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Syrian Conflict: Security Council Tries to Shed Light on Idlib Hospital Bombings

Testimonies from the Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and the Policy Director of Physicians for Human Rights clashes with Russian narrative.

The Security Council meets for the eighth briefing from the Under-Secretary of Human Affairs and Emergency Relief Mark Lowcock, following the repeated bombings of medical facilities in de-conflicted zones. As most of the attacks came from the Syrian government forces or its allies, the majority of the council representatives condemned the attacks and attempted to clarify a potential for war crimes.

Many representatives of the UN Security Council took turns condemning the violence in the rebel-held Syrian region of Idlib on Tuesday.

The region endured a week-long barrage of air strikes, sustaining a seemingly intentional concentration of damage to healthcare institutions. Syrian physicians described the Idlib hospitals as the most dangerous places to be when instead, they should be the safest. The Council began with a testimony from the Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock. After speaking with Dr. Mohammed Abrash of the Idlib Central Hospital, Lowcock recounted the multiple bombings of both the hospital and a nearby gynecological facility, both within the de-conflicted zone laid out by the United Nations. Facilities inside the de-conflicted area are supposed to be insulated from any act of aggression coming from both the Assad regime’s forces and the opposing rebels’ militias.

Lowcock cited seven previous briefings he gave at the UN Security Council regarding the seemingly illegal violence resulting from the Russian-backed attacks on Idlib coming from Assad forces. Quoting the High Commissioner for Human Rights in his July 26th statement, Lowcock said: “Despite repeated calls by the United Nations to respect the principles of precaution and distinction in their conduct of hostilities, this latest relentless campaign of airstrikes by the government and its allies has continued to hit medical facilities, schools, and other civilian infrastructure. These are civilian objects and it seems highly unlikely, given the persistent nature of the attacks, that they are all being hit by accident.”

Responding to a previous question from the Security Council about the sourcing of information, Lowcock pointed to verified sources from partnerships, many of whom are in cooperation with the representative countries of the council, that give testimony deemed credible by the UN itself.

Imagery is obtained via geo-tagged and time-stamped satellite technology approved by the UN. Many credible media reports on the activity in Southern Idlib have been used by UN organizations such as Unicef, WHO, and UNFPA, tasked with gathering information for the Security Council confirming the acts of violence by the Syrian government. The civilian testimony given firsthand to Lowcock during his time in Idlib was, in his professional opinion, one of a desperate community trying to live in peace, and not, as Russian and Syrian claims would suggest, that of a terrorist organization.

Lowcock went on to address a letter from the Permanent Mission of Syria sent to the Security Council that claimed up to 119 medical facilities had been taken over by terrorist groups and were no longer in operation. While many of the facilities were not named, Lowcock noticed that one of the cited hospitals was Maarat al Nu’man, which as the UN-led Health Cluster has reported, has been functioning normally as a medical facility and not, as the Syrian government reported, as a terrorist-controlled building.

Finally, Lowcock addressed claims that his humanitarian support was targeted only in anti-government controlled regions, stating that about 50% of the aid offered was to civilians in government-controlled areas. Lowcock called on the Security Council to increase the aid offered to both regions; to stop the bombing in de-conflicted regions, and that the evidence in his office was available for any future investigations of potential war crimes.

Susannah Sirkin of the Physicians for Human Rights then took the floor to report 578 corroborated attacks on medical facilities, causing at least 890 medical staff casualties in the last 8 years. According to Sirkin, the Syrian government and its allies were responsible for more than 90% of these attacks, adding that the Security Council’s failure to hold the aggressors accountable is a “derogation of [their] responsibility to protect,” especially when considering the fact that the Russian Federation, a key actor in the bombing of such regions with the Assad Regime, is a permanent member.

In response to both Lowcock’s and Sirkin’s testimony, UK Ambassador Karen Pierce turned to the Russian Federation and asked what specific humanitarian actions they plan on taking and how they can know for sure where the territories of terrorist organizations end and where civilian territories begin within the de-conflicted zones. More specifically, the British representative asked what methods the Russian and Syrian military use to isolate terrorists from civilians. She expressed dissatisfaction about the lack of clarity on the part of the Russian and Syrian governments when justifying certain military decisions; “What’s happening in Idlib makes mockery of P5 responsibilities” referring to the five permanent members of the Security Council.

Ambassador Vassily Nebeznia of the Russian Federation, expressed frustration for what he considered a double standard from the Security Council and the reports from Mark Lowcock in regards to violence in Syria. “I recall when I was listening to briefings from Mr. Lowcock about Yemen and Libya. The tone and submission of information on these issues was quite different than when delivering the information about Syria.”

Responding to the UK representative, Nebeznia accused western media of supporting a terrorist organization in Idlib, and of challenging the “legitimate” Syrian regime in power. “The conduct of today’s meeting,” Nebeznia continued, “sheds light on the briefing procedures of the humanitarian situation in the Security Council. The ‘real’ humanitarian concerns were addressed in a briefing held in Moscow on July 29th. The Russian defense agency always invites their accredited foreign colleagues to attend the meetings, but they showed no interest in doing so.” The concerns within the region of Idlib are legitimate, Nebeznia agreed, but not in the way portrayed by what he described as “fake” reports.

Here you will find the video of the entire UN Security Council Meeting.

 

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