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Jul 10, 2016
New Report Proves United Nations an Accomplice to War Crimes and Genocide in Syria
Two weeks ago we went public with a 50 page report exposing serious flaws with the UN’s aid operation in Syria. We interviewed dozens of insiders and uncovered how the UN was allowing the Assad regime, responsible for every case of starvation in Syria, to direct the distribution of billions of dollars of the world’s aid away from the people who needed it most.
The report put a chain of events into motion after it hit the headlines globally. It’s been discussed at the Security Council and the UN’s top aid official in Syria has been transferred out of Damascus.
Here’s everything that’s happened.
For months we’ve been working closely with people across Syria to campaign for starvation sieges to be lifted. Following deep frustration with the UN from Syrian humanitarians we were speaking to, we launched a three month investigation into the organisation’s activities in Syria. We interviewed over 50 humanitarians, including UN officials and UN evaluators.
One UN former official called the UN’s work in Syria “a profoundly flawed and one-sided operation”. By allowing the Syrian regime to dictate where aid would go, the UN was enabling the use of starvation sieges as a weapon of war. From Damascus, the regime was directing 96% of UN aid into its own territories.
The results of the investigation were damning. We found that the UN was prioritising its relationship with the Syrian regime at all costs and it was sacrificing its principles of impartiality, independence and neutrality along the way.
Over 60 Syrian organisations, including frontline humanitarian heroes like the White Helmets and medics working under fire, backed a core recommendation to the UN Secretary-General: the UN must set conditions for its cooperation with the Syrian regime in Damascus. These conditions would protect its humanitarian principles and allow it to deliver aid to those who need it most. If these conditions aren’t met, then the UN must suspend cooperation with the regime.
Two weeks ago we went public with the investigation, releasing a report called “Taking Sides: The UN’s loss of impartiality, independence and neutrality in Syria”.
There was a wave of public and private support from major international human rights figures and international organisations working on Syria. UN insiders told us it was chaos at headquarters.
From inside and outside Syria, we received dozens of messages of support from people saying they were glad the flaws and injustices of the UN aid operation in Syria had finally been exposed. My favourite message was an excited Whatsapp voice note from a volunteer at the United Medical Office in besieged Eastern Ghouta. It was only 24 hours after going public, and he said the report was already drawing attention to the issue of sieges and the meagre aid convoys they were receiving. He said he hoped the report would mark a big change in how aid was distributed in Syria. From Al Waer in Homs and Daraya in Damascus, people echoed the message.
The report release was added to the agenda of a UN Security Council meeting, meaning the world’s biggest donors were discussing it.
Finally, we confirmed two nights ago that the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria Yacoub El Hillo has been transferred out of Damascus by the UN.
El Hillo’s transfer is promising news. Lots of people we spoke to pointed to his leadership and his relationship with the government as one of the reasons why the UN’s principles have been so readily sacrificed in Syria. It was our calculation and that of many others that a shift into a more principled UN operation could not have taken place with him at the helm.
However it’s nowhere near enough.
We still haven’t received a formal response to the report’s core recommendation from the UN Secretary-General, and we want one.
The UN’s donors also need to play their part in making sure the UN in Syria becomes stronger. We’re requesting meetings with them to hand-deliver the report and secure promises for action. Right now these powerful donor countries are fighting to get a truck here or a few dozen cartons of aid there and so the report is an attempt to reset the terms of the debate.
When confronted on issues of humanitarian access, the US and the UK are among those who are not doing enough to ensure millions of dollars of taxpayer money is reaching people who need it most. The response all too often has been a shrugging of shoulders and an insinuation of “there’s nothing more we can do”.
For this to be the response of the world’s most powerful countries, some who sit on the Security Council, is inexcusable. It is precisely this pervasive “We are as powerless as you” attitude from powerful countries that is helping create a culture of impunity which is fuelling the violence in Syria and allowing people to die under siege.
Let’s continue to work together to change that. If you haven’t yet, join the campaign for a fair and principled UN aid operation in Syria.
Thank you for being part of this. I will keep you updated.
Please see Al Jazeera’s report at The Syria Campaign Facebook page for more information.