International actors need to exert pressure on warring parties in Syria to immediately lift sieges and allow humanitarian aid to reach people who are facing starvation, a UN official told the UN Security Council Friday.
The council met for an emergency session days after aid convoys reached three besieged towns in Syria for the first time in months, including the rebel-held Madaya, where no aid had been distributed in three months, leading to harrowing reports of starvation.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday that using starvation was a war crime.
Kyung-wha Kang, UN deputy humanitarian affairs chief, told the council that starvation was a violation of international law and there can be no reason for preventing humanitarian aid from reaching people.
"Food, water and medicine are not bargaining chips or favours that the parties to a conflict can grant or deny at will; they are basic necessities that lie at the very essence of survival and the right to life, which this council and its members have a responsibility to protect," Kang told the council.
"You cannot let more people die under your watch."
Francois Delattre, France's ambassador to the UN, whose country, along with Britain, called for the meeting, said that immediate lifting of sieges and allowing humanitarian aid into those areas were necessary for the upcoming peace negotiations to be successful.
"There will be no credible political process without serious, tangible, palpable progress on the humanitarian track," Delattre said.
Peter Wilson, Britain's deputy ambassador to the UN, said images of starving Syrians in Madaya "evoke some the darkest moments of our history," noting that returning to the status quo was no longer an option.
"Ad hoc deliveries will not be enough - sustained access is now needed," Wilson said.
He called on Security Council member states to exert maximum pressure on warring parties.
"Let council members with ties to the regime use their influence not their air force to address this horrific situation," Wilson said.
However, Russia said that certain members of the council were placing undue emphasis on areas besieged by Syrian forces in an attempt to derail political negotiations set to begin later this month.
Vladimir Safronkov, a UN representative of Russia, said that Russia's "special concern" was Syrians under siege by terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front.
"One is referring here to Madaya, but there's not a word about other areas," Safronkov said.
Accusing countries of double standards, he said that there has been an increase in "unnecessary noise" as peace talks are drawing near with countries politicising humanitarian issues and making humanitarian access a precondition to negotiations.
"Under the pretext of a deteriorating situation in besieged cities and regions, attempts are being made to undermine or derail the launch of the intra-Syrian dialogue," Safronkov said.