The failure of the parties to the Syrian conflict to uphold the basic tenets of international humanitarian and human rights law had propelled the Syrian people to levels of tragedy and despair that could barely have been imagined five years ago, Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the Security Council this morning.
“The crisis urgently requires a political solution which addresses the root causes of the conflict and meets the aspirations of the Syrian people who have suffered for far too long,” he said, as he introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014) and 2191 (2014) (document S/2015/813), focused on the situation in Syria. Twenty Secretary-General reports to the Council had highlighted “the parties’ contempt — month after month — of this Council’s resolution [2139 (2014)] and their minimum legal obligations under international law,” he said.
Some 13.5 million people in Syria were in need of some form of protection and humanitarian assistance, more than 6 million of them children. He said 6.5 million people were displaced inside Syria and 4.2 million had fled the country, with neighbouring countries bearing an enormous burden. Living conditions in all areas of Syria continued to deteriorate sharply. Winter was approaching fast and was likely to further exacerbate the situation for many families.
Saying that humanitarian workers were putting their lives on the line, but remained undeterred, he strongly encouraged donors to maintain, and where possible increase, their generous support for live-saving humanitarian operations. “We all need to guard against becoming numb to the impact of this conflict given the vast numbers and sense of political impasse,” he said. Recent developments were a telling reminder that it was ordinary women, men and children who continued to bear the brunt of the strife.
Continuing, Mr. O’Brien said rising levels of fighting and violence over the last few weeks had had an enormous humanitarian impact, resulting in large-scale death, injury and displacement of civilians, particularly in northern Syria. Attacks on health facilities and health workers also remained relentless. Since the start of the conflict, Physicians for Human Rights had documented attacks on at least 313 medical facilities and the death of 679 medical workers. Relief organizations were still not able to get sustained, unimpeded access to millions of affected people. The latest estimates indicated that some 4.5 million people were living in hard-to-reach areas due to active conflict, shifting front-lines, bureaucratic hurdles, and conditions imposed by the parties.
He said the parties continued to use siege as a weapon of war. Some 393,700 people were living under siege, including some 200,000 people in Dayr al-Zawr city, under the control of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS). Access to besieged areas remained pitiful and wholly insufficient. Last week, humanitarian operations had begun under the framework of the 22 September ceasefire agreement among Zabadani, Madaya, Foah, Kafraya and neighbouring towns. That showed that when there was the political will, there was a way to improve the situation for civilians trapped in the conflict. The immediate priority for humanitarian organizations remained to reach all people in need, he said, stressing the need for sustained, predictable and unimpeded access through the country.
Welcoming continued progress made on visas for United Nations staff members by the Syrian authorities, he said that progress must be followed by urgent and significant advances in other areas. Less than half of those approved had been able to actually proceed due to a lack of final security clearances from Syrian authorities, a lack of safe passage from non-State armed groups, and insecurity. He called on the Syrian authorities to urgently approve the 46 currently pending inter-agency convoy requests and allow convoys already approved to proceed. He also called on non-State armed groups, as well as listed terrorist groups, to allow the deliveries they were preventing.
In conclusion, he expressed the hope that, in the absence of a political solution, the Council and relevant Member States would continue to use their influence with the parties to the conflict to remind them to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, to distinguish between civilians and combatants, and to take all feasible precautions to avoid further civilian injury and loss of life.
Bashar Ja’afari, the Permanent Representative of Syria to the United Nations, said the main reason for the crisis — the spread of terrorism supported from abroad — must be addressed by implementing Council resolutions 2170 (2014), 2168 (2014) and 2199 (2015) in cooperation with the Syrian Government. Those who believed that such cooperation was not important had created an “absurd” situation that contravened logic, political science and strategy, leading tens of thousands of terrorists from more than 100 countries to come to his country.
Da’esh, Al-Nusra Front and their affiliates had been financed, trained and facilitated by others. “We can’t talk about ending the crisis in Syria if we maintain silence over Turkey and Jordan, who used their territory as a passage for foreign terrorist mercenaries,” he said. The United States also had spent $500 million to train and equip the moderate opposition.
He called for an inter-Syrian dialogue with the Syrian leadership and without foreign intervention, one that respected the nation’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, in line with the Geneva communiqué, Council resolutions, the United Nations Charter and international law. His Government had already announced its willingness to participate in a working group. It was a lie that his Government opposed a political solution.
Turning to the “politicized” report of the Secretary-General, he said it had neglected to point out that the coalition had targeted innocent civilians, as well as roads, bridges, refineries, schools and hospitals. The report had used sources that “had no credibility” and were trying to divert from the joint Russian-Syrian efforts to tackle Da’esh, Al-Nusra Front and others. He also took issue with its description of “non-State armed opposition groups”. The Army of Conquest was financed by Saudi Arabia and had declared its allegiance to Da’esh, while the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, financed by Jordan, included 8,000 Jordanian Salafists. Some groups were openly supported by Israel and had attacked Syrians in the Golan. He suggested that rather than “non-State armed opposition groups”, they were foreign mercenaries.
The meeting was called to order at 10:05 a.m. and adjourned at 10:34 a.m.