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Aid organizations slam UN Security Council for failures in Syria

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    As the Syrian civil war marks another grim milestone this weekend, more than 20 leading international aid organizations have issued a report sharply criticizing the United Nations Security Council’s response to the conflict, and the resulting humanitarian crisis.

    The groups, including Oxfam and the International Rescue Committee, signed off on a report titled “Failing Syria,” calling the U.N.’s lack of action — quote — “a stain on the conscience of the international community,” all the while as the war enters its fifth year on Sunday. Many remain caught in the crossfire.

  • MAN (through interpreter):

    These are civilians and families. I really don’t know what to say. They have been bombing us since the early morning, barrel after barrel.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The report points out that, last year alone, 2.5 million Syrians were forced from their homes by fighting. The demand for humanitarian aid has increased by more than 30 percent. Nearly a quarter million Syrians are trapped by military sieges.

    Joining me now is one of the signatories of the report, International Rescue Committee CEO and former Britain Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

    David Miliband, thank you for joining us again.

    I saw one of the groups that signed this report said, this could turn out to be the darkest chapter in the history of the U.N. Do you agree?

  • DAVID MILIBAND, CEO, International Rescue Committee:

    Well, I think that, literally and metaphorically, Syria is going back into the dark ages, literally because the lights are going out all over Syria — 83 percent of the lights have gone out over the last four years — and metaphorically because of the death and destruction and displacement there.

    And that certainly is a dark stain on the United Nations Security Council, which took three years to pass the most basic humanitarian aid resolution, and is now not forcing it through. The words are there on paper about help for civilians, but the help has not been forthcoming on the ground.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Help — why is the blame, though, being laid on the U.N. Security Council, rather than on Syria, its leader, President Assad, on the countries that are backing him, Iran, Russia, China, and even on the other countries involved in this war?

  • DAVID MILIBAND:

    Well, it’s not a matter of excusing the combatants for their crimes, the dropping of barrel bombs on civilians, the targeting of aid workers and of civilians and of doctors. It’s not a matter of excusing them and somehow blaming the U.N. Security Council instead, but other countries you mentioned, obviously, Russia and — is on the U.N. Security Council.

    And Russia, along with the U.K., the U.S., France, China, the permanent members of the Security Council, finally took a step a year ago to call for cross-border aid, finally took a step to call for aid across conflict lines in the Syrian theater of war, but have not been able or willing to put the political pressure and the political engagement to get that most basic civilian aid through.

    Just to give you an example, the secretary-general of the U.N. has reported that the Syrian government insisted that medical supplies be taken off trucks that were going in convoy into Syria, but is there any accountability or is there any comeback? No, there isn’t.

    And that is why this is such an important issue at this stage, the fifth year of the war now, the political options getting worse, the contagion spreading into Iraq, and civilians caught in the crossfire and unable to get the most basic elements of dignity and support.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, what’s an example of the kind of political weight one of these countries could throw into this situation that would make a difference? And is it really any surprise that the U.N. is not able to force a country to accept a change it doesn’t want to make?

  • DAVID MILIBAND:

    Well, I think a very basic point is the following.

    With the best will in the world, the foreign ministers of the Security Council countries can’t be on Syria 24 hours a day. They have got Ukraine. They have got the Iran nuclear talks. We have been saying very clearly every permanent member of the Security Council, plus the regional players, should appoint a humanitarian envoy to give the day-to-day political, practical pressure to deliver the aid.

    To give you a historic example, even in the midst of the Sudan civil war of the 1990s, Operation Lifeline Sudan got humanitarian aid into the country because of that daily political engagement. At the moment, Syria goes in and out of the headlines, more out of the headlines, and the people, the civilians who are left there are left without help.

    And the combatants in this crisis are left without pressure, without accountability for living up to the most basic norms and laws of war. So no one is saying this is easy. But unless there is political support for the efforts of the U.N. officials, then they are left stranded when the combatants, the government in 80 to 85 percent of the cases, the rebel groups in the remaining cases, stand in the way of delivery of humanitarian aid.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But, surely, the governments involved know this, know that having a daily presence would make a difference. Why haven’t they done it?

  • DAVID MILIBAND:

    I think that the truth is that Syria looks too difficult at the moment. And the truth is, it gets more difficult every year.

    The trouble is, in a year’s time, it will be even more difficult. There will be more fragmentation, more bloodletting, more implosion inside the country. And so for politicians around the world with skeptical publics and focus on the home front, it’s inevitable that this — that they — that the pressure on them is to turn away, because there are no easy answers.

    But the U.N. Security Council was set up to make sure that people in the situation of the Syrian civilians don’t get forgotten. And the precedent that is being set is one that is really dangerous for the 21st century, because it’s not just the humanitarian crisis. It’s that the humanitarian crisis itself causes political instability that is spreading across the region.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, it is certainly a dark moment, and no prospects for change at this point.

    David Miliband of the International Rescue Committee, thank you.

  • DAVID MILIBAND:

    Thank you very much.

     

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