NEW YORK: The denial of access for humanitarian efforts during armed conflicts is reinforcing a vicious cycle of killings and forced displacements, the US warned on Wednesday.
The result of this can be seen in Syria where, after 11 years of the “Assad regime’s brutal war,” 14 million people rely on humanitarian aid to survive and 6.6 million are displaced within their own country, said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the permanent US representative to the UN.
She called for the renewal and expansion of existing crossing points and addition of new crossings to make it easier to deliver aid to the Syrian people.
“Every month, Syrian civilians are attacked and killed by the Assad regime and others,” she said. “And hospitals often don’t have the medicine or supplies to help the injured because humanitarian convoys aren’t able to reach them.”
She was speaking as she convened a meeting of the Security Council, the presidency of which is held by the US this month. It came in the wake of the publication of a report by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the protection of civilians during armed conflicts, which paints a bleak picture of the difficulties humanitarian operations face in conflict zones such as Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Mali.
It highlights grave concerns about attacks on humanitarian workers and assets; 143 such security incidents were recorded in 14 countries and territories during 2021, which resulted in the deaths of 93 aid workers.
In a concept note distributed before the meeting, the US mission stated that although international humanitarian law and other legal frameworks provide the necessary foundation to facilitate humanitarian access and the protection of aid workers, the legal principles are often ignored.
Focusing on Syria in particular, Thomas-Greenfield told her fellow ambassadors that the Security Council has the power to provide paths for humanitarian access where it is most desperately needed.
“We did this last year when we unanimously voted to renew the mandate for UN cross-border assistance in Syria,” she said.
“That was an important, lifesaving decision for millions of people. It demonstrated the best of what we can do when we work together.”
The UN estimates that 14.6 million Syrians will need humanitarian assistance this year, an increase of almost 10 percent on last year.
“So we have to renew the mandate again,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “And we have to expand it and increase the number of crossing points to meet the rising demands for humanitarian aid in Syria.”
She will visit Bab Al-Hawa, the only crossing point that currently remains open, in the coming days.
Security Council discussions about the issue often prove difficult, with Russia and China consistently insisting that all humanitarian aid deliveries require the consent of the Syrian authorities.
When deliveries of international aid to Syria began in 2014, the Security Council approved four border crossings. In January 2020, permanent member Russia used its power of veto to force the closure of all but one. Moscow argues that international aid operations violate the Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, said: “Despite notable successes in the fight against international terrorism, the establishment of complete peace and stability in the country is hindered by the illegal occupation by the United States of a significant part of the (Syrian) territory.
“Camps with inhuman living conditions for the civilian population continue to operate in the occupied territories. Devastation and total lawlessness reign.”
He accused the “occupying US power” of “openly plundering” Syria’s natural and agricultural resources, and of illegally smuggling oil and grain out of the country, describing it as “the American recipe for dealing with the global energy and food crisis.”
“Despite the protracted serious humanitarian situation in Syria and the economic crisis, the US and the EU continue to apply illegal, unilateral sanctions against the long-suffering people of Syria, with disastrous consequences,” Nebenzia added.
The current mandate for the cross-border mechanism is due to expire in July.