Syria: United Nations Security Council must demand an immediate cease-fire to save Eastern Ghouta civilians

Press release
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Bashar al Assad’s regime and its Russian ally have for days now been pounding the 400,000 civilians – including 100,000 children – from Eastern Ghouta, who are trapped, cut off from the rest of the world and bombarded. Up until now, the international community has been unable to stop the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Eastern Ghouta and elsewhere in Syria. As the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is meeting today, our organisations urge its member-states to adopt a resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, demanding an immediate cease-fire, and calling for lifting the siege on Eastern Ghouta and the guarantee of an unconditional and immediate humanitarian access to the civilians trapped in Eastern Ghouta.

Since 18 February, Bashar al Assad’s regime and its Russian ally have intensified their bombing of Eastern Ghouta civilians with the intention of getting the Damascus neighborhood that has been under rebels’ control since 2012, back under their authority whatever the cost may be.

According to Syrian organisations, members and partners of FIDH, the intense bombardment by the Syrian army, seconded by the Russian military, have killed over 300 civilians over the past few days. Local sources have recorded 24 attacks against health facilities since Monday. Six hospitals are no longer operating, and others only partially, denying victims adequate care and treatment.

“After 7 years of violence and uninterrupted crimes, the Syrian regime, the Russian forces and their allies are committing yet another crime with complete impunity. The international community seems resigned to being powerless. We must be clear, the Eastern Ghouta and Idlib regions are enclaves where hundreds of thousands of people are locked in, trapped and sentenced to being bombarded in an indiscriminate manner. Those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity will one day be held accountable.”

Mazen Darwish, SCM President.

Cut off from the rest of the world and from any humanitarian assistance, pounded relentlessly, this Damascus neighborhood is deprived of basic means of survival.

“The international community’s inertia plays a key role in these massacres. We are way past mere condemnations of what is going on. The UN Security Council must act to stop the bombardments, lift the siege on Eastern Ghouta and re-establish humanitarian access to the civilian population. In cases where the most serious crimes are being committed and of humanitarian emergency, the Security Council must act or be reformed, in order to prevent the paralysis caused by the veto power of the authors and the accomplices of the crimes being committed.”

Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH President.

While the situation in Eastern Ghouta is already dramatic, it is not the only region subjected to intense bombing including with unconventional arms, the use of which is prohibited by international law. The Idlib province has also been under fire since the start of the month, with numerous victims, mostly civilians. The Syrian organisations also report that the regime may have led chemical attacks since the beginning of the year, notably using chlorine.

It is imperative and urgent that humanitarian organisations, including UN convoys, be given unrestricted access to the civilian population of Eastern Ghouta, Idlib and in the rest of the country.

In light of the recent information collected by their partner organisations, FIDH and SCM call on all parties to the conflict and particularly the political and military Syrian, Russian and Iranian authorities, to respect their international humanitarian law obligations and the UN resolutions, and in particular to:

- End indiscriminate bombing and attacks against civilians;
- Guarantee unrestricted access to the International Committee of the Red Cross to any besieged and bombarded area and notably Eastern Ghouta;
- Guarantee humanitarian assistance to the civilians;
- Lift the sieges of all the Syrian cities concerned.

As UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan De Mistura is calling for a new round of discussions in Geneva, it is urgent that the international community supports him in order to find a political solution to the Syrian conflict.

FIDH and SCM reiterate that any violation of international law is an obstacle to any peace process and remind that the Syrian civil society must be involved in the search for a peaceful solution in Syria.

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