Civilian Protection Needed as Syria Ceasefire in Peril
Following the UN Special Envoy’s briefing to the UN Security Council on Wednesday 27 April, the Special Representative of the Syrian National Coalition to the United Nations, Dr. Najib Ghadbian, issued the following statement:
“The Syrian opposition has been clear since day one: the only sustainable path towards a political solution in Syria is for the killing of civilians to stop. There can be no peace while innocent women, men and children are being slaughtered by regime aircraft, starved by regime forces, and detained and tortured in regime jails. The Syrian Cessation of Hostilities has failed to curb the brutality of the Assad regime. More than 1,000 civilians have been killed since the Cessation of Hostilities went into effect. Yet to date, the Assad regime has suffered no consequences for its war crimes and atrocities.
The Assad regime will not stop its war crimes of its own accord. It will only do so under meaningful international pressure from the international community. It is therefore imperative that Member States and especially the ISSG take the action needed to protect civilians from indiscriminate bombing, break the sieges across Syria, demand the release of detainees, and support the efforts of Special Envoy de Mistura to save the political negotiations in Geneva in order to implement a political solution based on resolution 2254. Through their actions, Member States can solve the crisis in Syria and save lives immediately. It is not a question of feasibility, it is a question of political will.”
In response to the adoption of UN Security Council resolution 2268 on the cessation of hostilities in Syria, the Special Representative of the Syrian National Coalition to the United Nations, Dr. Najib Ghadbian, said:
“The position of the High Negotiations Committee on the adoption of Security Council resolution 2268 is clear. The Syrian opposition supports all efforts to protect civilians in Syria, enforce Security Council resolution 2254 and to achieve a political solution, including through the establishment of a transitional governing body forged on the basis of mutual consent that leaves no role for Assad and his clique, as required by the Geneva Communique of June 2012. But the effectiveness of today’s resolution will be proved through action, not words.
“To succeed, the cessation of hostilities agreed today must be rigorously monitored, verified and enforced by a third party. The Russian government, which has been responsible for over 1,500 civilian deaths in Syria and the indiscriminate bombing of hospitals and schools, cannot be trusted to monitor or verify its own war crimes. An international mechanism must be put in place that includes: a specified timeframe defining the beginning and end of the truce; procedures for enforcing compliance; and a mandated neutral party responsible to oversee the implementation of the truce by all parties and report and identify violators. The consequences for violations must be clear and meaningful, and the parties responsible for violations must be held accountable.”
On 19 February, the Special Representative of the Syrian National Coalition to the United Nations, Dr. Najib Ghadbian, submitted a letter to the UN Security Council ahead of the humanitarian briefing by OCHA chief, Mr. Stephen O'Brien. The letter highlighted the humanitarian effects of the recent escalation of indiscriminate aerial bombardment on Aleppo by Russia and the Assad regime and reiterated the Syrian opposition's call for the protection of civilians throughout Syria. It called on Member States to:
Condemn the recent escalation of aerial bombardment on Aleppo by the Syrian regime and Russia, in addition to all indiscriminate aerial bombardment and attacks against civilians, civilian targets, and vital facilities;
Break the sieges across Syria, not only in the areas reached on 17 February, but across all of the areas currently being starved into submission. If the achievement of humanitarian corridors is not possible because of Syrian regime intransigence, then it is imperative that Member States airdrop aid to Syria’s 46 besieged communities;
Protect civilians from indiscriminate aerial bombardment, including by enforcing a no-bombing zone to stop the indiscriminate airstrikes across Syria.
Ensure accountability for war crimes, including those perpetrated by the Russian Federation, and take steps to establish a special international tribunal for Syria, should Security Council paralysis prevent the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.
For a full copy of the letter, click here.
In a letter to the Security Council transmitted on Friday 19 February, the Syrian National Coalition’s President Khaled Khoja condemned Russia’s latest attacks on Aleppo and its deliberate targeting of Syrian hospitals, medical facilities and schools, and demanded the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from Syrian territory:
“Russia’s attacks on Syria’s hospitals and schools were intentional and pre-meditated. All of the hospitals’ locations were well-known and well-documented, and their civilian character was abundantly clear to Russian authorities. The decision to target Syria’s medical infrastructure—in spite of (or more accurately, because of) the vital services they provide—represents a deliberate strategy on Russia’s part to destroy civilian life in opposition-held areas, and to render these areas uninhabitable. The attacks almost certainly constitute grave war crimes”, stated President Khoja.
In his letter to the Security Council, President Khoja called on Member States and the United Nations to:
i. Launch an investigation into Monday’s attacks on medical facilities and schools in northern Syria, and ensure that the investigation attributes responsibility;
ii. Demand the immediate exit of Russian forces from Syrian territory;
iii. Protect civilians from future indiscriminate strikes by Russia and Syrian regime forces, including by enforcing a no-bombing zone across Syria;
iv. Ensure accountability for all war crimes committed by referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, launching a case under universal jurisdiction, or taking measures to establish an independent international criminal Tribunal for Syria.
To read President Khoja’s letter to the Security Council in full, click here.
At 3:00pm today, the United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency session on the humanitarian situation in Syria, focusing on the besieged area of Madaya, where over 40,000 Syrians remain in urgent need of unimpeded and unconditional humanitarian access, and sustained medical care. Ahead of the Security Council’s emergency session, the Syrian National Coalition’s Special Representative to the United Nations, Dr. Najib Ghadbian, appealed to Member States to take the action necessary to break the sieges across Syria:
“One-off assistance is not going to stop the systematic starvation of innocent civilians by Assad regime forces. One million people are currently trapped in besieged communities across Syria because the Assad regime is stealing aid and denying basic access. Every day, innocent men, women and children starve to death because of Assad’s sieges—but these deaths could be stopped immediately, if only Member States would take the action to enforce the Security Council's resolutions.
“The Security Council has agreed the mandate to break the sieges across Syria, and save lives immediately, including through the delivery of aid without the consent of the Assad regime. Member States must now do what it takes to ensure that the UN can fulfil its mandate to deliver aid irrespective of consent. This should include air drops by those States currently conducting air operations against ISIS in Syria. Airdrops will bring immediate relief to thousands in need and they will send a strong signal to the Assad regime - and indeed ISIS - that the international community will not allow the continued use of starvation as a weapon of war."
Next Monday afternoon, the Security Council will discuss the dire situation in Madaya.
In response to today's announcement by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) that the Assad regime had belatedly approved the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Madaya, the Special Representative of the Syrian National Coalition to the United Nations, Dr. Najib Ghadbian, submitted another letter to the Security Council on the need for immediate access to the town. The letter reiterates the Syrian National Coalition's call for drone-delivered airdrops of humanitarian aid. It also calls on the Security Council to:
- Ensure that UN agencies and humanitarians have immediate, unhindered, unconditional and sustained access to all areas of Madaya, as required by Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014) and 2258 (2015);
Monitor closely the ongoing developments in Madaya, and ensure that any attempt by the Syrian regime to deny or hinder access be met with clear consequences;
Demand the enforcement of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014) and 2258 (2015) and instruct UN agencies to demand the delivery of aid to besieged and hard-to-reach areas, irrespective of Syrian regime consent;
Condemn in the strongest terms the Assad regime’s deliberate starvation of innocent civilians in Madaya, and make clear that starvation is not a tool to be employed at the Assad regime’s discretion.
For a full copy of the letter, press here.
In response to reports by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs that the Assad regime has agreed to allow aid into the besieged village of Madaya in the coming days, the Syrian National Coalition’s Special Representative to the United Nations, Dr. Najib Ghadbian, said:
“The people of Madaya need immediate, unhindered access to humanitarian aid—and they need it now. The Assad regime has an obligation under international humanitarian law to provide access to all Syrians in need and it has systematically failed in this regard. The Assad regime cannot be trusted to uphold the law in Madaya or anywhere else. As we have seen in Madaya itself, the Assad regime has allowed humanitarian agencies limited access in the past, only to subsequently deny such access and starve innocent civilians. Any agreement by the Assad regime to allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance must be monitored closely by independent authorities, and be met with immediate consequences if and when the Assad regime impedes the delivery of humanitarian aid.
“The decision by the Assad regime to allow access to Madaya demonstrates that the Syrian regime has the power to relieve the humanitarian suffering across Syria, but is wilfully choosing not to. This is a not a choice that Assad should have the power to make. The UN does not require the Assad regime’s permission to enter Madaya—it already has such authority under UN Security Council resolutions 2165, 2191 and 2258, all of which mandate the UN to provide cross-line assistance to Syrians in need. Were the UN to use its mandate across Syria, the suffering of hundreds of thousands of civilians would be relieved, and a political solution for Syria would be made far more likely.”
On Monday 4 January, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced the destruction of the Assad regime’s declared chemical weapons stockpile. But less than two weeks before issuing this announcement, on 22 December 2015, the Assad regime launched a gruesome chemical weapons attack in Moadamiyeh. In a letter delivered to the Security Council after these attacks, Dr. Najib Ghadbian, the Special Representative of the Syrian National Coalition to the UN, warned that such attacks were designed to obstruct the Geneva III process and demanded that the Security Council take immediate action to deter future chemical weapons attacks and enforce existing Security Council resolutions ahead of Geneva III discussions:
“Assad’s chemical attacks on civilians came amidst a fledgling local ceasefire that was only recently agreed. It clearly represents a malicious effort on the part of the Assad regime to derail political efforts to stop the killing. Rather than work to bring about peace, the Assad regime is actively thwarting peace: gassing civilians in a desperate bid to win new territory ahead of intra-Syrian peace talks. Such attacks can and must be stopped. Failure to do so will imperil the political process and make a political solution impossible.”
In his letter, Dr Ghadbian called on the Security Council to:
i. Protect Syrian civilians from future chemical attacks by enforcing a no-bombing zone.
ii. Demand an investigation into the Moadamiyeh attacks and direct the OPCW fact-finding mission to work without delay to determine responsibility for them.
iii. Enforce UN Security Council resolutions 2118 (2013) and 2209 (2015) and impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to ensure that those responsible for Tuesday’s chemical attacks are held to account.
iv. Refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“It is unconscionable that such atrocities are allowed to continue, without so much as a statement of condemnation from the Security Council”, warned Dr. Ghadbian. “Syria’s civilians need protection from these indiscriminate attacks—and they need it now. A no-bombing zone would provide such protection, while also creating the conditions needed for a political solution to take root.” To read Dr. Ghadbian’s full letter to the Security Council, press here.
On Tuesday, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2258, authorizing the delivery of cross-border and cross-line humanitarian assistance to 13.5 million Syrians in need. Speaking on behalf of the Syrian National Coalition, its Special Representative to the United Nations, Dr. Najib Ghadbian, called on Member States to ensure its full implementation, including by stopping Russia’s indiscriminate air war against civilians:
“For close to five years, Assad’s forces have sought to starve innocent civilians into submission by deliberately besieging opposition-held areas, impeding cross-border deliveries, and refusing aid convoy approval. UN Security Council resolution 2258 offers an opportunity for the Security Council to stop the systematic atrocities perpetrated by the Syrian regime and its allies, and to ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance to millions of Syrians. But to improve the humanitarian situation inside Syria, this resolution—like its predecessors—must be fully enforced.
“It is an outrage that humanitarian assistance to Syrians in hard-to-reach and besieged areas has declined in recent months. Russian airstrikes clearly bear major responsibility for this decline. In addition to killing more than 570 civilians, Russian airstrikes have impeded the delivery of aid across Syria’s borders with Turkey. They have targeted border crossings, decimated bakeries that feed hundreds of thousands of Syrians and destroyed vital water treatment facilities that serve more than 1 million people.
“If Members of the Security Council - or the wider international community - are serious about improving the humanitarian situation inside Syria, they must take action to stop Russia's and Assad's war on civilians. They must prioritize the protection of civilians, and respond to further attempts to impede or delay the delivery of humanitarian assistance with robust consequences. The protection of civilians will not merely improve the humanitarian situation—ensuring that more aid can get to more areas within Syria more of the time—but it will help facilitate the Vienna process and create the conditions needed to secure a political solution.”
Today, the UN Security Council was briefed on the humanitarian situation in Syria for the twenty-third time since the adoption of Security Council resolution 2139. Despite the resolution’s demand for the cessation of all violence against civilians, each month since February 2014 has marked an increase in civilian death and a worsening of the Syria’s humanitarian situation. Tragically, recent weeks have been no exception. To the contrary, less than 48 hours after the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2254, the Assad regime and Russian forces jointly escalated their war on civilians across Syria, killing innocent men, women and children through indiscriminate aerial attacks in opposition-held areas in Idlib city.
“Sunday’s attacks on Idlib offer yet another horrific example of Russia’s targeting of innocent civilians, and they are a clear violation of Security Council 2254, which demands that all parties cease their indiscriminate attacks on civilians,” said the Special Representative of the Syrian National Coalition to the United Nations, Dr. Najib Ghadbian. “If Russia is serious about contributing to a political solution in Syria, then it must cease these indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Failure to do so will only jeopardize the Vienna process and work to the benefit of terrorist extremist groups.”
Ahead of today’s briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria, Dr. Ghadbian delivered a letter to the Security Council calling for comprehensive action by Security Council members to protect Syrian civilians, enforce existing Security Council resolutions, and ensure accountability.
To read the full letter to the Security Council, press here.