We Renew Our Years-Long Call for Putting an End to Russia’s Exploitation of UN Relief Aid
UN aid convoy entering via Bab al-Hawa crossing – July 28, 2022
Press release: (Download the full report below)
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights today released a report entitled, “Russia’s Veto Blocking the UN Cross-Border Relief Aid is Unlawful and its Only Aim is to Seize UN Relief Aid”, stressing that Russia’s exploitation of the UN relief aid must be stopped.
The 11-page report cites the figures released by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which estimates that Syria is still housing the highest number of IDPs worldwide, currently totaling 6.8 million, adding that 2023 would see 15.3 million people in Syria in need of humanitarian assistance, a record high since the beginning of the conflict, including 2.1 million IDPs living in IDPs camps.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Director of SNHR says:
“The residents of northwestern Syria rely more than anything on UN cross-border relief aid. Russia has not been above taking advantage of their heartbreaking conditions and using them as hostages. To that end, Russia is exploiting the international community to attain material and political gains. We have said time and time again for years that the international community needs to neutralize Russia’s exploitation attempts once and for all, and must act to deliver impartial, indispensable UN relief aid without having to ask for a green light from the Security Council.”
The report stresses that SNHR was one of the first groups to assert in numerous international forums and media interviews that delivering UN cross-border relief aid to Syria does not require the security council’s permission. SNHR has also released three reports affirming that the delivery of UN cross-border aid is a legal activity that does not require any permission from the UN Security Council, especially in the context of the Syrian conflict. This rests on three main reasons: First, an intervention is unlawful when it is forcibly carried out (it should be noted here that this does not necessarily need to be military, with any forcible intervention being unlawful). SNHR does not believe that delivering essential humanitarian aid can be classified as a forcible intervention, since UN aid workers are unarmed and impartial. Second, humanitarian aid passes through Turkey and Iraq. Both states have sanctioned the passage of aid through their land to areas of Syria under the control of armed opposition factions and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The controlling forces in the regions for which the aid is destined, meanwhile, welcome the entry of the aid since it is intended for areas housing millions of forcibly displaced persons. Therefore, such acts do not constitute any infringement upon regional integrity. Furthermore, this aid is delivered with the approval of the controlling authorities, and as such no forcible intervention is involved. Finally, necessity is the decisive issue in this situation, and the delivery of humanitarian aid to northwestern Syria is of paramount necessity.
The report stresses that the Security Council has regrettably politicized what should be a purely humanitarian cause. The Security Council put the issue to a vote in the presence of Russia, which has been supporting the Syrian regime politically and militarily and has veto powers. Thus, the Security Council gave Russia a golden opportunity to turn the aid issue into a card it can use for bargaining and for imposing pressure to attain political gains, whether in the context of the situation in Syria or other international issues.
Moreover, the report reveals that Russia has used its veto powers four times to reduce the number of border crossings from four (al-Ramtha, al-Ya’rubiya, Bab al-Salam, and Bab al-Hawa) to two (only Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa), with an extension period of merely six months, and then to only one crossing (Bab al-Hawa). On discussing the next extension, Russia managed to introduce the subject of so-called cross-line aid delivery, referring to aid coming from the Syrian regime’s territories to northern Syria, thereby paving the way to shutting down the last crossing left in accordance with Resolution 2585 (July 2021), which was the first resolution to refer to improving the means of delivering humanitarian assistance inside Syria and to early recovery projects.
As the report concludes, not only has Russa limited the effectiveness of the Security Council resolution on cross-border relief aid delivery by reducing it to one crossing, but Russia’s officials have also threatened on numerous occasions to shut down the crossing and completely cancel the mechanism.
The report also reveals that SNHR has monitored the entry of only 10 convoys from the Syrian regime’s territories to northwestern Syria in accordance with resolution 2585, five of which did so before the last Security Council resolution 2642 was adopted (July 12, 2022), and five after the resolution. The report stresses that, as can be seen from the third and fourth convoys, which collectively consisted of approximately 34 trucks only, compared to 1,377 trucks in the UN cross-border relief aid convoy that entered Syria via the borders last October and November, the aid delivered from the Syrian regime’s territories account for an extremely insignificant percentage (less than 2.5 percent) of the overall cross-border relief aid delivered, which is further damning evidence of the Syrian regime’s lack of seriousness about upholding its commitments and making the relief aid coming from its territories a comparable alternative to cross-border aid delivery.
The report concludes that Russia cannot use the Syrian regime’s sovereignty and permission as a pretext, since the regime itself is the party primarily responsible for displacing millions of people. The Syrian regime also is not concerned about whether or not UN relief aid reach the displaced. The report further stresses that, in cases of armed conflicts, all civilians must have access to all necessary assistance according to international customary law.
The report calls on the Security Council to relinquish control of the entry of UN cross-border aid, which is currently delivered under the aegis of the UN General Assembly and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), and completely abstain from the use of the veto in a way that goes against international human rights law, especially in regard to cases of crimes against humanity such as forced displacement.
The report also calls on the UN OCHA and the International Committee of the Red Cross to resume deliveries of aid via the al-Ya’rubiya and Bab al-Salama crossings as soon as possible, to refuse to succumb to the Syrian regime’s exploitation, and to expose the regime’s seizure and control of aid, in addition to making a number of other recommendations.