UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned that the use of starvation as a weapon in Syria amounts to a war crime after the second international convoy arrived in the famine-struck town of Madaya to deliver humanitarian aid.
Ban said on Thursday that residents in the rebel-held town, which has been under siege by government troops for several months, were in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.
“Let me be clear,” Ban told reporters, “the use of starvation as a weapon of war is a war crime.
“All sides, including the Syrian government which has the primary responsibility to protect Syrians, are committing this and other atrocious acts prohibited under international humanitarian law.”
Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor James Bays, reporting from the UN headquarters in New York, said that even though Ban’s comments represented some of his strongest language yet after almost five years of war in Syria, this did not mean that any action would be taken.
“The UN Security Council will be meeting to discuss the besieged areas in Syria in an open session on Friday, and despite the fact that Ban Ki-moon has described these as war crimes, the Council won’t be taking any action on that,” he said.
“A referral to the International Criminal Court requires a vote by the Security Council and it’s certain on an issue like this that Russia and China would use their veto,” Bays added.
Ban spoke after a second convoy carrying food and other necessities entered Madaya for the second time this week following reports of starvation and illness.
“We would go for three days without food, then we would go and gather grass to just boil and eat it,” Mubarak Aloush, a Madaya resident who managed to escape to Lebanon told Al Jazeera.
On Monday, a first convoy reached Madaya and truckloads of aid also entered two other towns blockaded by rebel groups.
The UN is struggling to deliver aid to about 4.5 million Syrians who live in hard-to-reach areas, including nearly 400,000 people in besieged areas.
Ban said Syrians living under siege were “being held hostage”, but added that their plight was even worse.
“Hostages get fed,” Ban said. “These children and women and men are struggling to survive without food or medicine.”
Humanitarian aid access is seen as a key confidence-building measure ahead of a new round of Syrian peace talks on January 25.
Diplomats suggested that the talks would have no chance of success if the humanitarian crisis remained desperate.
“It will be difficult for them to negotiate while their children and close ones are threatened with famine or death,” said a Security Council diplomat.