ending impunity will foster lasting peace. And because we don’t want history to repeat itself.

Our dialogue here is meaningful. Not only because it continually draws attention to  atrocities that must not be forgotten. But also because the Council can enable us to end impunity for crimes that must not be tolerated.

Right here in this forum, details of the horrific crimes and injustices in Syria have been made public. And right here, individual voices of concern and outrage have grown louder. Voices that push us further, step by step, albeit at a terribly slow pace. Voices like those of Maimouna and Mohammad, from whom we will hear today.

Hopeful steps

A month ago, Germany convicted a Syrian official for aiding crimes against humanity in Syria. Last year, the Netherlands announced it would hold Syria to account for breaching the Convention against Torture. Last week, the Syrian regime said it is willing to engage in dialogue with the Netherlands.

And also last week, Canada joined our initiative. We now wish to undertake these talks with Syria together.

These are hopeful and important steps in our quest for justice. Facts that should be seared into our brains too. Because only a growing number of voices can bring justice for Youssef and so many others. Because joining forces is the only way to end impunity.

And because ending impunity is the only way forward.

Thank you.