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Thursday, 1 December 2016 - 3:55pm

As a humanitarian catastrophe unfolds in Aleppo, over 220 civil society organizations from 45 countries, including over 25 from the UK, have issued a declaration.

The declaration states that the UN Security Council has “failed to uphold its responsibility to protect the Syrian people”. Signatories to the declaration, including Amnesty International, Asia Forum for Human Rights and Development, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, Pan-African Lawyers Union and Save the Children, have also demanded that UN Member States take urgent and meaningful action to stop the atrocities and protect civilians.

“Aleppo is on the brink of becoming another Rwanda or Srebrenica.” said Dr Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. “We are witnessing yet another moment of global inaction in the face of human annihilation. Given the shameful deadlock in the Security Council, members states in the General Assembly must act within their power and demand an immediate end to attacks on civilians and accountability for the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.”

While the UN Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, the UN General Assembly also has responsibilities in that regard under the UN Charter. A “Uniting for Peace” procedure adopted by the General Assembly in 1950 allows the General Assembly to recommend collective action when the UN Security Council fails to uphold its responsibility because of lack of unanimity of the permanent members.

Dr. Ahmad Tarakji, President of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) said, “It is important to face down the worst of humanity, look it straight in the eyes and refuse to blink. But we are closing our eyes to what is happening in Aleppo. If we are to not act now in the face of such depravity and disregard for basic norms – when will we ever?"

The civil society declaration coincides with new research by Human Rights Watch which shows that war crimes were committed in Aleppo during the Russian-backed Syrian campaign in September and October 2016, with at least 440 civilians killed including 90 children.

“The situation unfolding in Aleppo is the ultimate test of the international system,” said Eduarda Hamann, Coordinator of the Building Peace program at the Igarapé Institute in Brazil. “The community of nations cannot stand by while tens of thousands of Syrians are violently forced to evacuate their homes. Member states of the UN should urgently come together to invoke the Uniting for Peace protocol to break the Security Council impasse and stop the horrors of Aleppo.”

NOTE: Crisis Action works behind the scenes to enable partners to respond jointly to conflict and should not be cited in media reports.

The Civil Society declaration and full list of signatory organizations can be found here and below.

For more information: Jamie.pb@crisisaction.org (+1 202 476 0026, +1 646 400 5522)

Notes to the editor

Signatory organizations & spokespeople

·    223 organisations from 45 countries and 5 continents have signed the civil society declaration

·    Over 20 organisations based in the UK signed the statement, including Action Aid International, Amnesty International, the International Rescue Committee, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam International, Save the Children and World Vision.

·    Signing organisations from other countries include Asia Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Brazilian Association of NGOs (ABONG), Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Pan-African Lawyers Union and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).

·    65 Syrian organizations are among the signatories including 48 members of the Syria Relief Network, an umbrella organization of Syrian humanitarian NGOs working inside Syria and neighbouring countries to provide relief to Syrians in need of assistance.

·    Spokespeople from the signing organizations are available for comment, including. Please contact Jamie.pb@crisisaction.org if you would like to be put in touch.

UN General Assembly

·         Under the resolution 377A(V), "Uniting for peace", adopted by the General Assembly on 3 November 1950, an "emergency special session" can be convened within 24 hours

·         Resolution 377 (V) states that if the Security Council, because of the “lack of unanimity of the permanent members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security,” the General Assembly can consider the matter with a view to making appropriate recommendations to Members for collective measures. Uniting for Peace is not just for recommending the use of armed force but for any steps related to the maintenance of international peace and security

·         The UN Security Council could refer Syria to the UN General Assembly under the Uniting for Peace procedure, through a procedural vote which could not be vetoed by any of the P5, requiring only nine affirmative votes. Alternatively, a simple majority of UN member States could instigate an emergency special session of the General Assembly. A Uniting for Peace resolution would require a two-thirds majority vote in the General Assembly as it would be considered an important question regarding international peace and security.

·         Further resources: Resolutions adopted by the General Assembly – Emergency Special Sessions ; Security Council Report’s Abridged History on UN Security Council Deadlocks and Uniting for Peace

Civil Society declaration

Uniting for Peace in Syria: Global Civil Society Appeal to UN Member States

The UN Security Council has failed Syrians. In almost six years of conflict, close to half a million people have been killed and eleven million have been forced to leave their homes. Most recently, the Syrian and Russian governments and their allies have carried out unlawful attacks on eastern Aleppo with scant regard for some 250,000 civilians trapped there. Armed opposition groups have also fired mortars and other projectiles into civilian neighborhoods of western Aleppo, though according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “indiscriminate airstrikes across the eastern part of the city by Government forces and their allies are responsible for the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties.” Efforts to stop these atrocities and hold those responsible to account have been blocked repeatedly by Russia, which continues to misuse its veto power in the Security Council.

The UN’s special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has warned that the UN must not allow “another Srebrenica, another Rwanda, which we are sadly ready to recognize written on that wall in front of us, unless something takes place.” Yet, there is no sign that the Security Council deadlock will end anytime soon. The guardian of international peace and security has failed to fulfill its task under the UN Charter and has failed to uphold its responsibility to protect the Syrian people.

This is why we, a global coalition of 223 civil society organizations, urgently call upon UN member states to step in and request an Emergency Special Session of the UN General Assembly to demand an end to all unlawful attacks in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, and immediate and unhindered humanitarian access so that life-saving aid can reach all those in need. Member states should also explore possible avenues to bring perpetrators of serious crimes under international law on all sides to justice.

We welcome Canada’s leadership in seeking UN General Assembly action and we strongly urge all Member States to join the 73 countries from all regions by endorsing their initiative. These countries should work toward an Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly at the earliest opportunity, as UN member states have done in the past when the Security Council was deadlocked.

We call in particular upon the 112 supporters of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Code of Conduct, which includes a pledge to support “timely and decisive action” aimed at preventing or ending the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, to join this effort and actively promote meaningful action through the UN General Assembly.

Inaction should not be an option. UN member states should use all the diplomatic tools at their disposal to stop the atrocities and protect the millions of civilians in Syria. History will judge harshly those that fail to step up.