Deliver aid to Syria even without government consent, lawyers urge UN

by Astrid Zweynert | azweynert | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 29 April 2014 13:57 GMT

Residents wait to receive food aid distributed by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) at the besieged al-Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus. Picture January 31, 2014. REUTERS/UNRWA/Handout via Reuters

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United Nations should send aid to parts of Syria that need it, not just to sites approved by the government, legal experts say

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A group of prominent lawyers and academics has urged the United Nations to deliver aid to Syria even without the government’s consent.

In a letter the 35 experts say permission to deliver aid is being arbitrarily withheld even though a U.N. resolution adopted in February called for all sides to the conflict to allow unrestricted humanitarian access.

The letter said the United Nations was being overly cautious in its interpretation of international humanitarian law by waiting for the Syrian government to consent to aid deliveries to people affected by the civil war, now in its fourth year.

The letter was published in several Arab and British newspapers on Tuesday.

The signatories include Justice Richard Goldstone, chief prosecutor at the U.N. tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and leading human rights lawyers such as Philippe Sands and Geoffrey Bindman.

Another signatory, legal expert Jared Genser, said the distribution of U.N. aid in Syria was unfair.

"What concerns me is that something like 80 to 85 percent of the aid that's being provided by the U.N. is going into areas controlled by Assad,” Genser told the BBC. “And a much lower percentage of it, 15 to 20 percent, is going into the areas controlled by the rebels.

"What we have now in Syria is a situation where you literally have millions and millions of people being denied access to humanitarian aid on arbitrary grounds," he added.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week accused all parties to the conflict of “flagrant violations” of international law over the delivery of aid. 

Ban said that nearly 3.5 million people were largely without access to essential goods and services, in particular medicines and medical supplies, because of the civil war.

The United Nations has asked for more cross-border access, particularly from Jordan and Turkey, to deliver aid, but Ban said this remained a problem and he called on the U.N. Security Council to take action when it discusses the situation in Syria again this week.



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