Syria: Latest report to Security Council highlights continued atrocities and breaches of international humanitarian law

28 January, 2015
Dec 2014, Damascus, Syria: Two girls brave the bitter cold of the Damascus winter in the Jaramana Temporary Collective Shelter. Despite repeated calls from the international community, and despite three resolutions from the Security Council, the conflict in Syria continues to exact a heavy toll on civilians. Credit: UNRWA/Taghrid Mohammad.
Dec 2014, Damascus, Syria: Two girls brave the bitter cold of the Damascus winter in the Jaramana Temporary Collective Shelter. Despite repeated calls from the international community, and despite three resolutions from the Security Council, the conflict in Syria continues to exact a heavy toll on civilians. Credit: UNRWA/Taghrid Mohammad.
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As the brutal crisis in Syria enters into its fifth year, calls for the protection of civilians and improved humanitarian access continue to be ignored by all parties. In a briefing to the Security Council, delivered on behalf of Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos, UN Deputy Humanitarian Chief Kyung-wha Kang highlighted a litany of failings by all sides and renewed the humanitarian community’s call for a political end to the conflict.

“[Security Council] Resolution 2139 called for an end to the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment and the use of barrel bombs,” said Ms. Kang. “But the call continues to be ignored.”

Resolution 2139 was unanimously adopted by the Security Council in February 2014. It called on all parties to increase humanitarian access, to cease attacks against civilians and lift sieges of populated areas.

However, according to actors on the ground, Government forces have continued to conduct airstrikes in populated areas. Similarly, armed opposition groups and designated terrorist groups have persisted with their practice of using explosive weapons in populated areas.

“Hospitals and schools have not been spared”

Ms. Kang cited examples of the unrelenting impact of the conflict on Syria’s remaining social infrastructure.

“Infrastructure for essential services continues to come under deliberate and indiscriminate attack. For example, for nearly two weeks [the designated terrorist group] Al Nusra Front has cut water supplies to Idleb City, affecting some 600,000 people,” said Ms. Kang.

“In response, local government authorities are preventing the delivery of aid to opposition controlled areas.”

Ms. Kang also spoke of attacks against medical facilities and staff. “Hospitals and schools have not been spared,” she said. According to one medical organization, there were eight attacks on medical facilities in December alone. During the same period, seven medical personnel were killed, including three who were tortured to death and one who was executed.

The worst displacement of people the world has seen in decades

As the conflict worsens, so too does the humanitarian crisis.

“The relentless violence and destruction in Syria has led to one of the worst displacement of people the world has seen in decades,” said Ms. Kang. “[An estimated] 7.6 million people are displaced within the country, many of them multiple times from one unsafe area to the next.”

A further 3.8 million people have fled Syria altogether, becoming refugees in neighbouring countries.

The UN and its humanitarian partners are striving to help communities affected by the conflict. Again in December, organizations including the World Food Programme distributed food to over 3.6 million people. Other groups provided emergency non-food items to half a million people, while 1.5 million people benefited from water and sanitation interventions. An estimated 680,000 received medical assistance.

The efforts of aid groups were bolstered by the increasing number of cross border deliveries from Turkey and Jordan. These deliveries – made under the conditions first outlined in Security Council Resolution 2165 and then reaffirmed in Resolution 2191 – brought in food for more than 702,000 people, relief items for over 615,000, water and sanitation supplies for 311,000, and medical supplies for over 468,000.

Needs outpacing response

Despite these achievements, the humanitarian response to the crisis remains inadequate.

“[Needs] continue to outpace response,” said Ms. Kang. “Some 4.8 million people or around 40 per cent of the total 12.2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance are residing in areas where they struggle to receive basic services … and where humanitarian access remains a challenge.

Ms. Kang noted the particular difficulties of accessing communities in the ISIL controlled governorates of Raqqa and Deir ez Zor. UN agencies were unable to deliver food to the entire caseload of 600,000 people in these two governorates in December. In addition, security concerns have forced many local NGOs in Raqqa to put their humanitarian activities on hold, while still others have opted to close their operations entirely.

$2.9 billion needed for 2015

Ms. Kang ended her briefing with a reminder of the financial cost of the humanitarian response, and of the human toll results from a failure of the international community to meet that cost.

“The response to people inside Syria requires US$2.9 billion this year.

“Last year, we received 48 per cent of the amount we requested. Lack of funding, for example, for winterization programmes, means that hundreds of thousands [of the] 3.3 million people targeted for assistance have not received assistance during this particularly harsh winter,” said Ms. Kang.

“We must not allow the world to forget Syria and the atrocities being committed against its people.”