8589th Security Council Meeting: Situation in Middle East

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30-Jul-2019 01:57:56
Security Council backsliding on duty to protect Syria’s civilians, rights advocate stresses, amid calls to protect hospitals, review deconfliction accords at 8589th meeting.

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The Security Council’s failure to respond to the conflict in Syria, now in its ninth year, is a clear weakening of its responsibility to protect, a human rights advocate stressed today as briefers presented details of the humanitarian impact of fighting in Idlib, including attacks on medical facilities.

Susannah Sirkin, Director of Policy at Physicians for Human Rights, told the Council that escalating brutality in Idlib and north-western Syria could lead to the worst humanitarian crisis of the twenty-first century. Since 26 April — when Syrian and Russian Federation military forces began targeting Idlib and northern Hama — her organization has received reports of 46 attacks on health-care facilities and confirmed 16 of them.

Moreover, there have been routine violations of the deconfliction agreements coordinated by the United Nations to notify parties of health centre locations. “The Syrian and Russian Governments know the exact location of most health facilities, and yet they continue targeting them,” she said. “Your current collective inaction is a clear derogation of your responsibility to protect.” Syria and the Russian Federation must stop attacking hospitals. She called on the Secretary-General to investigate these assaults — and the failure of the deconfliction mechanism — in Idlib, northern Hama and western Aleppo.

Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said that for more than 90 days, bombing and shelling by Syria and the Russian Federation has resulted in carnage in the so-called de-escalation zone of Idlib. On 26 July, the High Commissioner for Human Rights identified 450 civilians who had been killed in the previous two weeks alone. Over 440,000 people have been displaced, and dozens of civilians have been killed or maimed as a result of shelling by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham — a Council-listed terrorist group — and the armed groups associated with it.

Providing an update on the deconfliction system, he said information provided to the Council is based on direct testimony from those closest to the source, as well as imagery, satellites and geotagged or time-stamped pictures of medical facilities. The data reveal “a level of destruction consistent with a bombing campaign aimed at a scorched-earth policy”. Interviews with displaced people have meanwhile revealed daily bombings by Syria’s Government and the Russian Federation. While there are indeed members of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham living in Idlib, estimates suggest there are about 100 civilians for every one fighter.

In the debate that followed, several speakers concurred that the humanitarian situation is taking a turn for the worse. Many also agreed on the need for a United Nations-led investigation into attacks on hospitals and other civilian infrastructure.

Kuwait’s representative, speaking also for Belgium and Germany, said Syrian authorities “know what they are doing”, as they knew the coordinates of civilian infrastructure in deconflicted areas. Calling for a ceasefire in Idlib and an end to hostilities nationwide, he said the Council has a responsibility to the Syrian people, including the 3 million civilians in and around Idlib. “One cannot help to ponder whether the inaction of the Council is partly to blame for the dramatic increase in the number of displaced and what, if anything, could we have done differently,” he added.

The United Kingdom’s representative said responsibility for the Council’s inaction rests with three Member States, one of them a permanent member. “What is happening in Idlib makes a mockery of P5 responsibility,” she said, referring to the five permanent Council members.

The representative of the Russian Federation said criticism of his country and Syria is aimed at sustaining a terrorist presence in Idlib in order to combat the legitimate authorities. Countering reports of a Russian air force attack on a market in Idlib, he urged the Secretariat and United Nations specialized agencies to cross-check unverified information about deconflicted areas. The Russian Federation will do its utmost to restore peace in Syria, and its efforts with Turkey under the Sochi memorandum regarding Idlib must not be obstructed.

The representative of the United States said the 3.5 million people in Idlib province have nowhere to escape the next attack — and the Assad regime and Russian air force know that. Calling for a cessation of hostilities and unhindered humanitarian access, she said the latest offense on Idlib has gained the regime and its allies nothing.

“We are facing a veritable nightmare,” said Equatorial Guinea’s delegate. Concerns over the failure of diplomacy among the world’s most powerful countries calls into question the Council’s credibility.

China’s representative meanwhile underscored the importance of working together to counter terrorism and address humanitarian needs. China supports the Syrian Government’s reconstruction efforts in relatively stable areas, he said, stressing that sanctions do not improve humanitarian conditions.

Also speaking today were representatives of the Dominican Republic, France, Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Poland, South Africa and Peru.

The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and 12:04 p.m.

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