The United Nations Security Council approved a breakthrough resolution to demand humanitarian-aid access in Syria, after debating the language of the text for at least a week, as Russia lobbied hard for changes to soften wording or delete passages as well as tried to postpone the vote while the Olympics are taking place in Sochi through Sunday. All members of the Security Council, including Russia and China, voted yes to the resolution, No. 2139.
“In adopting this resolution unanimously, all members of the Security Council have recognised that the humanitarian situation in Syria is desperate,” Gary Quinlan, the Australian ambassador to the UN, said in a statement. Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg, elected members of the council, sponsored the resolution.
“The country has disintegrated and neighbouring countries are threatened by the effects,” Quinlan continued, adding that almost half of Syria’s population — 9.2 million people — need assistance; a third of the housing has been destroyed; more than 60 percent of the hospitals have been wiped out; and millions have been displaced and millions of children are out of school.
At least a quarter of a million people barely survive in besieged cities and towns, subsisting on little to no food or medical help. Some are apparently resorting to eating cats and dogs.
The vote, held on Saturday, marks a tough victory for those members of the Security Council who have been seeking to pass such a resolution for more than a year, with the Russians and the Chinese, both permanent members, squashing resolutions condemning Syria three times. (The other permanent members are Britain, France and the United States.)
The council did adopt a presidential statement in October 2013 pushing for more access to aid, but that resulted in virtually no gains in alleviating the suffering of people inside Syria.
The president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, has been accused by Western powers and the UN recently of using starvation as a weapon of war, among other atrocities.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, praised the positive vote on the resolution, saying that civilians in Syria “are the daily victims of brutal violence and indiscriminate attacks, including the use of heavy weapons, aerial bombings, mortars and car bombs in population areas.”
He noted the continued reports of massacres and atrocities throughout the country; that women and girls have been subjected to sexual and gender-based violence; that the Syrian government and allied militias have been responsible for countless killings, disappearances and the horrendous use of barrel bombs and torture on a massive scale; and that opposition groups have carried out summary executions, the recruitment of child soldiers and the use of terror tactics in civilian areas.
The resolution is legally binding and includes demands for cross-border and cross-battle-line aid access and an end to shelling and aerial bombardment, including the use of barrel bombs. The resolution puts most of the onus to end the war on the government, threatening more steps if access is denied to aid workers, and it requires Ban to report to the council in 30 days on the implementation of the resolution.
The Russians found these and other aspects of the document particularly vexing, media reports say. Russia has been a staunch defender of Syria throughout the three-year civil war, which began in mid-March 2011 and has left 136,000 dead, according to some estimates.
“This resolution is important for two reasons,” Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, said, adding: “It has a clear demand for specific and concrete actions and it is a commitment to act in the event of non-compliance. It was a difficult resolution to obtain, but it should not have been. Many of the issues that come before this body are complicated; this is not.
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Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.