'Status quo simply cannot continue in Syria' – UN humanitarian chief

Tesreen Camp, Aleppo, Syria. Credit: OCHA/Josephine Guerrero

16 November 2015 – More than five years since the unrest in Syria began, senior United Nations officials today stressed to the Security Council that the status quo in the war-torn country cannot continue, highlighting the effects of the conflict on civilians, especially women and children.

“The Syria crisis is a chronicle of missed opportunities by the Security Council, Member States with influence on the parties, and the broader international community to bring the conflict to an end,” Stephen O'Brien, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, told the 15-member Council.

The meeting, which opened with a moment of silence in honour of the victims of the terrorist attacks Friday in Paris, also heard from UN special representatives dealing with sexual violence in conflict and children and armed conflict.

Welcoming the recent international talks in Vienna, Mr. O'Brien said “this momentum must be seized to leave no stone unturned to put an end to this horrendous war that has cost an estimated 250,000 people their lives, given rise to extremist and terrorist groups, and reduced much of the country, a middle-income country, to rubble.”

He recalled that the fighting has propelled the world's largest humanitarian crisis of the twenty-first century, with some 13.5 million people in Syria in need of some form of humanitarian assistance, including six million children, and driven over four million people to seek safe refuge outside their home country.

“Security Council members and the international community must also redouble their efforts to oblige the parties to finally comply with the demands made by this Council in resolutions,” the Emergency Relief Coordinator insisted, noting that attacks on civilian infrastructure continue unabated, including “relentless attacks” against health care facilities and personnel across the country.

He called upon the Syrian authorities to urgently approve the 46 currently pending inter-agency requests and allow convoys previously agreed in principle, which are awaiting their clearance, to proceed. He also called on non-State armed opposition groups as well as listed terrorist groups to allow the deliveries they are preventing.

“Despite all the challenges, the United Nations and partners continue to reach millions of people in need through all modalities,” he stated. In the past month alone, the UN and its partners reportedly delivered food aid to over four million people; water, sanitation and hygiene support to over 3.5 million; and medicines and supplies for 717,000 treatments.

Earlier today in a press release, Mr. O'Brien welcomed a joint announcement by leaders of the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, Kuwait and the United Nations of a “Syria Crisis Conference” to be held in London next February.

"This conference in London will be a critical opportunity to remind the world of the suffering Syrian civilians are going through,” he underlined.

“As the brutality and violence in their country intensifies it is our job to appeal on their behalf for essential and sustained aid and protection. The humanitarian appeals for Syria and neighbouring countries are alarmingly underfunded. I look forward to working with the UK, Germany, Norway and Kuwait to make this event a success. Concrete pledges of financial support will allow us and our humanitarian partners to help families in dire need."

In her remarks to the Council, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, said sexual violence has been a characteristic of the Syrian conflict, and has been perpetrated by “most of the belligerent parties” as a tactic of war.

“Since returning from my scoping visit to the region this May, I have focused considerable energy on raising the level of awareness and understanding of the sexual violence crimes that are occurring,” said Ms. Bangura. “At the same time, we have been working to formulate a response strategy.”

This seven point strategy includes: mobilizing political commitment, support and resources; ensuring that protection and empowerment of women is consistently includes as a central consideration in all efforts to prevent violent extremism and counter terrorism; enhancing protection, early-warning and risk mitigation; and strengthening the support and services to survivors of sexual violence.

Turning to the plight of children in the conflict, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, said five years of intensifying hostilities and violence in Syria have taken an unacceptable toll on the lives of boys and girls.

During her presentation, Ms. Zerrougui detailed how children continue to be killed, maimed, recruited and used by parties to the conflict. She also highlighted how the future of millions of children is jeopardized by attacks on schools and education.

“Aerial bombardments of civilian areas by Syrian Government Forces have continued to cause a significant proportion of the verified cases of child casualties in 2015,” Ms. Zerrougui said.

She added that the indiscriminate shelling of densely populated areas by all parties to the conflict is another major cause of child casualties. She also underlined how the alleged mass execution of 200 children by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is another “tragic” example of the brutality faced by boys and girls in the country.

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