Syria aid rigged, donors and aid agencies risk abetting abuse

A Syrian boy leans on new jerry cans as he watches aid items to cope with the winter weather being delivered to the Al-Hol refugee camp in Al-Hasakah governorate in northeastern Syria on January 07, 2019. (File/AFP/Delil Souleiman)
Updated 28 June 2019

Syria aid rigged, donors and aid agencies risk abetting abuse

  • Aid and reconstruction players in Syria are likely to have to partner with top regime figures and allies who dominate the economy and thus risk working with or funding rights abusers
  • While the problem has been going on for a long time, Roth stressed the need to quickly break the cycle before reconstruction funds really start flooding in

GENEVA: The Syrian regime is co-opting aid and reconstruction assistance, Human Rights Watch said Friday, warning humanitarian players that they risked complicity in human rights abuses.
Eight years after the start of the civil war, President Bashar Assad’s forces control around 60 percent of Syria and are looking to rebuild the battered country.
The New York-based watchdog urged donors, investors and agencies partnering with the Damascus government to ensure their programs would not entrench repressive policies and contribute to serious human rights violations.
“The Syrian government has manipulated the massive amounts of humanitarian aid that have been delivered to the country, and it is frankly the most sophisticated, brazen operation that we have ever seen,” HRW chief Kenneth Roth told AFP in an interview.
“Aid gets diverted to loyalists of the government, away from the people who are most in need, who are often the people who have lived in opposition-held areas,” he said.
“A lot of it ends up in the pockets of government officials and cronies, and some of it even ends up funding the very security forces who are responsible for the humanitarian crisis, the ones who are detaining, torturing and killing,” he added.
HRW’s 94-page report, entitled “Rigging the System” details how humanitarian organizations often comply with Damascus’s conditions for fear of losing access or being shut down.
It also found that aid programs that include a human rights chapter are almost systematically blocked by the authorities.
Aid and reconstruction players in Syria are likely to have to partner with top regime figures and allies who dominate the economy and thus risk working with or funding rights abusers, the watchdog said.
The group admitted that aid in government-controlled areas of Syria was needed and that donors and agencies there had little room for maneuver.
“The Syrian government’s aid framework undermines human rights, and donors need to ensure they are not complicit in the government’s human rights violations,” HRW’s acting Middle East director Lama Fakih said in a statement.
Roth said humanitarian agencies were often cornered into supporting Damascus’s objectives.
At a certain point, he said, the humanitarians, donors and investors working with the regime “are all complicit in this.”
While the problem has been going on for a long time, Roth stressed the need to quickly break the cycle before reconstruction funds really start flooding in.
“A lot of money is at stake, many new opportunities for graft and for diversion of funds,” he said.
HRW did not call on UN agencies and donors to stop providing aid to Syria, but gave recommendations to minimize the chances they would end up complicit in violations.
In particular, Roth said, HRW would like to see donors and humanitarian agencies “band together” and create a common clearinghouse mechanism for setting and upholding standards and distributing aid.
“If they were to operate in a more unified way, not let Damascus divide and conquer, this would be a way to change things,” he said.
If humanitarian actors stand together, he said, they will have more leverage to ensure aid is “distributed not according to partisan preferences, but according to need.”


Yemen’s UNESCO-listed Old Sanaa houses collapse in heavy rains

Updated 44 min 54 sec ago

Yemen’s UNESCO-listed Old Sanaa houses collapse in heavy rains

  • Distinctive brown and white mud brick houses of Sanaa’s historic neighborhoods have long been under threat from conflict and neglect
SANAA: Houses in Yemen’s UNESCO-listed Old City of Sanaa are collapsing under heavy rains, as months of floods and storms assail a country already reeling from war, food shortages and disease.
The distinctive brown and white mud brick houses of Sanaa’s historic neighborhoods, which date from before the 11th century, have long been under threat from conflict and neglect.
Muhammad Ali Al-Talhi’s house partially collapsed on Friday as heavy rain battered Sanaa, leaving the six women and six children of his family homeless.
“Everything we had is buried,” he said surrounded by ancient debris and mud, appealing for help to find shelter.
Aqeel Saleh Nassar, deputy head of the Historic Cities Preservation Authority, said citizens today do not maintain these old buildings as in the past, leading to cracks and weakness.
Around 5,000 of the towering buildings in the old city have leaky roofs and 107 have partially collapsed roofs, he said. The authority has been working with UNESCO and other funds to preserve some.
This year’s exceptionally heavy rains, which began mid-April and last into early September, have added to what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Five years of war have killed more than 100,000 people, and left 80 percent of the population reliant on aid and millions on the brink of famine.
On top of the new coronavirus, which is believed to be spreading largely undetected, heavy rains spread diseases like cholera, dengue fever and malaria.
The Iran-aligned Houthi authorities who have controlled Sanaa since ousting the internationally recognized Saudi-backed Yemeni government in late 2014, appealed this week to UNESCO to save the city’s heritage.
They said around 111 houses had partly or completely collapsed in recent weeks.
Sanaa resident Adel San’ani on Saturday told Reuters he saw five houses severely damaged this weekend.
“The families have no shelter. A local bank launched a campaign to distribute plastic sheeting to act as roofs,” he said.