The people of Madaya, a Syrian town besieged by the government, are still starving. According to Doctors Without Borders, 16 more people have died of hunger despite a single delivery of aid last month, bringing to 51 the number who have perished from lack of food since December. Moreover, the town of 20,000 people, says the United Nations chief humanitarian coordinator, is “the tip of the iceberg.” Close to 500,000 Syrians are cut off from food assistance, Stephen O’Brien told the U.N. Security Council, and the government has denied about 100 of the U.N.’s 113 requests to deliver aid in the past year.
Secretary of State John Kerry has been denouncing this atrocity in recent days. “People are dying; children are suffering not as an accident of war, but as the consequence of an intentional tactic — surrender or starve,” he said Sunday. “And that tactic is directly contrary to the law of war.” Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s handling of the Syrian crisis appears to be enabling those very war crimes.
In December, the United States joined with Russia to pass Security Council Resolution 2254, which required the delivery of humanitarian aid and an end to the bombing of civilian areas as part of a plan to launch peace talks. Yet even though the sieges have not been lifted and the bombing has not stopped, Kerry and U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura have insisted on going ahead with the peace talks, pressuring an opposition coalition to participate. While issuing strong statements of disapproval, neither the United States nor the United Nations has taken, proposed or even hinted at any action to force compliance by the regime of Bashar Assad or by Russia, which is doing much of the bombing.
While de Mistura was declaring the Geneva talks open on Monday, the regime and Russia were stepping up an offensive against rebel-held areas near the city of Aleppo. Opposition forces reported bombing attacks on hospitals and other critical civilian infrastructure. Meanwhile in Madaya, near Damascus, a shell fell in a schoolyard, injuring several children, according to The New York Times. The Russians and Syrians are using military action as leverage in the peace talks — or perhaps as a way of wrecking them. They show no interest in bargaining: The Syrian government delegation arrived in Geneva still insisting it would not negotiate with “terrorists” — which it defines as anyone bearing arms against the regime.
Kerry and the Obama administration, meanwhile, are responding with nothing but rhetoric. “We haven’t seen a catastrophe like this since World War II, and it’s unfolding before our eyes,” Kerry said on Tuesday. “People in Madaya (are) eating leaves and grass or animals of one kind or another that they manage to capture.” He declared: “The Syrian regime has a responsibility — in fact, all parties to the conflict have a duty to facilitate humanitarian access to Syrians in desperate need. And this has to happen not a week from now. ... It ought to happen in the first days.”
Or else what? On that, Kerry has had exactly nothing to say. Expect the sieges, the bombing, the starvation — and the statements — to continue.
The above editorial appeared in The Washington Post.