UN chief slams Security Council for failing to 'defend human rights' amid Russia veto

UN chief slams Security Council for failing to 'defend human rights' amid Russia veto
3 min read
20 March, 2018
Russia continues to use its veto power to prevent talks happening at the UN Security Council on the human rights violations happening in Syria amid global concern.
The civilian death toll in Eastern Ghouta now stands at 1,401 [AFP]

The UN's human rights chief slammed the Security Council for failing to "defend human rights and prevent further loss of life" on Monday as the Syrian conflict enters its eighth year.

"The Syrian conflict has been characterised by its absolute disregard for even the most minimal standards of principle and law," said Zeid Raad al-Hussein, the high commissioner for human rights.

Speaking about how those that tried to document the human rights violations were either detained, tortured or killed, al-Hussein added, "the Security Council has not lived up to the sacrifice of these heroes throughout Syria. It has not taken decisive action to defend human rights and prevent further loss of life".

Al-Hussein's comments were made in an informal meeting at the UN after Russia blocked a meeting that was set to discuss the human rights situation in Syria, of which he was scheduled to speak in.

Using the veto, Russia's deputy ambassador at the UN Gennady Kuzmin said they "do not see any justification for this meeting", as human rights is not a subject within the mandate of the Security Council.

The move comes as the Syrian regime, backed by its ally Russia, continues its ferocious ground and air assault in Eastern Ghouta to oust rebels from the last standing enclave, just east of Damascus.

"This failure to protect the lives and rights of millions of people is corroding not only the work but also the legitimacy of the UN," added al-Hussein as he condemned Russia's move, criticising the use of veto powers to shield "perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria and elsewhere" from justice.

Since the escalation of the military offensive against Eastern Ghouta on 18 February, the civilian death toll now stands at 1,401 - with over 5,000 injured - although many more bodies are trapped underneath mountains of rubble.

Fierce fighting as rebels try and repel regime offensives - along with relentless bombing and shelling campaigns and the use of chemical weapons - has provoked an exodus of more than 50,000 civilians in three days alone.

Aid groups and NGOs have slammed the regimes brutality, with Save the Children describing the extent of the campaign's destruction as surpassing even the Aleppo crisis in 2016.

The UN's children's agency UNICEF issued a blank statement in response to the unprecedented levels of violence. "UNICEF is issuing this blank statement. We no longer have the words to describe children's suffering and our outrage," it said.

"Do those inflicting the suffering still have words to justify their barbaric acts?"

Eastern Ghouta is home to more than 400,000 people living under crippling regime siege, with little access to food or medical resources. World leaders and government officials have sharply criticised the Assad regime for its indiscriminate bombing and called for an immediate halt.

Despite rebel efforts, regime forces have retaken some 80 percent of the besieged enclave since escalating its brutal air and ground offensive last month, carving it up into three ever-smaller pockets held by different rebel groups.

Thousands of civilians have been killed and injured as Bashar al-Assad seems to stop at nothing to regain control of Eastern Ghouta, the last opposition-held enclave near the Syrian capital.