Syria: Humanitarian convoys must not be targeted

Topics: National, Worldwide, Emergencies and Disasters Worldwide, International Humanitarian Law
February 10, 2014

Ottawa, February 10, 2014 – On Saturday, February 8, after several hours of negotiation, trucks from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) loaded with humanitarian aid and accompanied by a United Nations vehicle, entered the old town of Homs in Syria. These vehicles – clearly marked with the protective red crescent on a white background – came under rifle fire as they entered the area. One of the drivers was wounded. Mortar shells were also fired near the convoy.

In any armed conflict, international humanitarian law prohibits attack on anyone – in this case volunteers and staff of SARC, their vehicles and buildings – bearing the red cross or red crescent emblem. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is deeply concerned about the failure of the various parties to the conflict in Syria to respect the Movement’s protective emblems and the resulting frequent threat to the lives of medical and other humanitarian personnel, including volunteers and staff of SARC.

“Given the extremely difficult conditions prevailing in Syria today, especially in towns like Homs, it is absolutely vital for all parties to the conflict to facilitate the work of all humanitarian and health-care personnel,” said Abdul Rahman al-Attar, president of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. “They must respect the red crescent and red cross emblems displayed on tents, buildings, vehicles and clothing and spare those bearing them.”

The Canadian Red Cross stands in solidarity with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and joins members of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in calling for immediate steps to be taken to protect health care and humanitarian personnel. We strongly urge all parties to respect and facilitate their humanitarian mission. Without respect for the emblems and protection of those bearing them, crossing frontlines to save lives is all but impossible.

It is also critical that parties to the conflict facilitate rapid and unimpeded humanitarian relief for civilians in need, and that the wounded and the sick receive the medical care they need to the fullest extent possible. Civilians should not have to leave their homes in order to get access to food and other basic needs. Access to all besieged areas in Syria and respect for healthcare providers should be a priority for all.

Robert Mardini, head of the operations for the Near and Middle East at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said all parties to the conflict must facilitate unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians, and stressed that much greater access to health care for the sick and the wounded must be a priority for all. “Under international humanitarian law, all parties to the conflict must allow civilians in areas caught up in fighting to leave for safer areas should they wish to do so,” he said.

Despite Saturday’s attack, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers were able to carry on their humanitarian work and distributed 250 food parcels, 190 hygiene kits, and medicines for chronic diseases in Homs. Around 600 people were evacuated from the old city of Homs. Meanwhile, SARC and other humanitarian workers managed to obtain access to Barzeh, in the suburbs of Damascus, for 47 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid. At Yarmouk refugee camp, SARC also gave first aid to the wounded and psychosocial care for people deeply traumatized by the violence, before evacuating serious cases to medical facilities outside the camp.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has been active in the region since the start of the conflict in March 2011, providing much-needed assistance to millions of Syrians. To date, thanks to contributions from the Canadian government, the Canadian Red Cross has been able to provide medical supplies and services through SARC within Syria, along with food aid, relief supplies, delegates and funds. SARC is currently assisting 3.5 million people in Syria every month, and several hundred thousand people have been receiving health services supported by the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, in particular the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, as well as other organizations.