'Incandescent with rage' British UN official attacks 'selfish, inhuman' Russia in fiery Security Council meeting
he British head of the UN's humanitarian office has launched a searing attack on Russia and Syria for the continued bombardment of Aleppo, telling the Security Council he was "incandescent with rage" about the diplomatic stalemate, and sparking one of the most stormy and confrontational UN meetings of recent times.
Stephen O'Brien, head of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told the 15-member body that "the buck stops with you" - drawing parallels with Srebrenica, Cambodia and Rwanda.
"Month after month, worse and worse, and nothing is actually happening to stop the war, stop the suffering," he said.
And he despaired at the Russian vetoing of a succession of resolutions, noting how "selfish, inhuman interests have trumped the moral and humanitarian imperative."
Blankets are in such short supply that people are huddling in body bags to keep warm, he said. In eastern Aleppo 100,000 children cower in basements. Since his last update a month ago, he said, 400 people have died in the bombings, and six tons of medical equipment have been prevented from entering the city.
He added: "What happened to ‘never again’? What happened to our commitment to protect the most vulnerable, those who face mass atrocities?
"It is in your hands today to take the right path, and avert this looming irreversible tragedy of our time."
He said that leaflets are being dropped on eastern Aleppo by Syrian and Russian aircrafts, warning residents: “This is your last hope. Save yourselves. If you do not leave these areas urgently, you will be annihilated. You know that everyone has given up on you. They left you alone to face your doom and nobody will give you any help.”
And Mr O’Brien, who used the meeting to catalogue the misery and wretchedness of the thousands of trapped civilians, said Syria and Russia was determined to wipe out the population of Aleppo.
“It is clear that the aircraft which drop the bombs, the generals who give the orders, and the politicians who have designed the strategy intend to make good on that horrific promise.”
The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, reacted with fury to Mr O’Brien’s statement, accusing him of arrogance and dishonesty. His comments, he said, were fabrication and should be “put in a novel.”
“If we needed to be preached to, we would go to a church,” he said.
But the rest of the Security Council turned on Mr Churkin.
Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, supported Mr O’Brien, while the Ukrainian ambassador said Mr Churkin was “living in a parallel universe.”
“Does Russia believe that all the children who are being killed in eastern Aleppo are themselves al-Qaeda members?” asked Ms Power, who said she had not intended to speak, but was so enraged at Mr Churkin's remarks that she felt she had to. “Is that what happens – you come out of the womb and you’re an al-Qaeda member right from the beginning?
“Of course Russia can’t condemn the shelling and the bombardment – systematic aerial bombardment – of eastern Aleppo, because Russia’s carrying out the systematic bombardment of eastern Aleppo. Because Russia has brought to bear in the conflict weapons that even a brutal Syrian regime had never used before.”
Matthew Rycroft, the British ambassador, said that Russia’s position was an “absurd, surreal, fantasy theatre”.
He added: “The United Kingdom will support any effort to stop the bombing and any draft resolution that is clear enough that step one has got to be an end to the bombing.”