The 15 members of the UN Security Council had been trying for days to find a compromise to extend the humanitarian aid mechanism which allows the delivery from Turkey, through the Bal al-Hawa border post and without authorization from Damascus, food, water or medicine to the inhabitants of northwestern Syria. Due to the even greater needs since the February earthquakes, the UN, humanitarian workers and a majority of Council members were calling for an extension of at least one year to allow for better aid planning.
Faced with opposition from Russia, which insisted on only six months, Switzerland and Brazil, in charge of this file, finally proposed a compromise of nine months. Compromise which Russia, a key ally of Damascus, vetoed on Tuesday, preventing its adoption despite 13 votes in favor, and one abstention (China). The Council also rejected by 2 votes for, 3 against and 10 abstentions, a competing Russian text which provided for a six-month extension, but which also called into question the Western sanctions imposed on Syria.
The UN secretary general said he was “disappointed”
“It is a sad moment for this Council, except for one country”, launched the American ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield after the Russian veto, denouncing an “act of absolute cruelty”. “This calendar would have made it possible to get through the harsh winter months,” lamented Swiss ambassador Pascale Baeriswyl. “We will not let this veto put an end to our efforts to find a solution,” she said, assuring that she would “get back to work immediately”.
“Disappointed” by this failure, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on the members of the Council “to redouble their efforts” to allow cross-border aid to continue. But the Russian ambassador Vassili Nebenzia evoked his pure and simple end. “If our draft text is not supported, we can simply close the mechanism,” he said, accusing the aid passing through this mechanism of benefiting the “terrorists of Idleb”, a rebel region of northwest of Syria, not to the Syrian people.
A “cynical veto” according to Human Rights Watch
The text of Switzerland and Brazil “did not reflect the aspirations of the Syrian people”, added the Syrian ambassador Bassam Sabbagh, deploring that the UN humanitarian plan for the whole of his country, calculated at 5.4 billion dollars for 2023, is only 12% funded. The mechanism created in 2014 allows the UN to deliver humanitarian aid to the populations of the rebel areas in northwestern Syria, without authorization from the Syrian government, which regularly denounces a violation of its sovereignty.
Initially, it provided for four crossing points, but after years of pressure in particular from Moscow, an ally of the Syrian regime, only the Bab al-Hawa post had remained operational, and its authorization had been reduced to six months renewable. “Humanitarian aid should be based on needs, not politics,” lambasted Floriane Borel of the organization Human Rights Watch on Tuesday, denouncing Russia’s “cynical veto”.
Alternatives to find
The UN “should immediately explore alternative means to ensure that Syrians receive enough food, medicine and other aid they desperately need without having to beg Russia or the Syrian president for access,” he said. -she adds. Despite the expiration of the UN mechanism, two other crossing points are indeed operational, authorized directly by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after the February earthquakes.
This authorization expires mid-August. “I have great hope that they will continue to be renewed,” commented the UN chief for humanitarian affairs, Martin Griffiths, last week. But these two crossing points “cannot compensate” Bab al-Hawa, insisted Tuesday Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Secretary General. “85% of our needs went through the door that was closed today.”
As with each renewal of the mandate, in the event of this closure, the UN has prepositioned aid in Syria, he noted, without specifying how long it could last. UN says four million people in northwestern Syria, mostly women and children, need humanitarian assistance to survive after years of conflict, economic shocks, disease outbreaks and poverty growing aggravated by devastating earthquakes. And the mechanism that expired on Monday was helping 2.7 million people each month.