The United Nations Security Council’s abject failure to address the horrific crimes against civilians in Syria means it is time for the General Assembly to act.

For weeks, doctors, hospital staff, activists, journalists, and photographers in eastern Aleppo have told us that Russian and Syrian aircraft have relentlessly bombarded opposition-controlled parts of the city, indiscriminately targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure. The attacks, using barrel bombs, cluster munitions, and incendiary weapons, have badly damaged or partially destroyed at least five hospitals. According to the UN, the offensive has killed about 320 civilians, including more than 100 children.

A man walks past damaged buildings in the rebel held besieged al-Sukkari neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria October 19, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

This latest barrage began with a deadly attack on a UN aid convoy and a Red Crescent warehouse near Aleppo on September 19. Meanwhile, the Syrian government has unlawfully restricted the delivery of humanitarian aid and blocked civilians trying to flee the fighting. Across the front lines in western Aleppo, civilians have also reportedly come under indiscriminate fire from opposition fighters in the east.

Despite such devastation, Russia abused its veto privilege for the fifth time at the Security Council, stonewalling efforts on October 8 to stop the vicious assault on Aleppo’s civilians.

At the request of 70 UN member states, including 9 of the 15 Security Council members, the UN General Assembly will hold an informal meeting tomorrow to hear UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, on the situation in Syria.

Given the Security Council’s failure to maintain international peace and security, UN member states should request an emergency session on Syria. During this session, the General Assembly should demand an immediate end to unlawful attacks and the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands trapped in Aleppo, and should remind all parties of their duty to permit civilians to safely leave an urban area under siege, reflecting the absolute ban on starvation as a method of warfare. It should also establish a special investigative mechanism on atrocity crimes in Syria, with a view to preparing cases for future criminal prosecutions.

It’s now up to those 70 countries, and the other 120-plus member states, to take action and protect Aleppo’s civilians while they still can.