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Syria: UN expert warns against deliberate starvation of civilians – 400,000 people at risk in 15 besieged locations

GENEVA (19 January 2016) – United Nations human rights expert Hilal Elver today warned that some 400,000 people living in 15 besieged locations throughout Syria are  trapped in desperate circumstances and in urgent need of emergency assistance. “An immediate and unconditional humanitarian pause in hostilities must be put in place to allow humanitarian aid and food to reach everyone in Syria,” Ms. Elver said.

“As the brutal conflict in Syria continues, the plight of those already living in constant fear of deadly and indiscriminate bombardment is now compounded by the threat of starvation, with parties on all sides of the conflict continuing to entirely or heavily restrict access to essential supplies,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food noted.

Ms. Elver stressed that “the deliberate starvation of civilians in both international and internal armed conflict as a tactic of war constitutes a war crime, and could also amount to a crime against humanity if it can be shown that denial of food is a deliberate and systematic tactic to cause civilian suffering.”

“With many families unable to move, and food becoming scarce, expensive, and risky to access, starvation and hunger is now a grave threat that affects over 4 million Syrians living in hard to reach areas,” she added. “And the situation will only continue to deteriorate as winter sets in.”

“Without access to food, the besieged communities are enduring immense suffering with reports suggesting that in the town of Madaya alone 23 people, including children, have starved to death since December, while many others are suffering from acute malnutrition,” the UN expert said. “The 42,000 people remaining in the besieged town are at risk of further hunger and starvation once emergency food supplies run out.”

The Special Rapporteur reminded all parties to the Syrian conflict of their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law to ensure that civilians and prisoners of war have access to adequate food and water during armed conflict. “The right to food does not cease in times of conflict, indeed it becomes more crucial as a result of the acute vulnerabilities of individuals and communities,” she noted.

Ms. Elver welcomed the decision to allow humanitarian access to the towns of Madaya, Foah and Kefraya on 11 and 14 January, but cautioned that “in order to ensure a long term solution, regular unhampered access must be granted to allow aid agencies to reach those in need in all hard-to-reach and besieged areas,” she said.

The UN Special Rapporteur also called on the international community to provide on an emergency basis necessary funding as well as essential aid to ease the mounting humanitarian crisis in Syria.

Ms. Hilal Elver (Turkey) is a Research Professor, and global distinguished fellow at the UCLA Law School Resnick Food Law and Policy Center. She was appointed Special Rapporteur on the right to food by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Food/Pages/FoodIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – Syria: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/SYIndex.aspx

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