U.N. emergency relief coordinator denied access to Syria
Syria has failed to act on a request by the U.N.’s emergency relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, to visit the country to meet with top government officials and assess humanitarian conditions in the country. Amos, the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, has been pleading for several months to be allowed into the country to determine ...
Syria has failed to act on a request by the U.N.'s emergency relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, to visit the country to meet with top government officials and assess humanitarian conditions in the country.
Syria has failed to act on a request by the U.N.’s emergency relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, to visit the country to meet with top government officials and assess humanitarian conditions in the country.
Amos, the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, has been pleading for several months to be allowed into the country to determine the extent of the country’s humanitarian crisis. She renewed the request on Friday, after U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, asked her to travel to Syria to assess the situation.
The move come as the Syrian government has stepped up its violent crackdown against demonstrators and opposition groups, shelling restive towns, in particular Homs, in a brutal campaign aimed at crushing resistance.
"I am deeply disappointed that I have not been able to visit Syria, despite my repeated requests to meet Syrian officials at the highest level to discuss the humanitarian situation and the need for unhindered access to the people affected by the violence," said Amos, who is traveling in the region.
Last week, a U.N. commission of inquiry ruled that top Syrian officials committed "widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity," and need to be held accountable for their actions.
Amos said that the government’s refusal to approve humanitarian assistance "prolongs" the suffering of Syrians and that the U.N. stands ready to help get assistance to those in need — once the governments permits it.
The violence has driven up to 200,000 people from their homes, and forced another 25,000 to seek refuge in neighboring countries, according to U.N. estimates. "Given the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, with an increasing need for medical assistance, food and basic supplies, improving access, so that assistance can reach those in urgent need, is a matter of the highest priority."
The effort to get relief into Syria comes as the death toll has been steadily rising, with the U.N. announcing Tuesday that more than 7,500 people have died since the government launched a violent crackdown on anti-government demonstrators back in March 2011.
"The Syrian government has manifestly failed to carry out its responsibility to protect its people," B. Lynn Pascoe, the U.N. undersecretary for political affairs told the Security Council on Tuesday. "On the contrary, it has subjected residents in several cities to indiscriminate bombardment by tank and rocket fire, killing its own people in ways reminiscent of the Hama massacre perpetrated by the Syrian government in 1982."
"Unfortunately," Pascoe added, "the international community has also failed in its duty to stop the carnage, and actions and inactions to date have seemed to encourage the regime in its belief that it has impunity to carry on wanton destruction of its own civilians."
Pascoe said that Syrian security forces "launched a merciless bombardment of residential areas in Homs" on Feb. 26. "We are now into the fourth week of the terrible attacks on major neighborhoods in this city. The situation for the people trapped inside them is increasingly dire. According to human rights organizations, more than 5,000 civilians have been prevented from fleeing by government forces."
Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary general who was named as the U.N. and Arab League special envoy for Syria, is scheduled to arrive in New York today for several days of talks. He will address reporters along with Ban this evening.
Diplomats say that Annan will try to secure a commitment to travel to Damascus to meet with President Bashar al-Assad and to persuade him to accept an Arab League proposal for a political transition.
The United States, meanwhile, has "drafted an outline for a new U.N. Security Council resolution that would demand access for humanitarian aid workers in besieged towns," Reuters reported.
Security Council diplomats, however, said that it is unlikely the 15-nation council will begin serious discussions on the resolution until after the Russian presidential election on March 4. Russia has already vetoed two resolutions condemning Syria’s crackdown, and has refused to permit any outside role that doesn’t come with the backing of the Syrian government. As yet, there has been no discussion in New York about a controversial plan, initially raised by France, to establish humanitarian corridors in Syria along its borders with Turkey and Jordan.
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch
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