23 Apr 2015

'Unimaginable human suffering' in Syria

10:57 am on 23 April 2015

New Zealand has told the UN Security Council that the council needs to use its authority to alleviate ongoing carnage in Syria.

The destroyed streets of Kobane, in Syria.

Activists say more than 76,000 people were killed in Syria - including around Kobane, pictured here - as part of fighting in 2014. Photo: AFP

New Zealand's outgoing permanent representative to the UN, Jim McLay, told a group within the council that its deliberations were avoiding the elephant in the room and it needed to start making real progress.

Mr McLay, who leaves his position next week, said the price of the council's inaction was high and was being paid by ordinary Syrians.

He said New Zealand had been working on a document to get meaningful negotiations underway.

Read Jim McLay's full statement - his last address as part of the UN Security Council's monthly Middle East debate

Murray McCully

Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully - speaking in New Zealand (file photo) Photo: RNZ / Chris Bramwell

Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully said France and a group of Arab countries had also started negotiations and New Zealand would delay its action to see if those discussions gained traction.

"We want to see successful action in the council; we're not too fussed who initiates it.

"The key thing is that you've got to get a majority of the vote; that's nine and you've got to escape the use of the veto by any of the permanent members."

'We've got to break the cycle'

Mr McLay told the UN Security Council there was a chorus calling for a political solution in Syria.

"With Yarmouk resembling a death camp, and many parts of the country witness to unimaginable human suffering, that refrain is as important now as it's ever been. It is also just as difficult to achieve."

Mr McLay said New Zealand wanted the council to focus on a practical outcome and had been working on a text to help get negotiations started.

"It will require that both sides step back from their optimum or preferred outcomes, and that they both put any pre-conditions to one side."

Jim McLay speaks at a press conference at the UN in New York to promote the 2015 Cricket World Cup in June 2014.

Jim McLay - pictured in June 2014 Photo: AFP

Mr McLay said New Zealand had not seen the latest French text.

"But if it has a chance of succeeding New Zealand stands ready to engage and to be helpful," he said.

"Friends in the region have told us a second text would complicate the process; so, at this stage, New Zealand is prepared to wait to see how current efforts play out.

"We've got to break the cycle that has undermined previous council attempts to support the Middle East peace process."

Handover for NZ at UN Security Council

Mr McLay - in his last speech as part of the monthly Middle East council debate - told the council he had concerned about its dysfunction.

"We exist in a world of diplomatic niceties, carefully avoiding the elephants in the room - usually, I might add, in a room deliberately screened from the rest of the world," he said.

"We endorse resolutions to protect civilians in Libya, but we can't stop the salvo of barrel bombs in Syria.

"We talk of populations besieged, as we've done today, in Syria, but we find it much harder to talk about the same in Gaza.

"Even when we can discuss the most sensitive issues, key players are often left out of the discussion."

Mr McLay told the meeting it had the blueprints to a solution in the Geneva communique for Syria and the Middle East peace process.

"We have said that we have the will. What is left is for this council to find the way."

Mr McLay will be replaced as New Zealand's permanent representative at the UN in New York by senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade official Gerard Van Bohemen.

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