27 August 2015
7513th Meeting (AM)

Amid Ongoing Devastation, Syria’s Warring Parties Must Allow Humanitarian Access to All ‘Wherever They May Be Located’, Top Aid Official Tells Security Council

The more than four-year-long conflict in Syria was characterized by a “callous disregard for human life” that “seemingly knows no bounds”, the top United Nations humanitarian official told the Security Council today. 

“It is difficult to find words that would justly describe the depth of suffering that Syrians face on a daily basis,” said Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, as he briefed the 15-member body upon his return from the conflict-affected country.

His remarks echo observations made in the Secretary-General’s latest monthly report on the implementation of resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014) and 2191 (2014), which was before the Council and describes parties’ “total disregard for human life and dignity” as a defining feature of the Syrian conflict.  The report (document S/2015/561) also calls attention to the “wholly insufficient” quantity of assistance reaching besieged areas.

Against that backdrop, Mr. O’Brien stressed that attacks on civilians were unlawful, unacceptable and must end.  Describing the ground situation, including a recent Government attack on a market in the city of Duma, which had killed over a hundred people, he said the “tit for tat” approach by the warring parties was causing widespread devastation.

Since the start of the conflict, he said, more than a quarter of a million people had been killed and more than a million injured.  Some 7.6 million people had been displaced inside the country; over 1 million had left their homes this year alone.  More than 4 million people had fled across borders, placing host communities under intense pressure.

Over the past month, violence had continued to escalate across the country.  Indiscriminate attacks by all parties to the conflict had resulted in loss of life, destruction of infrastructure and access to basic services had been denied to hundreds of thousands of Syrians.

The destruction of civilian infrastructure continued over the reporting period.  Non-State armed groups and designated terrorist groups had deliberately cut access to essential services, such as water and electricity.  Those acts violated international humanitarian law and must be stopped immediately.

To be sure, he said, millions of people continued to receive life-saving assistance.  During the first half of 2015, United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations had provided food assistance for 5.9 million people on average per month, medicine and supplies for 9 million people, water and sanitation support for more than 5 million people, and basic relief items for more than 4 million people.

While those numbers were significant, he regretted that many more could be reached should unimpeded access be allowed.  He was particularly concerned about the severely limited access to the 4.6 million people living in hard-to-reach and besieged areas.  During the first half of the year, the United Nations had reached 12 per cent of people in hard-to-reach areas with food per month, and 3.4 per cent with health supplies.  It had reached less than 1 per cent of those living in besieged areas with food supplies, and 2 per cent with health supplies.

During his visit, he had discussed with senior Government representatives the need to strengthen civilian protection and the overall humanitarian response.  “I urge the Government to grant full and unhindered access to all people in need wherever they may be located,” he said.

He welcomed the recent granting of visas for United Nations staff, including 47 pending visas that he had just learned would be granted following a specific request made during his visit.  Further, he would be traveling to Turkey and Jordan in September, where he would see first-hand the ongoing response efforts to meet the needs of the refugees and the communities hosting them.

Taking the floor following the briefing, Bashar Ja’afari (Syria) said Mr. O’Brien’s visit to Syria had been a “welcome preamble” to putting things on the right path and strengthening transparent cooperation between his country and the United Nations on the humanitarian front.  The Syrian Government was comfortable with his ideas for cooperation and expected discussions to continue in a way that would benefit the Syrian people.

His Government was committed to increasing international humanitarian access throughout the country, he said, in line with international law.  However, such cooperation was only “part of the prism”, as foreign interference continued to fuel terrorism and prolong the misery of Syrians.  Without ending interference by foreign powers — and “manifestations” of their support for terrorism — human suffering would only persist, notwithstanding the amount of humanitarian assistance made available.

Mr. Ja’afari urged the Council not to hide behind the term “moderate opposition”, which had engaged in a campaign of bombing in Damascus and other areas, with external support.  Some Council members preached protection of civilians but had been largely silent on crimes committed by the “moderate opposition”.  Further, Western media had legitimized such groups by calling them allies, which only emboldened them to extend their campaign of death and destruction.  The Syrian Army was acting in line with international law to combat terrorism and protect civilians.

In addition, he said, the Secretary-General’s report on the Syrian conflict highlighted gaps and included false information.  Forty-three of 48 requests for access to humanitarian convoys had been approved this year.  Efforts were being made to ensure that assistance reached people in need and were not confiscated by terrorist groups.  He also objected to the report’s reference to terrorists as “non-State armed groups”.

The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 10:31 a.m.

For information media. Not an official record.