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

Why Syria’s Opposition Won’t Get UN Seat Anytime Soon

March 26, 2013 – Arab League members at their Doha summit on Tuesday agreed to give Syria’s seat to the opposition coalition. The Syrian government has been suspended from the 22-nation group since Nov. 2011.

The New York Times reported that opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib said after the meeting that the opposition now wanted “the seat of Syria at the United Nations and at other international organizations.”

A recent precedent would be the Sept. 2011 decision to grant Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) the country’s seat at the United Nations after a recommendation from the credentials committee and after a vote in the General Assembly to block the move was roundly defeated.

But by that stage, Libya’s UN delegation, along with several other of Tripoli’s diplomatic missions, had long defected to the NTC, and NATO-backed rebels were on their way to victory. Not so with Syria, whose UN envoy, Bashar Jaafari, continues in his post and continues to defend the regime, and the fall of Assad still not imminent.

That aside, the unanimity that existed among the nine credentials committee members with regard to Libya does not exist for Syria. While a new committee is appointed each year, there are three de-facto permanent members – the United States, along with China and Russia. The latter two have vetoed three draft Security Council resolutions on Syria in the past 18 months.

The list of credentials committee members for the current General Assembly session is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald

Horrific Abuses Against Syrian Children – U.N. Inquiry

Feb. 18, 2013 – Almost half of Syria’s population is under the age of 18 and they are bearing the brunt of the violence in the conflict that is now entering its third year.

Accounts of the killing, rape, torture and detention of minors as well as attacks on schools and hospitals are documented in the latest report from the UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Syria, which was released on Monday and covers the six months from mid-July 2012 to mid-January 2013.

“Children of both sexes have been unlawfully killed and wounded; they have been subjected to, and possibly singled out for, sexual violence,” the report says. “They have been subjected to other forms of torture in detention facilities, checkpoints and during military and security force operations.”

The CoI says it has “documented a substantial number of deliberate and indiscriminate attacks, and disproportionate attacks” that have resulted in the death and injury to children, including “attacks on refugee camps, bakeries, schools, village houses and other everyday locales” by government forces using artillery and air power.

Children as young as twelve, and in one case as young as eight, have been held in adult detention centers, where they have been tortured and deprived of adequate food and water, according to people interviewed by the CoI.

A 14-year-old boy told the Inquiry that he was arrested after taking part in a protest outside his local mosque in early June: “He described being beaten with electric wire and a hosepipe while being hung, suspended from the ceiling; being burnt with cigarettes and hot metal; being hit in the face resulting in a broken nose; and being threatened with rape.” He was released in late October, the report says.

The UN investigators conducted 41 interviews in relation to sexual violence and “direct accounts were sought from victims and eyewitnesses.” They write that “there are particular difficulties in collecting evidence in cases of sexual violence against women and girls due to cultural, social and religious beliefs surrounding marriage and sexuality.”

In one case that the CoI has recorded, a girl whose mother had worked with the Free Syrian Army was abducted  by four men, two in military uniform, and taken to an unknown building for questioning.

The girl “described her kidnapping and rape in [location withheld] in December.” 

“During the interrogation, she was beaten with electrical wire, given injections, beaten and had cigarettes extinguished on her chest. She was denied food and water for extended periods of time. On the fifth day of her detention, four young men were brought into the room where they raped her,” the report states. 

“Two days later, she was released. Her father took her to a gynecologist outside Syria. In a separate interview, the doctor confirmed bruises, cigarette burns, injection marks on arms, and sexual injuries to the victim. This 14-year-old girl has tried to commit suicide three times, saying, ‘My life has no value. I lost everything, what has gone will never come back.’”

In another incident, a local resident told the UN investigators that a neighborhood in Homs was searched by Government security forces and Shabbiha in September.

“Security forces went from house to house detaining men. If men were not found in the house, the soldiers claimed they must be fighting with the FSA. The resident said that his aunt had been one of the women captured by Shabbiha along with between 40 and 50 other women from different streets and taken to a wedding hall in the town. He said women were raped, and daughters raped in front of their mothers. Some were kept for hours and others were kept for a few days with one woman kept up to 12 days.”

The full report is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald

Breakdown of $1.5 Billion Raised at Syria Aid Conference

Feb. 4, 2013 – Thirty-eight countries plus the European Commission pledged more than $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid for Syria at a donors conference in Kuwait last week.

The amounts ranged from $20,000, from Cyprus, to $300 million, by three countries – Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and UAE. 

Japan, $65 million; Finland, $4.5 million; Poland, $500,000; and Botswana $50,000 were among the donors.

About one-third of the funds raised are targeted for the UN humanitarian response plan for delivering aid inside Syria. That plan requires $519 million from January to June 2013 to assist 2.5 million Syrians. More than 50 percent of hospitals inside Syria have been damaged and about one-third are out of service. The National Hospital in Damascus has been completely destroyed, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. There are also shortages of food, fuel and medicines. The disbursement of aid is contingent on donor countries following through on their pledges.

The remaining funds are targeted to assist the ever growing number of refugees in neighboring countries. The number of Syrians who have fled to neighboring countries currently exceeds 750,000, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

At least 60,000 people have been killed in Syria since March 2011 when the government started using lethal force to suppress anti-government protests.

Denis Fitzgerald

UN Condemns Attack on Aleppo University

More than 60,000 people have been killed in the past 22 months in Syria, according to the UN Human Rights Office 

Jan. 16, 2013 – Tuesday’s attack on the University of Aleppo has been condemned by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who said deliberately targeting civilians or civilian institutions is a war crime.

Two explosions struck the university – one of Syria’s biggest – on the first day of exams, reportedly killing more than 80 people, and injuring 160.

“The secretary-general strongly condemns the appalling attack at Aleppo University yesterday, in which scores of people have been reported killed and wounded,” Ban’s office said in a statement Wednesday.

“Deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian targets constitutes a war crime. Such heinous attacks are unacceptable and must stop immediately,” the statement said.  “All combatting parties in Syria must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law.”

Ban called “for a reflection by all Syrians about the degradation of a conflict that is tearing their nation apart, and stresses the urgent need for a peaceful political solution that ends the violence and meets the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people.”

The head of UNESCO has also condemned the attack.

“It is truly shocking and distressing to see so many young people dedicated to pursuing their education in the midst of strife lose their life to senseless violence,” Director-General Irina Bokova said Wednesday. “This is a dark day indeed for the entire country.” 

Aleppo University is Syria’s oldest institution of science and technology. The university has about 60,000 students. Tuesday’s explosions reportedly struck an area between the university’s halls of residence and the architecture faculty.

– Denis Fitzgerald 

57 Countries Urge UN Security Council to Refer Syria to ICC

Jan. 14, 2013 – Switzerland, on behalf of 57 countries, on Monday sent a letter to the president of the Security Council urging the 15-nation body to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

Among the signers of the letter were permanent Council members Britain and France as well as non-permanent members Australia, Luxembourg and South Korea. 

Libya and Tunisia were the only Arab countries to sign the letter.

China and Russia, not surprisingly, did not sign on to the letter but neither did Sweden, the United States and current non-permanent Council member Argentina. 

The letter was sent the same day the International Rescue Committee released a report detailing “horrific levels” of sexual violence recounted by refugees who’ve fled Syria in the past 22 months. 

-Denis Fitzgerald 


Competing Draft Statements Illustrate UNSC Division on Syria

Syria’s UN envoy, Bashar Jaafari, speaks outside the Security Council chamber on Thurs Oct 4. He offered condolences for the shelling inside Turkey but no apology saying the incident is under investigation (photo credit: UN Photo)

Oct 8, 2012 – Illustrative of the Security Council’s division on Syria are the competing draft statements that were circulated last week when the 15-nation body endeavored to speak on Syrian shelling inside Turkey.

Here’s the original Western-backed draft proposed Wednesday (Oct 3) by non-permanent Council member Azerbaijan, on behalf of Turkey:

“The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the shelling by the Syrian armed forces of the Turkish town of Akcakale which resulted in the deaths of five civilians, all of whom were women and children, as well as a number of injuries. The members of the Security Council expressed their sincere condolences to the Government and people of Turkey, and to the families of the victims.

This represents a demonstration of the spilling over of the crisis in Syria into neighboring states to an alarming degree.

Such violations of international law constitute a serious threat to international peace and security. The members of the Council demanded that such violations stop immediately.

The members of the Security Council call on the Syria Government to fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbours.”

Here’s the draft as amended by Russia:

“The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the shelling from the Syrian territory of the Turkish town of Akcakale which resulted in the deaths of five civilians, all of whom were women and children, as well as a number of injuries. The members of the Security Council expressed their sincere condolences to the Government and people of Turkey, and to the families of the victims.

This represents a demonstration of the spilling over of the crisis in Syria into neighboring states to an alarming degree. The members of the Council demanded that such violations stop immediately. The members of the Security Council requested the Government of Syria to carry out a speedy and full investigation of the shelling. The members of the Security Council called on the Syrian Government to fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbours.

The members of the Security Council called on the parties to exercise restraint and avoid military clashes which could lead to a further escalation of the situation in the border area between Syria and Turkey, as well as to reduce tensions and forge a path toward a peaceful resolution of the Syrian crisis.” 

Syrian Armed Forces becomes Syrian territory, violations of international law that threatened international peace and security simply become violations and the Syrian government is asked to conduct a speedy investigation. 

Here’s the final statement as agreed by all 15 Council members on Thursday evening (Oct 4):

“The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the shelling by the Syrian armed forces of the Turkish town of Akcakale, which resulted in the deaths of five civilians, all of whom were women and children, as well as a number of injuries. The members of the Security Council expressed their sincere condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Turkey. 

The members of the Security Council underscored that this incident highlighted the grave impact the crisis in Syria has on the security of its neighbours and on regional peace and stability. The members of the Council demanded that such violations of international law stop immediately and are not repeated. The members of the Security Council called on the Syrian Government to fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbours. 

The members of the Security Council called for restraint.”

Both sides got some of what they wanted in the final version. Key for Russia is deletion of the phrase “a serious threat to international peace and security,” which speaks directly to the Council’s mandate, – maintaing international peace and security – and instead the shelling is a threat to “regional peace and stability.”

For the West, Syrian armed forces are squarely blamed and the statement demands an end to “such violations of international law.” 

– Denis Fitzgerald

Only 14 Countries Have Contributed to U.N. Humanitarian Appeal for Syria

Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos speaks with a young Syrian refugee living in a school in Zahera, Damascus in this Aug. 14 photo (credit: UN)

Sept. 4, 2013 – Less than 10 percent of U.N. members states have stumped up funds to assist the 2.5 million Syrians that the United Nations says are in need of assistance.

An appeal launched on June 5 called for $180 million to assist what was then 1.5 million Syrians inside the country needing aid (the corresponding figure for Syrians in neighboring countries needing assistance was 83,000 – it’s now 225,000).

Donations to the humanitarian action plan for Syria currently stand at $95 million.

Figures released by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Tuesday show that only 14 of the 193 U.N. member states have contributed to the $180 million appeal.

The largest tranche has come from the U.N.’s own emergency relief fund, CERF, which has released almost US$26 million to the Syria appeal.

The top donor country is the United States, $24 million, followed by the U.K, $8.6 million, and Canada, $5.5 million, (the European Commission has donated $9.3 million).

Kuwait is the only one of the wealthy Arab Gulf countries to contribute to the June appeal, donating $250,000.

A full donor list is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald

(Note: The U.N. has received funds from some 30 countries totaling $200 million for all of its various appeals for Syria since the beginning of 2012)

Close to Two Million Syrians Now Either Internally Displaced or Refugees


Irish Aid Minister Joe Costello posted this photo on Twitter of his visit Monday to the Zaatari camp in Jordan hosting Syrian refugees. More than 2,000 people, mostly women and children, are arriving daily since late last week. (credit: Dept. of Foreign Affairs, Ireland)

Aug. 27, 2013 – The number of displaced Syrians is closing in on the two million mark, about 10 percent of the country’s population, creating the biggest refugee crisis in the Middle East since the invasion of Iraq.

The scale of displacement has increased dramatically since March – after the battle of Homs – and even more so since last month, when the International Committee of the Red Cross declared the situation inside Syria a civil war.

Latest figures from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent show 1.5 million are displaced within the country (see map) while the U.N. has registered some 200,000 refugees in neighboring countries (79,000 in Turkey; 45,000 in Jordan; 40,000 in Lebanon; and 16,000 in Iraq).

Thirty-nine percent of the refugees are aged 11 and under.

The figures for internally displaced are estimates and were released before the battle in Aleppo, the escalation of the conflict in Damascus, and the massacre in Daraya last week.

The U.N. Security Council is holding a ministerial meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria on Aug 30 and Turkish FM Ahmet Davutoglu, who is attending, said it may be time for the United Nations to create a “safe zone” inside Syria.

There’s little chance of China and Russia supporting such a move with both likely to declare that it amounts to intervention.

Denis Fitzgerald

Brahimi Begins Work Telling Ban He’s Humbled and Scared

Ban Ki-moon and Lakhdar Brahimi meet in Ban’s office in New York on Friday Aug. 24. (credit: UN photo)

Aug. 24, 2012 – Lakhdar Brahimi met with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday telling him that he was “was honored, flattered, humbled and scared” when asked to take on the role of U.N. – Arab League joint special representative for Syria and that he is “still in that frame of mind.”

In a brief press encounter following a photo-opportunity, Ban told him that “you have the full respect and full support of the international community” and that “it is crucially important that the Security Council, the whole United Nations System is supporting your work.”

Whether the Security Council can unite around any proposals that Brahimi puts forward remains to be seen. China and Russia have vetoed three previous efforts to put pressure on Bashar Al-Assad.

Brahimi gave little away in terms of specifics, only saying that the needs of the Syrian people will be put above all others.

“They will be our first masters. We will consider their interests above and before everything else. We will try to help as much as we can. We will not spare any effort,” he said.

Brahimi, who will spend the next week in New York, also met Friday morning with U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos and Jeffrey Feltman, head of political affairs, whose department now has control of the Syria mission, taking over from the department of peacekeeping since the withdrawal of the unarmed observer force from Syria.

Brahimi is meeting with France’s U.N. ambassador, Gerard Araud, later in the afternoon, his spokesman said. France currently preside over the Security Council and have called a ministerial meeting for Aug. 30 to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria. On Thursday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he had asked the foreign ministers from neighboring countries (Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey) to attend.

– Denis Fitzgerald