Joint Statement – The Position of the Syrian Non-Governmental Organizations Regarding the Recent Developments on the Cross-Border Humanitarian Assistance

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Humanitarian needs in Syria remain at an all-time high, particularly in the aftermath of the earthquakes that have hit the region in February. Cross-border humanitarian operations continue to be a lifeline for more than 4.1 million people in northwest Syria, whose lives are dependent on the aid provided by local and international NGOs and UN agencies.

The failure of the UN Security Council to reach an agreement to renew Resolution 2672 greatly threatens the continuation of humanitarian operations in northwest Syria. As UN Secretary-General Guterres underscored in his reports, cross-border assistance into northwest Syria is essential to an independent and principled response and is a safeguard against the politicization of humanitarian assistance in Syria. The inability of the Security Council to renew the cross-border resolution due to the Russian veto, coupled with the Syrian regime’s well-documented history of aid obstruction, its politicization, and most recent implications of the consent model, confirm the critical need to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches those who need it most in northwest Syria.  This aid must be delivered in a principled and dignified manner without conditions or arbitrary timeframes that threaten the sustainability and effectiveness of humanitarian operations. Here, we reaffirm our position that the United Nations cross-border operations are legal, and do not require the approval of the Security Council or the Syrian regime.

The recent agreement between the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Martin Griffiths, and the Syrian Regime consenting to cross-border aid will lead to catastrophic effects on humanitarian operations in northwest Syria. This new arrangement has shifted the approval of cross-border access via UN Security Council resolutions to one that relies on authorization by the Syrian regime. Under the Syrian regime’s purview, the consent model gives way to arbitrary withdrawal of consent without formal assurances and with a perceived compromise to the sustainability and effectiveness of the humanitarian response. Given the history of various human rights violations perpetrated by the Syrian regime, there is a threat to the principled delivery of humanitarian assistance, and a pronounced threat to humanitarian actors on the ground. By effectively handing over control to the Syrian regime, this arrangement marks a new era of fear, instability, insecurity, and a threat to the future of principled, cross-border assistance.

The consent model and its implications put the population of northwest Syria, particularly women and children who account for nearly 80% of those most vulnerable and who rely on humanitarian assistance, at the greatest risk. We must also underscore the alarming nature of this model among the affected population, given the history of indiscriminate attacks to civilians (including aid workers) and civilian infrastructure, including attacks on schools, marketplaces, neighborhoods, hospitals, and clinics by the Syrian regime. This agreement has caused a wave of protests and demonstrations among communities across northwest Syria, who now interpret that their fate lies in the hands of the same regime that once besieged, forcibly displaced, and violated their basic rights. In light of the fragile and ever-worsening humanitarian situation, there is a need for timely, unhindered, and unconditional access. The involvement of the Syrian regime in the humanitarian response through a consent approach is yet another example of the politicization of humanitarian aid for Syria and leaves cross-border operations susceptible to a breach of humanitarian principles.

In addition, this arrangement with the Syrian regime disregards the original impetus for UN Security Council Resolution 2139, which was an unprecedented step of authorizing cross-border operations in Syria. This measure was to protect aid from interference by the Syrian regime and to ensure access to life-saving humanitarian assistance by the civilian population, including those in besieged areas who rely on UN aid and humanitarian convoys. This interference continues to this day, as exemplified by the case of Rukban camp, and as affirmed in the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Resolution 2672.

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