Syrian Conflict Marked by ‘Utter Disregard’ for Human Life, Relief Coordinator Tells Security Council, Requesting Added Funds for Life-Saving Operations

SC/12046
16 September 2015
7524th Meeting* (AM)

Syrian Conflict Marked by ‘Utter Disregard’ for Human Life, Relief Coordinator Tells Security Council, Requesting Added Funds for Life-Saving Operations

The Security Council must not escape its responsibility to find a political solution to the Syrian conflict, as human suffering in that country had worsened, not diminished, a United Nations senior humanitarian affairs official told the 15-nation body today.

“We are running out of words to describe the utter disregard for human life and dignity that has become the hallmark of this crisis,” said Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, urging Council members to set aside their differences to finally bring an end to the nightmare.

He began his briefing by citing the recent images of a three-year-old Syrian boy lying dead on a beach in Turkey.  The child had drowned during his family’s desperate escape from war.  “The conflict in Syria has propelled one of the largest refugee exoduses since World War II,” he said.

In the absence of a political solution, the Council had passed resolution 2139 (2014), demanding action by the parties to the conflict, including a guarantee of unhindered humanitarian access, as well as an end to attacks against civilians and public infrastructure, he said, adding that some 18 months later, those demands had gone unheeded.

There had been no reduction in the appalling patterns of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law.  Between 17 and 26 August, Government forces repeatedly had attacked residential areas in Douma, killing at least 90 civilians and wounding nearly 300 more.  In the last week of August, non-State armed groups had launched hundreds of shells on civilian-populated areas in and around Damascus, killing at least 20 civilians.  Yesterday, at least 33 people, including women and children, had been killed such shelling in Aleppo.  Allegations of attacks with chemical agents continued to be received.

In addition, he said, the deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure continued to occur with alarming frequency, with attacks by non-State armed groups significantly disrupting municipal water and electricity networks in Aleppo, Damascus and Dar’a in recent weeks and months.  Some 2 million people in Aleppo had gone without water for two weeks in August.  Since the start of 2014, there had been 169 attacks on medical facilities and 252 medical workers had been killed.  Such attacks had destroyed the health-care system.  During the same period, the United Nations had verified at least 84 attacks on or near schools, although the number was likely higher.  Deliberate attacks on hospitals and schools were war crimes, he warned.

“Today, Syria is one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a child,” he said, noting that, according to reports by the Commission of Inquiry and others, children had been murdered, tortured and subjected to sexual violence by all parties to the conflict.  More than 5.6 million children were in need of immediate assistance.  One in three was not in school.  Hundreds of thousands of children in areas controlled by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS) had been forced to follow a curriculum designed by that terrorist group.  The conflict was not only destroying Syria’s present, but its future.

Despite the insecure environment, he said, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations continued to deliver life-saving assistance to millions of people in need.  In the past month alone, 4.2 million people had received food aid.  Medicines and supplies for 1.1 million treatments had been dispatched, and nearly 450,000 people had received relief items and other support.  In August, however, the World Food Programme (WFP) had been unable to reach more than one million people, with an additional 750,000 people in ISIL/ISIS-controlled areas unable to be reached with food due to safety concerns.

Moreover, he said, approval for 46 requests for inter-agency convoys remained pending with the Syrian Government.  If approved, the United Nations could reach 1.2 million more people in desperate need of assistance.  There was no justification for deliberately obstructing humanitarian access and depriving civilians access to essential services.  On a positive note, he welcomed the Government’s granting of 109 visas for United Nations staff from 12 different offices last month.

In the same vein, he highlighted the lack of funding for essential life-saving operations, which required some $738 million by year-end, asking donors to make additional pledges.

Bashar Ja’afari (Syria) said Mr. O’Brien was right in stressing the need to address the root causes of the conflict in his country.  Those causes were political and not humanitarian.  Over the years, the Council had adopted successive resolutions that prohibited the instigation, funding and support of terrorism.  Further, Member States were obligated not to adopt terrorism as a policy to pressure other Governments.  In practice, however, those principles continued to be flouted.  In parts of Syria, terrorist groups that drew support from Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan perpetrated horrific acts on a daily basis.  Unfortunately, the report of the Secretary-General had called those terrorists “non-State armed groups”.

“Syria is in the grip of a major tragedy,” he said.  Terrorism was the main reason behind the exodus of Syrians.  Unilateral coercive sanctions on the Syrian people had paralysed economic life in the country and ruined infrastructure.  The United Nations itself had acknowledged the challenge posed by waves of foreign terrorists flooding Syria from over 100 countries.  Syrian antiquities were being sold abroad, thereby funding terrorism.

The image of the dead Syrian refugee child had rendered a major service to the Syrian people by highlighting aspects not addressed by the media and politicians.  Children in Syria could not go to school because many regions were under terrorists’ control.  Where many schools existed, they carried curricula promoting violence and extremism.  Instead of slandering the Syrian Government, President and the military, Council members, and the wider international community, should help Syria fight those terrorists.  “Our great agony, pain and sorrow are a result of foreign intervention in our internal affairs and a misreading of the situation on the ground,” he said.

Requesting the floor, Mahmoud Daifallah Mahmoud Hmoud (Jordan) said he would submit a written response to the accusations made against his country by the Syrian representative.

The meeting began at 11:02 a.m. and ended at 11:35 a.m.

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*The 7423rd Meeting was closed.

For information media. Not an official record.