Statement attributable to Dr. Najib Ghadbian, Special Representative of the Syrian Coalition to the United States:
“The Syrian Opposition Coalition welcomes the announcement that the United Nations stands ready to facilitate, improve and monitor cross-border access to deliver relief supplies in opposition-held areas. But if lives are to be saved today, such readiness must translate into immediate action. Millions of Syrians are facing starvation and preventable illness because the regime of Bashar al-Assad continues to deny humanitarian aid providers access to opposition-held areas.
“There can no longer be any question that the Assad regime is failing in its basic moral responsibility to the Syrian people. It is failing in its responsibilities to the international community. And it is failing to uphold the will of the Security Council. The United Nations has an ethical and legal obligation to facilitate cross-border access where opposition forces are ready to assist with such efforts. Anything less is tantamount to facilitating the arbitrary denial of access to aid, and represents little more than picking and choosing which Syrians will live, and which will die.”
In a letter delivered to the UN Security Council on Wednesday, the Syrian Coalition noted that today’s consultations at the UN Security Council offered further evidence of the Syrian regime’s calculated strategy to starve, torture, and murder innocent civilians into total submission. Since the adoption of UN Security Council resolution 2139, the humanitarian situation in Syria has only worsened. Innocent civilians are now the targets of regime-inflicted barrel bombs, chlorine gas attacks, and brutal sieges.
28 May 2014
On behalf of the people of Syria and the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces (Syrian Coalition), it is my grave responsibility to draw to your attention the Syrian regime’s ongoing, systematic violations of UN Security Council Resolution 2139. As the UN Security Council deliberates its response to the third report of the Secretary-General on the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 2139, it is imperative that it act with new urgency to enforce international humanitarian law and implement immediate and sustained cross-border access to all areas in Syria where people are in need, as demanded by UN Security Council Resolution 2139.
Your Excellency, on 2 October 2013, the UN Security Council adopted its Presidential Statement in which it called upon all parties in Syria to support the delivery of humanitarian emergency assistance on the basis of need, devoid of political prejudices and aims. Outraged by the Syrian regime’s failure to uphold S/PRST/2013/15, on 22 February 2014, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted UN Security Council 2139 in which it demanded that all parties, but in particular the Syrian regime, implement the provisions of S/PRST/2013/15 and facilitate the immediate expansion of humanitarian relief operations, including by enabling cross-border access.
Almost eight months after the adoption of S/PRST/2013/15, the humanitarian situation in Syria has worsened—not improved. As a result, a million more Syrians now live in besieged or hard-to-reach areas. 50,000 more Syrian lives have been lost and 2 million more people have been driven from their homes. Rather than strive to ease the suffering of its people, the Syrian regime has systematically employed new modes of oppression in a calculated strategy designed to starve, terrorise and brutalise the Syrian people into submission.
Among the most egregious crimes it’s committed since the adoption of S/PRST/2013/15, the Syrian regime has launched aerial strikes in civilian areas, employed new chemical weapons attacks using chlorine gas in violation of Security Council 2118 (2013), including by deploying barrel bombs filled with chlorine gas against civilians in opposition areas. Moreover, the regime and its forces have blocked cross-border aid access to over 1 million Syrians in now impossible-to-reach areas, denied access to human rights monitors, and obstructed the passage of medical supplies. Tragically and outrageously, the regime has significantly increased the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs since the Secretary General’s report on 2139 last month, with over 140 strikes in that time period targeting predominately residential buildings and neighbourhoods in opposition controlled areas.
Despite the Syrian regime’s clear legal and ethical obligation to cease such practices, the humanitarian situation in Syria has only deteriorated in recent weeks. Since the Secretary-General last reported on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 2139, an array of new and unnecessary bureaucratic impediments imposed by Syrian regime officials have ensured that access to people in hard-to-reach areas has decreased dramatically. From April to May 2014, the number of Syrians served by the World Food Programme in hard-to-reach areas declined by more than 66 percent. Despite the adoption of Security Council Resolution 2139, assistance continues to be provided in a politicized and unjustifiable manner, thereby placing millions in peril.
Your Excellency, the cooperation demonstrated by the Syrian Coalition and its partner, the Free Syrian Army, offers a marked contrast to the intransigence of the Syrian regime. As part of our efforts to implement Security Council Resolution 2139, we have:
Engaged OCHA: Throughout the past three months, we have engaged in verbal and written communications with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and have transmitted detailed information pertaining to border crossings, epidemiology and polio eradication. The Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU) has provided information clarifying the needs of the Syrian population and the local relief agencies working to provide care. Through the Information Management Unit, the ACU has shared data related to the freedom of movement of relief agencies, violence against humanitarian personnel, restrictions to aid access, the locations of active hostilities and the presence of mines and explosives that affect the delivery of humanitarian assistance. We will be sharing with OCHA this information and numerous recent reports.
Designated Empowered Individuals: To facilitate increased information sharing with OCHA, the Syrian Coalition has appointed a team of officials to facilitate communication between OCHA and opposition bodies (including the Coalition, the ACU, the Interim Government, and Free Syrian Army forces on the ground), and is providing those names to OCHA, in order to support the implementation of Security Council Resolution 2139. Their appointments are expected to encourage direct communication to enable delivery of assistance and ensure that greater numbers of Syrians receive life-saving access to food, water and medicine. The Coalition notes, of course, that some communications will necessarily vary depending on the relevant actors and geographic areas, and that there are some areas controlled by extremist groups.
Committed to Facilitate Access to Hard-to-Reach Areas: Particularly in the provinces of Homs, Al-Hasakah and Lattakia, where tens of thousands of residents require urgent assistance, the Syrian Coalition believes it can work productively with groups in control of opposition-held areas to discuss, prepare and implement the delivery of humanitarian assistance. As we have stated repeatedly, the Syrian Coalition and Free Syrian Army are committed to providing access to all Syrians in need—irrespective of their religion, ethnicity, geography or politics. No Syrian should have to go without food, water, medicine or urgently needed care. Furthermore, the Coalition welcomed the decision of the OPCW to investigate recent regime use of chlorine gas, and despite obstacles on the ground, the Free Syrian Army played a positive role in facilitating access to difficult-to-reach sites of investigation in Kafr Zita.
Pledged to Uphold Humanitarian Law and Demilitarize Schools and Hospitals: The Syrian Coalition and Free Syrian Army have repeatedly pledged their commitment to upholding humanitarian law, including through the demilitarization of schools and hospitals. In April, officials from both organizations pledged to take all efforts needed to demilitarize schools and hospitals. As promised, the Free Syrian Army is currently working to amend its Proclamation of Principles to reflect this commitment.
- Worked to Implement the Geneva Communiqué: The Syrian Coalition has likewise been steadfast in its commitment to secure the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué, as required by OP 15 of UN Security Council Resolution 2139. We were deeply appreciative of Joint Special Representative Brahimi’s efforts to bring forward a political settlement to the crisis in Syria, and shared his frustration regarding the Syrian regime’s refusal to engage constructively in the peace process. Following announcement of his impending resignation, the Syrian Coalition reached out to the UN’s Department of Political Affairs in an effort to continue our dialogue in the search for a political solution. We remain committed to the Geneva process, and continue to believe that a political solution offers the best opportunity for long-term peace in Syria.
As important as such efforts are, however, they alone cannot counteract the brutality of the Syrian regime. It remains incumbent upon the Security Council to take all measures necessary to ensure the full and immediate implementation of Security Council Resolution 2139. Vital to this effort is the provision of cross-border access.
In his latest report to the UN Security Council on the Implementation of Resolution 2139, the Secretary-General noted the UN’s readiness to put in place arrangements at key border and line crossings to facilitate, improve and monitor access—including a mechanism which would ensure that access is obtained to areas outside of the regime’s effective control. The Security Council must now take measures to ensure that the UN follows through on this commitment, as demanded by Security Council Resolution 2139.
Your Excellency, it is unfathomable that the will of a brutal dictator should be allowed to supersede the needs of an innocent people. The Security Council must act without delay to enforce Security Council Resolution 2139 by ensuring effective cross-border access. Doing so would alter the lives of over 1 million Syrians. As we have stated previously, the Syrian Coalition and the Free Syrian Army stand ready to facilitate cross-border access in areas under our jurisdiction, including at the Tal Shihab cross point with Jordan, and we look forward to providing all assistance necessary to ease the suffering of our people.
Please accept, your Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.
Dr. Najib Ghadbian
Special Representative to the US