UNITED NATIONS - The UN Security Council Saturday voted to adopt a resolution demanding that both sides to the deadly Syrian conflict - President Bashar Assad’s government and the rebels - provide immediate access everywhere in the country to deliver aid to millions of people in desperate need.
It is the first time the 15-nation Council united on a resolution on Syria’s humanitarian crisis as its supporters - Russia and China - joined the rest of members to send a strong message to the the parties that food, medicine and other essentials must not be blocked to civilians caught in the deadly conflict.
Russia and China have shielded its ally Syria on the UNSecurity Council during the three-year-long civil war. They have vetoed three resolutions condemning Syria’s government and threatening it with possible sanctions.
Today’s resolution also does not threaten sanctions - Russia insisted that this reference be dropped from the original Western and Arab-backed text - but it does express the council’s intention to take “further steps” if the resolution isn’t implemented.
The resolution also called for an immediate end to all forms of violence in the country and strongly condemned the rise of Al Qaeda-affiliated terror attacks.
The Council members insisted that all parties cease attacking civilians, including through the indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas, such as shelling and aerial bombardment with barrel bombs, whose use has been condemned by senior UN officials.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who participated in the rare Saturday meeting, welcomed the resolution but added it “should not have been necessary” as humanitarian assistance is not something to be negotiated but allowed by virtue of international law. He expressed profound shock that both sides are besieging civilians as a tactic of war, and noted that reports of human rights violations continue, including massacres, as well as sexual and gender-based violence against children.
In the resolution, the Council strongly condemned “the widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the Syrian authorities” and urged all parties involved in the conflict to lift sieges of populated areas, including in Aleppo, Damascus and Rural
Damascus, and Homs. The resolution builds on the Presidential Statement adopted four months ago, which stressed the need for immediate action to protect civilians and give access to people in need. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said she hopes the passing of the resolution will facilitate delivery of aid. She underscored the importance of protecting ordinary people, who have been bearing the brunt of the violence in the country.
Earlier this month, Ms. Amos noted that despite “modest” progress on the humanitarian front, the UN and partners have not been able to reach the most vulnerable people in the country.
She underscored her plea to Council members to do everything they can to use their influence over the parties to this appalling conflict, to ensure that they abide by humanitarian pauses and ceasefires, give humanitarian actors sustained and regular access, commit, in writing, to upholding international humanitarian law, allow systematic cross-line access, and prevent UN relief teams from being shot at while delivering aid to people in need. Well over 100,000 people have been killed and an estimated 9 million others driven from their homes since the conflict erupted between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and various groups seeking his ouster nearly three years ago.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are currently more than 2.4 million refugees registered in the region: some 932,000 in Lebanon; 574,000 in Jordan; some 613,000 in Turkey; 223,000 in Iraq; and about 134,000 in Egypt. In today’s resolution, the Council emphasized that “the humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate in the absence of a political solution” and expressed support for the UN-sponsored direct talks between Government and opposition representatives. At the end of the second round of talks last week, Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative, expressed regret that “only modest cooperation between the sides” was reached on humanitarian effort. He said the parties agreed to his proposal that a new round of talks would focus on violence and terrorism, a transitional governing body, national institutions and national reconciliation.