The U.N. organization dedicated to protecting children issued a completely blank “statement” regarding the current status of Syrian children on Tuesday, indicating that the situation is beyond description.
“No words will do justice to the children killed, their mothers, their fathers and their loved ones,” United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) regional director Geert Cappalaere stated in a press release.
The comment is followed by a stretch of blank space and then a footnote: “UNICEF is issuing this blank statement. We no longer have the words to describe children’s suffering and our outrage. Do those inflicting the suffering still have words to justify their barbaric acts?”
The statement comes after one of the bloodiest and deadliest 24-hour stretches in Syria’s seven-year civil war. Since Monday, more than 100 people have been killed in attacks by forces loyal to the Syrian government on a rebel-held Damascus suburb, Eastern Ghouta. Rebel forces took over the region in 2012 and it remains one of the last rebel-held enclaves. The area has been surrounded by dictator Bashar al-Assad’s forces for the past four years, limiting access to food and medical supplies.
According to the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), a medical charity, more than five hospitals were attacked on Monday, killing 97 people and leaving more than 500 injured. Additional bombardments on Tuesday left an additional 45 people dead. Of those, at least 20 are believed to be children.
The United Nations has called for an end to the violence, warning that the attacks on East Ghouta are “spiraling out of control.”
“The recent escalation of violence compounds an already precarious humanitarian situation for the 393,000 residents of East Ghouta, many of them internally displaced, and which account for 94 per cent of all Syrians living under besiegement today. Overall access to East Ghouta remains woefully inadequate. No convoys were undertaken in December and January due to limited access,” Panos Moumtzis, the regional humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations in Syria, said in a statement.
The bodies of civilians killed in Syrian army bombardment are seen lying on the ground at a makeshift morgue the morning after the attacks on February 20, 2018. (CREDIT: ABDULMONAM EASSA/AFP/Getty Images)
Moumtzis also lamented the stark medical and nutritional woes plaguing East Ghouta’s residents before the recent bombardment began.
“We continue to call for unconditional, unimpeded and sustained access to close to 3 million people in besieged and hard-to-reach locations across Syria, including East Ghouta, and urge all parties to the conflict to strictly adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law to take all feasible measures to protect civilians from harm, including the prohibition on launching of indiscriminate attacks and principles of proportionality and precautions,” Moumtzis said.
Syria’s crisis has ripped the nation apart, sending refugees pouring into neighboring countries and north into Europe. The country is the leading driver of both internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees around the world.
That reality has taken an especially brutal toll on the country’s youngest citizens. Around 1 million Syrian children have been orphaned since March 2011, when the war began. UNICEF has indicated that more than 8.4 million Syrian children are in need of aid and 2.8 million Syrians are child refugees. Around 1.75 million are no longer in school. A study released last year, based on numbers documented by the Violations Documentation Center (VDC), estimated that one in every four civilians killed in 2016 was under the age of 18.
Because of those conditions, more than 70 percent of Syrian children have shown signs of PTSD, according to a March 2017 report by Save the Children. For many, their symptoms have so far eclipsed PTSD that at least some doctors have begun to use a new term for what Syrian children are experiencing: human devastation syndrome.
“Children are being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds,” Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s director of emergency programs, said last December. “As these attacks continue year after year, we cannot become numb. Such brutality cannot be the new normal.”
Despite ongoing fighting, Syria remains at an impasse. Other countries, including Iran, Russia, and Israel, are also involved in the conflict, ensuring no resolution in the foreseeable future. The United States, meanwhile, has yet to develop a coherent policy in Syria. There are approximately 2,000 U.S. troops currently based in the country.