Statement by Ambassador Jerry Matjila, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, during the Security Council Meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria, 28 May 2019

Mr President,

I would like to thank Ms Ursula Meüller, Assistant-Secretary-General of Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for her briefing.

South Africa remains deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Syria.  We appeal to all parties to avoid bombings of infrastructure in Idlib and elsewhere in Syria and ensure that the civilians in the area are not used by non-state actors as human shields.

As we have previously stated, South Africa is concerned that a number of aid agencies have suspended their operations in the northwest due to the increase in violence. The large numbers of people fleeing the area are adding to the already overburdened humanitarian response.

In this regard, we call on all parties to cease hostilities and hope that the parties are able to take the necessary actions to allow for these agencies to resume their important work. Additionally we urge all parties to fully engage in the political processes currently underway as the situation in Syria cannot be solved through military means.

South Africa urges all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure. It is also important that the signatories of the September 2018 ceasefire memorandum adhere to its provisions.

Attacks on education and health facilities are particularly disturbing, as they significantly impact the lives of the most vulnerable sectors of society, women and children.

Mr President,

While we acknowledge the threat and violence committed by terrorist organisations, it is also necessary to state that actions taken to counter terrorism activities cannot be undertaken at the expense of innocent civilian lives and any such action should only be taken within the parameters of international law.

Mr President,

The situation and conditions in Al Hol camp in northeast Syria is particularly distressing. The camp has expanded from 10, 000 in December 2018 to over 73, 000 currently, of which approximately 50, 000 are children. All possible effort must be made to assist all those who wish to return home, be they Syrian, Iraqi or third-party nationals.

Turning to Rukban, South Africa welcomes the reports of increasing numbers of people leaving the camp, aided by the Syrian Government and overseen by UN agencies on the principles of voluntary, safe, dignified and well-informed returns. However my delegation also notes that while people remain in Rukban, there is a need for humanitarian and medical assistance, which is quickly diminishing. We reiterate our call for the necessary approvals, which would allow additional and essential humanitarian assistance to be delivered to Rukban.

Mr President,

It is important to note that presence of any foreign military forces operating in the country without the permission of the Government of Syria, undermine and violate Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

We urge all UN Member States to identify their nationals, through relevant UN agencies and take them back to their countries of origins and utilise their local laws to deal with such individuals.

In conclusion, South Africa is deeply troubled by reports of the spread of Islamic State affiliates from Syria and Iraq into the African continent, as the group seeks new areas of operation and recruitment following its territorial defeat in Syria. All possible action must be taken to ensure that these individuals are detained before they are able to incite violence and terror.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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