UN member states should unequivocally condemn Russia’s abuse of its veto power and the body should affirm the legality, impartiality, neutrality, and independence of the cross-border aid mechanism for north-west Syria, Amnesty International said today, ahead of a General Assembly meeting on 19 July to discuss Russia’s veto.
The General Assembly meeting follows the UN Security Council’s (UNSC) failure on 11 July to renew the UN cross-border aid mechanism for north-west Syria, where four million people rely on UN aid for survival, after Russia vetoed the renewal of the mechanism, which expired on 10 July after neither of two competing resolutions were adopted.
“Since 2019, Russia has abused its veto power to whittle down the cross-border mechanism resolution’s scope from four border crossings to only one – and now none. This latest Russian veto means that the UN can no longer deliver aid and essential services to four million people living in north-west Syria,” said Sherine Tadros, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Advocacy and Representative to the UN.
“UN member states should publicly call out Russia’s use of its veto power by spelling out the real-life consequences of such political games. Russia and China know very well the catastrophic humanitarian situation in north-west Syria, where millions rely on UN aid and services. The cross-border mechanism was the sole route that allowed UN aid to be delivered from Türkiye to north-west Syria and the primary source of funding for local and international humanitarian organizations providing essential services.”
UN member states should publicly call out Russia’s use of its veto power by spelling out the real-life consequences of such political games. Russia and China know very well the catastrophic humanitarian situation in north-west Syria, where millions rely on UN aid and servicesSherine Tadros, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Advocacy and Representative to the UN
The first resolution, a text presented by Switzerland and Brazil calling for a nine-month renewal of the cross-border mechanism, was vetoed by Russia on 11 July. A second draft presented by Russia, which called for a six-month extension, received support only from China, and therefore fell below the nine affirmative votes required to be adopted. The Russian veto triggered the General Assembly meeting, which requires the body to convene all member states to discuss the matter for which the veto was cast.
Since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict, the Syrian government has arbitrarily restricted access to aid in civilian areas outside of its control. After armed opposition groups took control of north-west Syria in 2014, the Syrian government cut off the supply of all essential services to the area, which pushed the UNSC in 2014 to unanimously adopt resolution 2165, allowing the UN to deliver aid across three borders, including from Türkiye to north-west Syria without the Syrian government’s authorization. There continues to be no alternative for delivering aid that could replace the scale and scope of the UN cross-border aid mechanism.
Syrian government control of UN aid is not an option
On 13 July, the Syrian government granted permission to the United Nations to use the Bab al-Hawa crossing to deliver cross-border humanitarian aid to civilians in north-west Syria for six months, but on the condition that the UN and implementing partners fully cooperate with the government and do not “communicate with terrorist organizations and groups”. The Syrian government also stressed that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) should supervise and facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid. The UN has said these conditions are ‘’unacceptable’’.
Since 2014, Amnesty International, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria and other international and local human rights organizations have documented how the Syrian government continues to weaponize aid, obstructing and restricting its delivery to civilians in areas under opposition control or in areas previously under opposition control, sometimes as a punitive measure against civilians living there.
Several local and international humanitarian workers told Amnesty International that the Syrian government will not engage with humanitarian actors who for the past several years have been delivering assistance in opposition-held areas through the cross-border mechanism. However, those humanitarian actors have the knowledge and acceptance of the community to deliver aid and run projects that facilitate access to essential services and the improvement of living conditions for civilians in north-west Syria.
A humanitarian worker in north-west Syria told Amnesty International: “We had an experience in Daraa and Quneitra where we had 14 medical centres. We were pushed to speak with the Syrian government to continue our work [after it took control of the area from opposition forces]. We accepted to open discussions because Russia said they could provide safety. But the Syrian government refused to discuss on the premises that we are ‘terrorist’ organizations. How will it be different now?”
It will be impossible to assume that the Syrian government will coordinate or allow us to continue our work…How can I disclose my name to the Syrian government as it will put us and our family at risk? The government considers us as traitorsHumanitarian worker in north-west Syria
Another humanitarian worker in north-west Syria said: “It will be impossible to assume that the Syrian government will coordinate or allow us to continue our work. At the same time, we can’t rely only on SARC or Syria Trust [a local organization affiliated with the Syrian government] for the aid delivery… how can I disclose my name to the Syrian government as it will put us and our family at risk? The government considers us as traitors [for living in opposition-held areas].”
Humanitarian workers, as well as internally displaced people in north-west Syria, repeatedly told Amnesty International that SARC is not perceived by residents in opposition-held areas to be an impartial and neutral humanitarian organization due to a perception that it is infiltrated by the government.
Human Rights Watch has previously documented how Syrian government policies have allowed the authorities to regulate the humanitarian response in areas under its control, empowering the government to “divert aid, development, and reconstruction assistance in a way that creates significant (and in many cases realized) risk of discriminating against residents who are not aligned with the government’s political agenda, and fails to allow for aid to be distributed in a manner that respects the rights of the population.” The report adds that local humanitarian organizations, including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), which is affiliated with the Syrian government, have close relations with Syria’s security apparatus.
Such an arrangement would also undermine the impartiality of aid delivery due to the government’s well-documented track record of diverting aid away from populations in opposition-controlled areas. There are absolutely no guarantees that the Syrian government will not impede accessSherine Tadros, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Advocacy and Representative to the UN
“Shifting the authorization of the UN cross-border mechanism from the UNSC to the Syrian government risks jeopardizing civilians’ unfettered access to humanitarian aid in the north-west. Such an arrangement would also undermine the impartiality of aid delivery due to the government’s well-documented track record of diverting aid away from populations in opposition-controlled areas. There are absolutely no guarantees that the Syrian government will not impede access,” said Tadros.