PHOTO: The UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien, with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, August 2015

In a letter to UN official Stephen O’Brien, 112 Syrians — teachers, medical and rescue workers, councillors, and civil society activists — from throughout the country — have challenged the organization for effectively assisting the Assad regime in its maintenance of sieges on opposition-held territory, abetting the suffering of civilians:

To Stephen O’Brien, the UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs:

Today the world is again witnessing innocent civilians being starved to death in Madaya and across Syria. Hunger continues to be used a weapon of war. You have no doubt seen the pictures. We are living the reality.

We are medical workers, teachers, rescue workers and civil society activists who, along with hundreds of thousands of others, are living under siege in Syria. Our towns are sealed by checkpoints and barricades and our populations are being starved, deprived of medical supplies and in almost all cases bombed daily by the regime of Bashar al­Assad. On the rare occasion that someone is allowed out of a besieged area, they are humiliated when they return with a full body search to confiscate the smallest things ­ a biscuit or a tomato. In almost every one of our towns, we haven’t seen a single loaf of bread from the UN in over a year.

What makes this suffering more painful is knowing that in many besieged areas, such as those around Damascus, UN warehouses full of life­saving aid are often just minutes away. You are choosing not to deliver that aid to us, not because of danger from non­state groups who are prepared to give safety assurances, but because the Assad regime is not giving you permission. This is hardly surprising since it is the regime imposing the sieges in the first place.

What we do not understand is why you are chasing permission you do not even need, since Security Council resolutions 2165 and 2258 authorise you to deliver that aid without the regime’s consent. Why are you creating unnecessary hurdles while civilians starve?

In Deir ez-Zor, where it is ISIS [the Islamic State] besieging 200,000 civilians from the outside, it is also the Assad regime denying aid distribution from the inside. You have quietly accepted the regime’s excuses that it is unsafe to airlift aid into the airport. Yet the regime is flying up to 10 flights a day to supply its own soldiers. It does so while disregarding the needs of civilians in that area, who were one of the first to challenge Bashar al­Assad’s rule. Why are you not distributing aid to Deir Ezzor?

Meanwhile, the UN is delivering billions of dollars of aid to regime-­controlled areas. By allowing
the regime to veto aid to civilians in areas outside its control, you have allowed the UN to become a political tool of the war. Aid should go to those who need it most, without regard to politics. This is why people here think the siege is as much by the UN as it is by the regime.

Mr O’Brien, your colleagues in Damascus are either too close to the regime or too scared of having their visas revoked by the same powers that are besieging us. Those whose loved ones die from malnutrition-­related illnesses or a lack of basic medical care will never forgive the UN staff who sit minutes away in luxury hotels, within earshot of the bombings. And this is not just about aid delivery. Without a regular UN presence, it is much easier for the regime and its allies to bomb civilians under siege. There are no international witnesses to its crimes.

The regime’s “surrender or starve” policy is killing us. But instead of using your voice to oppose it, you are stamping a UN seal of approval on the siege. After Al Wa’er in Homs was evacuated following almost two years of devastating isolation, your UN coordinator in Damascus Yaacoub El Hillo called this result “a good model to build on”. These words encourage the regime to tighten its sieges across the country, not loosen them.

For those who still had faith in the impartiality of the UN, the final straw came a few weeks ago. News was confirmed that your staff had agreed to a last­minute request from the Assad regime to remove the words “siege” or “besieged” from all 64 pages of your Humanitarian Response Plan for 2016 ­ the UN’s key fundraising document. Why are you silencing our suffering? As if refusing to break the sieges were not enough, it now seems the UN is even afraid of uttering the words.

For many of us in Syria, the UN has turned from a symbol of hope into a symbol of complicity. Two decades ago, in Srebrenica [in Bosnia], we saw what happens when UN peacekeepers get dictated to by war criminals. Today in Syria, it seems to be the turn of UN humanitarians.

Mr O’Brien, as head of the UN body negotiating, coordinating and deciding access to these areas, you have the power to deliver life-­saving food and medicine to those children who are starving to death. The UN Security Council has given you authorisation and the world has paid for the aid. It is time to have the courage of your convictions and break the siege.


1. Abdullah H, Syrian Civil Defence (White Helmets) Damascus Countryside, Eastern Ghouta
2. Akram A, Syrian Civil Defence (White Helmets) Douma, Douma
3. Ahmad A, Syrian Civil Defence (White Helmets) Darayya, Darayya
4. Mahran A, Douma Local Council,­ Douma
5. Ghassan A, Jobar Local Council,­ Jobar
6. Ahmad T, Darayya Local Council, Darayya
7. Qassem A, Moadamiyeh Local Council,­ Moadamiyeh
8. Hassan M, Unified Medical Office of Douma, Douma
9. Ayat, Women Now for Development,­ Douma
10. Hussam T, The Syrian Nonviolence Movement, Damascus
11. Ibrahim A, Local Coordination Committee,­ Douma
12. Fakhruldeen A, Unified Medical Office of Deir ez-Zor, ­Deir ez-Zor
13. Malek D, Local Coordination Committee, Homs
14. Mohammad K, Douma Local Coordination Committee, Douma
15. Abdullah K, Basma Foundation,­ Yarmouk
16. Sawsan A, Women Now for Development, Darayya
17. Dr Bakr A, Unified Medical Office of Eastern Ghouta,­ Eastern Ghouta
18. Name withheld, The Higher Commission for Humanitarian Relief and Medical Support, ­
Deir ez-Zor
19. Ammar E, Medical Commission for the South of the Capital, Southern Damascus
20. Maimounah, Syrian Child Protection Network,­ Douma
21. Dr Wael D, Medical Office of Eastern Ghouta, Eastern Ghouta
22. Abu Bilal A, Douma Medical Office, Douma
23. Omar R, The Association of Eastern Ghouta Pharmacists, Erbin
24. Mohannnad K, Al Ghouta Hospital, Moadamiyeh
25. Mohammad B, Syrian Engineers Council,­ Douma
26. Muntaser B, General Medical Association, Douma
27. Thaer H, Sham Legal Centre, Douma
28. Maher Hudeeb, Assistance Coordination Unit,­ Deir ez-Zor
29. Samer B, Nour Medical Team, Douma
30. Firas A, The International Humanitarian Relief Committee, Douma
31. Dr Ahmad A, Save a Soul, Douma
32. Nessreen A, Volunteer with the Syrian Red Crescent, Douma
33. Moaz A, Deir ez-Zor Platform for Civil Society, Deir ez-Zor
34. Osama K, Center for Civil Society and Democracy, Deir ez-Zor
35. Ziad A, Ayn al­-Madina magazine,­ Deir ez-Zor
36. Mohamamd K, Sound and Picture, Deir ez-Zor
37. Orwa K, SMART News Agency, Damascus
38. Hanan H, Aosus Foundation, Douma
39. Abd al-­Baqi I, The Cultural Forum for the Graduates of Deir ez-Zor, Deir ez-Zor
40. Walaa B, Charity Health Society,­ Douma
41. Ali T, Activist,­ Zabadani
42. Ahmad S, Civil activist, Douma
43. Ahmad M, DZ Graph (Media),­ Deir ez-Zor
44. Youssef B, Union of Syrian Revolutionary Coordinators, Douma
45. Hassan T, Independent journalist, Douma
46. Yasser D, Syrian Media Organisation in Damascus and its Suburbs, Douma
47. Fadi K, Political activist, Douma
48. Abu Omar H, Civilian,­ Deir ez-Zor
49. Ziad I, Independent activist, Rif Damascus
50. Karam A, Civilian,­ Deir ez-Zor
51. Farhan A, Shams,­ Deir ez-Zor
52. Ahmad B, Rescue worker, Douma
53. Shatha B, Arab Writers Union, ­Deir ez-Zor
54. Marwa A, Civilian, Deir ez-Zor
55. Mohammad A, Civilian ­ Deir ez-Zor
56. Mohammad E, Radio Free Deir ez-Zor,­ Deir ez-Zor
57. Ghaza A, Civilian, Douma
58. Samia B, Civilian, Deir ez-Zor
59. Bayan R, Civilian, Deir ez-Zor
60. Ahmad A, Civilian,­ Deir ez-Zor
61. Rania A, Deir ez-Zor Radio, Deir ez-Zor
62. Hussam, H, Civil activist, Deir ez-Zor
63. Mohammad N, Alseeraj for Development & Healthcare,­ Damascus
64. Madeha A, Civilian,­ Deir ez-Zor
65. Abdullah D, Civilian, Deir ez-Zor
66. Mohannad H, Civilian,­ Homs
67. Ghassan T, Civilian, Douma
68. Marwa A, Sama Organisation for Human Rights,­ Deir ez-Zor
69. Mohama K, Local Development and Small Projects Support Office (LDSPS), Douma
70. Souad K, Independent journalist, Douma
71. Ahmad A, Education and Rights Activists,­ Douma
72. Abulmonam E, Wire Photographer, Eastern Ghouta
73. Rawda K, Civilian, Damascus Suburbs
74. Yahya I, Directorate of Education, Douma
75. Siham A, Basmet Amal, Kafr Batna
76. Yaman A, Civilian,­ Eastern Ghouta
77. Moayad K, Civilian, Eastern Ghouta
78. Mohammad S, Civilian,­ Eastern Ghouta
79. Bassam K, Civilian,­ Eastern Ghouta
80. Sham A, The Documentation Centre in Zabadani, Zabadani
81. Rawad A, Oxygen Magazine, Zabadani
82. Dr Abdul Wahab A, Doctor,­ Eastern Ghouta
83. Sereen B, Dammah, Zabadani
84. Dr Aous A, Darna,­ Eastern Ghouta
85. Hani S, Khatwat, Deir ez-Zor
86. Abdulnaser K, Activist and political dissident,­ Douma
87. Manal S, Civilian, Douma
88. Amani A, Volunteer with the Syrian Red Crescent, Douma
89. Bahaa al­Deen N, Nubni [We Build], al-­Kisweh
90. Nazeer F, Douma Local Council, Douma
91. Younes T, Douma Local Council, Douma
92. Adnan Q, AOSUS, Douma
93. Aymam M, AOSUS, Eastern Ghouta
94. Amro F, Working Group for Syria, Damascus
95. Muhammad R, Merqab, Daraya
96. Nizar S, Sawaiduna, Eastern Ghouta
97. Youssef N, Engineer, Douma
98. Ali H, Civilian, Douma
99. Beybars A, Media activist, Homs
100. Amjad, Civilian, Darayya
101. Muhannad A, Journalist, Darayya
102. Moataz M, Activist, Darayya
103. Moayad Z, Molham Team, Yarmouk
104. Hussam A, Darayya Local Council, Darayya
105. Amer A, Ataa, Damascus
106. Anas A, Moadamiyeh Local Council, Moadamiyeh
107. Dani Q, Media Office of Moadamiyeh, Moadamiyeh
108. Ahmad M, Moadamiyeh Local Coordination Committee, Moadamiyeh
109. Thaer H, Sham Legal Centre,­ Douma
110. Ahmad T, Douma Local Council, Douma
111. Mohammad K, The Medical Office for Douma and Surrounding Areas, Douma
112. Mahmoud S, The Revolutionary Unified Medical Office, Eastern Ghouta

(Full names of signatories have been withheld for security reasons)