What's In Blue

Posted Wed 27 May 2015

Syria: Humanitarian Briefing

Tomorrow afternoon (28 May), Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos will provide her final briefing to the Council as the head of OCHA on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

Amos is expected to report that since her first briefing to Council members on 13 March 2012 she has warned that Syria is on the edge of disaster and has repeatedly pleaded for the Security Council to take action to end the killing of civilians and other daily violations of international law. In March 2012, the consequences of the conflict were already dire at 8,000 dead and 24,000 refugees. Over the past three plus years, the indicators of disaster have soared to 220,000 killed, 1 million injured, almost 4 million refugees, 7.6 million internally displaced, 12.2 million in need of humanitarian assistance and 422,000 people living under siege conditions in Syria. Amos is likely to echo the Secretary-General’s latest report (S/2015/368) which said that the level of carnage and devastation throughout Syria should shock the collective conscience of the world.

Council members expect Amos will reiterate some of the strong messages she delivered when she last briefed the Council on 24 April, when she said that despite three Council resolutions, the government, armed groups and extremist groups continue to kill, maim, rape and torture civilians, and that the total absence of accountability had undermined the credibility of the Council. She also made five recommendations to the Council for bold action: demand that attacks on education and health facilities cease; mandate a mission on the situation in besieged communities; demand humanitarian pauses and days of tranquility; impose targeted sanctions and enforce an arms embargo; and seek accountability through an ICC referral.

The humanitarian leads—Jordan, New Zealand and Spain—have taken up some of Amos’s recommendations and, together with the P3, are looking at ways to strengthen the Council’s response to the use of siege tactics in Syria and the violation of the principles of medical neutrality. In particular, they are discussing modalities for a Council-mandated mission to assess the needs of besieged communities and to facilitate sustained access to these areas. However, at press time, there was no clear way forward on this initiative, though many Council members expect a preliminary exchange of ideas during tomorrow’s consultations following the briefing.

With this in mind, members will be particularly interested in information from Amos on the plight of the 422,000 people besieged in Syria, largely by the government and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The Secretary-General’s report said that, aside from the security situation, the lack of humanitarian access is a consequence of active obstruction by the parties to the conflict, in particular the government. Given the anticipated focus on besieged areas, Council members will also be interested in an update on the situation in Yarmouk—a Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus that has been besieged by the government for two years and was briefly overtaken by ISIS in early April. The government resumed its aerial bombardment of the camp in late April and, during the reporting period, no humanitarian access had been granted to the remaining civilians in Yarmouk, whose condition was critical before the recent turn of events and is likely even more so now.

Amos is expected to highlight that the attacks on medical facilities were the highest ever seen in comparison to previous reporting periods. All fourteen of the reported attacks were carried out by government forces, over half by barrel bombs and the remainder by missiles, rockets and mortar fire. The report underscored that the deliberate targeting of civilians via barrel bombs is a war crime and that those responsible must be held accountable. (Barrel bombs are dropped from helicopters and only the government has aerial capacity.)

Finally, Amos will likely stress that attacks on and militarisation of education facilities is leading to a “lost generation” of Syrian children. (The Syrian government is listed in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict for attacks on schools and hospitals.)

Looking ahead to June, Council members expect to receive their regular monthly briefings on the chemical weapons and humanitarian tracks in Syria. It also seemed possible that Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura might report back to Council members on the results of the low-level Geneva consultations that were launched on 5 May.

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