Speech by minister Blok to UN Security Council in New York

Speech by minister Stef Blok (Foreign Affairs) to the UN Security Council in New York on 27 March 2018.

Distinguished delegates,

Recently, a Dutch photographer, working for Save the Children, published a photo album featuring 48 Syrian children, all 7 years old. These photos were school portraits, like we all had taken when we were young. The children were born in Syria, but they had to flee. They are as old as the Syrian war, so they’ve never seen their country at peace. Their memories of their homeland are fading. Sometimes they can’t remember their country at all, or their family members left behind. But by giving these young children a public face, the photographer has tried to restore some of the dignity sacrificed to a war in which all humanity seems lost. This is Noor.

These children were relatively lucky; they were able to escape. At the same time, inside Syria, during 7 years of war thousands of children were killed. I myself am a father. And I’m certainly not the only parent in this Chamber. Images of children affected by war should leave no one unmoved. Despite any differences between us, we should at least have one thing in common: the belief that protecting children should come first.

Protection of Civilians

And yet, such protection is lacking. The Syrian crisis is above all a protection crisis: a grave violation of the long-established norm to protect civilians and their belongings in the time of war. Together, we – the international community – have expressed our determination to prevent conflict; to save successive generations from the scourge of war. And where conflict cannot be prevented, we have agreed to regulate the conduct of warfare. One of the very first steps to that end was taken in Russia, almost 150 years ago. In St Petersburg, it was decided to forbid weapons that cause unnecessary suffering.  Since those first steps, the body of international humanitarian law has grown considerably, including through the adoption of the Hague and Geneva Conventions. The imperative of these laws has always been to protect civilians in conflict. To spare them from disaster and to save them from harm. And to respect their dignity. Sadly, what we see in Syria today is the exact opposite. Every day, many are showing a total disregard for civilians.

Eastern Ghouta, Afrin, Idlib

In Eastern Ghouta, the Syrian regime and its allies – including Russia – have trapped hundreds of thousands of civilians. And are relentlessly continuing their offensive. The United Nations have reported air strikes on densely populated areas, blatant attacks targeting hospitals and medical personnel, the use of starvation as a weapon of war, and the use of chemical weapons. Many innocent children, women and men are suffering. They should be protected. Yet instead, families are seeing their homes destroyed, their loved ones killed, their dignity shattered. In Afrin, the effects of the Turkey-led offensive are clear for all to see: a worsening of the already precarious humanitarian situation, with more than 160,000 displaced people and a further obstacle to efforts to fight ISIS. And I ask Turkey not to extend its military activities to other border regions in Syria or Iraq.

Resolution 2401 / Credibility of the UNSC

4 weeks ago, this Council adopted Resolution 2401. It is telling that, in 2018, this Council should need to spell out:

  • that warring parties should immediately lift all sieges in Syria;
  • that warring parties should grant unimpeded humanitarian access to those in acute need.

These are by no means exceptional demands. They are basic obligations under international humanitarian law, developed over decades to instill minimum standards of human decency in warfare. Not even the presence of terrorists is an excuse to disregard these standards. It is a humiliation for this Council that it is unable to enforce these minimum standards. If the Council is not willing or able to do it, who is? With all this in mind, we should not forget that the responsibility, and indeed the obligation, to execute this Council’s decisions lies with individual member states.

Call to Action

So what should be done?

  1. We should reaffirm these norms and enforce the relevant resolutions. We call on all parties to the Syrian conflict, including the Syrian regime, Russia, Iran, Turkey and armed opposition groups, to respect and implement our Council’s resolutions.
  2. We must strengthen Resolution 2401, with UN monitoring of the implementation of the ceasefire, and with full access for fact-finding missions to Internally Displaced Persons sites and collective shelters. These missions are ready to go; we need their impartial information. 
  3. Accountability: for any credible, stable and lasting peace in Syria, the current culture of impunity must end. All those guilty of crimes are to be brought to justice.

The perpetrators of crimes, including ISIS and Al Qaida, must know they are being watched, followed and identified. They must know that files are being compiled with a view to their prosecution for crimes which may include genocide. They must know that, one day, they will be held accountable. We urge all States to increase their support for the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism, which aims to ensure that information about serious crimes is collected, analyzed and preserved for future prosecutions. The Kingdom of the Netherlands again calls on all Council members to support referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

Conclusion

What will become of the children in the photographs I mentioned? Will they one day be able to return to Syria? Like all children, they long for a normal life. For stability. For safety.  The Syrian regime believes in a military solution. But there is none. There are no winners in this war. But it is clear who is losing: the ordinary people of Syria. In these most extreme circumstances we commend the incredible courage and perseverance of humanitarian aid workers. It is up to us to restore credibility to this Council. It is up to us to ensure a negotiated political process, in which all Syrians and other relevant actors are represented. And it is up to us to end the agony and restore dignity and humanity to the people of Syria.

Thank you.

Ministry responsible