Russian Federation Assails ‘Bombing Pause’ Omission as Delegates Criticize ‘Selective’ Focus on Aleppo at Expense of Other Areas
Evoking the “apocalyptic horror” of bombed and besieged Aleppo, the senior United Nations humanitarian official pleaded with the Security Council today to take the minimum action necessary to finally allow wide-spread humanitarian access and end the slaughter in Syria.
“While my job is to relay to you the facts, I cannot help but be incandescent with rage,” said Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. He was presenting the thirty-second monthly report on compliance with the Council’s demand for humanitarian access to civilians in Syria (document S/2016/873), covering the month of September.
“This Council has been charged with the responsibility for ending this horror,” he pointed out. The buck stops with you,” he added. “At the very minimum, I call upon all Council members who have operational military assets in Syria to take concrete steps to halt the aerial bombardment of civilian areas in order to deliver on your existing international obligations, and above all, to protect civilians and allow us to deliver humanitarian assistance to those in need.”
The monthly report highlights the large increase in the number of people in Syria cut off from aid — from 586,200 to 861,200 — due to the siege of eastern Aleppo, where hundreds of people were also killed by air strikes. It also brings to the fore “credible reports” of 30 attacks against medical facilities and surveys showing wide-spread lack of food. It describes the failure of the 9 September cessation-of-hostilities agreement, as well as a 19 September attack on a United Nations-Syrian Arab Red Crescent humanitarian aid convoy.
In today’s presentation, the Under-Secretary-General said eastern Aleppo was still besieged by the Government of Syria and no United Nations assistance had been able to enter in nearly four months. Drawing a vivid picture of families huddling in basements without food, he said the results of the offensive by Syrian and Russian military forces had produced horrific results. Since the report was issued, 400 more people had been killed and nearly 2,000 wounded there, many of them children, evoking the possibility of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Leaflets being dropped by Syrian and Russian aircraft were telling people to leave or “be annihilated”.
Glimmers of hope had been quickly extinguished, including agreements to allow the evacuation of the sick and injured, as well as other civilians from Aleppo, he continued. The United Nations had again been ready to launch humanitarian operations on Sunday, 23 October, but objections by two non-State armed opposition groups, Ahrar as Sham and Nureddin Zenki, had delayed operations, and the Syrian and Russian authorities had then refused to extend the pause in the bombing.
Meanwhile, relentless attacks on health workers and hospitals had left the handful of doctors still alive in eastern Aleppo unable to cope and with few ambulances and supplies, he said. The same types of actions had been seen in other cities and must not be accepted. “All parties and their sponsors must put an end to these medieval tactics,” he urged. Meanwhile, projectiles fired by non-State armed groups had continued to target civilian areas of western Aleppo during October, killing at least 100 people, including women and children.
Emphasizing that the violence was not limited to Aleppo, he cited the report’s references to developments in other parts of Syria, across which deliberate interference and restrictions by parties to the conflict, most notably the Government, continued to prevent the effective delivery of aid. Only six of 33 requested locations had been reached in September, he noted. At the same time, the Syrian authorities continued to remove life-saving medical supplies from aid deliveries, amounting to nearly 6 tons in the last few weeks alone. Such actions constituted violations of international law and Council resolutions, while inflicting greater suffering. In addition, more than 2 million children remained out of school, with many suffering emotional and physical trauma. “The international community cannot fail the children of Aleppo as it did in Srebrenica, Cambodia and Rwanda,” he stressed.
Following that briefing, Council members debated approaches to the humanitarian crisis, with the Russian Federation’s representative objecting that the Under-Secretary-General’s presentation had been more like a sermon than an objective report. The Russian Federation and the Government of Syria had been providing aid and trying to allow evacuation from Aleppo, he said. Humanitarian ceasefires had failed because of armed opposition groups that had failed to differentiate themselves from the Al-Nusra group.
He raised a particular objection to the fact that the Under-Secretary-General had omitted to mention the pause in the bombing ordered by his country and Syria, which had lasted more than a week. Alongside his counterpart from Syria and others, he underlined the complexity of fighting terrorism and asserted Syria’s right to sovereignty over its territory.
The representatives of the United States, the United Kingdom and others defended the Under-Secretary-General’s reporting and portrayal of the dire situation of civilians caught amid bombardment and siege. Condemning the shelling of civilian areas in western Aleppo by armed opposition groups, the representative of the United States noted that the Russian Federation could not condemn the systematic bombardment of eastern Aleppo because it was the one carrying it out. It wanted to be congratulated because it had refrained from committing war crimes for one week, she said.
New Zealand’s representative — who with Spain and Egypt had recently tabled a draft resolution on the crisis in Syria — said the urgent priority now was to ensure the delivery of humanitarian relief, but nothing would make a difference unless the bombs stopped falling. The continuing inability of the most powerful Council members to do something was nothing short of tragic, he added. Pledging to continue his efforts, he said the problem was not going away and neither was New Zealand.
Also speaking this afternoon were representatives of Uruguay, New Zealand, France, China, Venezuela, Ukraine, Angola, Japan, Malaysia and Senegal.
Taking the floor additional times were representatives of the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom.
The meeting began at 3:08 p.m. and ended at 5:20 p.m.
ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) said the briefing had left him in a more anguished state than other previous ones had done. The scenario was increasingly discouraging, a pitched battle in which civilians were hostages to a situation of which they had not been the authors. The Council was unable to emerge from that situation, and Uruguay would support New Zealand’s initiative because something must be done, he said. Hostilities must cease immediately and the principles of humanitarian law must be respected. Responsibility for the crisis was shared by the entire Council, but even more so by those who supported one or the other party to the conflict, he emphasized.
GERARD VAN BOHEMEN (New Zealand) said the urgent priority now was to ensure humanitarian relief, adding that his country would continue to work with Spain and Egypt in that regard. But, nothing would make a difference unless the bombs stopped dropping, he said, recalling that he had urged Council members to set aside past differences. The continued inability of the most powerful Council members to do something was nothing short of tragic. The Russian Federation would not step back from its assault on eastern Aleppo long enough for humanitarian aid to be delivered, he said, pointing out that the bombing of eastern Aleppo had resumed. He voiced disappointment that other members had insisted on unacceptable language in the New Zealand draft, with one saying that a no-fly zone was unacceptable and another saying that the absence of language on a no-fly zone was unacceptable. The problem was not going away and neither would New Zealand, he said.
VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation), Council President for October, spoke in his national capacity, saying that his country was trying not to criticize humanitarian workers, with whom it cooperated in Syria. However, Under-Secretary-General O’Brien had delivered a sermon instead of an objective report, he said. Negotiations with armed groups on humanitarian issues continued, and the Russian Federation continued to help provide humanitarian aid by the ton, trying to do everything it could to relieve the situation. It had been eight days since a pause in bombing had begun, yet the Under-Secretary-General had not even mentioned it in his presentation.
He went on to state that the situation in Aleppo had worsened because Al‑Nusra Front’s promised separation from the moderate opposition had not occurred, even after eight days of the pause in bombing. Opportunities had been created for fighters to leave the city, but most of them had decided not to leave. Instead, medical assistance had been demanded for the militias, he said, noting that such demands were constantly shifting and it was not clear whether Mr. O’Brien or Mr. Egeland were leading humanitarian efforts.
Inhabitants were being used as human shields and the fighters were not cooperating in efforts to relieve the situation, he continued, adding that opportunities to normalize the situation had been lost. However, the Russian Federation remained ready to work with humanitarian agencies to improve the situation, but armed groups must abide by agreements reached in order for that to occur. The political solution should remain the absolute priority, as should the fight against terrorism, he emphasized, expressing gratitude for New Zealand’s efforts to find consensus among Council members in order to bring about a solution. Stressing the importance of ensuring that terrorists did not take advantage of any proposal, he said that, in particular, they must not be provided with safe havens during any cessation of hostilities.
SAMANTHA POWER (United States), emphasizing that she must defend United Nations humanitarian units, said the Russian Federation only wanted the adoption of resolutions that ratified its actions. While condemning the shelling of civilian areas in western Aleppo by opposition groups, she noted that the Russian Federation could not condemn the systematic bombardment of eastern Aleppo because it was the one carrying it out. Now, it wanted congratulations for not having committed war crimes for one week, after having dropped leaflets warning residents that they would be annihilated if they did not leave. The wounded were terrified of entrusting their fate to humanitarian corridors provided by those who had been bombing and besieging them, she said, while also decrying an attack against school children elsewhere in Syria today.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said the briefer had stuck to facts, but the facts were not liked, in contrast to the “absurd fantasy theatre” from the Russian Federation. Emphasizing that the need to “stop the bombing now”, he said the Russian Federation should use its influence over the Syrian regime to cooperate with aid agencies. A pause in the bombing, coordinated with the United Nations, should be long enough to allow genuine humanitarian assistance. He said that he agreed for the most part with New Zealand and was appalled that the Russian Federation had vetoed a reasonable draft resolution, but there was no symmetry between those who called for an end to the bombing and those who said the bombing must continue, he said. The United Kingdom agreed with the Russian Federation on the need to fight terrorism, but if the target was 1,000 terrorists, why were bunker-buster bombs being used indiscriminately, he asked.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) emphasized that, when a major United Nations office was attacked, it must be defended. So-called humanitarian pauses decided in a unilateral fashion were not a solution. It was not possible to get humanitarian aid under way within a few hours, and to blame the United Nations was not acceptable. Aleppo was to Syria what Sarajevo had been to Bosnia, he said, adding that the siege of Aleppo not only did not help to fight terrorism, but actually fed radicalization and terrorism. It was completely “out of place” to blame the United Nations for the lack of humanitarian aid.
WU HAITAO (China) said the international community should come together to improve the humanitarian situation in Syria. Praising Russian and Syrian efforts to evacuate the wounded from Aleppo, he called upon all parties to seek a ceasefire that could accomplish that and to advance towards a political solution to the crisis. International efforts must prioritize dialogue in order to make progress towards a solution. He stressed that terrorist attacks had hampered humanitarian assistance and efforts to end the fighting must not lose sight of the need to defeat terrorism.
RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) said the humanitarian topic had unfortunately become politicized and was being manipulated by certain countries. Humanitarian issues in Iraq and Yemen had not been discussed, and neither had the humanitarian consequences of events in Libya and the Gaza Strip. In addition, the complexity and origins of the conflict in Syria were being ignored, he said, stressing that permanent Council members had fuelled the tragic situation. The solution to the humanitarian problem was to end the war through a negotiated agreement, he said, adding that since the moderate opposition were incapable of separating themselves from terrorist groups, they must not be armed. Emphasizing that the Government of Syria had a legitimate right to exercise sovereignty over its territory and to fight terrorism, he said civilians must not be attacked, but the situation was complicated. Civilians were being used as human shields, as was happening in Mosul. A Syrian political solution was needed, as was an end to foreign intervention, he stressed.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said he was not ready to accept the collective blame because it was the Russian Federation that was preventing the Council from doing anything, while the briefer had merely stated the facts. It was as though that country’s representative lived in a parallel world, he said, adding that it was incomprehensible that the Syrian Government continued to bomb its own citizens. There was urgent need for the United Nations to look at the Russian Federation’s use of incendiary weapons and bunker bombs, he said, emphasizing that those guilty of crimes against humanity should be brought to justice.
JOÃO IAMBENO GIMOLIECA (Angola) said efforts to address the humanitarian situation must be combined with political efforts to reach a final solution, emphasizing that disagreements among Council members would not bring peace to Syria. Angola supported those members who had been trying to galvanize a collective effort to bring about a cessation of hostilities and establish humanitarian corridors, he said.
KORO BESSHO (Japan) said his country continued to support initiatives that would bring about an immediate end to indiscriminate attacks against civilians, emphasizing that there must be wide-spread consensus on that point. Japan supported New Zealand’s initiative for that reason, but called for united understanding within the Council, which must be based on the urgent need to protect civilians. Welcoming the cessation of bombing, he said it must be done in agreement with the United Nations in order to have the desired effect. Japan called upon the parties on the ground to take people’s lives into account, and upon Council members to try to make New Zealand’s draft resolution succeed.
RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia) said a tragic drama was being scripted for Syria as the divisions in the Council persisted. Serious discussions aimed at ending the situation were direly needed. “We need to walk the talk,” he stressed.
GORGUI CISS (Senegal) said it was necessary to renew respect for humanitarian workers in Syria as conditions deteriorated. Reiterating the call for a 48-hour humanitarian pause in Aleppo in order to allow assistance and the evacuation of the most vulnerable, he condemned the attacks carried out on a humanitarian convoy in September and expressed support for identifying those responsible, while also denouncing the removal of medical supplies, particularly those for pregnant women. He went on to condemn the deaths of four Palestinian refugees and expressed concern over the constraints faced by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Senegal called upon Council members to demonstrate flexibility in order to reach a solution in Syria, adding that the New Zealand draft deserved consideration in that regard. It was also a priority to fight terrorist groups and to work for a political solution to the crisis, he added.
Mr. CHURKIN (Russian Federation), Council President, spoke in his national capacity in response to the statement by the representative of the United States, who, he said, had made ridiculous distortions about the Russian Federation. Under-Secretary-General O’Brien had noted that Aleppo had not been bombed for eight days, United States Secretary of State John Kerry had said himself that one week without bombing was needed for the delivery of humanitarian aid. Describing the leaflets as a controversial matter, he said that, although it had been stated that they had been dropped from Russian planes, those planes had not been near Aleppo for eight days, he noted. The Russian Federation had proposed that the Russian armed forces could protect the corridor, but the United States side had rejected that. Although that country’s representative had said that her country was addressing the shelling of western Aleppo, nothing had been done, he said, adding that double standards were being applied.
AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) expressed hope that a minimum understanding could be shared by Council members in order to form the basis for responding to the crisis. A lack of action could not be justified, he emphasized, calling for differences to be set aside and agreement reached, in conjunction with the United Nations, on a ceasefire in Aleppo. Progress must be made on differentiating terrorist groups, the ceasefire must be observed by all parties and humanitarian access must be allowed throughout Syria. There was a need for adequate monitoring of any ceasefire, he added, while paying tribute to humanitarian workers who risked their lives daily for the sake of the Syrian people.
Mr. RYCROFT (United Kingdom), taking the floor for a second time, pointed out that the situation in Yemen was being addressed and that the Russian Federation had objected to Council action on the bombing of civilian gatherings.
Mr. CHURKIN (Russian Federation), Council President, spoke in his national capacity, calling for a planned public session to take up Yemen and all such crises in the region.
BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria), noting that some representatives had left the room, said they were the same hypocrites who had shed crocodile tears about Aleppo. Recalling that he had listened to misguided statements by some Council members and by Under-Secretary-General O’Brien, he said his country was undertaking the fight against terrorism. Discussing eastern Aleppo was not acceptable because there was one Aleppo and one Syria, he said, pointing out that those who had left the room ignored violations of international law by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel, who plotted against Syria’s territorial integrity.
He said terrorists in eastern Aleppo were using citizens as human shields and bombing western Aleppo. The armed groups who had said they would not honour the agreement had used the cessation of hostilities. The United States had not separated opposition groups from terrorists, he noted, rejecting the selective approach that focused on Aleppo while ignoring the rest of Syria. A Syrian-Syrian dialogue without foreign intervention or preconditions was the solution, he said, stressing that the political track must go hand in hand with counter-terrorism efforts. It was Iraq’s right to liberate Mosul from terrorism, as it was Syria’s to fight terrorism in Aleppo, he said.
Mr. O’BRIEN, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, took the floor a second time, saying that, as an international civil servant working impartially, he did not retract any part of his report, which had been put together with great care. “Don’t shoot the messenger,” he said, urging the Council instead to do all it could to stop the war and protect civilians. The United Nations would continue to do its part to work on all possible fronts to end the conflict and the suffering, he said.
Mr. CHURKIN (Russian Federation), Council President, spoke in his national capacity, pointing out again that the Under-Secretary-General had not mentioned the past week’s cessation of bombing.
Speaking as President of the Security Council, he announced that he now deemed consultations on the issue unnecessary following the open meeting.
* The 7794th Meeting was closed.