Remarks to the United Nations Security Council on Humanitarian Conditions in Gaza – Save the Children

8 minutes, 24 seconds Read

NEW YORK (April 5, 2024)—Janti Soeripto, President & CEO of Save the Children US, testified to the UN Security Council today on the humanitarian conditions inside of Gaza and the need for a ceasefire and unimpeded humanitarian access. She said:

Madam President, UN Security Council Members,

Thank you for the opportunity to address you about the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

As we sit here today, 203 humanitarian workers have been killed in Gaza – the highest number of humanitarian casualties in modern times.

First and foremost, I would like to pay tribute to the humanitarians who have lost their lives in this conflict. Nearly all have been Palestinian. They died serving their communities in, perhaps, the worst conditions of their lives, of their careers. Day in and day out they worked tirelessly to save lives. To feed the hungry. To provide medical care to the sick and wounded. To provide shelter. To protect. They were professionals, conducting this response to the standards of the humanitarian principles that guide our global sector. They upheld their ethical end of the bargain. The parties to this conflict – including members represented in this UNSC body – have not.

One of my own colleagues, Sameh Ewaida, was killed in an Israeli air strike on 12 December, along with his entire family. This strike came days after a ceasefire resolution was vetoed in this very room. Sameh and his wife, Fatima, were the proud parents of four children: Mohammad aged 12, Hebba aged 11, Zeina aged 3, and Zein aged 2. They died together, buried under four floors of rubble.

Children – like Sameh’s – bear the brunt of conflict. Save the Children’s founder said it best over 100 years ago: “Every war is a war against the child”. This is sadly still true today, especially in Gaza.

In this conflict, 14,000 children have been needlessly and violently killed, thousands more are missing, presumed buried under the rubble. If I were to sit here and read the name and age of every Israeli and Palestinian child who has died on and since October 7, it would take me over 18 hours.

More children have been killed in this conflict than have been killed in all armed conflict globally over the past four years.

Children are not small adults – let us remember that they have a special status in conflict, specific vulnerabilities, an additional set of rights afforded to them, and distinct obligations owed to them. They must be protected.

Yet, children have been taken hostage. And, thousands of children have been maimed; their limbs ripped from them by explosive weapons, mutilated by bullets, burned, crushed by falling rubble, or struck down by preventable diseases.

Inevitably, after months of systematic and deliberate denial of humanitarian access, children are now dying from malnutrition and dehydration in Gaza. Denied food and water by a brutal and illegal blockade, they have been starved to death.

The first thing that struck me when I arrived in Gaza was how many children had no shoes. Glass, rubble, and they have no shoes.

They are running round desperately looking for food and water because not enough is being allowed into Gaza.

They are visibly, demonstrably malnourished and they need food.

Almost 350,000 children under the age of 5 are at risk of starvation as we speak. The world is staring down the barrel of a man-made famine.

The hunger in the north is of particular concern, where people are now forced to eat animal feed or tree leaves.

If the world continues down this path – of all parties to conflict flagrantly breaching the rule of war and international humanitarian law, of zero accountability, of powerful nations refusing to use the levers of influence at their disposal, then the next set of mass deaths of children in Gaza will not be from bullets and bombs – it will be from starvation and malnutrition.

Let us be clear that indecision and inaction is a choice. And choices have consequences: severe malnutrition is not a quiet or painless death.

As children get hungry their bodies weaken. Their muscles waste, vision blurs, immune systems fail.

Organs fail, hearts stop. At this stage, children are too weak to cry.

While in Gaza, I visited some excellent humanitarian programs staffed by incredible people, including field hospitals. Yet their heroic efforts are fighting against an overwhelming tide of need.

There is no sanitation or toilet system to speak of, so we’re seeing communicable diseases spread and run rampant. One community I visited had one toilet for 600 people.

Schools can form a spine of protection, a place where children can seek humanitarian services and normality. Education is, in many ways, lifesaving. But, not in Gaza, where every single child is out of school and 80% of education facilities have been destroyed.

Our teams have found that almost every piece of educational equipment in the Strip – chairs, desks, whiteboards, textbooks – have been either destroyed in the relentless bombardment or burned by desperate civilians trying to stay warm.

And, too little is ever mentioned about mental health and psychosocial support. Think of the traumas these children and families are experiencing. The horrors they continue to live through. Not one child should be exposed to such death and violence. One mother told me she needed mental health support more than food.

All of this is compounded by persistent attacks on humanitarian personnel and facilities, which further restrict humanitarian operations and movement.

We share our coordinates with COGAT and the Gaza CLA who coordinate with the Israeli military. We do this for every single movement, and we do not set off until we have confirmation that all the information has been logged. One of the many unsettling things about the tragic deaths of our colleagues from World Central Kitchen is that they did everything they were supposed to do and were still killed.

Despite the dangers of the every day, humanitarians return to work because we believe civilians in conflict have a right to access life-sustaining basics, even when they – unjustly – don’t have access to peace and security. Also, because as a global community, we have agreed to international humanitarian laws designed to make our work possible, effective, and as safe as can be expected. But this has proven not to be the case in Gaza. Nowhere is safe. No one is safe.

We are hearing world leaders emphasize the importance of humanitarian access and call for deconfliction, the protection of civilians, speedy investigations and lessons learned, the upholding of humanitarian law, and so on. This discourse creates the false impression that the humanitarian system in Gaza is being prioritized. It is not. Words belie the inaction, the apathy.

Aid organizations need you to hear this: Stop pretending we are operating on an even playing field. We are overwhelmed with impediments. Human life is not being prioritized – not the lives of civilians, of children and women, and certainly not the lives of humanitarians. An investigation is not enough. We need action. We need change. And, we need it now.

Give humanitarians safe access and a ceasefire, and we can save lives.

We know how to stabilize children dying of malnutrition. We know how to treat diarrheal diseases. We know because these are fatal threats to young children, and because we address them all over the world and have for a century. This is not rocket science – it is delicate but straightforward work. And we’re experts in it.

These children should not be starving or malnourished in the first place, but they also should not die of those conditions. Twice over, these deaths are preventable. Children’s lives are not being prioritized.

We call on the UN Security Council to pass a permanent ceasefire resolution, including robust measures to ensure compliance by parties to conflict to enforce a ceasefire and the resolutions already passed.

Member States must stop fueling the crisis with the weapons they’re selling to the parties of conflict.

While the opening of Erez is welcome and long overdue, all crossing points must be opened – we need to flood Gaza with food, water and aid to prevent further tragedy. We need unfettered humanitarian access in all of Gaza.

More aid must be allowed to come in – commercial trade must resume, as well, and markets need to function – and flourish – again.

And, we must have a plan to finance and rebuild critical infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, water systems and homes.

I know that resolutions passed in this room do not immediately lead to changed behavior on the ground. In Gaza, last week, bombings in Rafah seemed to intensify the evening after resolution 2728 passed. Ceasefires or peace only happen when men with guns want it or when it seems a better option. But what happens in this room does matter, for accountability, for setting standards we expect everyone to abide by.

Therefore, we also call upon the Secretary-General to list all parties to the conflict as perpetrators of grave violations against children in the upcoming Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict. We are facing a crisis of accountability, and it must be addressed to break the cycle of violence and prevent further violations in the future.

What I saw and heard in Gaza was dehumanizing, not only for the people in Gaza. It is dehumanizing for all of us, if we stand by and let it happen.

The world – those sitting in this room – have the tools to address this crisis. It merely lacks the political will to use them.

On behalf of all children in Gaza, I urge you to act.

Thank you.

Save the Children believes every child deserves a future. Since our founding more than 100 years ago, we’ve been advocating for the rights of children worldwide. In the United States and around the world, we give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We do whatever it takes for children – every day and in times of crisis – transforming the future we share. Our results, financial statements and charity ratings reaffirm that Save the Children is a charity you can trust. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

This post was originally published on 3rd party site mentioned in the title of this page

Similar Posts