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Aleppo’s Hell, a Déjà vu Failure of the United Nations

While civilians are dying in East Aleppo, at the United Nations the war of words continues

Samantha Power

December 13: Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria (UN Photo/Amanda Voisard)

Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the UN, gave a powerful speech at the Security Council in which she openly attacked Russia and Iran for the events taking place in Aleppo: “Your forces and your proxies are carrying out these crimes... Are you truly incapable of shame?”. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in his last press conference: "Aleppo is now a synonym for hell”

On the morning of Tuesday, December 13th, the world finally opened its eyes to the reports that 82 Syrian people, stuck within the besieged Eastern half of Aleppo, had been rounded up and summarily executed. Among the executed were 11 women and 13 children. This news came after months of ongoing airstrikes by Syrian government forces assisted by Russia, that have ravaged parts of Aleppo in an attempt to retake the city from rebel control. Recently, as regime forces make progress in advancing further through the city, there have been scores of civilians injured and killed due to aerial bombardment and summary executions. Reports show that bodies are “burning” in the streets but that those left alive are unable to retrieve them for fear of being killed themselves. The territory under rebel control, as small as four or five kilometers, has a high concentration of civilians, an estimated 50,000.

While UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has no issue attributing the executions to pro-Assad forces retaking formerly rebel-controlled areas of Aleppo, the UN Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, speaking from a position of diplomatic neutrality, insists that these claims are unconfirmed. Those left in Aleppo have called upon the United Nations and the international community to take immediate action to halt the fighting and to allow for protected passage out of the city and into safety. Then, finally, after months of desperate pleas from the Syrian people, the Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin reported that a deal for a ceasefire has been reached to allow all people, civilians and rebels, safe and protected passage out of Aleppo. It is yet to be seen whether or not this truce will hold. Meanwhile, in Palmyra, while the world stood idly by in the face of the grave human rights violations taking place in Aleppo, ISIS rebel forces have managed to recapture that city, and it is feared that Palmyra may simply become the next center of violent, ravaging conflict once Aleppo is reconquered.

At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the absolute necessity of a peaceful political resolution to this war that has already raged on for five destructive years. Later on Friday, in his last press conference as United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon bidding farewell to the UN press corps said that “the carnage in Syria remains a gaping hole in the global conscience… Aleppo is now a synonym for hell.”

High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein pleaded with the international community to ensure that all survivors that have fled, surrendered, or been captured are treated humanely and in accordance with international humanitarian law. Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the UN, gave her own powerful speech in which she openly attacked the governments of Russia, Syria, and Iran for the events taking place in Aleppo: “Your forces and your proxies are carrying out these crimes. Your barrel bombs and mortars and air strikes have allowed the militia in Aleppo to encircle tens of thousands of civilians in your ever-tightening noose,” she said in her statement, “Are you truly incapable of shame?”. (See below and also Samantha Power’s stake-out with the UN journalists on Friday)

Hopefully, it does not take the world as long to heed these pleas as it took to heed the cries of the Syrian people. The failure of the international community in Aleppo echoes the past failures of Rwanda and Bosnia and so many others, but perhaps this will be the last time that the comparison will be made. The thousands of men, women, and children forced to live in a war zone ravaged by constant terrors cannot afford for the world to twiddle its thumbs any longer. This failure to protect the lives and human dignity of the people of Syria is an affront to humanity, and a tragedy of indescribable proportions. Despite Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s recognition that the Security Council has “collectively failed the people of Syria”, they still are, as of yet, unable to offer a plan for exactly how this failure will be rectified. In the last news of the situation, the UK Ambassador has said that the UK will give 12 million dollars in emergency supplies to the people fleeing Aleppo, but what good does that do for the ones still trapped within? He also confirmed the support for additional eyes and ears on the ground to monitor the situation in Syria. In the meantime, the people of Aleppo do not need acknowledgements, condolences and empty promises: they need concrete aid and safe passage out of their crumbling city. And fast.

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