The U.N. Security Council resolutions on Syria have been an abject failure and the world body’s permanent members are, in fact, undermining any hope of peace by sending arms and munitions to both sides of the conflict, a senior humanitarian official has charged following the release of a new report on the conflict by 20 aid agencies.
Speaking to Syria Deeply after the release of the “Failing Syria” report, Daniel Gorevan, policy lead on the Syria Crisis at Oxfam, further decried the fact that the conflict is getting worse as aid access has decreased and humanitarian assistance remains chronically underfunded.
The aid organizations sharply criticized the Security Council, saying it has failed to implement three resolutions passed last year aimed at protecting and increasing aid to Syrian civilians.
“In the 12 months since Resolution 2139 was passed, civilians in Syria have witnessed ever-increasing destruction, suffering and death,” says the “Failing Syria” report, whose signatories include Oxfam, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children. “This spiraling catastrophe is a stain on the conscience of the international community.”
Gorevan spoke to Syria Deeply about the rapidly deteriorating conditions inside Syria and the report’s recommendations.
Syria Deeply: How have conditions inside Syria worsened in the past year for civilians?
Gorevan: The year following the adoption of UNSC Resolution 2139 saw a dramatic intensification of the violence in Syria. The impact is all-encompassing on the Syrian people and the situation has gone from extremely grim to even worse than the year before. Humanitarian needs have increased by nearly a third compared with 2013. More than 11.6 million people are now in urgent need of clean water and nearly 10 million people do not have enough to eat.
There has been a huge increase in the number of people displaced: Over 11 million people, half of the pre-crisis population of Syria, have been forced to flee their homes. There has been a 31 percent increase – 12.2 million people – in the number that need life-saving assistance; 1.33 million more children are in need and half a million more are unable to attend school because of the crisis. At least 160 children were killed in attacks on schools in 2014, while tens of thousands of people have been killed over the past year.
There has also been an increased number of deliberate attacks on hospitals. Plus, the number of people living in besieged communities under crippling blockades where aid is deliberately denied as a tactic of war has increased. There are 2.3 million more people living in “hard-to-reach areas” compared with 2013. Food aid received by people in these places fell by 97 percent in the four months following UNSCR 2139.
There has also been very little progress on the political track after the collapse of the Geneva II peace talks last year. Looking more broadly at the humanitarian response, there has been an increasingly disappointing contribution in funding from the international community. At the end of 2014, appeals were only 57 percent funded, compared to 71 percent funded in 2013. Across the board, there has been an actual deterioration in conditions on the ground.
Syria Deeply: What real effects have the UNSC Resolutions had in terms of the protection of civilians, humanitarian access, increases in international aid contributions and political solutions?
Gorevan: They’ve had very little impact. Essentially, the Security Council resolutions have been a failure: The parties on the ground have largely ignored them and the Security Council members themselves have even to a certain extent undermined them. We’ve looked across the areas where the Security Council has called for action, and there has been a deterioration in the situation in Syria across all of these. Despite the resolutions, violence in Syria has intensified, aid access has decreased and humanitarian assistance remains chronically underfunded.
Syria Deeply: What is the leading cause of death of civilians inside Syria today? Gorevan: One of the greatest concerns is the use of explosive weapons such as aerial bombs, mortars and car bombs. Explosive weapons have been responsible for 53 percent of civilian deaths since 2011. One of the primary reasons people flee the country is because of explosive weapons.
Syria Deeply: You claim that Security Council members are fueling the conflict. What do you mean by that?
Gorevan: The transfer of arms, ammunition and military personnel from other countries fuels violations in Syria. Ninety percent of the weapons being used inside Syria were manufactured by states that are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, particularly Russia, which has made transfers to the Syrian government. However, there has also been an increasing number of transfers by the U.S. and allies of the U.S. to opposition groups. Oxfam and other agencies are calling on member states of the U.N. and the Security Council to ensure that there is a halt to arms transfers to parties of the conflict that have committed serious violations of human rights.
Syria Deeply: What are some of the report’s recommendations?
Gorevan: U.N. Security Council members can use their diplomatic and political clout to insist upon a political process that would lead to the implementation of the Geneva Communiqué 2012, which gives a framework for a resolution of the crisis. Our concern is that process has been de-prioritized over the past year.
Syria Deeply: What can be done to improve the protection of civilians?
Gorevan: First, it depends on the parties of the conflict themselves taking the Resolution seriously. There needs to be a stop to aerial and indiscriminate bombardment against civilians, and a halt to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. We are also calling on members of the Security Council to ensure that those who are responsible for breaches of humanitarian rights law are held accountable. The international community can send a very clear signal that violations will no longer be tolerated by cutting off the supply of arms to violators. We are also asking U.N. agencies to scale up protection activities inside, and that includes protection activities of neighboring countries. There are gaps in the information – it is difficult to get an overall picture of what’s happening on the ground – so NGOs can take measures to ensure there is access to this type of information.
Syria Deeply: What can be done to improve humanitarian aid access?
Gorevan: Since June 2014, U.N. agencies have delivered 1,130 aid convoys through NGO partners, using cross-border routes from Turkey into Syria. Humanitarian goods – but almost no services – are being delivered, and NGOs continue to face restrictions at border crossings. We are asking for increased pressure on the parties to ensure that the blocks to humanitarian assistance are removed.
Again, this is about political pressure on the parties to the conflict. The allies of the Syrian government should send an unequivocal message that the use of these tactics of warfare are completely unacceptable, and allow delivery of aid to besieged areas. It’s largely about shifting the conduct of the war. Some governments do have influence and should use it, as opposed to passing resolutions that aren’t implemented on the ground.
Syria Deeply: What are some of your other immediate concerns?
Gorevan: The number of refugees entering neighboring countries had risen to 3.7 million by the end of 2014 and is projected to rise to 4.3 million by the end of 2015.
We are seeing a growing restriction on borders, which means an increasing number of Syrians are trapped inside the country. There is an ever-more desperate situation for the refugees who have fled Syria to neighboring countries. We aren’t only calling on an increase in funding for the humanitarian response and aid to neighboring countries; rich countries can and should do more to share the responsibility of the refugee crisis. We are calling for them to collectively resettle 5 percent of the refugee population registered in neighboring countries. It’s unfair that the U.K. has taken in only 500 refugees in a resettlement program, in comparison to Lebanon, which has admitted over 1.1. million refugees.