27 August 2014
On behalf of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces (Syrian Coalition), it is my grave responsibility to write to you today, in advance of the Security Council’s sixth briefing on the implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 and 2165.
Since the Syrian Coalition last wrote to the Security Council, the people of Syria marked a horrific milestone: one year ago, close to 1,500 Syrians were killed after Syrian armed forces launched ballistic missiles loaded with sarin gas on the Syrian suburbs of eastern Ghouta, Damascus. The vast majority of those killed were innocent civilians; 426 were children.
To date, no one has been held accountable for what was—and remains—the gravest chemical weapons attack of the 21st century. Despite the adoption of UN Security Council resolutions 2118, 2139, 2165 and 2170—all of which underline the urgent need for accountability for war crimes—no action has been undertaken either to bring justice to the victims of Assad’s chemical weapons attacks or to prevent further atrocities by Syrian regime forces. As a result, the violence in Syria has worsened.
In the 12 months since the chemical weapons attacks on eastern Ghouta, more than 90,000 Syrians have died—bringing the total death toll in Syria to above 191,000, one third of which are civilians. Throughout the past year, the number of Syrians in need has risen by more than 30 percent, as have the number of internally displaced persons and refugees.
Since the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs last reported to the Security Council on 30 July 2014, Syrian regime forces have dropped more than 500 barrel bombs in residential districts of Syria, including in Masaken, Hanano, Bostan Pasha, Sheikh Kheder, Trab Al Hellok, Aynat Tal, Rasafeh and Sheijk Said. Syrian regime forces have launched rockets on market places and playgrounds, killing dozens—including children. Groups loyal to the Syrian regime have detonated car bombs near mosques with the intention to maximize civilian casualties following Friday prayers. Former residents of old Homs who were promised sanctuary following the truce remain disappeared in regime custody as detailed in the letter from the Homs Council attached as Annex II. Syrian regime forces have also continued their use of deadly toxic agents, deploying unidentified toxic gases in the Damascus suburbs and Daraa on 19, 20 and 23 August 2014. So too have regime forces continued their sieges of eastern Ghouta, Daraya, Yarmouk, Hajr al Aswad and Muadamyat al Sham—where some 467,000 Syrians remain trapped and suffering from starvation. Medical facilities and medical personnel have also not escaped Syrian regime attacks. In August, regime forces fired artillery at or near hospitals in Idlib, eastern Ghouta, Rif Aleppo, and elsewhere. Annex I provides an extensive overview of Syrian regime war crimes from July through August 2014.
As the Syrian regime’s atrocities have increased, so too have those initiated by extremist militants. Forces representing the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) now occupy as much as a third of Syrian territory, including most of Syria’s lucrative oil and gas fields. ISIL and the extremist Al-Nusra Front have seized on the instability caused by the Syrian regime to terrorize civilian populations in Deir Azzor, Raqqa, Al-Hasakeh, and Aleppo—committing heinous atrocities and war crimes, and perpetrating deadly violence against women.
In stark contrast to both the Syrian regime and Syria’s extremist forces, the Syrian Coalition and our partner on the ground, the Free Syrian Army, have worked hard to improve the humanitarian situation in Syria and end the suffering of civilians across the country. Among the efforts undertaken to ensure the full implementation of UN Security Council resolutions 2139 and 2165 in July and August 2014 were the following:
i. Facilitated humanitarian access across borders: As required by OP 2 of UN Security Council resolution 2165 and OP 6 of UN Security Council resolution 2139, the Free Syrian Army assisted with the coordination of humanitarian access across border crossings in the North and South of Syria. During the reporting period, the Free Syrian Army provided security support to UN aid convoys delivering assistance along the Jordan-Syria border at the al-Ramtha crossing and the Bab al-Salam crossing with Turkey. On 20 August, the Free Syrian Army also assisted with the coordination of relief and medical supplies from Turkey to Syria via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. These efforts have helped bring aid to tens of thousands of Syrians long denied aid and medical relief by the Syrian regime.
ii. Combatted extremists: As demanded by OP 14 of UN Security Council resolution 2139 and Security Council resolution 2170, the Free Syrian Army continued its efforts to combat extremism and terrorist groups in Syria. On 3 August 2014, the Free Syrian Army established a Revolutionary Command Council with the objective of leading opposition against the Al-Nusra Front. To this end, Free Syrian Army brigades announced their rejection of the Al-Nusra Front and declared opposition to any forms of cooperation or coordination with the terrorist group. On August 18, a unified moderate force was established in northern Syria, based in the town of Marea, for the purpose of combatting ISIL militants. During the reporting period, the Free Syrian Army combatted ISIL in the towns of Akhtarain, Turkman Bareh and al-Ghouz in northern Aleppo. Also in August, the Free Syrian Army collaborated with the Kurdish Front to expel ISIL from Dabiq, Dawaybiq and Ihtaimlat in northern Syria.
iii. Delivered medicine to Syrians in need: In an effort to uphold OP 8 of UN Security Council resolution 2139, the Syrian Coalition and our partner, the Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU), worked to provide medical assistance and health services to people in need. In July and August, the ACU worked with the Syrian Coalition’s interim government to provide x-rays, ultrasound devices, consumables and medication. The ACU, working with other nongovernmental organizations, also developed a Health Resources Availability Mapping System to scan for gaps in health services and facilities, a report on which will be available in September 2014. On August 25, the ACU launched the first phase of a measles vaccination campaign in the internally displaced persons and refugee camps of Deir Azzor, Raqqa, Aleppo, Idlib, Latakia, al-Hasaka and Hama. In its first phase, this campaign will vaccinate 60,000 children ages 6 month to 5 years. Once completed, phase two will target city center and phase three will target those residing in remote areas of Syria. By the campaign’s completion, 1.3 million Syrian children will have been vaccinated against the measles. In August, the ACU also completed the seventh round of its anti-polio campaign, thereby reaching a total of 1.37 million Syrians.
As a result of our efforts, the Syrian Coalition and our partners on the ground have helped to relieve the suffering of tens of thousands of people across the liberated territories of Syria. Yet the challenges confronting the full implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 and 2165 remain formidable. A lack of effective and direct coordination between UN humanitarian aid agencies and Syrian non-governmental organizations continues to impede the efficient delivery of aid to all areas in need. The Syrian regime, moreover, continues to deny access across numerous border crossings and conflict lines, thus leaving millions without access to aid. Strengthened by its incursions into neighboring Iraq, ISIL also continues to make headway in northern Syria. If such headway is not impeded, one out of the three operable border crossings in Syria—the Bab al-Salam border crossing with Turkey—may soon be imperiled.
The ongoing and worsening humanitarian situation in Syria was not inevitable. As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated to members of the Security Council on 21 August 2014, “greater responsiveness by this Council would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives”. But it is still not too late for the Security Council to act.
Comprehensive action by members of the Security Council could help both to stop the consequences of the current crisis—the rise of terrorist groups like ISIL—and eliminate its deeper cause: the Assad dictatorship. A comprehensive approach by Security Council members will create the conditions whereby a moderate government can survive and thrive. The components of such an approach are clear: the Syrian people need protection, defense, sanctions and justice.
First and foremost, the Syrian people need protection to alleviate the destruction of the Syrian regime’s aerial attacks, and enable the Syrian people to stop the Syrian regime’s incessant barrage of barrel bombs and other aerial assaults. Second, they need action by Security Council members, working in conjunction with moderate armed forces, to disrupt ISIL strongholds and stop the ISIL threat where it is rooted: in Syria. Third, they need targeted sanctions on Syrian regime officials and loyalists, so that those who perpetrate violence are isolated. Finally, they need an end to impunity. One year after Syria’s most deadly chemical weapons attacks, the Security Council should refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, so that all those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity are held accountable, and the victims of such crimes can have justice served.
Your Excellency, it is the Syrian Coalition’s strong preference that such action be undertaken with the full support of the Security Council. Comprehensive action by members of this Council will protect the lives of the Syrian people and stop the conflict from escalating any further. Members of this Council have the tools needed to resolve the crisis in Syria. On behalf of the Syrian people, we ask that you find the will to implement them.
Please accept, your Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.
Dr. Najib Ghadbian
Special Representative of the Syrian Coalition to the United Nations