‘Even in war there are rules’ – UN official urges Security Council to enforce protections of Syrian civilians

A WFP distribution centre in Damascus, Syria. Photo: WFP (file)

15 December 2014 – Despite the United Nations Security Council’s best efforts to limit violence against non-combatants caught up in the ongoing Syrian conflict, civilians in the Middle Eastern country are being subjected to escalating levels of brutality as the war creeps into its fourth year, the top UN humanitarian official said today.

Briefing the 15-member Council for the second time in less than a month, Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, reminded delegates of their “strong demands” regarding the inviolability of Syrian civilians as enshrined in the Council’s resolution 2139 which, she observed, had gone “unheard.”

“In many parts of Syria the level of violence has worsened, with civilians continuing to pay heavily with loss of life, serious injuries, psychological trauma, ongoing and recurring displacement and massive damage to property and infrastructure,” Ms. Amos explained.

“We have run out of words to fully explain the brutality, violence and callous disregard for human life which is a hallmark of this crisis,” she continued. “The international community has become numb to its impact with the vast numbers, regional reach and sense of political impasse.”

Council resolution 2139, from February 2014, demands that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, allow humanitarian access in Syria across conflict lines, in besieged areas and across borders. In addition, the resolution sought protection for civilians caught in the midst of the fighting and aimed to ensure that civilian facilities – such as hospitals and schools – remained untouched by the hostilities.

Ms. Amos noted, however, that the resolution continued to be violated on all counts.

While resolution 2139 called for an end to the indiscriminate use of weapons, Ms. Amos detailed how the Government continued to use barrel bombs; while the resolution demanded that all parties respect the principle of medical neutrality, she reported that hospitals across the country had been attacked and schools bombed from the air; while the Council condemned grave violations and abuses committed against children and women, sexual and gender based violence had increased since July and over 5.6 million children remained in need of immediate assistance. In addition, she said, reports of early and forced marriage were also on the rise.

“This conflict is not only shattering Syria’s present,” warned Ms. Amos. “It is also destroying its future.”

At the same time, the UN official lamented the constant use of siege warfare as numerous Syrian communities remained cut-off from basic assistance such as food and medicine. The use of siege, she said, had also become a cruel tactic, particularly when small amounts of aid were allowed into a beleaguered area “giving people hope, but so little it can only help a fraction of those in need.”

“People’s hopes raised and then dashed,” she said. “Time and time again.”

At the passing of resolution 2139 in February, there were 220,000 people besieged by either Government or opposition forces; of those, 212,000 remain besieged today – 185,000 people by Government forces and 26,500 people by opposition forces.

Ms. Amos appealed to the international community to find a political end to the civil war “once and for all” and urged the Council to ramp up its efforts in ensuring that all parties involved in the Syrian conflict heed the body’s call and “comply with resolution 2139 in its entirety” because, as she explained, “even in war there are rules.”


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