United Nations: The Syrian government is “failing in its responsibility to look after its own people,” the secretary-general of the United Nations has said in a confidential report to the Security Council, in which he urged it to authorise the delivery of food and medicine to Syria without the government’s consent.
The report, presented to the council late Thursday, is the strongest push to date by the secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, in exhorting the council to permit UN agencies to deliver aid to areas held by insurgents in the three-year-old Syrian conflict.
Syria has consistently rebuffed UN appeals to permit such aid deliveries. As a result, 85 per cent of UN food aid, and more than 70 per cent of medicines, have remained in areas of Syria that are controlled by the administration of President Bashar Al Assad.
Syria has argued that it is within its rights as a sovereign nation to admit or deny entry to anyone, and that position has been supported by Russia, Syria’s principal ally and a permanent member of the council with veto power.
Ban disputed that contention in his report.
“On the contrary,” he said, “it is an affirmation of the sovereign responsibility of the government to ensure that its citizens do not suffer in such a tragic and unnecessary way.”
The issue of humanitarian relief in Syria is being raised again one day after Russia and China vetoed a resolution, supported by the other council members, that would have referred Syria to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, for the investigation and prosecution of war crimes.
Several council members, frustrated by the blockade on humanitarian relief, are discussing a draft resolution that would open up four specific border crossings, rather than give the United Nations blanket permission to carry out cross-border aid deliveries. Those four crossings — two along the frontier with Turkey, one on the Jordanian border and one from Iraq — would help the United Nations reach more than 1 million people in opposition-held areas.
Council members, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because discussions are continuing, said they had not yet decided whether the new resolution would have enforcement power under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which provides for the use of coercive measures including sanctions and military force, if necessary, to ensure compliance. To do that would risk drawing another veto by Russia and possibly by China.
Still, Western members of the council have said they hope the two countries will find it diplomatically difficult to veto two resolutions within a few days.
It remains unclear how useful an unenforceable resolution would be. The council’s most recent resolution urging the warring parties to lift blockades against aid has been blatantly flouted, especially by the government, according to the top UN relief officials.
Carrying out cross-border assistance without government consent carries risks. John Ging, who leads field operations for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said Al Assad’s government had warned that it would expel UN agencies as a result. That would mean losing access to 4 million people, Ging said.
The Syrian government could draw a public outcry if it expels UN humanitarian agencies, the most reliable sources of food and medicine in the cities and towns under Al Assad’s control. The Syrian leader is running for another seven-year term in an election scheduled for June 3.
The United Nations has pointed to the example of Mercy Corps, a nongovernmental agency that was recently expelled from Damascus for failing to stop its cross-border operations. Funded in part by the US government, Mercy Corps was one of a handful of private international aid groups to work in both government and rebel-controlled areas.
Nigel Pont, Mercy Corps’ regional director for the Middle East, said the group had chosen to continue cross-border deliveries in the country’s north, where it serves many more people than in Damascus.
“We really didn’t want to choose, but when they forced us to make a choice, it was clear,” Pont said Friday in Beirut.
He said that his group provided food, hygiene kits, blankets and other items to 1.7 million people in the north of Syria and that his staff had tried for four months to persuade the government to let them continue delivering aid to people on both sides of the conflict, to fulfil its mission of impartial aid delivery.
In one of the last negotiating sessions, the Syrian Foreign Ministry suggested that Mercy Corps ferry aid across front lines from Damascus, which did not seem workable to Pont. Leaving Damascus, he added, was “the last thing we wanted. There are people in need, who need to be served.”
Nongovernmental agencies have long been delivering cross-border assistance and have pushed the United Nations to do so too. One aid convoy, run by the Turkish group IHH, came under fire this year.
The United Nations says access has worsened in the past several weeks. Roughly 241,000 people remain trapped without access to food, it estimates, mostly because of blockades by government forces.