Undeniably, the war in Ukraine was not limited to Ukrainian geography only. The war, which began with the Russian military invasion of Ukraine, developed into a cold war that has affected all the issues in which Russia plays a role on one side, and on the other side, Ukraine’s allies from the NATO countries and the majority of the Western camp led by the United States of America.
Unfortunately, more than four million Syrians live in northern Syria, outside the control of the Syrian regime, Russia’s ally. 1.7 million of these Syrians live in tents and depend mainly on humanitarian aid, just happened to be one of the cases affected by Russia’s policies and decisions to bully the international community.
In 2014, aid got into Syria from four border crossings. Since then, U.N. Security Council permanent member, Russia, forced the council to close three of the four and kept one in the north, Bab al-Hawa crossing with Turkey.
In early July 2020, China and Russia vetoed a U.N. resolution that would have maintained two border crossing points from Turkey to deliver humanitarian aid to Idlib. Days later, the council authorised the delivery of aid through just one of those crossings, Bab al-Hawa. That one-year mandate was extended and was to expire in the second weekend of July 2022. A vote to renew it, set for Friday 8th of july 2022 in New York.
But in a widely expected move, Russia vetoed the extension of the UN Security Council Resolution 2585. At the last moment, after extracting a number of concessions in the negotiations with the US and other interlocutors, Russia agreed to extend the delivery mechanism one last time, but only for another six months, insisting that the aid must be delivered through areas under the control of the Syrian regime.
“This was a life-or-death vote for the Syrian people, and Russia chose the latter,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said after the vote.
Russia’s bullying in the Security Council, the use of permanent membership in order to obtain political gains in Syria, and the chance of implementing its six-month resolution, millions of Syrians in the north will be in danger of facing the harsh winter without any humanitarian aid.
Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy, said that the one-year extension “ignored the interests” of Syria and that the six-month respite would have staved off “the ultimate closure of the crossing.”
Basically, more than four million Syrians have reached a point where their lives are in the hands of a country who is an aggressor against them, the same Syrians. And the question to asked is; do we count on the humanity of Russia to abandon its veto or offer a legal path to the key states and the UN to deliver aid without the UNSC approval.
Amnesty echoed earlier calls for the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to assume responsibility and pass a resolution to authorise the delivery of aid. But this is not the only legal path for the UN to take. According to transitional justice expert, Refik Hodzic
In the case of Nicaragua vs the United States of America 1986, the International Court of Justice has clearly held that: “There can be no doubt that the provision of strictly humanitarian aid to persons or forces in another country … cannot be regarded as unlawful intervention, or as in any other way contrary to international law.”
The UN clearly meets the first condition for such legitimate humanitarian action, which requires it to respect the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and non-discrimination in delivering aid.
In addition, according to leading world experts on international law, there is no legal barrier to the UN directly undertaking cross-border humanitarian operations and supporting NGOs to undertake them as well, with three primary conditions for the legality of cross-border aid that the UN clearly meets.
The UN has been explicit that the Syrian government has over the years, consistently, systematically and arbitrarily denied consent for a wide range of legitimate humanitarian relief operations and delivery of humanitarian aid to opposition-held areas.
Under international humanitarian law, parties can withhold consent only for valid legal reasons, not for arbitrary reasons. For example, parties might temporarily refuse consent for reasons of “military necessity” where imminent defence operations will take place on the proposed route for aid. They cannot, however, lawfully withhold consent to weaken the resistance of the enemy, cause starvation of civilians, or deny medical assistance. Where consent is withheld for these arbitrary reasons, the relief operation is lawful without consent.
Lastly, the areas where aid needs to be delivered are under the control of various opposition groups, not the Syrian government. In such cases, the consent of those parties in effective control of the area through which relief will pass is all that is required by international law to deliver aid.
A number of Syrian groups, in cooperation with Amnesty International, have been working for more than a year to pass legal opinions that do not require the approval of UNSC. And according to Amnesty International, the Office of the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths, has commissioned a legal study of their own to explore options.
“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