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A Bloody UN Day in Eastern Ghouta

Yesterday, March 5, 2018, the UN aid convoy entered Douma city in Eastern Ghouta for the first time since the start of the latest military escalation on February 18, 2018. According to the International Red Cross, the convoy carried 5,500 food baskets along with vital medical and surgical materials such as bandages.

The convoy left Damascus at 9:20 and was subjected to heavy inspection by several Syrian government security checkpoints supervised by a Russian general in the Wafideen Camp area. The convoy was then inspected by a checkpoint of Jaysh Al Islam, an opposition faction, before arriving to Douma at 14:30.

Due to continuous shelling in Eastern Ghouta, 99 civilians were killed on this day, among them eight children. Throughout the convoy’s presence in Douma city, the Violations Documentation Center (VDC) recorded continuous shelling, which was in close proximity to the Syrian and international crew accompanying the convoy.

The VDC was present when the convoy arrived in Douma, met with ICRC officials, as well as documented testimonies with individuals accompanying the convoy.

Karim (a pseudonym), was accompanying the convoy and told the VDC:

“The convoy did not carry many surgical materials because these materials were not allowed by the Syrian government during any instance before. We arrived at Douma at 14:30.

At approximately 17:30, the outskirts of Douma were bombed by warplanes. Bullets were hitting close to our location in the centre of the city. After international officials inside the convoy contacted the Russian army, we realized that we had only one hour to unload the full load and return to Damascus. At 19:40, we got a call.

We were told that it was the Russian army and that we were asked to leave immediately even though we had not finished unloading nine of the 46 trucks in the convoy. They all immediately returned to Damascus after being only partially unloaded.”

The VDC in Douma reported today and yesterday the distribution of international food baskets at the rate of one basket for every 40 people. This is contrary to a statement by the Red Cross, which stated that one basket of food was enough for one family for five months. The amounts that arrived in the convoy seem barely enough to last for days. And especially given the large number of displaced people from various areas of Eastern Ghouta in the city of Douma, due to military operations carried out by Syrian and Russian government forces in the region, and the urgent need of basic food assistance.

At its 8188th meeting on February 24th, the Security Council adopted resolution 2401 on the situation in Eastern Ghouta. Operative clause 12 requests from the Secretary General to report to the Security Council on the implementation of this resolution and on the compliance of all parties concerned in Syria.

The VDC notes here the implementation of operative paragraph 5, which reads as follows:

“Further demands that, immediately after the start of the cessation of hostilities, all parties shall allow safe, unimpeded and sustained access each week for United Nations ‘and their implementing partners’ humanitarian convoys, including medical and surgical supplies, to all requested areas and populations according to United Nations’ assessment of need in all parts of Syria, in particular to those 5.6 million people in 1,244 communities in acute need, including the 2.9 million people in hard-to-reach and besieged locations, subject to standard UN security assessment.”

The Syrian and Russian forces did not allow secure and unhindered access of this convoy to Eastern Ghouta. The Syrian and Russian forces continued to target the area where the humanitarian convoy was present with warplane bombing that targeted residential areas.

The Syrian government did not allow the convoy to transport medical and surgical equipment to Eastern Ghouta. And given that the resolution emphasised medical and surgical supplies, as noted in the quote above, the Syrian government’s actions clearly contradict the binding Security Council resolution that states that “Member States are obliged under Article 25 of the Charter of the United Nations to accept and implement Council resolutions.” And their actions also violate binding international humanitarian laws on the treatment of the wounded and sick, such as articles 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 21, 32, 55 and 110 of the ICRC database on Customary International Humanitarian Law.

The VDC calls upon the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)  to open an independent investigation into what happened with regards to the humanitarian aid convoy yesterday.

Security Council members are also called upon to consider these UN resolution breaches and to take the necessary measures to ensure safe and sustainable access of humanitarian aid to Eastern Ghouta.