(New York) – United Nations Security Council members should seize the momentum of the Syria chemical weapons resolution to meet humanitarian needs and deter abuses by all sides to the conflict.
The Security Council should urgently demand unimpeded access by impartial aid agencies throughout Syria, refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC), and adopt targeted sanctions against those responsible for mass killings, including by conventional weapons.
“Any progress to remove Syria’s chemical weapons is an important step, but this resolution fails to ensure justice for the gassing of hundreds of children and many other grave crimes,” said Philippe Bolopion, United Nations director. “The US in particular should join the dozens of countries that publicly support an ICC referral, the clearest way to justice for countless victims.”
The US government has repeatedly condemned the abuses in Syria, but remains silent on the court’s involvement. Currently, 64 countries, including six Security Council members, have expressed support for an ICC referral to address serious crimes in violation of international law committed in Syria. Russia should end its opposition to such a referral.
For months the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has implored the Security Council to support the impartial delivery of humanitarian aid to all affected communities in Syria, including across the borders of neighboring countries. The Syrian government denies permission for cross-border operations, and some opposition forces have failed to give security assurances to aid groups working in the areas they control. Aid delivery is also restricted by sieges imposed by both government and opposition forces.
“The Syrian government’s blockage of humanitarian aid, like chemical weapons, is a silent and insidious killer,” Bolopion said. “Security Council members should now overcome their political differences and make clear to all sides that they must not stand in the way of delivering life-saving aid to civilians, or they will be held accountable.”
Efforts to destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons are essential, but do not address the reality that conventional weapons have killed the overwhelming majority of the estimated 100,000 people who have died in the conflict, Human Rights Watch said.
Syrian government forces should also cease the use of banned cluster munitions and antipersonnel landmines, and stop using air-dropped incendiary weapons in populated areas.
The Security Council should impose travel and financial sanctions on Syrian officials involved in serious abuses. It should put in place an arms embargo on the government and on opposition groups that have committed systematic or widespread abuses.
“If the killing of civilians by conventional weapons continues unabated, the chemical weapons resolution will be remembered as an effort to draw red lines, not save civilian lives,” Bolopion said. “It’s high time for Russia to allow the Security Council to act to protect civilians, and to stop arming the abusive Syrian government.”