UN Humanitarian Chief Laments the Deadlock in Syria Aid

A top United Nations humanitarian aid official urged the Security Council to break its deadlock over how to ease the suffering in war-ravaged Syria, perpetuated by Russia’s commitment to President Bashar al-Assad.

The Security Council’s resolution in February, which threatened unspecified punitive action against those blocking aid for Syrian civilians, is “not working,” Valerie Amos, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, told reporters today in New York. She said the world body needs “robust resolutions” if it’s to provide relief to 9.3 million Syrians in need.

At least 150,000 people have died since a civil war broke out in Syria in 2011. The conflict intensified with no end in sight as peace talks collapsed in February amid disagreement over Assad’s future. The Security Council has been stymied from imposing consequences on the warring sides in Syria by Russia’s use of its veto power to protect the Assad regime, its main Mideast ally and weapons buyer.

“Each month I report on the relentless killing and maiming of civilians, the destruction of homes, schools and places of worship, the blatant disregard for life and the total disregard by all parties for the fundamental tenets of international humanitarian law,” Amos said, after giving her second monthly assessment to the council on implementation of the February resolution.

“Without a concerted effort of all Security Council members and other members of the United Nations, we are not going to get the step-change that we require,” Amos said. “The onus rests on the council to not only recognize that reality, but to act on it.”

Bosnia, Somalia

While Amos stopped short of calling for a new Security Council resolution authorizing specific consequences, she urged the UN’s most powerful body to refer to past cases for guidance on how to empower the UN to deliver aid to civilians in prolonged conflicts.

“I also reminded Security Council members that if you look historically at cases, for example with respect to Bosnia and Somalia, that they had to pass a number of resolutions under Chapter 7 to get us humanitarian access that we need,” she said, referring to a section of the UN Charter that authorizes economic sanctions, embargoes and even the use of force.

Russia -- with China’s support -- has blocked three Security Council resolutions on the humanitarian crisis in Syria since the civil war began. The February resolution was watered down, with possible consequences described merely as “further steps” and no reference to Chapter 7.

Ukraine Crisis

Numerous council diplomats have said there’s no possibility of all 15 members reaching a consensus on any new resolutions on the situation in Syria, as Russia is bound to reject any wording that could pose a threat to the Assad regime.

One diplomat from a nation allied with the U.S., who asked not to be identified, said the paralysis has been worsened by the conflict pitting Russia against the U.S. and the European Union over the crisis in Ukraine.

During a closed-door briefing by Amos to the council today, French Ambassador to the UN Gerard Araud said in a posting on Twitter: “Humanitarian tragedy in Syria. UNSC will do nothing. The regime gets an unconditional support from some and has no reason to act.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last week that the Syrian government continues to restrict the delivery of medical supplies by removing from convoys surgical equipment that would have assisted more than 200,000 people.

The medical aid denial is “arbitrary and unjustified, and a clear violation of international humanitarian law,” Ban said in an April 23 report.

At least 40 staff members of the UN and international non-governmental organizations handling humanitarian relief operations in Syria have been killed over the past three years, according to the UN’s office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs.

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