Several Speakers Upset about Reduced Access from Four to Two Crossing Points
After protracted negotiations, the Security Council adopted a resolution today extending until 10 July authorization for the United Nations and its partners to deliver humanitarian aid across borders into Syria — avoiding a midnight expiration of its mandate and a scenario in which millions of Syrians would be left with no alternative.
Adopting resolution 2504 (2020) by a vote of 11 in favour, to none against, with 4 abstentions (China, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, United States), the Council decided that aid will continue to be delivered through Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa crossings in Turkey only — excluding Al Yarubiyah and Al-Ramtha on Syria’s borders with Iraq and Jordan, through which deliveries have moved since 2014. Its passage comes after two failed attempts in December 2019 to reauthorize the mechanism. (For more information, please see Press Release SC/14066).
Before its adoption, the Council rejected an oral amendment proposed by the Russian Federation’s delegate to include a reference to General Assembly resolution 46/182 — with 7 voting against that measure (Belgium, Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, United Kingdom, United States), 3 in favour (China, Russian Federation, Viet Nam) and 5 abstaining (Indonesia, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, Tunisia).
Belgium’s delegate, who negotiated the resolution together with Germany, said that the fate of 4 million Syrians who receive the aid were the exclusive motivation. Three crossings were at the heart of the mandate — “the bottom line” in terms of a humanitarian perspective — and he deeply deplored that the Council could not agree to keep the Al Yarubiyah checkpoint open, as it allows for medical aid to reach 1.4 million people.
France’s delegate expressed regret that the resolution reduced the mechanism’s scope from four to two crossing points, and duration from 12 to 6 months. Syria is sparingly granting authorizations and diverting aid for political ends, while the World Health Organization finds it impossible to deliver 8 to 10 lorries projected for the coming weeks. The Russian Federation has given into the demands of a criminal regime, she said, calling its intransigence morally and humanly incomprehensible.
The United Kingdom’s delegate said she abstained from the vote as the resolution reduces the provision of aid to populations at risk. She accused the Russian Federation of “playing dice” with the people in north-east Syria, emphasizing that four border crossings were requested.
Highlighting the heated divisions within the Council, the speaker for the Russian Federation said that it is unclear why some members had refused to negotiate on the alternative draft submitted earlier by his delegation. He abstained in today’s vote in order to not block aid deliveries, stressing that border crossings in Jordan and Iraq have not been used often over the past year and that Syria must approve all aid deliveries.
On that point, the United States delegate disputed that Syria’s consent is required for aid to be delivered through the crossings. The United States abstained from voting on a “watered‑down” resolution, as it is inadequate to meet people’s needs, having sought to renew all four crossings authorized by resolution 2449 (2018), she explained.
Offering the national perspective, Syria’s delegate expressed regret that the commitment to Assembly resolution 46/182 has fallen victim to a political agenda since the adoption of resolution 2165 (2014). The Government has been unrelenting in ensuring that aid is delivered to all its citizens, without discrimination.
On 19 and 20 December 2019, Syria clearly expressed its legal and ethical motivations for rejecting the renewal of the cross-border mechanism, he said, as the contrived circumstances in which it was established no longer exist. Further, the mechanism has failed to ensure that aid does not fall into the hands of terrorist groups, which have been stealing it to fund their activities — a scenario playing out in Idlib, which is controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra, supported by Turkey’s rogue regime.
Also speaking today were representatives of Tunisia, Dominican Republic, Estonia, China, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Indonesia, Germany and Viet Nam.
The meeting began at 6:05 p.m. and ended at 7:16 p.m.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) proposed an oral amendment to operative paragraph 6 of the draft resolution, replacing the words “and in accordance with the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence;” with “and in accordance with the guiding principles of humanitarian emergency assistance, as contained in General Assembly resolution 46/182”.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), speaking also for Germany, said that 11 million Syrians need humanitarian assistance — food, water, shelter, medical assistance and care — and since 2014, cross-border operations have offered a lifeline to them. The mechanism allows the United Nations and its implementing partners to ensure life-saving assistance to 4 million people. Since 14 November 2019, the co-penholders have done their utmost to find agreement on renewing the mechanism, in an inclusive, transparent and thorough manner, also consulting neighbouring countries. “We followed a clear humanitarian imperative,” he said, with the fate of the 4 million people being the exclusive motivation. While divisions within the Council have run deep, the co-penholders continued to engage, aiming to keep the bar high. Three crossings were at the heart of the mandate — “the bottom line” in terms of a humanitarian perspective. Yet, over and over, it was made clear that the mandate for all three crossings was not acceptable for all Council members.
Recalling that the Al Yarubiyah border crossing has allowed medical aid to reach 1.4 million people — and that there is no viable alternative to it — he deeply deplored that the Council could not agree to keep that checkpoint open, as humanitarian partners deemed it essential. He requested the Secretary-General to examine alternatives by the end of February to ensure aid can continue to be provided, including to the north-east. In the north-west, 2.7 million people completely depend on the mechanism, amid increased fighting. The orally proposed amendment is unacceptable, as it contradicts the system of the cross-border mechanism, which itself is an exception to the principles referenced by the Russian Federation. “This system is needed more than ever,” he insisted, adding: “We need to preserve it.” He requested the Council to approve the draft as written.
The Council then rejected the proposed amendment by a vote of 7 against (Belgium, Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, United Kingdom, United States), to 3 in favour (China, Russian Federation, Viet Nam), with 5 abstentions (Indonesia, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, Tunisia).
The Council then adopted resolution 2504 (2020) by a vote of 11 in favour, to none against, with 4 abstentions (China, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, United States).
ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said that it is essential that the mechanism be renewed today, expressing regret that the resolution reduced its scope from four to two crossing points, and duration from 12 to 6 months, especially as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Secretary-General and others had repeatedly said there is no alternative to it, as 4 million people depend on it. Stressing that Syria uses the assistance for political ends, disrespecting international humanitarian law, by sparingly granting authorizations and diverting aid, she recalled that daily aid is essential for 2.7 million people in Syria’s north-west and 1.3 million in the north-east who would otherwise depend entirely on Syria’s regime, at its mercy.
France committed to negotiations led by the co-penholders and was in constant dialogue with all stakeholders to preserve the mechanism, she said. She deplored that the crucial Al Yarubiyah crossing point was not retained, as it allows 40 per cent of medicines delivered to the north-east. She expressed regret that the World Health Organization (WHO) finds it impossible to deliver 8 to 10 lorries projected over the coming weeks. The Russian Federation has given into the demands of a criminal regime, showing great disregard for the principles of neutrality, humanity, independence and impartiality of humanitarian aid, she said, calling its intransigence morally and humanly incomprehensible. As the Secretary‑General is requested to present aid delivery options by the end of February, she called on all parties to act responsibly and take a decision which draws on the analysis of the options to be tabled by the Secretary-General. She likewise expressed regret that the mechanism was renewed for only six months, as such operations require stability, and called for an end to the instrumentalization of humanitarian assistance.
Mr. PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) said that the text represents a compromise, allowing for continued assistance in Syria’s north-west, where there is no other alternative. This system functions based on a simple notification to Syria’s authorities, he said, sending an important signal to the Syrian people. With Germany and others, Belgium worked extremely hard to achieve a more far‑reaching result: a mandate for all people depending on the mechanism — and he expressed extreme disappointment that the Council was unable to achieve that result on a resolution which is purely humanitarian in nature. He called on Syria’s authorities to respect international humanitarian law, protect citizens and allow aid to be delivered in a neutral manner.
MONCEF BAATI (Tunisia) commended those guiding the consultations that led up to the draft’s adoption, which saw the Council overcome an impasse. A united front is essential with a view to ending the suffering in Syria, and while the adoption was not unanimous, the draft will reach many in need.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said that Al Yarubiyah and Al‑Ramtha are critical aid delivery crossings. While not ideal, adoption of the draft resolution will still result in aid reaching millions of Syrians.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) said that the draft is a leap into the unknown. The Russian Federation did not engage in constructive discussions addressing populations in need in several areas of Syria. Instead, it blackmailed and presented other parties with ultimatums, he said, adding that delivering aid does not need the approval of the Government of Syria.
ZHANG JUN (China), expressing support for the international community’s efforts to provide humanitarian aid to those in need, said his delegation remained steadfast in the principle that a country’s territorial integrity must be respected. The Government of Syria remains the responsible party for providing aid, and cross-border operations should strictly follow United Nations principles and international law, he said, welcoming the compromise found on the issue of extending border crossings.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) said that there are no perfect solutions, but only acute judgment and decision-making. Diplomacy is in action today, as common ground has been found on this issue, she said, commending Germany and Belgium in encouraging discussions on the matter.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) said the complex and lengthy process of adopting the draft was the result of finding a compromise. After all, civilian lives are at stake and the Council must urgently address this issue, he said, adding that: “We are all equally unhappy, but congratulations are in order. It is not about the happiness or unhappiness here in the Council, but about saving human lives.” He anticipated the Secretary-General’s forthcoming report, noting that the Al Yarubiyah crossing point was a route to reach more than 1 million Syrians in need.
Mr. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said his delegation abstained for the purpose of not blocking aid deliveries. It is still not clear why several delegations refused to negotiate on the Russian Federation’s alternative draft resolution. Regretting to note the political purposes some colleagues are pursuing, he pointed out that border crossings in Jordan and Iraq have not been used often over the course of the past year. To his counterpart from Estonia, he said that the Government of Syria must approve all aid deliveries. Raising a concern about the unsuccessful monitoring of deliveries until the United Nations has full access to relevant areas, he said that some delegates did not discuss this issue, which should indeed be addressed. Establishing effective efforts in a country requires coordination and cooperation with authorities, he said, expressing hope that the trend of failing to find solutions to these and other challenges would be resolved in the future, when the Council considers the matter in a few months.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) said that her delegation abstained because the draft reduces the provision of aid to populations at risk. Since the conflict began, the United Kingdom has committed more than $3.5 billion to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, including food deliveries and more than 12 million vaccines. Of all the sad days during the conflict, today is potentially one of the saddest because certain States chose to play politics, with the Russian Federation “playing dice” with the people in north-east Syria. The urgent need for cross‑border assistance continues and should not be based on bargaining, but on humanitarian need. Four crossings were requested, but the draft ended up excluding crossings, which will put the lives of thousands at risk. The Syrian authorities’ approval is not required for aid shipments for those most in need. Indeed, the Council should be prepared to take action, including restoring cross‑border access in the north-east if the Secretary-General’s report indicates a need to do so. In addition, the closure of the Al Yarubiyah crossing requires close monitoring of the authorities controlling the area, she said, calling on Syria and the Russian Federation to confirm that any aid will be distributed to those most in need and that organizations based in Damascus will be granted permission and access to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) said that people in Idlib went to bed last night not knowing if they would continue to receive aid. Border crossings are essential. “We did everything to keep that alive so 2.7 million people could continue to receive that aid,” he said. The decision comes at a very heavy price: 1.4 million people in the north-east will wake up not knowing if they will receive medical aid that they desperately need. Contrary to the Russian Federation’s statement, there is no possibility to receive assistance through different means, he said, recalling that there are 8 to 10 trucks waiting outside the Al Yarubiyah crossing to deliver medical aid and appealing to the Russian Federation to ensure that they reach people in need. Germany voted against the amendment, as Al Yarubiyah is not under Syria’s control.
KELLY CRAFT (United States) abstained from the vote because, after months of negotiations, the text was the only path forward to allow any aid delivery to Syrians. The United States could not veto such a measure. In abstaining, it lends a voice to 4 million people whose welfare has been overlooked for far too long. Today, the Russian Federation revealed its shocking indifference to human suffering. The watered-down resolution is inadequate to meet people’s needs and the Russian Federation placed the lives of more than 1 million Syrians in jeopardy. The existing cross-border mechanism is working. The Council is in the current situation because the Russian Federation decided to use deprivation against the Syrian people. “This is a crisis of Russia’s making,” she said, adding: “It is theirs to own.” The United States is not willing to play politics with the lives of innocent Syrians. The humanitarian situation is worsening, which is why the United States sought to renew all four of the crossings authorized by resolution 2449 (2018) and why it did not obstruct a measure to provide some aid to Syrians. Consent by Syria is not required for aid to be delivered through crossings. She expressed bitter disappointment at the Council’s inability to deliver what Syrians so clearly need. “Yet, we’ve handed down this fate to 1 million people,” she said, levelling a blow to the Council’s credibility and moral authority. The United States will do its utmost to recover the Council’s moral authority.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam), Council President for January, speaking in his national capacity, said his delegation supported the resolution, bearing in mind that the mechanism is an essential part of the overall humanitarian response. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will continue its work in an effective and accountable way. He shared concerns about the complicated humanitarian situation, recalling that Syria’s Government bears the primary responsibility to address it with international assistance. It must ensure that aid will be delivered timely and adequately to hundreds of thousands of people, and not diverted or subjected to manipulation.
BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) expressed regret that the commitment to Assembly resolution 46/182 has been a victim of a political agenda since the adoption of resolution 2165 (2014). Since the outbreak of a terrorist war against Syria, his country’s Government has been unrelenting in ensuring that aid is delivered to all its citizens, without discrimination, throughout the country, despite the blockade imposed against it. Syria — along with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and authorized non-governmental organizations — has cooperated with the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and 27 foreign non‑governmental organizations — all while upholding its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and the guiding humanitarian principles outlined in resolution 46/182. It is reprehensible that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has taken the side of Western countries in being hostile to Syria’s Government.
Through that hostile approach, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs overlooked Syria’s sincere efforts and the crucial role of the Government in facilitating humanitarian aid delivery, he said, notably with its misleading assessments and rhetoric. On 19 and 20 December 2019, Syria clearly expressed its legal and ethical motivations for rejecting the renewal of the mechanism; the resolution was adopted in contrived circumstances that no longer exist. In addition, the co-penholders have no legal status and any such claim that they care for Syrians is a lie, refuted by the practices of Governments that wage war and impose unilateral coercive measures against Syria. The penholders likewise ignored that the centre of humanitarian action is Damascus. While Belgium’s delegate said that the co-penholders consulted with neighbouring countries, he forgot the need to consult with Syria, in line with Assembly resolution 46/182. Estonia, United Kingdom and the United States all repeated the same unilateral interpretation that cross-border humanitarian access does not require consultation with Syria’s Government, contravening the positions of China and Russian Federation. They are not committed to resolution 46/182, which underscores the need for respecting the sovereignty of States concerned.
Stressing that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the mechanism have been unable to ensure that aid does not fall into the hands of terrorist organizations, which have been stealing it to fund their activities, he said that scenario applies in Idlib, which is controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra, supported by Turkey’s rogue regime. The Office provides food and humanitarian assistance to Idlib terrorists bound for Tripoli through Turkey. It is similarly unable to verify the nature of its so-called partners and third-party actors. It is high time for parties to support Syria’s efforts and stop levelling accusations.