Permanent Representative Accuses Certain Delegations of Imposing Conditions on Aid, Using Reports for Blackmail
Despite recent reductions in hostilities in parts of Syria — and some acceleration of humanitarian aid delivery — the United Nations and its partners still lack comprehensive access to millions more in need of assistance, the Organization’s senior humanitarian affairs official told the Security Council in a briefing today.
Mark Lowcock, United Nations Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, welcomed the “glimmer of hope” that has emerged in the weeks since the Russian Federation and Turkey reached an agreement to prevent a military assault on Idlib Governorate. Emphasizing that it is critical to keep that agreement in place — or risk triggering humanitarian suffering “on a scale that would overwhelm all ability to respond” — he said the United Nations and its partners, over the first seven months of 2018, had reached an average of 5.5 million people per month in Syria.
While many of those reached were in areas recently returned to Government control, the United Nations still lacks sustained access to some parts, he said. Meanwhile, cross-border operations from Turkey continue to reach hundreds of thousands of people. In the Rukban refugee camp on the Syria-Jordan border — where the desperate population has not received any assistance since January — humanitarian partners are preparing to undertake a large delivery of assistance to 50,000 people, vaccinations for some 10,000 children and a rapid needs assessment. Among several priorities for the Council to take on board, he urged members to renew the humanitarian modalities laid out in resolution 2165 (2014) and help finance Syria’s Humanitarian Response Plan, which remains less than 50 per cent funded.
As Council members took the floor, several speakers voiced their support for Mr. Lowcock’s requests and urged all parties in Syria to abide by international humanitarian law. Some delegates also underscored the vital importance of cross‑border aid and immediate access to the Rukban camps, while calling for unimpeded humanitarian access and for all parties to prioritize the protection of civilians.
France’s representative joined others in expressing concern over attacks on hospitals and other civilian facilities, which he said could amount to war crimes. He warned that the standards required for the mass return of refugees to Syrian towns and cities have not been met. Policies which made such returns dangerous must end. In addition, all convoys must be permitted to move safely across the country in line with international law. Voicing particular concern over Rukban, the north-west of the country and other areas that will now face winter unprepared, he echoed other speakers in demanding the renewal of cross-border access and the swift convening of a constitutional committee in order to being earnest work on a political solution to the conflict.
The representative of the Netherlands declared: “It cannot be tolerated that civilians continue to be collectively punished by the regime for living in former opposition-led areas.” The Government cannot be allowed to continue interfering in the delivery of life-saving aid, he added, arguing that “hard-to-reach-areas” are only hard to reach because of bureaucratic barriers imposed by the Syrian regime. Welcoming the convoy to Rukban, he called on the parties to reach solutions that respect the dignity of those trapped there. Echoing other speakers, he said the Syrian Government’s calls for the return of refugees — along with the provision of reconstruction aid — remain premature.
In contrast, the Russian Federation’s delegate drew attention to his country’s efforts to assist the return of refugees to their homes in Syria. Noting that the demilitarization zone agreement reached in Idlib is holding successfully, he nevertheless expressed concern over reports of suspicious movements by members of Nusrah Front, as well as the White Helmet group, with toxic substances in and around the Governorate. Meanwhile, operations to counter terrorist groups have not been taken off the table and the Russian Federation will fully support Syria’s right to take action against those actors, if necessary. Expressing hope that the constitutional committee will convene swiftly — given the right circumstances — he also warned against imposing external ultimatums or extreme deadlines in that process.
Syria’s representative said it is in bad taste that certain Western delegations are mixing politics with humanitarian aid by setting conditions for its delivery in Syria, even as the Coalition’s aircraft and terrorists continue to attack civilians. Underlining the need for transparent dialogue on the humanitarian situation — especially in conveying accurate information and preventing United Nations reports from being used for pressure and blackmail — he said those reports must take into account the continuing terrorist threats being faced in Syria. Such information, provided by his Government, is unfortunately being ignored by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In addition, he cautioned that cross-border assistance is not only ineffective, but can also be diverted to support terrorists.
At the meeting’s outset, the Council observed a minute of silence in honour of the 11 victims killed in an armed attack on a synagogue in the United States city of Pittsburgh on 27 October. Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz (Bolivia), Council President for October, condemned the attack against innocent people who were targeted at their place of worship and expressed the Council’s deepest condolences to the victims’ families and the people and Government of the United States.
Council members also expressed their condolences to the families of the victims of an airplane crash off the coast of Indonesia this morning.
Also speaking were representatives of Kuwait, United States, Equatorial Guinea, United Kingdom, Poland, Kazakhstan, Côte d’Ivoire, China, Ethiopia, Peru and Sweden.
The meeting began at 10:01 a.m. and ended at 11:56 a.m.
MARK LOWCOCK, Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, presenting the most recent report of the Secretary-General on the relevant resolutions addressing the situation in Syria (document S/2018/947), welcomed the “glimmer of hope” that has emerged in the weeks of relative quiet since the Russian Federation and Turkey reached an agreement to prevent a military assault on Idlib Governorate. Stressing that it is critical for that agreement to hold, he warned: “The stakes are high, as the alternative is humanitarian suffering on a scale that would overwhelm all ability to respond, devastating a population that is already weakened through conflict, displacement and deprivation.”
Outlining humanitarian assistance provided by the United Nations and its partners over the first seven months of 2018, he said an average of nearly 5.5 million people were reached with aid each month across Syria. In September 2.5 million people were reached with food aid from Damascus, including some in areas that have recently come under Government control. However, in many areas that recently changed hands the United Nations still has not had sustained access. He described ongoing discussions with Damascus to facilitate more systematic deployment of aid and said his office will submit plans to ensure Government agreement for cross-line access into northwest Syria.
Pointing out that the humanitarian system is funded on a voluntary basis, he underlined the need to convince donors that the money they provide is really going to those who need it most and to adhere to the basic principles of independence, impartiality and neutrality. The United Nations cross-border operation from Turkey continues to reach hundreds of thousands of people. In recent weeks, it was scaled up to pre-position itself as a contingency in the event of a military escalation as well as to provide winterization support. Those operations are also closely monitored to ensure they meet the highest standards. Meanwhile, in the Rukban refugee camp on the Syria-Jordan border, the United Nations, in cooperation with the Syrian Aran Red Crescent, is preparing to undertake a large delivery of assistance from Damascus to 50,000 people, vaccinations for some 10,000 children and a rapid needs assessment.
That convoy was planned for 27 October, he continued. However, it was postponed due to reports of insecurity along the planned route. The population in Rukban has not received assistance since January and is growing increasingly desperate. “This dire humanitarian situation cannot be allowed to continue,” he stressed, calling on all parties to make the necessary arrangements to ensure the security of humanitarian personnel and convoys and allow them to proceed without delay. Also noting that intense fighting continues to affect civilians along the east bank of the Euphrates River in southern parts of Deir-ez-Zor Governorate, he expressed concern about the situation in Raqqa. However, the United Nations and its partners now have increasing access to that area and its partners are reaching over 600,000 people there each month.
Concluding, he outlined several priorities where the support of Member States and Council members remains crucial: Ensuring the implementation of the Russian Federation-Turkey Idlib agreement; renewing for another year Council resolution 2165 (2014) which sustains cross-border aid; ensuring support to allow the United Nations-led humanitarian convoy is granted access to the Rukban camps; supporting improved access and needs assessments; and more generous financing for the current Humanitarian Response Plan, which remains less than 50 per cent funded.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), speaking on behalf of the penholders on the Syrian humanitarian file, his country and Sweden, expressed his support for Mr. Lowcock’s five requests and called on all parties in Syria to abide by international humanitarian law. Condemning a list of violations that continue to occur in the country, he stressed the importance of sustaining the ceasefire in Idlib and elsewhere in Syria in conformance with Council resolutions. He also condemned attacks against hospitals and other critical civilian facilities. He urged that there be immediate humanitarian access for all so-called hard-to-reach areas in a non-discriminatory manner and asserted the vital importance of cross-border aid and for immediate access to Rukban. The penholders, he reiterated, are calling for unimpeded access for humanitarian aid and prioritization of protection of civilians.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) warned that the window of opportunity for preventing a catastrophic humanitarian crisis in Idlib is closing, as the Assad regime could decide to end the ceasefire as it has many times previously. Urgent progress toward a political solution to the crisis is therefore needed, starting with the convening of the constitutional committee, without artificial delays. He urged the Russian Federation and Turkey to make the ceasefire durable and called for harmful rhetoric from Damascus against humanitarian workers to stop. Cross-border assistance remains vital and the mechanism for that purpose must be renewed. Also calling for access to a caravan to Rukban, he stressed that it was only a first step to relieve suffering there. He seconded the United Nations assessment that standards for large-scale refugee return had not yet been met. Such refugees must be allowed to make their own decisions about their safety. Expressing pride over substantial aid by his country to Syrians during the crisis, he emphasized that the primary responsibility for ending suffering in the country lay with the Government.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), noting that his President on Saturday had attended a summit on Syria, reported that the leaders who met called for immediate political progress and unfettered humanitarian access, along with protection of civilians and humanitarian personnel. Attacks on hospitals and related facilities could amount to war crimes. Standards for the mass return of refugees had not been met; there must be political progress and an end to policies that made such returns dangerous. He added that it is unacceptable for the Government to be blocking access to certain areas and funnelling it instead to those areas under its control. All convoys must be allowed to move safely across the country in conformance with international law. He expressed particular concern over Rukban, the northwest region and other areas that were about to face the rigours of winter unprepared. Underscoring that unity was essential in the renewal of cross-border access, he added that the opportunity of the Idlib ceasefire must be seized to convene a Constitutional committee and begin earnest work on a political solution. His country, he pledged, would spare no effort in relieving the humanitarian situation and helping to open space for a political solution.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea), pointing out that the presence of terrorists still prevented the normalization of areas of Syria, called on all parties to prevent escalation to allow full humanitarian access. To remedy the situation in Rukban, he called for a guarantee for unimpeded humanitarian access by all parties. Cross-border assistance is also required in all vulnerable areas that benefit from it. Above all else, it is necessary to decrease violence as well as the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Freedom of movement is required for those who wish to flee, but no one should be forced to do so. He emphasized that a political solution to the crisis is needed, in conformance with Security Council resolution 2154 (2014).
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) expressed hope that various ongoing diplomatic talks — including the outcome of the Syria summit and the current meeting of the “Small Group” States in London — will result in progress on both the political and humanitarian tracks. Also underlining her expectation that the Idlib agreement will hold and that Syria’s Constitutional committee will be set up before the end of the year, she addressed the humanitarian situation, declaring: “It is very worrying that we still don’t have full, independent needs assessments.” Asking the Russian Federation and Syria to explain what is being done to address the United Nations humanitarian concerns, she underscored that the Council requires more details on the security risks described by those delegations. More must also be done to ensure that United Nations convoys are allowed to reach the desperate people who need them. If returning refugees are to feel safe, humanitarian access and refugee return processes must include security considerations as well as freedom from political persecution and arbitrary arrests. Echoing calls for the Council’s unity on renewing resolution 2165 (2014), she agreed with the Emergency Relief Coordinator’s requests for more generosity. The United Kingdom has provided $3.47 billion to Syria since 2012. However, reconstruction funds will only be made available once a viable political process is in place.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said that, despite the Council’s unanimity on such previous resolutions as resolution 2401 (2018), “we are still lacking substantial change on the ground”. In addition, despite a 17 September agreement between the Russian Federation and Turkey to establish a demilitarized zone in Idlib which prevented the risk of a humanitarian catastrophe, civilians across Idlib and surrounding areas continue to face a range of threats. In addition, massive humanitarian needs persist. Indeed, a risk of rapid deterioration of the Idlib situation where 3 million people remain stranded is still a source of serious concern. Calling on all parties to implement the ceasefire and to ensure unhindered and safe humanitarian access across Syria, she emphasized the need for full compliance by all parties with their obligations under international law. Also underlining the obligation for all parties to protect civilians, she called on all those with influence over the parties – especially the Astana Guarantors – to take action to achieve the full cessation of hostilities across the country.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan), welcoming the positive changes in Idlib, said the Sochi Agreement should be promptly implemented in full compliance with international humanitarian law. The international community should not allow terrorist groups to undermine the agreement. On the situation in Deir-ez-Zor Governate, he urged all parties to do their utmost to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure. He called for support for the United Nations initiative to clear mines left by militants of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), thus giving refugees the opportunity to return home. He also urged that the international community support all parties in the inter-Syrian negotiation process. As well, he emphasized a holistic and comprehensive approach to the humanitarian crisis that goes beyond the pure delivery of aid. Given that the situation in Syria is gradually stabilizing, he said he hoped that the humanitarian assistance will reach those in need through the most direct routes possible.
GBOLIÉ DESIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire), welcoming the demilitarized zone in Idlib, called on all the parties to implement all the provisions of the agreement, show restraint and guarantee humanitarian access. He reminded the parties of their responsibilities under international law, paid tribute to humanitarian workers and affirmed the necessity of cross-border assistance. Also affirming the need for concluding a political process, he called for it to be based on the Geneva and Sochi frameworks, and for all parties to ensure responsibility for grave crimes committed during the conflict.
WU HAITAO (China), while welcoming the decrease of violence in Syria, said that the international community must continue to provide humanitarian needs to those in need of them. In addition, reconstruction efforts of the Syrian Government and people should be supported. The international community should support the Government in its efforts to provide relief for civilian suffering and should be firm in countering the terrorist threat in the country. Describing tireless efforts of his country to assist the country, he pledged its continued commitment to the Syrian people.
MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia), recalling that the Secretary-General’s report cites a “reduced level of hostilities in a number of areas” of Syria, and welcoming the Idlib agreement between the Russian Federation and Turkey, also noted with concern that Syria’s humanitarian needs are still acute. In some areas, such as Rukban camp, conditions are grave. In that context, humanitarian assistance provided by the United Nations and its partners remains indispensable. As inter-agency convoys have not been deployed since August, she encouraged the United Nations to continue to engage with Syrian authorities to ensure that they have access to priority areas where control has changed hands. Furthermore, she said, the United Nations and its partners continue to need safe, rapid, unhindered and sustained humanitarian access across the country.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), highlighting the significant reduction in violence in Idlib following the agreement reached between the Russian Federation and Turkey, nevertheless voiced concern about continued humanitarian challenges there and across Syria. The agreement is an important first step, but must be built upon. Meanwhile, the 45,000 people living in precarious conditions in Rukban camp lack access to food, safe water and basic services. Urging the international community to continue to mobilize to counter the threat posed by remaining improvised explosive devices in such cities as Raqqa, he said such work is needed to ensure the safe, dignified return of refugees to their homes. Calling on all parties to ensure the safe and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance, he also urged them to swiftly bring an end to Syria’s prolonged conflict, starting by convening the Constitution Committee by the end of 2018.
KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands), thanking humanitarian workers in Syria for their tireless efforts, said: “It cannot be tolerated that civilians continue to be collectively punished by the regime for living in former opposition-led areas.” The Government cannot be allowed to continue interfering in the delivery of live-saving aid, he added, arguing that “hard-to-reach-areas” are only hard to reach because of bureaucratic barriers imposed by the Syrian regime. He asserted that they must guarantee access for needs assessments and for the distribution of necessary aid and must also allow monitoring of the situation in light of the protection thresholds of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). He also stressed that there is also no alternative for cross-border aid if civilians in Idlib and other hard-to-reach areas are to survive. Welcoming the convoy to Rukban, he called on the parties to reach solutions that respect the dignity of those trapped there. Also welcoming the decrease of violence in Idlib, he warned that any further attacks on civilian facilities there, including hospitals, must not be tolerated and those responsible will be held to account. Affirming the urgent need for a political solution to the crisis, he emphasized his Government’s strong disagreement with what it views as premature calls for reconstruction aid and the return of refugees. He also reaffirmed that any transition requires accountability for acts committed during the conflict.
CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden), spotlighting areas where broad convergence is emerging among Council members, said humanitarian access must be ensured to the Rukban camps and hard-to-reach areas across Syria. Meanwhile, hospitals, schools and other civilian facilities must be protected. Underlining the need to renew the modalities laid out in resolution 2165 (2014) - including those relating to humanitarian access – he said the humanitarian situation in Syria will only be alleviated by achieving a political solution in line with resolution 2254 (2015) and he expressed hope that Council members will come together around such a process.
VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) welcomed the swift provision of humanitarian aid in Syria when it is delivered in strict compliance with United Nations Charter principles. Urging all parties to avoid obstructing that process, he drew attention to the Russian Federation’s efforts to assist the return of refugees to their homes in Syria. Noting that the Idlib agreement is holding successfully - with the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the demilitarized zone proceeding as planned - he nevertheless cited reports of suspicious movements by members of Al-Nusrah Front, as well as the White Helmet group, with toxic substances. Operations to counter terrorism have not been taken off the table, he stressed, adding that the Russian Federation will fully support Syria’s right to take action against such groups if necessary. Welcoming the results of the recent Syria summit, he said the parties discussed the process of launching a constitutional committee, among other items, and voiced hope that the committee will be formed before the end of 2018 given the right circumstances. However, the responsibility for Syria’s fate is borne by its people, and all ultimatums or extreme deadlines should be avoided.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), Council President for October, spoke in his national capacity, emphasizing the need to reduce violence throughout Syria in line with resolution 2401 (2018). Joining other speakers in welcoming progress made in line with the Idlib agreement, he said any refugee or internally displaced person returns must be safe, dignified and fully voluntary. Emphasizing that the conflict in Syria has no military solution and that the parties must fully respect all international law, he said any efforts made or measures adopted in line with resolution 2401 (2018) – aimed at combating Council-designated terrorist groups - must take into account protection of civilians. He also underlined the importance of fully respecting Syria’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence, and urged Council members to support the establishment of Syrian political bodies that are fair, balanced and representative of the country’s people.
BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said it is in bad taste that certain Western delegations are mixing politics with humanitarian aid by setting conditions for its delivery in Syria. At the same time, the Coalition’s aircraft and terrorists continue to attack civilians there. Recent meetings with Mr. Lowcock affirmed the need for further cooperation in delivery of humanitarian aid due to the continue ravages of terrorism, while preserving the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. For that purpose, transparent dialogue on the humanitarian situation is needed in order to convey accurate information and prevent the reports from being used for pressure and blackmail. Monthly reporting is counter-productive in that light. The reports must take into account the continuing terrorist threats against the country, including the fact that hospitals and schools are being used by terrorists as their bases.
Unfortunately, information provided by his Government is being ignored by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, he continued. Similarly, the Office has ignored his Government’s requests to include Idlib in plans for humanitarian aid; in addition, the United States has prevented delivery to Rukban. Cross-border assistance is not only ineffective, it can be diverted to support terrorists. He argued that conditions are indeed in place for the return of refugees; thousands are coming back even though other countries are using humanitarian concerns to implement their own political designs. As the final chapter is written in the Syrian crisis, Syrians are determined to return and rebuild their country with their own hands. Reminding the Council that Idlib is part of Syria, he affirmed his country’s determination to end suffering there and to stop terrorism and foreign intervention throughout country.
Ms. PIERCE (United Kingdom), taking the floor a second time, said that although free speech is necessary in the Council, it is not right to criticize the United Nations for performing the very difficult job in Syria of facilitating humanitarian aid.