UN Security Council members vented frustrations and traded blame over their unheeded demand for a 30-day cease-fire in Syria, with the US envoy calling it “a day of shame.”
With a unanimous February 24 vote, the council called for a 30-day break in hostilities “without delay” to enable humanitarian aid and medical evacuations as Syria enters its eighth year of civil war. But bombings didn’t stop, though key Syrian ally Russia arranged five-hour daily “humanitarian pauses” in the besieged Damascus suburbs known as eastern Ghouta.
“History will not be kind when it judges the effectiveness of this council in relieving the suffering of the Syrian people,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley said on Tuesday, adding it “should be a day of shame for every member.”
Since the resolution passed, the UN and other agencies have delivered aid to about 137,000 people around Syria—an improvement since earlier this year but still “crumbs” compared to what’s needed, UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said.
And “5.6 million Syrians in acute need cannot live on crumbs,” he added.
Last month, the Syrian government launched a massive military operation with Russian air support to retake eastern Ghouta, which pro-government forces have besieged since 2013.
After weeks of heavy bombardment, two rebel groups and al-Qaida fighters withdrew from their strongholds; Syrian troops are now trying to push rebels out of the last one, the town of Douma.
More than 1,600 civilians have been killed in the recent government offensive, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Over 120,000 people have left eastern Ghouta.
Critics say the evacuations amount to forced displacement, and the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross have refused to facilitate them.
Haley blamed the Syrian government, Russia and Syrian ally Iran of making “a mockery” of the cease-fire demand and said Russia had used its veto-wielding seat to stop the Security Council from doing more.
British Ambassador Karen Pierce implored Russia to use its influence with Syria to further UN humanitarian efforts, calling the lack of aid access “diabolical”—“a strong word, but there are no others to describe what is happening,” she said.
Syria refers to opposition fighters as terrorists and says they’re the cause of civilian suffering.
“We have been witness to a state of hysteria over the past weeks in the council as the Syrian government sought to exercise its sovereign right and to combat terrorist groups ... and to restore security and stability,” Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari said.
Russia’s envoy argued his country was the only council member implementing “concrete measures” toward the resolution’s goals. He pointed to the “humanitarian pauses,” insisting the evacuations were voluntary, and said Russians had provided food, drinking water and medical aid to evacuees. Russian also has been negotiating with rebels to try to get them to leave Douma.
“The Russian Federation has proactively taken measures to normalize this situation,” Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said. “Some members of the Security Council prefer to squander time on letters and rhetoric with unfounded claims against our country.”
The discussion came a day after the U.S., the U.K. and about two dozen other countries, some of them council members, announced they were expelling a total of over 130 Russian diplomats, in a show of solidarity with Britain over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in England.
Russia has protested the expulsions and has said President Vladimir Putin will decide how to respond.