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Syria/UN: UN General Assembly must take responsibility for ensuring aid continues to reach civilians in need

Ahead of a United Nations General Assembly meeting on 21 July to discuss the Russian veto of a Security Council resolution which would have allowed the UN to continue delivery of cross-border aid to north-west Syria for one year, Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said:  

“Member states must not allow the cynical exploitation of vital humanitarian issues to be a political bargaining chip at the UN Security Council. This meeting must be the start of the UN General Assembly assuming responsibility towards protecting those most in need of humanitarian assistance, without compromise. The General Assembly must state unequivocally: International law is clear; the Security Council authorization should not be needed to deliver humanitarian aid to those in need.”

“The Syrian government and the Russian veto power must not stand in the way of providing humanitarian assistance to millions of civilians in desperate need in north-west Syria, as this amounts to violating their rights to life, to an adequate standard of living including housing, water and sanitation, and to health.

The General Assembly must state unequivocally: International law is clear; the Security Council authorization should not be needed to deliver humanitarian aid to those in need.

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International

“The UN General Assembly and other actors cannot sit back and simply wait for millions to risk losing access to humanitarian aid, nor can they have any trust that the Russian government will not again abuse its veto to finally close this essential crossing in January when the mandate expires. They must do everything that they can to guarantee that life-saving aid will continue getting to Syrians in dire need.”


On 8 July, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have allowed the UN to deliver cross-border aid to Syria for one year without the Syrian government’s authorization.

In a last-minute deal on 12 July, after the expiry of the cross-border mandate, Security Council members capitulated to Russia’s demand and agreed to a resolution opening the Bab al-Hawa crossing point for only six more months.

In accordance with Resolution 76/262, the President of the General Assembly has called a plenary meeting on Thursday to discuss the matter for which the veto was cast with the entire UN membership.

According to international humanitarian law, no party to a conflict may arbitrarily refuse offers to carry out relief operations that are impartial and humanitarian in nature, including cross-border humanitarian assistance. In fact, they should facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance to civilians in need.  Using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, including by impeding relief supplies, is a war crime.

Expert guidance commissioned by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs states that in exceptional situations (such as when a state is arbitrarily blocking life-saving assistance for part of its civilian population), international organizations may conduct temporary humanitarian relief operations to bring life-saving supplies to a people in extreme need without the consent of parties to a conflict. Such measures are allowed when no alternatives exist and when taking them would not seriously impair territorial integrity of the state withholding consent.