The under-secretary-general for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) [official website] Stephen O’Brien on Sunday condemned [press release] attacks against people, including many civilians, who were fleeing the Syrian towns of Foah and Kefraya. In his statement, O’Brien said the “perpetrators of such a monstrous and cowardly attack displayed a shameless disregard for human life,” adding, “International humanitarian law is very clear: warring parties must protect civilians and distinguish between military and civilian targets.” O’Brien said he was “horrified” by reports of explosions [BBC report] that occurred in the area Saturday, killing more than 120 people, including at least 68 children. Although O’Brien did not specify the international laws he is referring to in the statement, he has previously cited [AP report] the Geneva Conventions [materials] as the controlling body of law regarding civilian casualties in the Syrian Civil War.
While the United Nations was not involved in this agreement or evacuation process, we are ready to scale up our support to evacuees. In that regard, I call on all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, and to facilitate safe and unimpeded access for the UN and its partners to bring lifesaving help to those in need.
The Syrian Civil War began in 2011, and has resulted in [JURIST backgrounder] hundreds of thousands of civilians death, a global refugee crisis, and the rise of terrorist organizations such as ISIS. Last week, the Group of Seven (G7) nations failed to reach an agreement on whether to impose new sanctions on Russia and Syria. Earlier this month, the UN Security Council conducted emergency talks regarding an alleged chemical attack in Syria that killed numerous civilians [JURIST report]. The next evening, the US military attacked [CNBC report] a Syria-government airfield with 59 Tomahawk missiles. Following the US missile launch, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for restraint [JURIST report] in handling the situation in Syria. Also last week, US Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called for [JURIST report] President Donald Trump to consult Congress on potential further action following a military strike on Syria.