Statement and right of reply by Vassily Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN, at the VTC of UNSC Member-States on humanitarian situation in Syria
Let me first of all thank Under-Secretary-General Mark Lowcock for his briefing. We have heard a lot today in terms of deteriorating humanitarian situation.
We were not able to receive answers to our questions at the last meeting. We hope it will be different this time. We studied carefully the Secretary-General’s report on “Review of the UN Humanitarian Cross-line and Cross-border Operations” and would like to flag the following.
The report cites economic problems inside Syria, such as price increases and shortages in some basic goods, but it ignores unilateral sanctions. We need SG’s assessments on how unilateral economic measures worsen economic situation and hinder fighting COVID-19.
On humanitarian access to the north-west. According to OCHA’s reports no cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed so far in the region. So why does it say in para 14 of the report that the joint mission by the UN, ICRC and SARC to Idlib approved by the Government of Syria was temporarily put on hold due to “COVID-19 related concerns”. What are these concerns? We have different information saying that it was ‘Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’ that blocked this delivery. To us the reason is obvious: the HTS does not want it. It undermines its monopoly on controlling cross-border assistance.
We all know that Idlib is controlled by HTS, but the cross-border operations have always been regular. The resonating story with arbitrary levies by terrorists at Bab Al-Hawa border crossing in Idlib in the end of 2018 did not prevent the continuation of the UN cross-border operations there. Even the Board of Inquiry in its report of 6 April admitted the financial accountability problems of humanitarian operations in Idlib (the UN doesn’t know to whom it pays and can’t track the final distribution of aid).
During the last 5 years we continuously underlined the necessity of making a list of implementing partners; detailed nomenclature of supplies; systematic and preliminary notification of Syrian authorities as well as marking of convoys. But nothing of this has been taken on board.
We would like to get back to the SG’s February report “On alternative modalities for the border crossing of Al-Yarubiyah” since it contains much more “food for thought” especially now when the ongoing campaign for re-opening of Al-Yarubiyah heats up and new arguments are taken out of an old box.
No clear explanation is provided on why 5 other cross-points to the east of Euphrates controlled by Damascus cannot be used. In the SG’s report it is clearly said that usage of those 5 would not require the UN Security Council authorization. As we understand the problem to use these crossing points is that it will entail request of Damascus’s consent.
As for recommendations in the report on the improvement of cross-line deliveries which allegedly do not function properly, but which in fact are the source of the bulk of humanitarian assistance in Syria, the solution depends only on one thing – on whether there is strong interest of humanitarians to deliver aid to those most in need rather than to invent artificial obstacles and blame Damascus.
When the Government of Syria is required (para 47 (c)) to “approve access to all areas and facilities within north-east to ensure that assistance reaches all people in need, impartially and without discrimination” the OCHA does forget that some of this areas are not under Damascus control and as such it simply cannot guarantee the demanded provisions. These issues are to be negotiated with local authorities. Does the UN have a plan on how to do it and how to guarantee, on its part, that the assistance will reach the most vulnerable? That applies to wherever this assistance comes from.
And here comes another recommendation (para 47 (d)) – “facilitation of deliveries by local authorities in the north-east to all locations without delay”. Whose prerogative is it to negotiate with local authorities? Who should be responsible for it? Who is the UN addressing this question to? Maybe our American colleagues can help with it?
I want to welcome the first road convoy of the WHO to the north-east. We definitely need to study carefully this example. ICRC and NGO “Médecins Sans Frontières” keep on working to the east of Euphrates as well. It means that no matter how complicated conditions are, there are possibilities to deliver humanitarian aid to the north-east of Syria. The will – that’s what is needed.
We also would like to welcome the intention of the UN to establish a laboratory in Qamishli on the basis of the city’s national hospital. It’s good news that we heard in Geneva from the resident-coordinator in Damascus Mr. Imran Riza. We would like to receive more information on the UN plans in this regard: how it will be equipped, how the test samples will be collected, especially in the hard-to-reach areas not under Damascus control etc.
And now on sanctions. Repetitive slogans on “humanitarian exemptions” are (I am sorry to say so) not worth a penny. To those colleagues who keep on insisting on harmlessness of unilateral restrictive measures to ordinary citizens (and in particular to Christoph who addressed to me yesterday) I highly recommend to Google a recent EU Commission “Guidance note on the provision of humanitarian aid to fight the covid-19 pandemic in certain environments subject to EU restrictive measures” as of 11 May, that is specifically and timely focused on Syria. This document fully proves quite the opposite. Let me just quote one excerpt: “Sanctions may alter countries’ ability to fight COVID-19 by affecting the procurement of certain goods and technologies, either because such goods are subject to restrictions (for instance, dual-use goods which can also be used for military purposes), or because the persons involved in their procurement are sanctioned. In addition, there may be an indirect, but significant effect caused by certain operators’ unwillingness to engage in transactions related to a sanctioned country or individual, even if those are legitimate (over-compliance), for fear of accidentally violating the sanctions, or a lack of economic incentives to engage in comparison to the risks stemming from those transactions. In addition, those targeted by restrictive measures may pass on to the civilian population the economic consequences of international sanctions imposed on them, thus increasing hardship for the non-targeted civilian population”.
This is as to the claims aimed at whitewashing illegitimate sanctions regimes. As a recent example – negative experience of the Norwegian Refugee Council, when due to these restrictive measures it refused from buying interactive educative programmes for children in Syria. I want to attract attention of our Belgian colleagues since they are responsible in the Council for children dossier.
Summing up. Colleagues, having negotiated resolutions on cross-border mechanism every time we agreed on its urgent, but temporary status. Don’t pretend you don’t know about it or probably want to forget. Stop cherry-picking your individual political dividends that have nothing to do with humanitarian principles.
Today I would like to repeat what I said last time. Do not waste your time on efforts to re-open the closed cross-border points. OCHA should be encouraged to work with Damascus to find routes and cross-border points as well as on cross-line deliveries to the north-east and throughout Syria.
And of course we want to hear answers to our new set of questions.
I thank you.
Right of reply:
I beg your indulgence for not responding to the questions posed by the German Ambassador. In fact, these were not questions but maxima presented in the form of ultimate truth. I have answered to them many times over in my statements on this subject at the Security Council. Yet I have a feeling and an impression that my friend Christoph sometimes would not listen to what I am saying. Maybe he switched off sound at certain points. I would not go into repeating what I said yesterday and even what I said today. I do not want to abuse the time of fellow UNSC members.
I will just quote a little paragraph from the statement I made today which might have missed the ear of Christoph: “As a recent example – negative experience of the Norwegian Refugee Council, when due to these restrictive measures it refused from buying interactive educative programmes for children in Syria. I want to attract attention of our Belgian colleagues since they are responsible in the Council for children dossier.”