Russia and China veto extension of cross-border humanitarian aid to Syria

Syrian protesters in Idlib carry placards expressing their opposition to Russia’s attempt to reduce cross-border aid to millions in the northwest of the country. (AFP)
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Updated 12 July 2020

Russia and China veto extension of cross-border humanitarian aid to Syria

  • The UN says millions of Syrian civilians in the country's northwest depend on aid delivered from Turkey
  • The council is now expected to vote on a second Russian draft text to approve aid deliveries for one Turkish crossing for one year

NEW YORK: Russia and China have vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to prolong cross-border humanitarian aid to war-torn Syria, the authorization for which expires later in the day, diplomats said.
Thirteen countries voted in favor of the German-Belgian draft, but Moscow and Beijing opposed the extension for a second time this week because they favor a more limited proposal.
Russia has proposed a counter-resolution that limits authorization for humanitarian aid and could now be put to a vote.
Germany and Belgium, two nonpermanent Council members that are responsible for the humanitarian aspect of the UN’s Syria dossier, presented the draft that was put to vote on Thursday.
“We categorically reject claims that Russia wants to stop humanitarian deliveries to the Syrian population in need,” Russian Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy wrote in a tweet.
Stopping cross-border aid would be “a devastating blow to the millions of Syrian families who rely on this aid for clean water, food, health care and shelter,” warned the NGO Oxfam.
Russia and China on Tuesday vetoed a draft resolution by Germany and Belgium providing for a 1-year extension of the cross-border authorization.
It would have allowed for the maintenance of two crossing points on the Turkish border — at Bab Al-Salam, which leads to the Aleppo region, and Bab Al-Hawa, which serves the Idlib region.
The UN authorization allows the body to distribute aid to displaced Syrians without needing permission from Damascus.
Russia and China argue that the UN authorization violates Syria’s sovereignty, and that aid can increasingly be channeled through Syrian authorities.
In January, Moscow, Syria’s closest ally, succeeded in having the crossing points reduced from four to two and in limiting the authorization to six months instead of a year.
Russia, which claims to want continued aid for the insurgent Idlib region, submitted a counter-proposal to the UN Security Council Wednesday to keep only the Bab Al-Hawa access point open, and for six months.
Moscow claims that more than 85 percent of current aid goes through Bab Al-Hawa and that the Bab Al-Salam entry point can therefore be closed. But the bid failed when put to vote.
In the only concession to Moscow, the new draft asked for just a six-month extension of cross-border aid authorization, instead of one year. But Germany and Belgium still wanted both border crossings kept open.
According Washington’s ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft, keeping only one border crossing open would cut off 1.3 million people living north of Aleppo from humanitarian aid.
One diplomat has described the episode as a “showdown” that could drag on.
Another noted that “if the authorization is renewed a few days late, it is not the absolute end of the world. It suspends the convoys for a few days, it does not put them in danger.”
For the UN, keeping as many entry points open as possible is crucial, particularly given the risk of the coronavirus pandemic, which is spreading in the region.
In a report in June, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a 1-year extension of the aid to include the two current access points.
When asked Thursday if the UN would be satisfied with a single entry point into Syria, body spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “We need more aid to go through the border. We do not need less to go through.”
David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, described the veto as a “dark day” for Syrian civilians and the UN.
He added it “defies logic or humanity to dismantle a system designed to bring life-saving aid to Syrians in the form of food, health supplies, vaccines, and now critical COVID-19 provisions.”


Egypt mulls law to protect women’s identities as MeToo movement escalates

Updated 48 min 59 sec ago

Egypt mulls law to protect women’s identities as MeToo movement escalates

  • Move comes as hundreds of women have started to speak up on social media about sexual assault in Egypt
  • A 2017 poll found Cairo to be the most dangerous megacity for women

CAIRO: Egyptian lawmakers are pushing for a new law to protect the identity of women coming forward to report sexual abuse and assault as the nation’s MeToo movement picks up speed.
An Egyptian parliamentarian committee has approved a draft law that would give survivors of sexual assault and harassment the automatic right to anonymity, with the law expected to go to vote at a general session of the parliament later this month.
The move comes as hundreds of women have started to speak up on social media about sexual assault in Egypt, with the public prosecution and National Council for Women supporting the movement and offering legal and social protection.
Spurred on by the growing MeToo movement, data entry specialist Bassant Abdel Wahab, 22, went public recently about being sexually abused by a human rights activist when she was 17 and reported him to the civil society group where he works.
The man has now been suspended from his job while his organization investigates Abdel Wahab’s complaint along with those of other female colleagues who accused him of assault.
“Sexual assault incidents that have been hidden for years are continuing to surface and in a raging way,” Wahab said.
“It is like a tsunami that could change attitudes and laws on sexual assault against women.”
The frequency of such cases being reported in the conservative Muslim country began to rise after the 2011 revolution as reports of sexual assaults, harassment and rape in Cairo’s Tahrir Square made local and international headlines.
But this year there has been a spike in reporting about cases of sexual assault since early July when an Instagram page revealed the case of a university student who is accused of sexually assaulting and blackmailing multiple women.
Within five days of the case being disclosed, the National Council for Women said that it had received 400 complaints mainly about violence against women.
Lawmaker Magda Nasr said the new law to allow anonymity of sexual abuse survivors will be a game changer for women in Egypt as it will give greater protection to report such cases.
“There is an apparent political will to protect women rights and attempt to reduce as much as possible violence against women,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Nasr said the latest wave of complaints came after an Instagram page in July accused a university student of sexually assaulting and blackmailing multiple women. The student was arrested and the case is being investigated by the authorities.
The same Instagram account also exposed a gang rape said to involve six men from wealthy and powerful families that prosecutors are now investigating.
Since then Egyptian actresses have spoken up against how they were subjected to sexual assault.
One actress, Rania Youssef — who faced charges in 2018 that were later dropped after wearing a see-through outfit to the film festival — published photos of those responsible on social media.
In other cases, two other human rights activists were accused of sexual assault against female employees and a Coptic priest was defrocked on sexual assault allegations.
“It is a moment where women can have more gains in their fight against sexual abuse,” said lawyer Entessar El-Saeed, executive director of Cairo Foundation for Development and Law.
El-Saeed said several non-governmental organizations and parliamentarians were also pushing for a unified law on violence against women that would provide greater protection for women and girls from sexual assault and blackmail.
The bill toughens penalties against sexual abuse in all forms, criminalizes rape within marriage, and includes better reporting mechanisms, confidentiality guarantees, and protection for witnesses and survivors.
“The bill has been in the parliament for two years and it is now the perfect time to approve it,” said El-Saeed, who is the head of one of seven NGOs that drafted the bill.
A 2017 Thomson Reuters Foundation poll found Cairo to be the most dangerous megacity for women, and 99 percent of women in Egypt interviewed by the United Nations in 2013 reported sexual harassment.
An outcry over attacks on women near Tahrir Square during President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s inauguration celebrations in 2014 prompted a new law punishing sexual harassment with at least six months in jail.
But women rights activists view the law as too weak.
“The penalty needs to be toughened and there needs to be legal mechanisms that make it easier for women to report and get their rights,” El-Saeed said.