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Syrian conflict

UN rights body to hold debate on bombing in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta on Friday at request of Britain

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 3:22am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 3:22am

At the request of Britain, the United Nations Human Rights Council is expected to hold an “urgent debate” on Friday on the deteriorating situation in Syria’s enclave of Eastern Ghouta, a spokesman said on Friday.

The bureau of the 47-member state Geneva forum agreed to the request, which must be formally approved by the membership on Friday, UN spokesman Rolando Gomez said.

Julian Braithwaite, Britain’s ambassador, said in his letter to the Council, which was made public, that his country would seek adoption of a resolution whose text was to be circulated soon.

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Britain’s draft resolution strongly condemns the “sustained denial of humanitarian access, repeated attacks against medical facilities”.

It also denounces “any indiscriminate use of heavy weapons and aerial bombardments, including cluster munitions, incendiary weapons and barrel bombs, and the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian authorities against civilians … including against the people living in Eastern Ghouta”.

It backs the UN Security Council resolution adopted last Saturday demanding a ceasefire of at least 30 days to allow aid deliveries and medical evacuations, in line with international law, and demands that Syrian authorities allow unimpeded access.

The draft resolution also calls on UN war crimes investigators on Syria, led by Paulo Pinheiro, to conduct an independent inquiry into events in Eastern Ghouta by June.

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The investigators are expected to issue their next report on March 6, to be debated by the Council on March 13.

Also on Thursday, the UN said it hoped aid convoys could head into Eastern Ghouta soon, after the Damascus government appeared to have finally provided authorisation.

“We may now be able to go to Eastern Ghouta in the next few days,” said Jan Egeland, head of the UN’s humanitarian task force for Syria.

He told reporters in Geneva that he had received word during a task force meeting on Thursday “that we may have the first facilitation letter, permit from the government, to go to [the main Eastern Ghouta town of] Douma in a very long time.”

But he stressed that the five-hour daily “humanitarian pause” in fighting declared by Russia for the enclave was not enough to allow aid deliveries or ensure orderly medical evacuations. 

“Five hours is not enough,” he insisted, underscoring that aid deliveries take time and that an estimated 1,000 civilians also desperately needed medical evacuation.

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More than 40 trucks loaded with much needed aid have so far been unable to reach the 400,000 people living in the battered enclave.

Egeland’s comments came as civilians in Eastern Ghouta continued to shun Russia’s offer to quit the area, and as rebels and Moscow blamed each other for the humanitarian deadlock.

A five-hour daily “pause” announced by Moscow on Monday has led to a reduction in the bombardment that killed hundreds in only a few days and sparked global outrage last month.

But the humanitarian corridor offered by Russia for civilians to flee has remained ostensibly empty for a third day, with distrust running high on both sides.

The Russian declaration fell far short of a full 30-day ceasefire voted for by the UN Security Council last Saturday, which has yet to be implemented.

Egeland voiced disappointment that the countries who unanimously voted through the Security Council resolution had not been able to ensure its implementation.

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He stressed that the catastrophe unfolding in Eastern Ghouta “is no tsunami.”

“It is not a natural disaster, it is man-made from A-Z, and I think the sponsors of the armed groups can do more to hold them back,” he said.

The UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura meanwhile said the UN would “not give up in asking for the full implementation of the resolution 2401.”

“We will continue asking until we are red in the face, blue in the face, for both sides … to stop shelling each others’ areas, and for convoys to be allowed” in, he told reporters in Geneva.

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He said the UN was determined not to see a repeat of what happened in Syria’s second city of Aleppo in 2016, when Russia and the Syrian regime also deployed a “humanitarian pause” as they looked to force out rebels. 

“We cannot see a copycat of Aleppo taking place,” De Mistura said.