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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN aid chief extremely concerned over evacuation of Syrian town of Darayya, cites need for compliance with humanitarian law

31 August 2016 – The top United Nations humanitarian relief official has expressed extreme concern over the recent evacuation of the entire population of the besieged Syrian town of Darayya, following an agreement between representatives of Darayya and the Syrian Government – and highlighted how the move does not comply with international law.

"The UN was not a party to this agreement, and was not informed of the evacuation until a few hours before it took place," the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O'Brien, said in an overnight statement.

"The United Nations works on the ground at the request of both the Government of Syria and the people of Darayya to address humanitarian and protection needs of all those affected by the evacuation," Mr. O'Brien added, "however, agreements resulting in a mass evacuation of civilians after a prolonged period of besiegement do not comply with international humanitarian law and human rights law."

The UN official said the evacuation should not be precedent setting for other besieged areas in Syria, and those displaced should be allowed to return voluntarily, in safety and in dignity, to their homes as soon as the situation allows it.

"Let us be clear, all sieges, a medieval tactic, must be lifted," Mr. O'Brien said. "This should not be through any type of agreement which results in the forced displacement of the civilian population."

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – which Mr. O'Brien heads –the evacuation of Darayya on 26-27 August followed four years of unrelenting siege, during which children starved, people resorted to eating grass and the town was subjected to an onslaught of fighting, including aerial bombardment, and severe restrictions on freedom of movement for civilians, as well as on commercial and humanitarian goods.

In his statement, the Emergency Relief Coordinator also said he was "gravely concerned" over the deteriorating situation in other besieged areas in Syria where people have little physical protection and limited access to basic life-saving assistance, including the neighbourhood of Al Waer in Homs city.

"Despite the reports of a current pause in fighting, the estimated 75,000 people in Al Waer have been subjected to an increase in indiscriminate and aerial attacks over the past week causing the death and injury of many civilians, including children, the reported destruction of homes and first responder stations, as well as increased restrictions on freedom of movement," Mr. O'Brien noted.

He once again reiterated his call on all parties for the immediate lifting of sieges of civilians in Syria, including Madaya, Deir-Ez-Zor city, Douma, Foah and Kefraya and other besieged locations, for an end to indiscriminate attacks on civilian-populated areas and civilian infrastructure, and to take all necessary measures to ensure protection for all civilians as required under international humanitarian and human rights law.

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