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United States-Taliban deal: UN welcomes efforts to reach political settlement in Afghanistan

On February 29, the United States and the Taliban signed a peace agreement in Doha, the capital of Qatar, which includes guarantees to prevent groups hostile to the US operating on Afghan soil, and for a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan.

The agreement also indicates the Taliban’s participation in internal Afghan peace talks from March 10, and stresses that a “comprehensive and permanent ceasefire” will be on the agenda of any talks.

Via a statement released by his spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, UN Secretary-General António Guterres commended efforts to achieve a “lasting political settlement” in Afghanistan. “Today’s events in Doha and Kabul mark an important development in this regard”, he said.

The UN chief expressed his gratitude to Qatar for hosting the talks between the United States and the Taliban, and highlighted the importance of further reducing violence at the national level, for the benefit of all Afghans and, said Dujarric, “encourages the continued efforts of all parties to create an environment conducive to intra-Afghan negotiations and a comprehensive peace process”.

Mr. Guterres expressed his hope that the “deeply held aspirations of the Afghan people for peace” will be realized through an inclusive Afghan-led process with the meaningful participation of women and young people. “The Secretary-General reiterates the United Nations commitment to support the people and the government of Afghanistan,” said his spokesperson.

UN calls for renewed efforts to continue reducing violence in Afghanistan

The agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban comes after a seven-day period of reduced violence in Afghanistan. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomed the successful conclusion of this relatively calmer period, which is expected to lead to the start of intra-Afghan negotiations.

“All stakeholders must now look to take genuine and concrete steps to end the war,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Afghanistan, in a press release issued on Saturday.

 “The UN welcomes the commitment expressed by the parties to the intra-Afghan negotiations; and urges them to move quickly in their preparations to start negotiations, including by forming a truly representative negotiating team”, said the UN mission.

The United Nations, continued the statement, reiterates its readiness to support an inclusive Afghan-led process that defends the human rights of all citizens and leads to lasting peace in Afghanistan, stressing the importance of “continuing to reduce violence, especially violence that harms civilians, and urges all parties, in the period ahead, to redouble efforts to reduce violence on the way to a permanent ceasefire and a lasting political settlement”.

US forces and their allies have been present in Afghanistan since 2001.

Fighting discrimination against women is key to beating AIDS

Time for change

Discrimination against women and girls occurs in many different forms, across the world. These include laws that limit women’s sexual and reproductive rights, criminalize people for their gender identity or sexual orientation, or for transmitting HIV.

UNAIDS has outlined several societal changes that need to take place, to end discrimination and help in the fight against AIDS.

These include ensuring equal participation of women in political life, uphold human rights for women, and guaranteeing them economic justice, which includes ending the ongoing gender pay gap.

Violence against women must end, and laws that protect women form violence must be put in place and respected, with policies to support and protect survivors of violence.

In the center of Chad, 19-year-old Achta holds up condoms during an HIV awareness-raising session in her Moussoro community. (March 2019), by © UNICEF/Frank Dejong

Health care must be available, without any stigma, discrimination or barriers, and care for women must respect their autonomy, with guaranteed sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Any age of consent for health services should be lifted, and married women should not need the permission of their spouse to access care.

UNAIDS also calls for free education for all, and an end to the large gender gap which still exists in access to education, and a response to climate change that takes into account the fact that women are disproportionately affected, and are particularly vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence during climate-related emergencies.

This is personal

Ms. Byanyima, who has lost family members to AIDS, said that it can only be beaten if the international community takes on social and economic injustices faced by women and girls, and spurs scientific innovation to help those living with the disease.

“Both my own family experience, and our collective experience at the United Nations, have highlighted the same key lesson: the struggle to beat AIDS is inseparable from the struggle for women’s rights and from the struggle against all forms of discrimination”.

AIDS is the biggest killer of women aged 15-49. For UNAIDS, gender-based violence, inequality and insecurity must end, and women and girls must have equal access to education, health and employment, if AIDS is to be beaten by 2030.

In addition, society must be transformed so that there are no second-class citizens, and everyone’s human rights are respected, said the UNAIDS chief.

“AIDS cannot be beaten while marginalized communities (such as the LGBTQI community, people who inject drugs and sex workers) live in fear of the state or of socially sanctioned violence and abuse”, said Ms. Byanyima.

UN health agency warns against coronavirus COVID-19 criminal scams

Criminal elements, says the UN health agency, are posing as WHO representatives, and recommends that, if anyone is contacting by a person or organization claiming to be from the Organization, they should take steps to verify their authenticity.

Examples of suspicious behaviour include asking for login information, sending unasked-for email attachments, directing people to a Website other than www.who.int, and asking for direct donations to emergency response plans or funding appeals.

WHO firmly states that it never does any of these things, and warns that scams can come in the form of emails, websites, phone calls, text messages, and even fax messages.

Malicious emails sent by scammers are known as “phishing” emails. They appear to come from the WHO, and ask for sensitive information, such as user names and passwords, ask users to click on suspicious links, and open malicious attachments. Following these instructions allows criminals to install software that can give them access to, or damage, computers.

How to prevent phishing: official WHO advice

  • Verify the sender by checking their email address,
  • Check the link before you click,
  • Be careful when providing personal information, 
  • Do not rush or feel under pressure,
  • If you gave sensitive information, don’t panic,  
  • If you see a scam, report it.

Seek official information

As many social media accounts share information about COVID-19, the head of WHO, Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyesus, called on the public to seek official sources (such as the WHO Website) to find out how to protect oneself, loved ones and the local community. The WHO Website has comprehensive, regularly updated and authoritative expert information on the virus.

In a Tweet published on Saturday, Tedros acknowledged the anxiety that many feel about COVID-19, and emphasised the importance of preparation, and planning how to stay safe at work, school or places of worship.

53 countries now affected

On Saturday, WHO reported that two new Member States (Mexico and San Marino) reported cases of COVID-19 between Friday and Saturday, as the number of cases continnues to rise. The latest situation report from the organization shows that, over the latest 24-hour reporting period, the number of new cases outside of China (1,318) far outweighed the number of new cases within the country (435).

Nevertheless, the vast majority of confirmed cases (79,394) are in China. The other 52 affected countries currently have 6,009 cases between them. 2,838 people have died from the virus in China, with 86 deaths reported in the rest of the world.






Syria: UN urges Russia and Turkey to secure ‘fresh ceasefire’ as risk of military escalation grows

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres built on his impassioned call earlier in the day for Syrian Government forces backed by Russia, who are attempting to drive the last opposition forces out of Idlib, backed by Turkish forces, to all “step back from the edge of further escalation.”

On Thursday, following strikes on Turkish troops inside Syria, the Turkish Ministry of Defence said that 33 of its soldiers were killed, and 32 wounded, by strikes it attributed to the Syrian Government.

Warning of the potential “dramatic impacts” of further direct confrontation, Mr. Guterres told the Council – which met only yesterday on Syria to consider Idlib’s unfolding humanitarian disaster – that the risk of fighting spiralling out of control, “taking into account the volume of the forces that are in Idlib, and around Idlib, is something that cannot be taken lightly.”

UN Photo/Evan Schneider
The UN Secretary-General António Guterres attends an emergency Security Council meeting on Syria.

Strikes launched ‘seemingly without regard for civilians’

Following on from the UN chief’s appeal, the UN’s head of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, recapped the events of the past nine days, driven by the Russian-backed Syrian advance across Idlib, together with a counter-attack in the east by non-state armed groups, which saw the city of Saraqib reportedly retaken.

“This action cut the Syrian Government’s control of the strategic M5 highway. Turkish forces reportedly played a supporting role in this operation”, said Rosemary DiCarlo.

Following the reported deaths of the Turkish troops, she said Russian defence ministry officials had “confirmed that an unspecified number of Turkish soldiers, who they said were co-located” with opposition fighters, “had been hit by Syrian Government shelling.”

Turkey noted that it had targeted Syrian Government positions in response, “with aircraft, weaponized drones and artillery”, Ms. DiCarlo added.

“We strongly urge Russia and Turkey to build upon their previous agreements to secure a ceasefire for northwest Syria”, she said, noting the devastating impact on civilians of the escalation.

Attacks had come from air and ground “seemingly without regard for civilians”, displacing nearly a million, including more than 560,000 children: “They are fleeing north…into ever-shrinking areas where they still hope to find relative safety.”

© UNICEF/Baker Kasem
On 12 February 2020, families shelter at a recently established informal settlement which continues to receive newly displaced families from southern Idlib and rural Aleppo governorates in northwest Syria.

Indiscriminate killing ‘happening under our watch’

With the UN human rights office OHCHR verifying at least 1,750 civilian deaths since April, the actual number “is probably higher”, said Ms. DiCarlo, with 94 per cent occurring in opposition-held areas.

However, the Security Council-designated terrorist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has also been responsible for indiscriminate attacks she said: “Civilians are killed in IDP camps, schools and hospitals. This is happening in plain sight, night and day, day in and day out. Hospitals destroyed. Schools destroyed. People’s lives destroyed.”

“And it is all happening under our watch”, she declared to the chamber.

‘Destruction and atrocity’

With an “ever-growing record of destruction and atrocity” in Syria, she noted the countless warnings from the UN that attacks on civilians are simply unacceptable.

“We have reaffirmed to the parties that all military operations must respect the rules of international humanitarian law. If such horrific acts and tactics persist despite global outrage, is it largely because their authors do not fear accountability and justice?”

She concluded by noting that the civilians living in daily terror from the guns, shells and mortar rounds across Syria, were “not asking for a pause in the fighting. They are asking for an end to the killing. We must all assume our responsibility to do all we can to stop this violence.”

US Israel-Palestinian peace plan a ‘mockery’, upends long-standing consensus – International Conference hears

Speaking at the International Conference on the Question of Palestine, Mahathir Mohamad also slammed “the ultimate dishonest brokerage” of the unilateral proposal, saying that his country “finds the plan utterly unacceptable and grossly unjust”.

Under the theme “South-East Asian Support for the Rights of the Palestinian People”, the two-day Conference – which brought together over 300 Government and civil society representatives – was organized by the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, in partnership with the Government of Malaysia and the Perdana Global Peace Foundation.

Prime Minister Mahathir went on to urge member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to continue their cooperation not only in political and economic affairs, but also in the pursuit of justice and peace for the Palestinian people. 

“Our collective voice regionally should…extend a united front in supporting the rights of the Palestinians,” the Prime Minister said, calling that “the primary purpose of this peace conference.”

Committee Chair Cheikh Niang also underscored the region’s strong commitment to the Palestinian cause. 

“The peoples of this region have a long-standing, principled support for the quest of the Palestinian people to be free from oppression and occupation”, he said, explaining that they, like the people of many developing countries, endured hard struggles to free themselves and gain independence and sovereignty. 

He pointed out that almost all ASEAN countries have recognized the State of Palestine and called for more active engagement in establishing a multilateral mechanism for negotiations between Israel and Palestine. 

Stefan Priesner, UN Resident Coordinator who represented Secretary-General António Guterres, said that the deteriorating situation on the ground further erodes the possibility of a viable and contiguous Palestine based on the two-State formula. 

He underscored the UN position that if the annexation of territory in the occupied West Bank were implemented, it would not only be illegal under international law, but also close the door to negotiations. 

Moreover, it would have negative repercussions across the region and severely undermine opportunities for peace.

Meanwhile, Palestine’s UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour emphasized that Palestinians do not need a new plan, but a mechanism to implement existing agreements and UN resolutions. 

To defeat the US vision, Palestinians must first “must put our house in order,” and overcome internal divisions, namely between Hamas and the Palestinian National Authority, he stressed, calling for national unity and elections across the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

In the ensuing panel discussion, experts presented their perspectives on the US plan and reported on the current realities of Palestinian life under occupation, including the consequent political and socioeconomic challenges.

The Conference will resume at 9 a.m. on Saturday, 29 February.

‘Mayhem’ in Syria’s Idlib amid ongoing violence, as Guterres urges immediate ceasefire

The UN chief António Guterres, described the current displacement crisis in and around Idlib, and the escalation in fighting between Turkish and Russian-backed Syrian forces, as “one of the most alarming moments” of the nearly-decade long war.

“Without urgent action, the risk of even greater escalation grows by the hour. And as always, civilians are paying the gravest price”, he told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York.

“Even camps and other sites where displaced families have sought shelter have been struck by shelling.”

He said that the most pressing need was an immediate ceasefire “before the situation gets entirely out of control.”

Speaking just hours before the UN Security Council is due to meet in emergency session to discuss the escalation in fighting in Syria,  the UN chief said that “now it’s time to give a chance for diplomacy to work, and it’s essential that fighting stops.”

‘Mayhem’ on the ground

Briefing the press in Geneva earlier in the day, WHO Spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said that health workers were describing “mayhem in their health facilities.”

Speaking in Geneva, he explained that nearly 170,000 “newly displaced people are sleeping out in the open” in Idlib – the last opposition-held area of Syria that is the target of a Government-led military campaign – with 100,000 children exposed to temperatures close to freezing.

The crisis is the worst that people in northwest Syria have experienced since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, UN humanitarians maintain.

Nearly a million displaced in three months

Since 1 December, it is estimated that that nearly a million people have been displaced in the embattled region. Conditions are “horrifying”, said Jens Laerke, Spokesperson for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“We now have 950,000 displacements going in absolutely horrifying conditions. People have nothing and they have no place to go”, he told journalists. “This is an increase upon an increase upon an increase, and it is really tragic to see what is going on.”

 Since 1 December, 11 healthcare facilities have been attacked, causing 10 deaths and 37 injuries, according to WHO.

Sharp rise in trauma cases

The UN agency also warned that the displacement crisis has created huge healthcare needs in some medical centres and hospitals but left other facilities deserted, amid a “sharp rise in trauma cases”.

“As of today, 84 health facilities have been forced to suspend operations since 1 December last year, out of those 84, 31 have been able to relocate and provide services where people have sought refuge from bombardments”, Mr. Lindmeier said.

As part of a major and ongoing humanitarian operation, WHO sent 55 tonnes of medicine and medical supplies from Turkey into Idlib governorate and parts of Aleppo on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Using the border crossings of Bab al Hawa and Bab al Sama, the UN agency transported equipment including 3,200 trauma and surgical treatments.

These are being distributed to WHO partners in more than 150 facilities – approximately half of functioning health facilities in the northwest.

Turkish troop death reports

Amid reports that the Turkish authorities had begun allowing Syrian civilians to cross into Turkey after dozens of Turkish soldiers were reportedly killed in an attack linked to Syrian Government forces, OCHA said that cross-border aid deliveries would proceed.

“We have no official…communication from the Turkish Government about any change as of now”, Mr. Laerke said. “So, the cross-border operation does continue, and I could add that in the first two months of this year we have had more than 2,000 trucks crossing that border and that operation continues.”

Connecticut prison warning: Prolonged solitary confinement may ‘amount to torture’, UN expert warns

“For years, my mandate has raised concerns about the worldwide overuse of solitary confinement which is subject to widespread arbitrariness”, said Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on torture.

The Connecticut Department of Corrections (DOC) has appeared to routinely repress inmates through prolonged or indefinite isolation, excessive use of in-cell restraints and “needlessly intrusive strip searches”, the expert said.

Precarious correctional procedures

According to the independent expert, there seems to be a state-sanctioned policy aimed at purposefully inflicting severe pain or suffering, physical or mental, “which may well amount to torture.”

Theses dehumanizing conditions of detention, which sometimes euphemistically referred to as “segregation”, the “hole” or “lockdown”, are routinely used by US correctional facilities, particularly against inmates designated as “high risk” due to previous gang affiliations, behaviour abnormalities or mental conditions.

And these practices trigger and exacerbate psychological suffering in inmates who may have experienced previous trauma or have mental health conditions or psychosocial disabilities.

“The severe and often irreparable psychological and physical consequences of solitary confinement and social exclusion are well documented and can range from progressively severe forms of anxiety, stress, and depression to cognitive impairment and suicidal tendencies”, noted Mr. Melzer.

“This deliberate infliction of severe mental pain or suffering may well amount to psychological torture”, he added.

Illegal confinement practices

Inflicting solitary confinement on those with mental or physical disabilities is prohibited under international law.

Even if permitted by domestic law, under the 2015-updated Mandela Rules, prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement cannot be regarded as a “lawful sanction”.

deliberate infliction of severe mental pain or suffering may well amount to psychological torture — UN expert

These Rules set a minimum standard of UN rules that defines solitary confinement as “the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact.”

Solitary confinement may only be imposed in exceptional circumstances, and “prolonged” solitary confinement of more than 15 consecutive days is regarded as a form of torture.

“The Mandela Rules reinforce human rights principles, including the recognition of the absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and effective guidance to national prison administrations for persons deprived of their liberty”, concluded Mr. Melzer.

After presenting his report on psychological torture to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, he will hold a press conference on Monday.

This statement has also been endorsed by Dainius Pūras, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health; the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention; and Catalina Devanda-Aguilar, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities.

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

Coronavirus COVID-19 risk increased to ‘very high’ but containment still possible

The development comes as WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed data showing that in the past 24 hours, China had recorded its lowest number of cases in more than a month (329), with 78,959 cases in total.

More than 36,000 people have also recovered from COVID-19 in China alone, WHO said.

Fear, rumour and stigma the greatest enemy

Speaking to the international press on Friday,  UN chief António Guterres called on all governments to step up and do everything possible to contain the disease, without stigmatization, and respecting human rights, and appealed for solidarity, and full global support.

Echoing the words of Tedros, the Secretary-General emphasized the importance of preparation, rather than panic, and declared that the “greatest enemy right now is not the virus.  It’s fear, rumors and stigma”.

Global spread continues

The rest of the world has continued to show an uptick in infections, however, with 4,351 cases confirmed in 49 countries and 67 deaths as of 6am in Geneva.

Tedros said that although the increase in the number of cases and affected countries in recent days was concerning, there was no evidence of the virus spreading freely in communities.

He added that 24 cases of infection had been exported from Italy to 14 countries and 97 cases had found their way from Iran to 11 countries.

“The continued increase in the number of cases and the number of affected countries over the last few days are clearly of concern,” he said. “Our epidemiologists have been monitoring these developments continuously and we have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at global level.”          

First sub-Saharan case in Africa

In Nigeria, where the first case of infection has been confirmed and isolated, the UN agency said it had “great confidence” that the country could contain the virus.
This was thanks to the fact that the country has had success in dealing with other disease outbreaks, such as Lassa fever and measles – and it had invested significantly to do so – said WHO’s Dr Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme.

Currently, more than 20 vaccines are in development around the world, along with several therapeutic medicines; the first results were expected within weeks, Tedros said.

Personal responsibility is critical

In the meantime, the best thing people can do is to be diligent about their personal hygiene, the UN health agency chief insisted, and look out for symptoms, which include a dry cough and fever, rather than a runny nose.

The preventative health advice is particularly important with regard to handwashing with soap or alcohol gels, sneezing or coughing into a tissue or the crook of your arm, and staying at home if you feel poorly.  

Explaining the implications of the latest threat assessment, Dr Ryan said that while it was the highest level of alert, the aim was to encourage countries to act, rather than alarm them.

“We need to keep this virus slowed down, because health systems around the world – and I mean North and South – are just not ready…the risk of spread has clearly increased but the risk of impact has also increased because of what we see in health systems around the world.

Time to act is now

“It’s time to prepare, it’s time to get ready. It’s time to act and people need to take a reality check now and really understand that an all-of-government and an all-of-society approach (is required). It’s time to act.”

Echoing the need for aggressive action such as that implemented by China, WHO’s Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove noted that other countries which had followed its lead has seen similar successes in containing the virus, resulting in valuable breathing space for their health systems.

“In Singapore, you look at what has happened in terms of the cases they have had; they’re now seeing a rapid decline in cases. You see what happened in Nepal, there was an onward transmission there. You see what’s happened in Viet Nam, where there were some cases and now there’s no further cases”, she said. “These are all examples of where countries have been successful in containing this.”

She added: “The point is, the earlier we act…and how robustly in those initial cases, will determine if you’re dealing with a number of cases, one case, or a small cluster, or if you’re dealing with hundreds or thousands.”


Make this the century of women’s equality: UN chief

Speaking to faculty and students at The New School, a university in New York City, the UN chief declared himself a proud feminist and called for men everywhere to support women’s rights. 

“Just as slavery and colonialism were a stain on previous centuries, women’s inequality should shame us all in the 21st.  Because it is not only unacceptable; it is stupid”, he said. 

For the UN chief, gender inequality and discrimination against women and girls remains an overwhelming injustice across the globe. 

“From the ridiculing of women as hysterical or hormonal, to the routine judgement of women based on their looks; from the myths and taboos that surround women’s natural bodily functions, to mansplaining and victim-blaming – misogyny is everywhere”, he said. 

At the heart of the issue is power, as male-dominated power structures underpin everything from national economies, to political systems, to the corporate world and beyond.  But he pointed out that patriarchy also has an impact on men and boys, trapping them in rigid gender stereotypes, declaring that a systemic change is long overdue. 

“It is time to stop trying to change women, and start changing the systems that prevent them from achieving their potential.  Our power structures have evolved gradually over thousands of years. One further evolution is long overdue. The 21st century must be the century of women’s equality”, he said. 

Man-made problems, ‘human-led solutions’  

Dismantling gender inequality will transform the world, the UN chief stated, and is critical to solving intractable global challenges such as conflict and violence, and the climate crisis. 

It also will help close the digital divide, lead to fairer globalization, and increase political representation. 

“The opportunity of man-made problems – and I choose these words deliberately – is that they have human-led solutions”, he said.  

As the UN turns 75 this year, the global body is taking greater action to support women’s rights, he continued. 

UNAMID/Albert Gonzalez Farran
UNAMID, in collaboration with the North Darfur Committee on Women, organised an open day session on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security in North Darfur.

Last month marked the start of a Decade of Action to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at building peaceful, prosperous and inclusive societies while also safeguarding the planet. 

The Decade of Action is aimed at transforming institutions and structures, broadening inclusion and driving sustainability. 

“Repealing laws that discriminate against women and girls; increasing protection against violence; closing the gap in girls’ education and digital technology; guaranteeing full access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights, and ending the gender pay gap are just some of the areas we are targeting”, he said.

On a personal level, the Secretary-General pledged to deepen his commitment to highlighting and supporting gender equality over the remainder of his mandate. 

He will take steps at the global level, such as advocating for change among governments that have discriminatory laws on their books, and within the UN, by strengthening work on the links between violence against women and international peace and security.  

‘Transform and redistribute power’ 

“Gender equality is a question of power; power that has been jealously guarded by men for millennia.  It is about an abuse of power that is damaging our communities, our economies, our environment, our relationships and our health”, said Mr. Guterres. 

“We must urgently transform and redistribute power, if we are to safeguard our future and our planet. That is why all men should support women’s rights and gender equality. And that is why I am a proud feminist”. 

Cross-border aid delivery in northwest Syria ‘absolutely essential’, Security Council hears

Ursula Mueller was briefing ambassadors on aid efforts in Idlib, where nearly 950,000 people have fled their homes since December as the military launched an assault against the last rebel-held stronghold in the country. 

“The cross-border modality is absolutely essential to our response in the northwest.  People in Idlib cannot currently be reached at this scale, in such a timely and direct manner, through any other means”, she said. 

A massive humanitarian operation is underway in the region as Syrians continue to flock to overcrowded areas near the Turkish border, amid sub-zero temperatures in which children have frozen to death. 

The UN Secretary-General has described the crisis as a “man-made humanitarian nightmare”.  

Aid organizations had initially sought $336 million for the region but last week the appeal was increased to $500 million. 

More than one million fed in January 

Ms. Mueller reported that through the cross-border mechanism, food assistance for roughly 1.4 million people was delivered during January.  Health supplies for almost half a million people, as well as non-food items for more than 230,000, were also brought in.   

“That is more than in any other month since the cross-border operation was authorized in 2014”, she said.  

Despite these efforts, families are not getting enough food and clean water, while heating is a struggle, said Ms. Mueller, who spoke with a group of Syrian women humanitarian workers last week. 

“One of the women, who works as a midwife in Idlib City, told me she can see how the intensely stressful situation is impacting her patients: early deliveries, miscarriages, and low-weight births are on the rise.  Pregnant women are asking her for caesarian deliveries out of fear of going into labour while on the move and without medical care”. 

UN Photo/Evan Schneider
Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), briefs the Security Council during a meeting on the situation in Syria.


While the situation in Idlib is “worsening by the day”, it is but the latest devastating development in a war that has lasted nearly a decade, said the head of the UN Children’s Fund. 

UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore urged Council members to “speak with one united voice” and stand up for the children of Syria. 

“We desperately need a cessation of hostilities in northwest Syria. In the meantime, we need regular humanitarian pauses to allow civilians to move safely out of harm’s way if they can and wish to do so. This would also give aid workers the room they need to provide urgent care for people in need and conduct impartial assessments, including across borders”, she said. 

Support to civilians in the north-east 

Meanwhile, renewed hostilities in northeastern Syria, have left civilians extremely vulnerable and has led to further displacement. 

Overall, nearly two million people there require humanitarian assistance. 

The UN and partners were delivering aid, including medical and surgical supplies, through the Al Yarubiyah crossing point  with Iraq up  until early January of this year. 

However, it was removed as an authorized crossing point following a Security Council resolution, prompting the UN to seek alternate means. 

In a report, the UN Secretary-General stated that the Tal Abiyad crossing with Turkey would be “the most feasible option”. 

For this to work, the report said the Syrian Government would have to ensure timely approval for medical supplies to be imported into the country, and a “simplified, expedited and reliable approval process” for overland deliveries into the north-east from the capital, Damascus. 

The authorities also would have to ensure humanitarians can reach all people in need, impartially and without discrimination. 

“Yesterday, in response to our request for overland access to north-east Syria, we received general approval from the Government of Syria to transfer medical assistance by land to all parts of the country”, Ms. Mueller told the Council. 

“This is a welcomed development and one which we hope will indeed translate into all types of required medical supplies and equipment reaching all people in need in the north-east, wherever they are located”. 

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