BRICS urged to press Syria on humanitarian access

(Photo: Reuters / Khalil Ashawi)A resident walks with children along a street in Deir al-Zor, after receiving bread from humanitarian organisations in the city, March 13, 2013. Picture taken March 13, 2013.

A global human rights group is urging Anglicans and Episcopalians to sign a petition urging BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – gathering in South Africa this week to call on Syria to allow humanitarian aid to reach civilians caught in the cross fire of a civil war that has resulted in more than 70,000 deaths.

Rights group CIVICUS (World Alliance for Citizen Participation, South Africa) has launched an online petition and is planning a social media campaign to get out the message.

"Syrians need food and medicine, but the UN says it needs permission from the Syrian regime to deliver aid across borders into rebel controlled areas. [Syrian President Bashar] Assad refuses to consent to such access," Mandeep Tiwana, policy and advocacy manager of Civicus (World Alliance for Citizen Participation, South Africa) told the Anglican Communion News Service.

"The BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa – are the only powerful governments left able to compel him [Assad] to do so.

"We are hoping for signatures from Anglicans and Episcopalians around the globe - the petition will be delivered to the BRICS countries who are meeting at their annual summit March 26-27 in Durban, South Africa," he said.

Jan Egeland, Europe director of Human Rights Watch, penned a column titled "Time for BRICS to stop sitting on the fence over Syria atrocities" in South Africa's Mail and Guardian newspaper last week noting the nations had already expressed "deep concern" about the situation at last year's gathering.

"By then, 9000 Syrians had been killed. Now, the reasons to act should be increased tenfold," he said.

"The BRICS should break with the past and show that the international community has the will to tackle its own impotence in the face of mounting atrocities," he wrote.

He said BRICS member Russia "should agree to end military support for a government firing ballistic missiles on crowded apartment blocks.

All BRICS leaders should condemn all atrocities and support international accountability and justice for war criminals on both sides."

Egeland also said the BRICS should also call for the Syrian government to permit delivery of aid across its borders, including Turkey.

He said during a visit with other HRW staff in February to Aleppo, the largest city in the country, they could see "little trace of any international humanitarian relief for the large civilian population under attack or caught in the crossfire. The same is true of other war-torn towns across Syria."

Civicus notes four million people in Syria need humanitarian aid, including 2 million children. In addition, schools and hospitals were destroyed.

Tiwana added that children as young as eight have been used as human shields and one in three children has been injured.

Tiwana adds that Civicus will also be running a social media campaign next week to that the group hopes Anglican can participate in.

The online petition had 6,560 signers as of Monday afternoon. The petition shows a goal of 10,000.

Below is the full text of the petition:

"To the governments of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa: "As concerned citizens from around the world we call on you to stand with the people of Syria and send a clear message to President Bashar al-Assad that he should grant the UN permission to cross Syria's borders to reach civilians in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

"Unimpeded humanitarian access to all parts of Syria coordinated by the UN and authorized by the government - to be delivered anytime, anywhere, and by the most effective means - is a call that no leader, indeed no human being, could in good conscience deny.

"We appeal to the BRICS to demonstrate their leadership and take one step to easing the horror of Syria's worsening crisis."

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