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Cessation of hostilities in Syria fails to deliver on humanitarian aid promise

For Immediate Release

NEW YORK – A cessation of hostilities agreement has tamped down violence in Syria, but the pact has largely failed to deliver life-saving humanitarian aid to the people who need it most – that’s according to a paper published today by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). Hundreds of thousands of Syrians remain cut off from aid, and millions more require basic humanitarian assistance, despite the agreement’s explicit call to facilitate humanitarian aid deliveries.

“The bombs may have stopped falling, but that is far from enough,” said Elise Baker, a PHR investigator and the author of the paper. “Millions of Syrians are still in dire need of critical aid, particularly in areas under siege. The US/Russia-brokered agreement has failed to deliver lifesaving supplies to people who’ve been cut off from aid for months and in some cases years.”

According to PHR’s issue brief, “Empty Promises: Syria Cessation of Hostilities Fails on Aid Delivery,” the United Nations and its partner organizations made only five deliveries of food, shelter materials, and medical supplies to UN-designated besieged areas in the first three weeks of the cessation. That aid reached just 30 percent of the nearly half million Syrians in areas under siege by Syrian government and self-declared Islamic State forces, and some aid deliveries failed to include vital medical supplies and food.

Syria’s civil war has claimed at least 400,000 lives and uprooted half the country’s population. The February 27 cessation of hostilities was meant to both halt the violence and guarantee humanitarian aid to ease civilians’ suffering. The pact called on all sides to allow humanitarian agencies rapid, unhindered, and sustained access, in particular to besieged areas.

The UN estimates 13.5 million Syrians – over half the country’s population – need basic humanitarian supplies. The Syrian government nonetheless continues to bar humanitarian aid from reaching six besieged regions, whose residents are reportedly dying because basic medicine and essential medical personnel can’t reach them.

Throughout the war, PHR has documented how the Syrian government has decimated the country’s health infrastructure, indiscriminately and intentionally striking medical facilities and detaining, torturing, and killing doctors and other medical workers. In some cases, Syrian government forces have stripped aid convoys of vital medical supplies.

“While world leaders congratulate themselves on the decrease in violence, Syrians continue to die from starvation and lack of medical care,” Baker said. “It’s long past time to end sieges. Willfully cutting off aid to starve civilians is a war crime. We can add this to the tragically long list of war crimes committed by the Syrian government and other parties to this brutal conflict.”

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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