UN Security Council despairs over Syria aid

AP News
Posted: Apr 30, 2014 2:09 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Members of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday said they fear that no progress will be made on getting desperately needed humanitarian aid into Syria as long as Russia opposes any actions against the government there.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos briefed the council and said a resolution passed in February aimed at eliminating obstacles to deliver aid is "not working," and she blamed the parties in the conflict of "an endless spiral of targeting and harming civilians."

Amos said it's the council's responsibility to act, and she reminded members that it had to pass multiple resolutions under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, authorizing action without a government's consent, to get aid into crisis-hit areas in the past. She stressed the "concerted effort of all Security Council members."

The February resolution threatened "further steps" by the council if its demands on humanitarian aid access aren't fulfilled. The U.N. on Tuesday said a Security Council resolution under Chapter 7 would be needed to get aid across borders into Syria.

But Russia, Syria's closest ally, can veto any such action as a permanent council member.

French U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud tweeted from the council meeting, "#UNSC will be haunted by its failure."

The U.N. secretary-general says almost 3.5 million civilians in Syria have virtually no humanitarian aid access. Ban Ki-moon has criticized both rebel and government forces for blocking efforts to get aid into the country. Ban has called the blocking of aid access "flagrant violations ... of humanitarian law."

The conflict is now in its fourth year, with no end in sight and more than 150,000 killed so far. Amos said she was "extremely concerned" that less than 10 percent of the 242,000 people in besieged areas have received aid in the past month.

Australia's ambassador, Gary Quinlan, called the humanitarian crisis "catastrophic" and told reporters that "a large number of us in the council said we do need to take action." Diplomats have talked of a new humanitarian resolution, and France has drafted a resolution to refer the Syrian conflict to the International Criminal Court.

But Araud called Wednesday's meeting "a big disappointment."

"Unfortunately after what I've heard, nothing that we could table to the council would pass," he told reporters. "We have the impression of unconditional defense of the regime."

Araud said the council could press ahead on another resolution, and a veto, but that could show "that the council is unable to act, which is not very good for the U.N., so it's a sad impression of a dead end, unfortunately."

This week, 35 international lawyers accused the United Nations of an "overly cautious interpretation of humanitarian law, which has held U.N. agencies back from delivering humanitarian aid across borders" into Syria. Their open letter, published this week in the Guardian and Al-Hayat, said the U.N. is acting out of "fear that some member states will find them unlawful."

The lawyers declared that the U.N. faces "no legal barrier" to delivering humanitarian aid across borders into Syria and to supporting other aid groups in similar efforts.

Amos dismissed the letter, saying, "I don't feel we should use precious time getting into an esoteric debate."

The opposition Syrian National Coalition's special representative to the U.N., Najib Ghadbian, accused the Syrian government in a statement Wednesday of a "calculated policy to starve innocent civilians into submission," and he said a U.N. decision to go ahead with sending aid across borders into Syria "with or without regime consent would save Syrian lives."

He repeated his coalition's willingness to support that access.

About 9.3 million people — more than 6.5 million displaced by the fighting — are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance within Syria, the U.N. secretary-general has said.

Last week, the directors of five United Nations agencies that provide humanitarian aid to Syria said their appeal for $6.5 billion in emergency funding for 2014 has been mostly ignored. With only $1.2 billion pledged, the agency heads renewed their December appeal.