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White Helmets call on the UN Secretary-General to recognise that the UNSC is no longer needed to authorise UN-coordinated cross-border aid to northwest Syria

A statement from The White Helmet about the United Nations Security Council mechanism for renewing the cross-border delivery of aid into Northwestern Syria

On Monday 9 January, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously approved a resolution to renew the cross-border mechanism for the entry of UN-coordinated humanitarian aid into Northwest Syria through the Bab Al Hawa crossing point.

Humanitarian assistance through the Syrian-Turkish border is the most effective and efficient way of delivering aid to Syrians living in the northwest, and is thus a vital lifeline that should not be subject to political bargaining.

Cross-border humanitarian access in Syria is legal under the customary framework of cross-border relief operations. It may be the case that in 2014, the UNSC felt compelled to create an additional legal basis for UN agencies through resolutions 2139 and 2165 because of documented obstruction of aid, mainly by the Syrian authorities. This represented an unprecedented step to express the will of the international community to address the needs of civilians in Syria through UN humanitarian agencies, and their partners.

Today, however, the negotiation of the resolution is deeply politicised and is an unnecessary obstacle for UN agencies to continue their leading role in cross-border assistance to northwest Syria. The war in Syria and humanitarian context in 2023 is starkly different to that in 2014 and the levels of need in Syria today are tremendous. The change in facts also has legal implications.

The White Helmets urge the UN Secretariat and Secretary-General to recognize that the UNSC is no longer needed as an emergency interlocutor, and that there are established legal grounds (in Syria, and only in Syria), supported by eminent legal scholars and practitioners to continue UN-coordinated cross-border aid provision.

We urge the UN Secretariat to revert back to established provisions under International Humanitarian Law applicable to the facts of the war in Syria which permit the UN and its agencies to conduct humanitarian operations in Syria and to continue providing all activities pertaining to cross-border humanitarian response, including procurement, funding, and coordination into Northwest Syria under the mandate of the UN Secretariat.

This debate curtails the demands of Syrians and reduces civil society to advocating for access to basic humanitarian aid rather than access to justice or freedom from persecution. If it is that the humanitarian mandate moves back to the depoliticised secretariat, we may then look forward to the UNSC now addressing the political process in accordance with UNSC Resolution 2254 to end the almost 12-year-long crisis.