Civilians await the arrival of an aid convoy after suffering under a blockade enforced by the Assad government. Madaya, Syria, January 11, 2016.(Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

Civilians await the arrival of an aid convoy after suffering under a blockade enforced by the Assad government. Madaya, Syria, January 11, 2016.(Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

Residents of the Syrian town of Madaya are again reported to be near starvation. The United Nations is said to have underestimated the number suffering under blockades enforced by Bashar al-Assad’s government, adding to earlier accusations that the UN deliberately failed to highlight the problem. The revelations show much more needs to be done to implement Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Human Rights Up Front action plan and mainstream the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine.

The government’s January siege on the rebel-held Madaya caused severe malnourishment among the civilian population, with as many as 70 people starving to death. As the Secretary-General has explained, both the denial of humanitarian access and the adoption of tactics designed to harm the civilian population constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In a January briefing, Ban told the UN General Assembly that “The town has been the victim of deliberate starvation. Let me be clear: the use of food as a weapon of war is a war crime. All sides, including the Syrian government, which has the primary responsibility to protect Syrians, are committing atrocious acts prohibited under international humanitarian law.”

But it has also emerged that UN officials in Damascus knew about the situation in Madaya as early as July last year and, fearing that it would jeopardize already fraught relations with the Syrian government, chose not to highlight it publicly. Four senior UN officials and two aid workers told The Guardian that “access to [Syrian] officials had been prioritized over access to areas in need, meaning aid goals had often not been met.” Read more