UN Aid Chief Chides Security Council Over Syria Inaction

OCHA Head speaks to the press following Security Council Consultations on the situation in Syria
April, 30 – 2014- Valerie Amos on Wednesday told members of the Security Council behind closed doors that they were failing to uphold the founding values of the UN in their approach to Syria.

Amos, the undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said that only ten percent of the some 250,000 people living in besieged areas received aid in the past month despite a February 19 resolution demanding unimpeded access for humanitarian relief.

“I told the Council that in my reports I have demonstrated time and time again the minimal impact of the approach being taken so far, and that public pressure and private diplomacy has yielded very little,” she said to reporters after briefing the 15-nation body.

“I also told the Council that the UN is a multilateral organization. Its founding values set the framework for the way in which we work. In Syria, those founding values and the responsibility of a state to look after its own people are being violated every day, and I think the onus rests on the Council to not only recognize that reality, but to act on it,” she added.

She spoke a day after a group of legal experts published a letter criticizing Amos and the heads of other UN agencies for “an overly cautious interpretation of international humanitarian law.” They argue that relief agencies do not need permission, which is not forthcoming, from the government in Damascus to deliver life-saving aid to trapped civilians.

February’s resolution on unimpeded aid delivery also states that the Council intends to take further steps in the event of non-compliance which puts pressure on China and Russia, who voted for it, to agree to a tougher follow-up resolution.

However, Russia’s state news agency on Wednesday reported that Moscow’s UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, said a Chapter 7 resolution being prepared by his Western colleagues was “untimely.”

In his report to to the Council, Ban Ki-moon wrote that “none of the parties to the conflict have adhered to the demands of the Council.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

Security Council Unite on Syria Humanitarian Aid Resolution

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Feb. 22, 2014 –  The Security Council on Saturday voted unanimously to adopt Resolution 2139 which demands unhindered access for humanitarian relief operations in Syria.

It specifically demands that the Syrian government allow aid delivery across international borders, a move which Australia’s UN envoy, Gary Quinlan, a co-sponsor of the resolution, said will allow humanitarian agencies to urgently provide assistance to more than one million people.

Luxembourg’s UN ambassador, Sylvie Lucas, another co-sponsor, said the implementation of the resolution will be “closely monitored by the Council.”

“We will see the first report from the secretary-general in 30 days and then every 30 days thereafter. This means that individuals and entities who are obstructing will be able to be held accountable. It also means that in the case of non-compliance there will be a trigger for further Council action.”

Najib Ghadbian, the opposition Syrian Coalition representative to the UN, said the Council must be ready to back up its threat of further action if the Syrian government does not comply.

“Failing that, we urge responsible nations to work with humanitarian agencies to deliver aid directly across Syria’s borders even without the consent of the regime,” he said in a statement. “The overwhelming humanitarian need and the strong international consensus to alleviate it provide all the legal justification that is required.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

(Image courtesy of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent)

 

UNSC Draft Syria Resolution Demands Unhindered Humanitarian Access

Destruction in Homs (source: wikimedia)

Destruction in Homs (source: wikimedia)

Feb. 21, 2014 – The draft UN Security Council resolution to be voted on Saturday morning calls for a lifting of the sieges on the Old City of Homs, Yarmouk, Eastern Ghouta and Darayya.

It also demands that all parties allow unhindered access to humanitarian agencies “including across conflict lines and across borders.”

It demands that all parties respect the principle of medical neutrality and calls for the immediate demilitarization of medical facilities.

The draft asks Ban Ki-moon to report to the Council 30 days after the resolution is adopted and “expresses its intent to take further steps in the case of non-compliance.”

Russia is understood to be sympathetic to the draft but it is not clear if Moscow will abstain or vote for the text.

The United States, United Kingdom, South Korea and Lithuania have expressed their intention to join Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg as co-sponsors of the draft, according to a Council diplomat. Other states will likely follow before tomorrow morning.

A copy of the draft resolution is below.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Syria Humanitarian Draft Resolution

US Envoy Power Skeptical of Reported Homs Deal

Perm rep of the USA speaking to the press regarding the situation in Syria
Feb. 6, 2014 – Samantha Power on Thursday cast doubt on whether the reported deal to allow aid into, and civilians out of, Homs would result in an easing of the humanitarian situation in the besieged old part of the central Syrian city.

Earlier on Thursday, the UN issued a statement welcoming reports that a humanitarian pause had been agreed in Homs by parties to the conflict.

“Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, welcomed the news of the humanitarian pause agreed in Homs, which will allow civilians to leave and the delivery of essential, life-saving supplies for about 2,500 people,” the UN statement said. “She will continue to follow developments closely.”

Speaking to reporters outside the Security Council, US envoy Power said: ” I note regime statements this morning describing a willingness to evacuate ‘innocents.’ Given that the regime, up to this point, has described just about anybody living in opposition territory as a terrorist – and has attacked them as such – you know, we have reason on the basis of history to be very skeptical and, frankly, very concerned about anybody who falls into regime hands who comes from a part of the country that has been under opposition control.”

A similar deal was announced during the first round of Geneva II talks last month but failed to come to fruition.

There is further skepticism that Thursday’s announcement of a humanitarian pause in Homs is aimed at creating an appearance of progress ahead of the second round of Geneva II talks next week as well as responding to a draft UN Security Council resolution circulated among council members today that calls for unhindered humanitarian access in Syria.

Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin on Tuesday said Moscow would not support a humanitarian resolution.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

photo/UN Photo

Top 15 Donors at Pledging Conference for Syria

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Jan. 15, 2014 – Host country Kuwait topped the list of donors at the pledging conference for Syria on Wednesday with the Gulf country announcing a $500 million contribution.

The United States followed with a $380 million donation. The European Commission pledged $225 million; United Kingdom, $164 million; Japan, $120 million; Germany, $110 million; Norway, $75 million; Saudi Arabia and Qatar both pledged $60 million.

Rounding out the top 15 donors at the conference in Kuwait City were Italy, $51 million; Denmark, $37 million; Sweden, $35 million; Switzerland $33 million; France, $27 million; and Ireland, $27 million.

A total of $2.4 billion was pledged towards a total of $6.5 billion required to support nine million Syrians in need of assistance inside and outside of Syria in 2014.

UN Security Council permanent members China and Russia were not among the 37 countries that made pledges. Nor was Canada, traditionally a strong donor. The United Arab Emirates was also absent, as too was Bahrain.

Iraq was the fourth largest Arab country donor, pledging $13 million.

Among emerging donor countries, South Korea announced a $5 million contribution; Mexico $3 million and India, $2 million.

Non-traditional donors making pledges included Estonia, $552,000; Romania, $100,000 and Botswana, $50,000, according to figures provided by UN OCHA.

A full list of the countries that pledged funds is below.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

photo: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

List of Humanitarian Assistance Pledges at the Second International Donors Conference for Syria

 

Energy Rich Qatar Lags in UN Aid Appeal for Syria

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Syrian children inside a classroom at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan (photo: UN photo/Mark Garten)

Sept. 4, 2013 – Qatar, the richest country in the world, has given less than $3 million to the UN aid appeal for Syria, according to figures from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Of the more than $2.9 billion donated to the UN’s emergency relief fund for Syrians, energy-rich Qatar has contributed $2.7 million – less than 0.1 percent of the overall total. Countries such as Belgium, Finland, Iraq and Ireland have all given more.

The United States is the top donor, at $818 million, followed by the European Commission – the EU’s legislative arm – which has provided $619 million. Of the 28 EU member states, Britain, $196 million, and Germany $73 million are among the top ten donors.

Kuwait, $324 million, is the top Gulf donor, coming in third overall, according to OCHA’s figures as of Sept 4th, 2013, while Saudi Arabia, at $51 million, is the tenth biggest contributor.

Outside of the EU, US and Gulf, Japan, $82 million, and Australia, $64 million, are also among the top ten donors.

Of the remaining permanent five Security Council members, Russia has given $17 million, France, $15 million and China, $1 million.

The UN has requested a total of $4.4 billion to assist Syrians, with $1.4 billion designated to assist those inside the country – more than 4 million of whom are displaced – and $3 billion to assist neighboring countries that are now home to more than 2 million Syrian refugees.

– Denis Fitzgerald

States Slowly Making Good on Syria Appeal Pledges

April 23, 2013 – More than $1.2 billion has been committed to aid the humanitarian response inside Syria and in neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees, according to the lastest figures by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Some $2 billion had been pledged by donors in recent months, with $1.5 billion alone pledged at a donors conference in Kuwait City on Jan. 30.

It was just just last week that Kuwait made good on its $300 million pledge from Jan. 30, a contribution that U.N. Refugee Agency chief Antonio Gutteres said gave his and other humanitarian agencies “a breathing space” as they struggle to assist the more than 6 million people in need inside and outside of Syria.

The situation inside Syria is compounded by myriad bureaucratic hurdles placed on humanitarian actors. Valerie Amos, the head of OCHA, told the Security Council last week that aid convoys are stopped at 50 checkpoints on the 310 kilometer journey from Damascus to Aleppo. She also said that each aid truck requires a permit signed by two government ministers to pass through government checkpoints.

The top donors to the humanitarian appeal are Kuwait, $324 million; the United States, $214 million; the European Commission, $162 million; and the United Kingdom, $117 million.

A full list of the funds committed and outstanding pledges is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald

The Politics of Humanitarian Intervention Detailed in New Book by Former UN Aid Chief

Security Council Meeting: The question concerning Haiti.
John Holmes addressing a UN Security Council
meeting on Haiti in 2010 (UN Photo)

March 11, 2013 – A new book from John Holmes, former UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, discusses the politics involved in humanitarian aid and also provides some insights into Ban Ki-moon.

Holmes, who was the UK ambassador to Paris before coming to the UN, served as the top international aid official from 2007-2010, a period that covered the politically charged humanitarian crises resulting from Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and the brutal end to Sri Lanka’s civil war.

In ”The Politics of Humanity,” Holmes writes of Ban, that, “In my experience, he was hardworking to a fault, totally honest, absolutely committed to the UN and its role and determined to make a difference where he could. His political instincts were usually sound and his readiness to tell his frequent senior visitors what they did not want to hear much greater than often supposed from the outside.”

“He has his weaker points, of which he is well aware, himself,” Holmes adds in the 400-page book released earlier this month. “He is not charismatic or a great strategic thinker. Like his predecessors he is not in a position to tell the big powers what to do nor to fix their disagreements (of course, they themselves do not really want a strong secretary-general whatever they claim in public.)”

The book’s title reflects the central theme of the often conflicting interaction between politics and humanitarian work Holmes experienced during during his stint, including the Security Council’s unwillingness to put Sri Lanka on its agenda and Ban Ki-moon barring him from speaking to Hamas officials about humanitarian aid delivery.

He calls it “absurd” that Sri Lanka was not on the Security Council’s agenda. “The Russians, Chinese, and others, no doubt with an eye to their freedom to attack their home-grown terrorists, were not prepared to agree that the situation went beyond an internal dispute,” Holmes writes.

He also says he advised Ban not to visit Sri Lanka immediately after the government’s military victory over the Tamil Tigers lest it be seen as tacit support for the government and their tactics, but to no avail. Ban, he writes, “liked being the first international leader on the scene after dramatic events.”

On Gaza, Holmes says he was “unable to talk directly to senior members of Hamas myself since the UN had decided, most unwisely in my view, to adhere to the 2006 ban on such contacts, agreed by the so-called Quartet of the US, EU, Russia and the UN, until Hamas met certain political conditions.”

“The ban should not have excluded humanitarian dialogue, but the sensitivities were considered too great even for that,” he states.

On his final visit to Gaza in 2010, the former British diplomat writes, “I tried again to persuade Ban Ki-moon that during this visit I should meet senior representatives of Hamas, to discuss humanitarian issues with them. This would have been entirely in line with the usual humanitarian policy of talking to anyone about getting aid through, and about their responsibilities under international law.”

Ban wouldn’t budge. “He continued to believe, contrary to the views of many UN officials, that the Quartet had some influence on the peace process … The American under secretary-general for political affairs, Lynn Pascoe, also believed strongly in the boycott of Hamas.”

Gaza and Sri Lanka are just two of the crises discussed in Holmes’ minutely detailed account of his time as the UN’s top humanitarian. Most of the 14 chapters are situation specific and there are sections on Afghanistan, Sudan, Haiti, Mynamar, Darfur, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The “Politics of Humanity” is published by Head of Zeus and is available on Amazon, Kindle edition, $5.99.

Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz