Press release on the UN humanitarian deconfliction of civilian facilities in Syria
It is commonly known that a UN deconfliction mechanism for civilian facilities in Syria was created in 2014. Essentially, this is a unilateral initiative by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) that is based on neither international humanitarian law (IHL) nor a UN Security Council Resolution. At the same time, the regulatory document governing this mechanism clearly states that it is not a legally binding document and adherence to it is completely voluntary. It is also stated that the list of civilian facilities is provided to Russia, the United States and Turkey. The Syrian government has been left out of this notification process. Meanwhile, OCHA signed some sort of a declaration with the militants from the illegal armed groups operating in Syria, on adhering to IHL and providing humanitarian assistance.
Russia has always proceeded from the premise that the matters related to deconfliction of civilian facilities and providing humanitarian aid must be resolved by OCHA in direct cooperation with the legitimate Syrian government, Syria being a member of the UN. We have repeatedly emphasised that it is unacceptable to grant arbitrary protection to the sites in Idlib that are inaccessible to the UN. Inaccessibility means the UN cannot verify whether these facilities are used for their intended purpose or have been seized by terrorists and transformed into military facilities. The same fundamental faults in the mechanism have been noted by members of the UN board of inquiry investigating the incidents in northwest Syria. The board issued 13 recommendations on rectifying these faults. It also remains a mystery how the deconfliction mechanism was applied in Raqqa, Hajin and Al-Baghuz which the United States and its allies almost literally leveled to the ground (according to the UN, there is not a single medical facility in Raqqa that was not affected by military action). It is also unclear how the militants are performing the declaration signed with OCHA, not to mention UN officers’ regular problem with inaccurate coordinates and inability to ensure proper marking of escort convoys and cargo for the six years that humanitarian aid has been supplied to Syria across the border.
In view of the foregoing, we are particularly surprised by the statements made by the UK Foreign Secretary who said that Russia’s withdrawal from the UN deconfliction mechanism is “unjustifiable and unacceptable” and violates international humanitarian law. It is striking that the statement was made by a representative of a country whose armed forces have conducted more than 4,500 air strikes on Syria and Iraq. One such attack alone, on Raqqa in August 2017, killed dozens of civilians, as confirmed by the command of the international anti-ISIS coalition. However, London explained this by saying that the risk of unintended civilian deaths cannot be ruled out completely, mainly because of the inhumane behaviour of the enemy who uses people as a human shield.
Apparently, British representatives believe that Raqqa’s civilians are somehow different from Idlib’s – as are terrorists, despite the fact that the UN Security Council recognised them as such. These circumstances did not prevent OCHA from signing a declaration with them while ignoring the Syrian government. This is yet further proof of the fact that the Syrian humanitarian dossier is clearly politicised and is being openly used for the purposes that are far from actual concern for the civilian population.