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Syria: UN General Assembly must reaffirm neutrality of aid deliveries

Concerns that Damascus will restrict aid flows after conditions placed on use of Bab al-Hawa crossing point following Russian veto

Four million people in north-west of country are currently reliant on UN aid

‘There are absolutely no guarantees that the Syrian government will not impede access’ - Sherine Tadros

UN member states should unequivocally condemn Russia’s abuse of its veto power and reaffirm the legality and full neutrality of the cross-border aid mechanism for north-west Syria, said Amnesty International today ahead of a General Assembly meeting to discuss Russia’s recent veto on aid for Syria.

Today’s General Assembly meeting follows last week’s failure at the Security Council to renew the UN’s cross-border aid agreement after Russia vetoed a renewal of the arrangement which had expired on 10 July. 

Since the outbreak of the conflict, the Syrian government has arbitrarily restricted access to aid in civilian areas outside of its control, and four million people in north-west Syria currently rely on UN aid for survival.

On 13 July, the Syrian authorities granted permission to the UN 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 cooperated with the Government and didn’t “communicate with terrorist organisations and groups”. The Syrian government also said the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent should supervise and facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid. The UN has said these conditions are “unacceptable”.   

Humanitarian workers - as well as internally-displaced people in north-west Syria - have repeatedly told Amnesty that the Syrian Arab Red Crescent is not believed to be an impartial and neutral humanitarian organisation due to a perception that it has been infiltrated by the Syrian authorities. Meanwhile, several local and international humanitarian workers have told Amnesty that the Syrian government will not engage with humanitarian groups who for the past several years have been delivering assistance in opposition-held areas through the cross-border mechanism. 

A humanitarian worker in north-west Syria told Amnesty:

“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 agreed to open discussions because Russia said they could provide safety. But the Syrian government refused to discuss on the basis that we are ‘terrorist’ organisations. How will it be different now?” 

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 the Syrian Arab Red Crescent or Syria Trust [a local organisation 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 traitors [for living in opposition-held areas].” 

Sherine Tadros, Amnesty International’s Representative to the UN, said: 

“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. 

“Shifting the authorisation of the UN cross-border mechanism from the Security Council to the Syrian government risks jeopardising civilians’ unfettered access to humanitarian aid in the north-west.

“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.

“There are absolutely no guarantees that the Syrian government will not impede access.”

Syria’s weaponisation of aid

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 led to the UN Security Council unanimously adopting resolution 2165 which allowed the UN to deliver aid across three borders - including from Turkey - to north-west Syria without the Syrian government’s authorisation. There is currently no alternative for delivering aid that could match the scale and scope of this aid mechanism. Since 2014, Amnesty, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria and other international and local human rights organisations have documented how the Syrian government has weaponised aid, obstructing and restricting deliveries to civilians in areas under opposition control or in areas previously under opposition control, sometimes as a punitive measure against civilians living there.


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