On 25 June, the Syrian National Coalition's Special Representative to the UN, Dr. Najib Ghadbian, sent a letter to the UN Security Council in advance of Monday's briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria. The lette calls on Member States to take the action needed to stop Assad's barrel bombs, including by imposing a no-fly zone over Syria.
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H.E. Mr. Ramlan Bin Ibrahim
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Permanent Mission of Malaysia to the United Nations
President of the UN Security Council
25 June 2015
On behalf of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, it is with grave concern and growing outrage that I draw your attention to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria and the worsening violence perpetrated by Syrian regime forces, including through the systematic and illegal use of indiscriminate aerial weapons.
Three years after the signing of the Geneva Communiqué, the crisis in Syria is no closer to a resolution. Assad’s forces continue to kill, maim and rape civilians with impunity and the savagery, depravity and scale of their atrocities only continues to grow. As a result, May was the deadliest month yet in the Syrian conflict, accounting for close to 7,000 deaths, more than 1,200 of whom were civilians.
300 civilians are now killed each week in Syria. The overwhelming majority of these deaths are caused by the Syrian regime’s indiscriminate aerial bombardment. Regime helicopters and fixed wing aircraft accounted for two-thirds of all civilian deaths in May and June 2015, according to the Violations Documentation Centre.
Aleppo Governorate had been particularly hard hit by the Syrian regime’s indiscriminate aerial assaults. In May alone, more than 200 civilians were killed by regime aircraft across Aleppo. Among the most horrific air attacks launched by Syrian regime forces in Aleppo was a lethal barrel bomb attack conducted on 3 May that targeted the Seif al-Dawla teaching centre. As students were sitting their final exams, regime helicopters pounded the teaching centre with explosive barrel bombs. These attacks resulted in seven deaths, including those of four children and a teacher. An even more lethal aerial attack took place just four weeks later. On 30 May, the regime again struck Aleppo’s residential marketplace in the town of Al-Bab with barrel bombs, killing more than 70 civilians and injuring dozens more. Just this past week, on 22 June, Syrian regime barrel bombs struck a mosque in Aleppo, killing ten worshippers as they observed Ramadan.
In addition to Aleppo, regime air forces have also targeted Idlib, Rural Damascus, eastern Ghouta, Deir ez-Zor and Palmyra/Tadmur, often—albeit not exclusively—using barrel bombs. These indiscriminate barrel bomb attacks have been systematic, repeated and willfully designed to maximize civilian casualties and spread fear among innocent men, women and children. As the Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic stated in Geneva on 12 March 2015: “the timing and duration of the attacks demonstrates that the aim of the Government’s campaign of barrel-bombing was to terrorise the civilian population present in the areas attacked, with the clear message that no civilian was safe anywhere at any time of the day or night”.
Assad’s systematic use of barrel bombs violates international humanitarian law and constitutes the war crime of targeting civilians, which is prohibited under the IV Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War as well as by Security Council resolutions 2118 (2013), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014) and 2209 (2015), as well as 2139 (20140) which stipulates that “all parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs…”
Barrel bombs are by far the most lethal form of the Syrian regime’s attacks on civilians. They are not, however, the only form of lethal attacks perpetrated by Syrian regime forces. Assad’s troops continue to besiege, detain, torture and kill Syrian civilians with impunity, while systematically obstructing the delivery of humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands of civilians across the country, as detailed in Annex I. These crimes can and must be stopped.
Your Excellency, the atrocities in Syria are untenable. After more than 220,000 deaths, half the population displaced, and an equal number in desperate need of aid, it is imperative that the Security Council take action to stop the killing in Syria. On behalf of my fellow countrymen and women, I therefore ask that the Security Council act with urgency to stop the barrel bomb attacks in Syria, including by authorizing the only instrument capable of stopping Assad’s helicopters from launching their brutal aerial attacks: a no-fly zone.
A no-fly zone would stop the leading killer of Syrian civilians—Assad’s barrel bombs—by ensuring that all helicopters were grounded. It would enable humanitarian aid to reach more parts of Syria with greater frequency. It would deprive the Syrian regime of the primary delivery mechanism used to deploy chlorine gas against innocent civilians. And it would create the conditions needed to compel the Syrian regime to engage in viable negotiations.
In his 16th report to the UN Security Council on the Implementation of Security Council Resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014) and 2191 (2014), the Secretary-General called on the Security Council “to take urgent action” to stop the atrocities in Syria. “Lack of action”, he warned, “will throw Syria deeper into chaos and deprive the country of a peaceful and prosperous future” (S/2015/468).
Your Excellency, it is vital that members of the Security Council heed the Secretary-General’s warning. By imposing a no-fly zone, Member States would alleviate my people’s suffering. They would stop Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Most importantly, they would save the lives of civilians. Member States have the capacity to impose a no-fly zone safely, and without fear of military escalation. On behalf of my people, I appeal to you to find the moral and political courage needed to impose a no-fly zone and abandon the tragic course of inaction which has cost so many lives in my country.
Please accept, Your Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.
Dr. Najib Ghadbian
Special Representative to the United Nations