The use of UN veto power by Russia and China almost left millions cut off from lifesaving aid in northern Syria. The two countries used their security council authority to veto the extension of Resolution 2165 in December 2019, but at the last minute on 10 January, they and all parties voted for the extension.
Resolution 2165 has allowed the UN to send more than 30,000 trucks of humanitarian assistance across Jordan, Iraq and Turkey to help those in need in opposition-controlled areas in Syria. There are currently an estimated 2.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in northwestern Syria, including internally displaced people, who have fled conflict in other parts of Syria since the crisis began in 2011.
Amnesty International reported concerns over the failure to extend the resolution on 10 January. Lynn Maalouf, Middle East Research Director at Amnesty International said,
“Cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid has offered a lifeline for millions of civilians in northern Syria, who for years have suffered as a result of severely limited access to basic services such as clean water and vital health care.”
The UN reported later that day that the Security Council had met their midnight deadline to renew the cross-border aid resolution, but some security council members expressed ‘disappointment that the measure had been “watered down”’.
What is resolution 2165?
UN resolution 2165 was ratified in 2014 and allows UN aid agencies to deliver aid across the Turkish border into areas of northern Syria. During the second session of the Syrian Constitutional Committee in December 2019, a UN meeting that aimed at creating a new post-war political framework for the country, participating countries failed to reach consensus; with Russia and China voting against extending the cross-border authorisation.
If the final renewal vote for the resolution had not gone through in time the UN would have had to request approval from the Syrian government to deliver aid to northern Syria. Given the ongoing state of conflict there are no guarantees these requests would have been approved, leaving thousands in need without the aid they desperately need.
In December 2019 OCHA’s (UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs) Assistant Secretary General Ursula Mueller warned the international community that,
“The delivery of humanitarian assistance must be allowed without interference by the parties…We expect all parties to the conflict to facilitate a sustained and scaled-up coordinated response”.
OCHA projected that $5.2 billion would be required to help around 5.6 million Syrian refugees, more than 70 per cent of whom live in poverty. The U.N. estimates that it currently supports 4 million Syrians through cross-border aid supplies.
Renewal of resolution
The renewal of the resolution went through on 10 January with 11 votes in favour, 0 against, and with four permanent security council members abstaining. Despite the welcomed renewal there were concerns that it had been weakened. The Security Council only re-authorised two of the four existing border crossings (Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa in Turkey) for a period of six months (instead of 12), while dropping re-authorization for use of crossings in al-Ramtha (Jordan) and Al Yarubiyah (Iraq).
Response to renewal
Following the veto by China and Russia and the protracted delivery of a renewal, security council members expressed their apprehensions. During the last-minute discussions several security council members said that,
“a scaled-down text had been adopted and were disappointed that a better compromise was not reached.”
UK Ambassador Karen Pierce accused Russia of “playing dice” with the lives of Syrian people in the north-east. The Council had been left with no choice but to approve a resolution that did not meet the needs of all Syrian people.
“Aid is not a political tool to be bargained with,” she declared.
Germany’s Ambassador Christoph Heusgen lamented that the decision had come “at a heavy price” for 1.4 million people in north-eastern Syria who would,
“wake in the morning up not knowing if they would be able to get the medical aid they needed.”
Around 40 percent of all medical and health supplies in the northeast region, including water and sanitation, come through the Al Yarubiyah border crossing; one of the four crossings that has been dropped as a result of the renewed resolution.