As Saudis block a human rights inquiry in Yemen, America stays quiet

Vice News reports: A Dutch-led effort to create a human rights mission for Yemen was abandoned Wednesday amid intense Saudi opposition at the UN, but human rights experts are laying blame in part at the feet of the United States, which failed to vigorously back the Netherlands — and may have worked behind the scenes to head off the independent investigation.

A Saudi-led coalition has bombed Yemen since late March in an attempt to push back Houthi rebels and their allies and reinstate the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. The US (and UK) offers logistical support for the coalition, in addition to selling billions of dollars in weapons to its members, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. US officials say American personnel are also involved in providing targeting assistance for airstrikes, which the UN says are responsible for the majority of the more than 2,300 civilian deaths in the conflict in the past six months.

In September, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called for an independent, international inquiry into crimes committed in Yemen in the preceding year. Shortly after, the Netherlands, supported by several European countries, presented a draft resolution to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). Among other elements, it called for a human rights mission, commissioned by Zeid, to be sent to Yemen, and for that team to be allowed access to all areas of the country.

Multiple sources familiar with negotiations in Geneva, where the HRC is located, said the Dutch initially encountered objections from the Yemeni government, as well as from the Saudis, Qataris, and Emiratis — all three of whom currently sit on the council.

The Saudis and other Arab members of the council then introduced an alternative text, which called for the UN to only assist an existing national inquiry in Yemen, established by the government in exile in Riyadh, which supports the Saudi-led intervention. Human rights and civil society groups considered it unacceptable, both due to its content and because it was introduced by a belligerent in Yemen’s war. They offered public support to the Dutch.

Largely quiet on the matter was the United States. After multiple requests for comment on whether the American government supported an international, independent human rights inquiry for Yemen, US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power released an ambiguously worded statement on September 24. [Continue reading…]


Saudi objections halt UN inquiry of Yemen war

The New York Times reports: In a U-turn at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Western governments dropped plans Wednesday for an international inquiry into human rights violations by all parties in the war in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians in the last six months.

The change of direction came as the Netherlands withdrew the draft of a resolution it had prepared with support from a group of mainly Western countries that instructed the United Nations high commissioner for human rights to send experts to Yemen to investigate the conduct of the war.

That proposal was a follow-up to recommendations by the commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who detailed in a report this month the heavy civilian loss of life inflicted not only by the relentless airstrikes of the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia but also by the indiscriminate shelling carried out by Houthi rebels. [Continue reading…]


Ukrainian president mocks Putin in front of United Nations

The Washington Post reports: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko sought to return his country’s long-running conflict with Russia to center stage Tuesday, telling the United Nations General Assembly that Russia has been waging an aggressive war of occupation against Ukraine.

The Russian delegation was not present in the General Assembly Hall for Poroshenko’s speech, an apparently deliberate boycott. On Monday, the Ukrainian delegation pointedly left the hall when Russian President Vladimir Putin started speaking.

Though he did not mention Putin by name, Poroshenko openly mocked the Russian president’s call for an anti-terrorism coalition to fight radicals in Syria, characterizing it as “double-tongued.”

“Cool story,” he said, his voice dripping in sarcasm. “But really hard to believe.

“How can you urge an anti-terrorism coalition if you inspire terrorism right in front of your own door? How can you talk peace and legitimacy if your policy is war via puppet government? How can you speak for freedom for nations if you punish your neighbor for this choice? How can you demand respect for all if you don’t have respect for anyone?”

Many Ukrainians fear their confrontation with Russia, which began in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea, has been sidelined under a blizzard of international crises, particularly the war raging in Syria. [Continue reading…]


Obama’s call at UN to fight ISIS with ideas is largely seen as futile

The New York Times reports: At least eight Islamic State branches in the Middle East and Afghanistan have cropped up in recent years or have redefined themselves as allies, such as the Boko Haram insurgency group in Nigeria.

At the same time, international efforts to combat the Islamic State’s online propaganda messaging has been an abysmal failure, according to a recent State Department assessment.

So far, the Islamic State’s violent narrative — promulgated through thousands of messages each day — has effectively “trumped” the efforts of some of the world’s richest and most technologically advanced nations, the State Department assessment said. [Continue reading…]


Abbas says he’s no longer bound by Oslo Accords

The New York Times reports: Demonstrating a new level of tension with Israel, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority declared Wednesday that it was no longer bound by the Oslo Accords that formed the basis for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In his annual General Assembly speech, Mr. Abbas accused Israel of having violated the accords and subsequent agreements. He asserted that there was no reason the Palestinians should remain faithful to them as long as the Israelis were not.

“We cannot continue to be bound by these signed agreements with Israel and Israel must assume fully all its responsibility as an occupying power,” Mr. Abbas said.

There had been speculation fed by Mr. Abbas’s aides that he would drop a “bombshell” announcement during his speech. While the announcement sounded serious, the practical effects were not immediately clear. [Continue reading…]


Pope Francis at the UN: ‘Any harm done to the environment, is harm done to humanity’

Pope Francis addressing the United Nations General Assembly today: The work of the United Nations, according to the principles set forth in the Preamble and the first Articles of its founding Charter, can be seen as the development and promotion of the rule of law, based on the realization that justice is an essential condition for achieving the ideal of universal fraternity. In this context, it is helpful to recall that the limitation of power is an idea implicit in the concept of law itself. To give to each his own, to cite the classic definition of justice, means that no human individual or group can consider itself absolute, permitted to bypass the dignity and the rights of other individuals or their social groupings. The effective distribution of power (political, economic, defense-related, technological, etc.) among a plurality of subjects, and the creation of a juridical system for regulating claims and interests, are one concrete way of limiting power. Yet today’s world presents us with many false rights and – at the same time – broad sectors which are vulnerable, victims of power badly exercised: for example, the natural environment and the vast ranks of the excluded. These sectors are closely interconnected and made increasingly fragile by dominant political and economic relationships. That is why their rights must be forcefully affirmed, by working to protect the environment and by putting an end to exclusion.

First, it must be stated that a true “right of the environment” does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Man, for all his remarkable gifts, which “are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology” (Laudato Si’, 81), is at the same time a part of these spheres. He possesses a body shaped by physical, chemical and biological elements, and can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favourable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity. Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good (cf. ibid.).

The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged, either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise, or are incapable of decisive political action. Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste”.

War is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and between peoples.

To this end, there is a need to ensure the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation and arbitration, as proposed by the Charter of the United Nations, which constitutes truly a fundamental juridical norm. The experience of these seventy years since the founding of the United Nations in general, and in particular the experience of these first fifteen years of the third millennium, reveal both the effectiveness of the full application of international norms and the ineffectiveness of their lack of enforcement. When the Charter of the United Nations is respected and applied with transparency and sincerity, and without ulterior motives, as an obligatory reference point of justice and not as a means of masking spurious intentions, peaceful results will be obtained. When, on the other hand, the norm is considered simply as an instrument to be used whenever it proves favourable, and to be avoided when it is not, a true Pandora’s box is opened, releasing uncontrollable forces which gravely harm defenseless populations, the cultural milieu and even the biological environment.

The Preamble and the first Article of the Charter of the United Nations set forth the foundations of the international juridical framework: peace, the pacific solution of disputes and the development of friendly relations between the nations. Strongly opposed to such statements, and in practice denying them, is the constant tendency to the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear weapons. An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as “nations united by fear and distrust”. There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the non-proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.

The recent agreement reached on the nuclear question in a sensitive region of Asia and the Middle East is proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy. I express my hope that this agreement will be lasting and efficacious, and bring forth the desired fruits with the cooperation of all the parties involved.

In this sense, hard evidence is not lacking of the negative effects of military and political interventions which are not coordinated between members of the international community. For this reason, while regretting to have to do so, I must renew my repeated appeals regarding to the painful situation of the entire Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, where Christians, together with other cultural or ethnic groups, and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly, have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives, or by enslavement.

These realities should serve as a grave summons to an examination of conscience on the part of those charged with the conduct of international affairs. Not only in cases of religious or cultural persecution, but in every situation of conflict, as in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan and the Great Lakes region, real human beings take precedence over partisan interests, however legitimate the latter may be. In wars and conflicts there are individual persons, our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls who weep, suffer and die. Human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements.

As I wrote in my letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 9 August 2014, “the most basic understanding of human dignity compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities” and to protect innocent peoples. [Continue reading…]


Putin said to plan ISIS strike with or without U.S.

Bloomberg reports: President Vladimir Putin, determined to strengthen Russia’s only military outpost in the Middle East, is preparing to launch unilateral airstrikes against Islamic State from inside Syria if the U.S. rejects his proposal to join forces, two people familiar with the matter said.

Putin’s preferred course of action, though, is for America and its allies to agree to coordinate their campaign against the terrorist group with Russia, Iran and the Syrian army, which the Obama administration has so far resisted, according to a person close to the Kremlin and an adviser to the Defense Ministry in Moscow.

Russian diplomacy has shifted into overdrive as Putin seeks to avoid the collapse of the embattled regime of Bashar al-Assad, a longtime ally who’s locked in a 4 1/2 year civil war against opponents including Sunni extremists fighting under the banner of Islamic State. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Moscow for talks with Putin this week, followed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Putin’s proposal, which Russia has communicated to the U.S., calls for a “parallel track” of joint military action accompanied by a political transition away from Assad, a key U.S. demand, according to a third person. The initiative will be the centerpiece of Putin’s one-day trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 28, which will include a meeting with President Barack Obama, both the White House and Kremlin said Thursday. [Continue reading…]


Human migration will be a defining issue of this century. How best to cope?

Alexander Betts writes: Throughout the crisis, a debate has been on whether it is a “migrant” or a “refugee” crisis. It has been important for the public to understand that most people coming to Europe have been from refugee-producing countries and that “refugees” have a particular set of rights under international law. Furthermore, people have a right to seek asylum, and have their claims to refugee status adjudicated.

However, the stark dichotomy between “refugee” and “economic migrant” masks a growing trend: that many people coming fall between those two extremes.

The modern global refugee regime was established at a particular juncture of history, in the aftermath of the Holocaust and at the start of the cold war. The 1951 convention on the status of refugees defines a refugee as someone fleeing “persecution”, based on race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group, or political opinion. The interpretation of that definition has adapted over time. But at its core was the idea of protecting people whose own governments were either out to get them or unable to prevent persecution by others. Today, the sources of cross-border displacement are increasingly complex, and many fit poorly with the 1951 convention.

Environmental change, food insecurity, and generalised violence, for example, represent emerging sources of human displacement. In strong states, the government can usually provide some kind of remedy or resolution to people affected by these types of crisis. However, much less so in fragile states. People who fall outside the internationally recognised definition of a refugee but are nevertheless fleeing very serious socio-economic rights deprivations might be called “survival migrants”.

In the contemporary world, a significant proportion of the people we attempt to describe as economic migrants fall into this category.

Survival migration has been an emerging challenge. Nearly a decade ago, Zimbabwean asylum seekers fleeing Robert Mugabe’s regime made up the largest group of asylum seekers in the world. Most British people would probably assume that at the height of the crisis between 2003 and 2009 the majority would have been refugees. However, in South Africa, to where the overwhelming proportion fled, only about 10% were recognised as refugees and up to 300,000 people a year were deported back to Zimbabwe. The reason for this was simple: they were not judged to fit the 1951 convention definition of a refugee. However, on ethical grounds, it was incontrovertibly cruel to deport people back to a country in a state of socio-economic and political collapse.

This example illustrates how current policy responses bypass engagement with long-term trends. The world as a whole lacks a vision for how to respond to the changing nature of displacement. So much of the current “crisis” is not a crisis of numbers but a crisis of politics. We need bold leadership that correctly and honestly articulates the causes of movement and outlines global solutions. [Continue reading…]


UN funding shortfalls and cuts in refugee aid fuel exodus to Europe

The New York Times reports: One of the prime reasons for the wave of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers washing into Europe is the deterioration of the conditions that Syrians face in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, a worsening largely caused by sharp falls in international funding from United Nations countries, officials and analysts say.

That shortfall in funding, in contrast with the greater resources provided by Europe, is prompting some to make the hazardous journey who might otherwise remain where they are. The United Nations Syria Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan, which groups a number of humanitarian agencies and covers development aid for the countries bordering Syria, had by the end of August received just 37 percent of the $4.5 billion appeal for needed funds this year.

António Guterres, the high commissioner for refugees, recently said that his agency’s budget this year would be 10 percent smaller than in 2014, and that it could not keep up with the drastic increase in need from the long Syrian conflict, which includes shelter, water, sanitation, food, medical assistance and education. The United Nations refugee agency’s funding for Syria this year is only at 43 percent of budgeted requirements. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Najim Rahim says that when he looks around his neighborhood in the northern city of Kunduz now, “I feel lonely.”

His friend Ahmad Ulomi, who worked in the photo shop down the street, gave up his photography studies and left with five family members, striking out across the Iranian desert on the way to Europe. The shop’s owner, Khalid Ghaznawi, who was Mr. Ulomi’s teacher, decided to follow him with his family of eight, and he put his business up for sale. Mr. Rahim’s friend Atiqullah, who ran the local grocery shop, closed it and also left for Iran with his wife. Another neighbor, Feroz Ahmad, dropped out of college and last week called from Turkey to say he was on his way to Europe.

All of that happened in the past two weeks as people in Kunduz are rushing to seize what many see as a last chance to make it to Europe, just as others are doing throughout Afghanistan. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Thousands of migrants poured into Austria on Saturday after being bounced around countries overwhelmed by their arrival and insistent that they keep moving.

Hungary — which had taken the most draconian and visible measures to turn back the exodus, notably the construction of a razor-wire fence along its border with Serbia — partly caved Friday evening. It grudgingly allowed at least 11,000 migrants to enter from Croatia, and then sent them by bus and train to processing centers along its border with Austria.

The Austrian authorities said that about 10,000 people entered the country on Saturday, from Slovenia and Hungary. [Continue reading…]


World Food Programme drops aid to one-third of Syrian refugees

The Associated Press reports: The cash-strapped World Food Programme has had to drop one-third of Syrian refugees from its food voucher program in Middle Eastern host countries this year, including 229,000 in Jordan who stopped receiving food aid in September, a spokeswoman said.

The sharp cutbacks come at a time when growing numbers of Syrians who initially found refuge in neighbouring countries are trying to reach Europe. Since 2011 more than four million Syrians have fled their country’s civil war, most settling in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

Abeer Etefa, a WFP regional spokeswoman, said the world must do more to support refugees in the regional host countries or face increasing migration.

“This is a crisis that has been brewing in the region for five years,” she said. “Now it is getting the attention of the world because it moved one step further from the region to Europe. We have to help people where they are or they will move.” [Continue reading…]


Exodus of Syrians highlights political failure of the West

The New York Times reports: The causes of the current crisis are plain. Neighboring countries like Lebanon and Jordan became overwhelmed with refugees and closed their borders to many, while international humanitarian funding fell further and further short of the need. Then, Syrian government losses and other battlefield shifts sent new waves of people fleeing the country.

Some of these people had thought they would stick it out in Syria, and they are different from earlier refugees, who tended to be poor and vulnerable, or wanted by the government, or from areas hard-hit early in the civil war. Now those departing include more middle-class or wealthy people, more supporters of the government, and more residents of areas that were initially safe.

Rawad, 25, a pro-government university graduate, left for Germany with his brother Iyad, 13, who as a minor could help his family obtain asylum. They walked from Greece to save money, Rawad said via text message, sleeping in forests and train stations alongside families from northern Syria who opposed President Bashar al-Assad.

People like Rawad and Iyad have been joined by growing numbers of refugees who had for a time found shelter in neighboring countries. Lebanon, where one in three people is now a Syrian refugee, and Jordan have cracked down on entry and residency policies for Syrians. Even in Turkey, a larger country more willing and able to absorb them, new domestic political tensions make their fate uncertain.

As the numbers of displaced Syrians mounted to 11 million today from a trickle in 2011, efforts to reach a political solution gained little traction. The United States and Russia bickered in the Security Council while Syrian government warplanes continued indiscriminate barrel bombing, the Islamic State took over new areas, other insurgent groups battled government forces and one another, and Syria’s economy collapsed. [Continue reading…]


Lost generation: In war-torn Middle East, 14 million school-age children are not in school

The Associated Press reports: Forty percent of children from five conflict-scarred Middle Eastern countries are not attending school, the United Nations agency for children said Thursday, warning that losing this generation will lead to more militancy, migration and a dim future for the region.

An estimated 13.7 million school age children from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Sudan are not in school, out of a total of 34 million, UNICEF said.

The dropout rate could increase to 50 percent in coming months as conflicts intensify, Peter Salama, the agency’s regional chief, told The Associated Press.

“We are on the verge of losing a generation of children in this region,” he said. “We must act now or we will certainly regret the consequences.” [Continue reading…]


UN: Gaza could be ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020 if trends continue

The Associated Press reports: A new United Nations report says Gaza could be “uninhabitable” in less than five years if current economic trends continue.

The report released Tuesday by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development points to the eight years of economic blockade of Gaza as well as the three wars between Israel and the Palestinians there over the past six years.

Last year’s war displaced half a million people and left parts of Gaza destroyed.

The war “has effectively eliminated what was left of the middle class, sending almost all of the population into destitution and dependence on international humanitarian aid,” the new report says. [Continue reading…]


As tragedies shock Europe, a bigger refugee crisis looms in the Middle East

The Washington Post reports: While the world’s attention is fixed on the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees swarming into Europe, a potentially far more profound crisis is unfolding in the countries of the Middle East that have borne the brunt of the world’s failure to resolve the Syrian war.

Those reaching Europe represent a small percentage of the 4 million Syrians who have fled into Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, making Syria the biggest single source of refugees in the world and the worst humanitarian emergency in more than four decades.

As the fighting grinds into a fifth year, the realization is dawning on aid agencies, the countries hosting the refugees and the Syrians themselves that most won’t be going home anytime soon, presenting the international community with a long-term crisis that it is ill-equipped to address and that could prove deeply destabilizing, for the region and the wider world.

The failure is first and foremost one of diplomacy, said António Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The conflict has left at least 250,000 people dead in the strategic heart of the Middle East and displaced more than 11 million overall, yet there is still no peace process, no discernible solution and no end in sight.

Now, the humanitarian effort is failing, too, ground down by dwindling interest, falling donations and spiraling needs. The United Nations has received less than half the amount it said was needed to care for the refugees over the past four years. Aid is being cut and programs are being suspended at the very moment when those who left Syria in haste, expecting they soon would go home, are running out of savings and wearing out the welcome they initially received.

“It is a tragedy without parallel in the recent past,” Guterres said in an interview, warning that millions could eventually end up without the help they need to stay alive.

“There are many battles being won,” he added. “Unfortunately, the number of battles being lost is more.”

It is a crisis whose true cost has yet to be realized. [Continue reading…]

A Syrian refugee, having reached Europe — where she hopes to find a doctor who can treat her two-year old daughter’s heart condition — told the New York Times: “I want to find somewhere where there are no Arabs. Europeans are better people. The Arabs hurt us a lot.”

Jenan Moussa, who reports for Al Aan TV, highlights the conflicted views on governance that are stifling the region’s political development.


Assad is more than happy to play a waiting game

Hassan Hassan writes: During this month, a military escalation by both sides of the Syrian conflict has led to a dramatic increase in bloodshed. For weeks, the Assad regime has been pounding Zabadani, a city near the Lebanese border, and Douma, near Damascus. The rebels have shelled the Shia villages of Foua and Kafraya in Idlib.

The regime’s offensive this year has probably been the worst in terms of human casualties and devastation. An air raid on a marketplace in Douma left more than 100 civilians dead and hundreds injured. The humanitarian situation in Zabadani was similarly catastrophic: Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Syria, described “unprecedented levels of destruction” in the city, the last of the rebels’ strongholds in the Qalamoun region.

The escalation prompted speculations that the two sides may be trying to prop up their bargaining positions after Iran and Russia initiated a flurry of diplomatic activities. On Thursday, Reuters quoted a western diplomat as saying that the increased hostilities were the warring sides’ way of preparing for a political solution: “It is still fragile, but it is the most concerted move yet to find a political solution. Everyone needs a political solution. Everyone is exhausted.”

But the statement appears to echo the hopes of the backers of the opposition rather than the thinking inside and outside Syria. [Continue reading…]


Syrian town declares itself UN disaster area after latest regime attack

The Guardian reports: A town outside Damascus that this week endured one of the deadliest air raids in the Syrian civil war has declared itself a disaster zone, and called for measures to save civilians from a government-orchestrated siege that has lasted more than two years.

Opposition-held Douma, a few miles from the centre of Damascus, was hit by government aircraft bombing raids on its main market and other civilian targets on Sunday that left more than 100 dead and 500 injured in a town already suffering food and medical shortages.

“As a result of the humanitarian catastrophe, we in the local council for the city of Douma declare it a disaster area according to international, humanitarian and UN standards,” Douma’s governing council said in a statement circulated online.

The statement called on the international community to enforce UN security council resolutions and press Bashar al-Assad’s regime to end attacks against civilians, to allow the Red Cross access to local besieged towns to provide humanitarian assistance, and to open humanitarian corridors to relieve civilians inside the blockade. [Continue reading…]


Yemen crisis: Famine threatens war-torn country, warns UN

BBC News reports: Yemen’s conflict has left it on the brink of famine, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) has warned.

Food shortages, lack of fresh water, and low fuel stocks have created a “perfect storm” for the Yemeni people, the WFP’s Ertharin Cousin said.

The organisation estimates nearly 13 million people urgently require help. [Continue reading…]


Humanitarian conditions worsen in Syria as more civilians killed

The Washington Post reports: The top United Nations humanitarian official, making his first trip to Syria, said in Damascus on Monday that he was “absolutely horrified” at conditions there and “by the total disregard for civilian life by all parties.”

While Stephen O’Brien, the ­undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, did not single out specific combatant groups for blame, he was particularly critical of airstrikes that killed as many as 100 civilians Sunday in the central market area of Douma, a Damascus suburb.

The remark appeared to be aimed at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose military is the only force based in Syria with access to air power.

Beyond the human toll, O’Brien said the civil war also has destroyed historic sites in Syria on a massive scale. He said that during his three-day trip he had visited the city of Homs, “where almost every home” in the Old City “had been completely destroyed.”

O’Brien’s visit was designed not only to call attention to the crisis in Syria, but also to put new pressure on U.N. members to close shortfalls in the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Contributions so far this year amount to less than a third of the funds needed to provide for victims, said O’Brien, who described the ongoing attacks on civilian areas as “appalling.”

“We cannot scale up our operations to reach more people if we do not have adequate resources,” said O’Brien, who took over the job from longtime U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos in June.

More than half of Syria’s 22 million people have either fled the country or been internally displaced from their homes in the still-expanding war, according to U.N. figures. O’Brien said that at least a quarter-million people had been killed, with more than a million injured. [Continue reading…]

Reporting on Syrian state media’s coverage of O’Brien’s remarks, Robert Mackey notes: While his criticism was evenhanded — he also condemned the conduct of rebel groups — and made headlines around the world, Syrians who rely on state television for their news heard none of his harsh words about their government’s conduct of the war. Edited video of Mr. O’Brien’s remarks posted on YouTube by the official Syrian Arab News Agency, or Sana, simply faded to black just before he described the attack on Douma.

A look at a transcript of his remarks released by the United Nations shows that Mr. O’Brien’s description of the devastation he witnessed in the Old City of Homs, a former rebel stronghold, was also omitted by the Syrian state broadcaster. [Continue reading…]