The UNOCHA’s Humanitarian and Impartial Intervention Shouldn’t Be Regarded as Unlawful or a Violation of the Sovereignty of States That Loot Aid
BY: Eskinder Debebe
(Link below to download full report)
In its report released today, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) calls on the United Nations to continue cross-border aid delivery even if Russia vetoes the extension of the Security Council resolution, stressing that the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ (UNOCHA) humanitarian and impartial intervention shouldn’t be regarded as unlawful or a violation of the sovereignty of states that loot aid.
The nine-page report notes that the past nine years have witnessed the most horrific cases in modern history of the Syrian regime blatantly preventing the entry of humanitarian aid into the internally besieged areas, in violation of customary international humanitarian law, with the regime using a starvation strategy that amounts to a form of collective punishment. All attempts by the international community to introduce aid and pressure to allow humanitarian organizations to provide a steady flow of aid, particularly medical and food supplies, to these areas have failed. This failure enabled the Syrian regime to loot as much aid as possible, extorting international organizations, and controlling the entry of aid, consequently increasing prices of materials inside the besieged areas for some commodities, including staples, by nearly 100 times compared to prices outside the besieged areas for the same items, enabling Syrian Regime forces to make hundreds of millions of dollars annually from the crossings and checkpoints set up around the besieged areas alone, excluding aid to the border areas.
The report further reveals that the international community, particularly the Security Council, failed to make any progress in terms of delivering aid to the besieged areas, as we have previously indicated. However, in July 2014, after earlier failures of this nature, the Security Council passed Resolution No. 2165, which allows the United Nations to deliver cross-border aid without the permission of the Syrian regime; as the report notes, this resolution provides official recognition that the Syrian regime was responsible for stealing a large part of the aid arriving in Damascus, controlling the quantities of aid to be sent to the areas outside its control, and deliberately delaying the issuance of permits for aid convoys.
The report notes that Resolution No. 2165 has been extended on five consecutive occasions, before Russia and China opposed this by using their veto powers against the extension of the draft resolution submitted by Germany, Kuwait and Belgium, which called for extending the resolution for a period of six months, followed by an additional six months. Although the draft resolution stated that it would include all crossings except for al Ramtha border crossing. The report further notes that on January 10, 2020, another draft resolution, No. 2504, which included additional amendments in favor of Russia, was submitted, with the extension being limited to six months, excluding al Ramtha and al Ya’rubiya border crossings, at which time Russia and China abstained and the aid delivery was extended until July 10, 2020.
The report adds that the UN Security Council seeks to concentrate as much powers as possible in its own hands, which benefits the five permanent members economically and politically, with the model of its authorization of the delivery of humanitarian aid being based on granting permission through a resolution issued unanimously; this provides clear evidence of the extent to which the Security Council dominates international law and changes this legislation in its own favor. The report stresses that international law clearly states in the Additional Protocol I, Articles 64 and 70 that relief actions shall not be regarded as interference in the armed conflict or as unfriendly acts.
The report further reveals that humanitarian aid passes through Turkey or Iraq, with both countries agreeing to allow the entry of aid to Syria, with aid reaching areas under the control of the Armed Opposition forces or the Syrian Democratic Forces, and the dominant forces welcoming the entry of aid. The report explains that the body principally involved in cross-border aid delivery in Syria is the United Nations OCHA, which is a humanitarian, independent, impartial, body, without a military or political agenda, and which provides aid without discrimination; aid is provided to people who have been displaced because of the violations perpetrated by the Syrian regime and its allies, some of which have reached the level of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The report also notes that the Syrian regime’s objection to cross-border aid delivery has no legitimacy or value, but is rather an unjustly arbitrary objection, which aims to obtain funds for the regime itself at the expense of the suffering of the displaced people, adding that interference of the Security Council in the aid entry process has contributed to enabling Russia and China to use this as a tool of blackmail, with the report calling for the lifting of the Security Council’s controlling authority in absolute terms to allow the flow of humanitarian aid without the need for a Security Council resolution.
The report stresses that the closure of al Ya’rubiya crossing has caused horrific additional suffering in three Syrian governorates, namely: Deir Ez-Zour, Hasaka and Raqqa in the Syrian Jazira, which houses hundreds of thousands of displaced people alongside its original residents. Rather than being taken from the al Yarubiya border crossing with Iraq directly to the areas where it’s needed, the UN aid is instead first taken to Damascus before being redirected to Deir Ez-Zour or Hasaka hundreds of kilometers away. Not only are the humanitarian convoy forced to make this massive unnecessary detour for no real reason, but worst of all, the Syrian regime’s delaying of these aid convoys is a deliberate strategy carried out in a premeditated and carefully planned manner, with the regime controlling the amount of aid, and plundering some quantity of it.
The report notes that the World Health Organization revealed in a recent draft statement that relief organizations working with the United Nations wanted the Security Council to urgently allow the use of al Ya’rubiya Syrian border crossing with Iraq again to deliver aid to tackle the coronavirus pandemic; however, the organization subsequently deleted this appeal, with the report regarding this deletion as evidence that the World Health Organization does not wish to bother Russia.
The report relies on the 16th Situation Report issued by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on June 26, 2020, which notes that 4.1 million people live in northwest Syria, including an estimated 2.7 million people classified as internally displaced. Some 780,000 of the nearly 1 million people displaced between December 2019 and early March 2020 are projected to remain in displacement.
The report reveals that the Syrian and Russian regime have not only displaced millions of Syrians, but also seek to steal and plunder current and prospective UN aid shipments intended to relieve these suffering people and protect them from disease and death, in a similar pattern to that seen with the same regimes’ looting and delay of aid intended for the Syrian Jazira, with the report noting that the IDPs are one of the groups most vulnerable to infection with the coronavirus.
The report stresses that the UN humanitarian aid can enter northwest and northeast Syria through border crossings without the need for Security Council intervention because it is independent, neutral humanitarian aid, with no political or military agenda, noting that the objection of the Syrian regime in coordination with its Russian ally is arbitrary, based on the presence of a permanent member of the Security Council that absolutely supports the Syrian regime at the expense of international law and human rights.
The report further notes that the past six months have clearly demonstrated how the arbitrary closure of al Ya’rubiya crossing adversely affected the people of al Jazira region and the IDPs there, and reveals how the Syrian regime has consistently looted and seized control of UN aid, adding that Russia seeks to use the same strategy in Idlib and its surrounding area to enable the Syrian regime to steal more aid.
As the report states, the Syrian regime has targeted humanitarian aid workers and facilities for nearly ten years, including brutally bombing a humanitarian convoy in Urm al Kubra, as well as bombing medical facilities and Civil Defense headquarters, and committing many hundreds of violations that constitute war crimes.
The report calls on the UN Security Council to stop controlling the entry of cross-border neutral humanitarian aid, which contributes to the assistance of nearly 5 million Syrian citizens, further noting that the Security Council needs to focus on bolstering its competence to achieve international peace and security in Syria, especially after the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons demonstrated the Syrian regime’s use of weapons of mass destruction, and after its displacement of nearly 13 million Syrian citizens, either as IDPs or as refugees, as well as its perpetration of violations, many of which amount to crimes against humanity.
The report also calls on the UN Security Council to put pressure on the Syrian regime and its allies for an acceleration of the political transition process through a specific timetable, which would end the suffering of the displaced and homeless persons, allow them a dignified and voluntary return, and contributing to restoring stability and security.
The report recommends that the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) should continue with cross-border aid delivery and ignore the Russian veto which is arbitrary and contrary to international law, should not submit to the blackmail of the Syrian regime, and must expose the regime’s looting and seizing control of aid, and coordinate and cooperate more with local humanitarian organizations, especially those that have proven themselves to be highly professional, impartial and independent.
Finally, the report urges the international community, particularly those states which are nominally ‘Friends of the Syrian People’ to support the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs’ cross-border humanitarian aid delivery, regardless of the Security Council resolution, which is seen as a matter beyond its mandate, and to work towards finding a coordination mechanism among donor countries in order to avoid or minimize to the greatest possible degree the confiscation and looting operations carried out by the Syrian regime of aid that is delivered through it.