Open Letter from Besieged Syrians to UN's Stephen O'Brien

01/15/2016 01:09 pm ET | Updated Jan 15, 2016
  • The Syria Campaign A global advocacy group standing in solidarity with non-violent Syrians and their struggle for a peaceful and dignified future.
SAMEER AL-DOUMY via Getty Images

To Stephen O'Brien, the UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs:

Today the world is again witnessing innocent civilians being starved to death in Madaya and across Syria. Hunger continues to be used a weapon of war. You have no doubt seen the pictures. We are living the reality.

We are medical workers, teachers, rescue workers and civil society activists who, along with hundreds of thousands of others, are living under siege in Syria. Our towns are sealed by checkpoints and barricades and our populations are being starved, deprived of medical supplies and in almost all cases bombed daily by the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

On the rare occasion that someone is allowed out of a besieged area, they are humiliated when they return with a full body search only to have had the smallest things confiscated -- a biscuit or a tomato. In almost every one of our towns, we haven't seen a single loaf of bread from the UN in over a year.

On the rare occasion that someone is allowed out of a besieged area, they return with a full body search only to have had the smallest things confiscated -- a biscuit or a tomato.

What makes this suffering more painful is knowing that in many besieged areas, such as those around Damascus, UN warehouses full of lifesaving aid are often just minutes away. You are choosing not to deliver that aid to us, not because of danger from non-state groups who are prepared to give safety assurances, but because the Assad regime is not giving you permission. This is hardly surprising since it is the regime imposing the sieges in the first place.

What we do not understand is why you are chasing permission you do not even need, since Security Council resolutions 2165 and 2258 authorize you to deliver that aid without the regime's consent.

Why are you creating unnecessary hurdles while civilians starve?

In Deir Ezzor, where it is ISIS besieging 200,000 civilians from the outside, it is also the Assad regime denying aid distribution from the inside. You have quietly accepted the regime's excuses that it is unsafe to airlift aid into the airport. Yet the regime is flying up to 10 flights a day to supply its own soldiers. It does so while disregarding the needs of civilians in that area, who were one of the first to challenge Bashar al-Assad's rule.

Mr. O'Brien, your colleagues in Damascus are either too close to the regime or too scared of having their visas revoked by the same powers that are besieging us.

Why are you not distributing aid to Deir Ezzor? Meanwhile, the UN is delivering billions of dollars of aid to regime-controlled areas. By allowing the regime to veto aid to civilians in areas outside its control, you have allowed the UN to become a political tool of the war. Aid should go to those who need it most, without regard to politics. This is why people here think the siege is as much by the UN as it is by the regime.

Mr. O'Brien, your colleagues in Damascus are either too close to the regime or too scared of having their visas revoked by the same powers that are besieging us. Those whose loved ones die from malnutrition-related illnesses or a lack of basic medical care will never forgive the UN staff who sit minutes away in luxury hotels, within earshot of the bombings. And this is not just about aid delivery. Without a regular UN presence, it is much easier for the regime and its allies to bomb civilians under siege. There are no international witnesses to its crimes.

The regime's "surrender or starve" policy is killing us. But instead of using your voice to oppose it, you are stamping a UN seal of approval on the siege. After Al Wa'er in Homs was evacuated following almost two years of devastating isolation, your UN coordinator in Damascus, Yaacoub El Hillou, called this result "a good model to build on." These words encourage the regime to tighten its sieges across the country, not loosen them.

For many of us in Syria, the UN has turned from a symbol of hope into a symbol of complicity.

For those who still had faith in the impartiality of the UN, the final straw came a few weeks ago. News was confirmed that your staff had agreed to a last-minute request from the Assad regime to remove the words "siege" or "besieged" from all 64 pages of your Humanitarian Response Plan for 2016 -- the UN's key fundraising document.

Why are you silencing our suffering? As if refusing to break the sieges were not enough, it now seems the UN is even afraid of uttering the words. For many of us in Syria, the UN has turned from a symbol of hope into a symbol of complicity. Two decades ago, in Srebrenica, we saw what happens when UN peacekeepers get dictated to by war criminals. Today in Syria, it seems to be the turn of UN humanitarians.

Mr. O'Brien, as head of the UN body negotiating, coordinating and deciding access to these areas, you have the power to deliver lifesaving food and medicine to those children who are starving to death. The UN Security Council has given you authorization and the world has paid for the aid. It is time to have the courage of your convictions and break the siege.

Signed,
1. Abdullah H, Syrian Civil Defence (White Helmets) Damascus Countryside Eastern
Ghouta
2. Akram A, Syrian Civil Defence (White Helmets) Douma Douma
3. Ahmad A, Syrian Civil Defence (White Helmets) Daraya Daraya
4. Mahran A, Douma Local Council Douma
5. Ghassan A, Jobar Local Council Jobar
6. Ahmad T, Daraya Local Council Daraya
7. Qassem A, Moadamiyeh Local Council Moadamiyeh
8. Hassan M, Unified Medical Office of Douma Douma
9. Ayat, Women Now for Development Douma
10. Hussam T, The Syrian Nonviolence Movement Damascus
11. Ibrahim A, Local Coordination Committee Douma
12. Fakhruldeen A, Unified Medical Office of Deir Ezzor Deir
Ezzor
13. Malek D, Local Coordination Committee Homs
14. Mohammad K, Douma Local Coordination Committee, Douma
15. Abdullah K, Basma Foundation Yarmouk
16. Sawsan A, Women Now for Development Daraya
17. Dr Bakr A, Unified Medical Office of Eastern Ghouta Eastern
Ghouta
18. Name withheld, The Higher Commission for Humanitarian Relief and Medical Support Deir
Ezzor
19. Ammar E, Medical Commission for the South of the Capital Southern
Damascus
20. Maimounah, Syrian Child Protection Network Douma
21. Dr Wael D, Medical Office of Eastern Ghouta, Eastern Ghouta
22. Abu Bilal A, Douma Medical Office Douma
23. Omar R, The Association of Eastern Ghouta Pharmacists Arbeen
24. Mohannnad K, Al Ghouta Hospital Moadamiyeh
25. Mohammad B, Syrian Engineers Council Douma
26. Muntaser B, General Medical Association Douma
27. Thaer H, Sham Legal Centre Douma
28. Maher Hudeeb, Assistance Coordination Unit Deir
Ezzor
29. Samer B, Nour Medical Team Douma
30. Firas A, The International Humanitarian Relief Committee Douma
31. Dr Ahmad A, Save a Soul Douma
32. Nessreen A, Volunteer with the Syrian Red Crescent Douma
33. Moaz A, Deir Ezzor Platform for Civil Society Deir
Ezzor
34. Osama K, Center for Civil Society and Democracy Deir
Ezzor
35. Ziad A, Ayn alMadina
magazine Deir
Ezzor
36. Mohamamd K, Sound and Picture Deir
Ezzor
37. Orwa K, SMART News Agency Damascus
38. Hanan H, Aosus Foundation Douma
39. Abd AlBaqi
I, The Cultural Forum for the Graduates of Deir Ezzor Deir
Ezzor
40. Walaa B, Charity Health Society Douma
41. Ali T, Activist Zabadani
42. Ahmad S, Civil activist Douma
43. Ahmad M, DZ Graph (Media) Deir
Ezzor
44. Youssef B, Union of Syrian Revolutionary Coordinators Douma
45. Hassan T, Independent journalist Douma
46. Yasser D, Syrian Media Organisation in Damascus and its Suburbs Douma
47. Fadi K, Political activist Douma
48. Abu Omar H, Civilian Deir
Ezzor
49. Ziad I, Independent activist, Rif Damascus
50. Karam A, Civilian Deir
Ezzor
51. Farhan A, Shams Deir
Ezzor
52. Ahmad B, Rescue worker Douma
53. Shatha B, Arab Writers Union Deir
Ezzor
54. Marwa A, Civilian Deir
Ezzor
55. Mohammad A, Civilian Deir
Ezzor
56. Mohammad E, Radio Free Deir Ezzor Deir
Ezzor
57. Ghaza A, Civilian Douma
58. Samia B, Civilian Deir
Ezzor
59. Bayan R, Civilian Deir
Ezzor
60. Ahmad A, Civilian Deir
Ezzor
61. Rania A, Deir Ezzor Radio Deir
Ezzor
62. Hussam, H, Civil activist, Deir Ezzor
63. Mohammad N, Alseeraj for Development & Healthcare Damascus
64. Madeha A, Civilian Deir
Ezzor
65. Abdullah D, Civilian Deir
Ezzor
66. Mohannad H, Civilian Homs
67. Ghassan T, Civilian Douma
68. Marwa A, Sama Organisation for Human Rights Deir
Ezzor
69. Mohama K, Local Development and Small Projects Support Office (LDSPS) Douma
70. Souad K, Independent journalist Douma
71. Ahmad A, Education and Rights Activists Douma
72. Abulmonam E, Wire Photographer Eastern
Ghouta
73. Rawda K, Civilian Damascus
Suburbs
74. Yahya I, Directorate of Education Douma
75. Siham A, Basmet Amal Kafr
Batna
76. Yaman A, Civilian Eastern
Ghouta
77. Moayad K, Civilian Eastern
Ghouta
78. Mohammad S, Civilian Eastern
Ghouta
79. Bassam K, Civilian Eastern
Ghouta
80. Sham A, The Documentation Centre in Zabadani Zabadani
81. Rawad A, Oxygen Magazine Zabadani
82. Dr Abdul Wahab A, Doctor Eastern
Ghouta
83. Sereen B, Dammah Zabadani
84. Dr Aous A, Darna Eastern
Ghouta
85. Hani S, Khatwat Deir
Ezzor
86. Abdulnaser K, Activist and political dissident Douma
87. Manal S, Civilian Douma
88. Amani A, Volunteer with the Syrian Red Crescent Douma
89. Bahaa alDeen
N, Nubni [We Build] AlKisweh
90. Nazeer F, Douma Local Council Douma
91. Younes T, Douma Local Council Douma
92. Adnan Q, AOSUS Douma
93. Aymam M, AOSUS Eastern
Ghouta
94. Amro F, Working Group for Syria Damascus
95. Muhammad R, Merqab Daraya
96. Nizar S, Sawaiduna Eastern
Ghouta
97. Youssef N, Engineer Douma
98. Ali H, Civilian Douma
99. Beybars A, Media activist Homs
100. Amjad, Civilian Daraya
101. Muhannad A, Journalist Daraya
102. Moataz M, Activist Daraya
103. Moayad Z, Molham Team Yarmouk
104. Hussam A, Daraya Local Council Daraya
105. Amer A, Ataa Damascus
106. Anas A, Moadamiyeh Local Council Moadamiyeh
107. Dani Q, Media Office of Moadamiyeh Moadamiyeh
108. Ahmad M, Moadamiyeh Local Coordination Committee Moadamiyeh
109. Thaer H, Sham Legal Centre Douma
110. Ahmad T, Douma Local Council Douma
111. Mohammad K, The Medical Office for Douma and Surrounding Areas Douma
112. Mahmoud S, The Revolutionary Unified Medical Office Eastern
Ghouta

Full names of signatories have been withheld for security reasons.

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