Astana Talks, De-escalation Zone Memorandum Could Help Syrian People, He Stresses
The international community must stand up and halt the relentless, devastating humanitarian crisis in Syria, including by seizing the opportunity of the ongoing Astana talks and the related memorandum creating de-escalation zones, the senior United Nations humanitarian official stressed today as he briefed the Security Council.
Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, pointed out that some 13.5 million people in Syria were still caught in a protection crisis while 92 per cent of those killed or injured by the “unconscionable” use of explosive weapons in urban areas were civilians. “It is our duty as human beings to stand up and say enough” and end those needless deaths,” he said. Drawing attention to a related report of the Secretary-General (document S/2017/541), he said the conflict had shocked and outraged people around the world “who can’t understand why you, the Security Council, cannot fix it”.
However, while outlining the significant challenges facing the United Nations and other humanitarian actors on the ground, he also cited an important opportunity created by the recent signing of a memorandum on de-escalation zones. “I remain hopeful that the results of the meeting in Astana on de-escalation next week will bring about a positive development and see a sustained reduction of fighting, and along with that improved and unhindered humanitarian access to these areas,” he said. Meanwhile, the Council must take action to protect civilians, he emphasized, urging those active in the conflict to fully incorporate that goal into their military planning.
Another important positive development he highlighted was the World Food Programme’s (WFP) recent deployment of a convoy from Aleppo to Qamishly in Hassakeh governorate. That deployment would allow humanitarian actors to deliver aid at scale to north-east Syria where needs were increasing due to ongoing operations against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).
In addition, he noted that between 8 and 15 June, the United Nations and its humanitarian partners had delivered food assistance to more than 94,000 beneficiaries and 24 tons of medicine to various town and camps. Yet, while they continued to do everything in their power to reach those most in need, their supplies continued to be removed from their trucks before they could even deploy, with some 200,000 treatments taken this year alone.
Access was also being delayed or blocked by bureaucratic restrictions that limited the ability to reach civilians living in besieged and hard-to-reach areas, he continued. Although the most egregious of those restrictions came from the Syrian Government, other groups were increasingly implementing procedures that slowed or impinged upon humanitarian principles. Describing several such incidents — including one where gunmen had attacked a Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy and injured its driver — he underscored that attacks on aid workers were an attack on the entire humanitarian community and represented a clear effort to prevent the delivery of aid to those in need.
Still, the access landscape had changed as a result of recently signed agreements between the Government and non-State armed opposition groups, he said. Those agreements which had been reached without the United Nations involvement resulted in two towns — Madaya in rural Damascus and Al-Wa’er district in Homs city — being removed from the list of besieged locations. Madaya’s 30,000 remaining citizens were now able to move in and out of town by public or private vehicle. More than 19,000 people moved from the Al-Wa’er district to Idleb and access to the area had also reopened to humanitarian deliveries.
Remaining on the list were 11 besieged locations, with a total population of 540,000 people trapped therein. Of those, seven were besieged by the Government, one by the Government and non-State armed groups, two by non-State armed groups and one by ISIL.
He also expressed concern about the situation in Raqqa city, where, on 6 June, operations by the Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by coalition forces, had been launched in an attempt to take the city from ISIL. Noting that reports of conditions there were extremely dire, he urged the Council to do more to protect the terrified civilians caught up in that fight.
Uruguay’s representative paid tribute to humanitarian workers on the ground and expressed deep regret about the continued lack of aid access to many areas of the embattled country, condemning the ongoing lack of respect for international humanitarian law. He voiced his support for ongoing efforts to begin negotiations towards a political solution while calling on all stakeholders to immediately cooperate in work towards that goal and easing suffering of through unlimited access to all civilians. As well, it was critical to bring to justice those who had gravely violated international humanitarian law, and he called on the Security Council to overcome its differences and advance all those goals with urgency.
The meeting began at 9:36 a.m. and ended at 10:04 a.m.