Intense fighting in besieged eastern Ghouta had claimed thousands of lives in the last few months alone, the top United Nations humanitarian official told the Security Council today, as he pressed parties to the wider conflict in Syria to implement resolution 2401 (2018) and allow unimpeded aid delivery throughout the country.
[Resolution 2401 (2018), adopted on 24 February, also outlines the Council’s demands that parties to the conflict in Syria immediately cease hostilities and ensure a durable humanitarian pause to enable weekly aid deliveries and medical evacuations of the critically sick and wounded.]
Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, speaking via videoconference from Geneva, said more than 1,700 had been killed in eastern Ghouta since the passage of resolution 2401 (2018) on 24 February. Other fatalities had likewise been reported in the capital Damascus by shells fired from eastern Ghouta.
Meanwhile, nearly 52,000 civilians had taken refuge in eight shelters in rural Damascus, he said, most of them overcrowded with only limited access to food and medical assistance. It was imperative for humanitarian organizations to reach people in eastern Ghouta, particularly in Duma. The United Nations and its partners stood ready to enter Duma with food for up to 16,500 people, pending facilitation letters from the Government.
Elsewhere, he said an estimated 183,500 people in Afrin district had been displaced, the majority of them having fled to Tal Refaat where, despite the arrival of an inter-agency convoy two days ago, humanitarian partners had struggled to gain sustainable access.
Despite the violence, inter-agency convoys had reached 137,000 people Tal Refaat, Dar Kabira and Duma, he said, “but we are essentially just given crumbs — an occasional convoy here and there, often, coincidentally, shortly before our monthly briefings to you.” He called on Council members to exert influence over parties and to make resolution 2401 (2018) a reality.
In the ensuing debate, delegates decried the uptick in fighting and urged parties to immediately and fully respect resolution 2401 (2018). The Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Council President for March, said the Syrian crisis was a grave violation of the long-established norm to protect civilians and their belongings during war. It was a humiliation for the Council that it had been unable to enforce basic obligations under international humanitarian law.
The representative of the United States said siege, starvation and surrender had become the awful rhythm of the war. Currently, surrender was taking place in eastern Ghouta, where in the 30 days since the Council’s demand for a ceasefire, suffering had only increased. History would not be kind when it judged the chamber’s effectiveness in addressing the crisis, she said, asserting that the Russian Federation had used its Council seat to shield its allies from criticism.
In response, the Russian Federation’s delegate said his country was the only Council member to have taken measures to implement resolution 2401 (2018). It was taking further steps to normalize the situation. The nearly 121,000 people evacuated from eastern Ghouta had left voluntarily, with many describing how difficult it had been to live under the repressive regime of armed groups. He accused Council members of squandering time with unfounded claims against the Russian Federation as a way to conceal their own failure to take constructive action.
Syria’s delegate said his Government was in fact liberating eastern Ghouta from armed groups. It would go on to liberate all other parts of the country. Civilian suffering had not been caused by his Government, but rather, by armed terrorist groups. The testimony of tens of thousands leaving eastern Ghouta affirmed that those groups had deprived residents of their liberty and prevented them from leaving by using them as human shields.
He described “a state of hysteria” in the Council as Syria sought to exercise its sovereign right, restore stability and implement the Council’s own resolutions against terrorism. He assured supporters of terrorism — some of whom were present in the chamber — that their plan had failed.
Also speaking today were representatives of Kuwait (speaking also on behalf of Sweden), France, United Kingdom, Kazakhstan, Peru, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Poland, Equatorial Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, China and Sweden.