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Russia continues to use their veto to deny humanitarian access to the people of north-west Syria: UK statement at the General Assembly

Thank you, President.

Our meeting today is triggered by Russia’s seventeenth veto on Syria.

Again and again, Russia has used their veto to deny humanitarian access to the people of north-west Syria and to obstruct accountability for violence against civilians.

This time, that veto has been particularly cruel.

The UN was crystal clear about what it needs to get humanitarian access to the 4.6 million people in north-west Syria: sustained, predictable access, in line with international humanitarian law, for a minimum of 12 months.

Fourteen members of the Council were ready to agree to a resolution mandating that access. Fourteen members entered into negotiations in good faith, and made compromise after compromise to try to find common ground. And we are grateful to Brazil and Switzerland for their tireless work as co-penholders.
One member alone objected, for purely political reasons. Squabbling about the length of time for which the UN would have humanitarian access. And ultimately using their veto rather than putting in the hard work of negotiating. Down from 12 months, to 6 months, to nothing.

Having avoided negotiations, Russia put down a take it or leave it resolution that was supported by just one other Council member.

Mr President, the UN has been clear that the conditions set out by Syria to deliver aid are unworkable and unacceptable and in contravention of international humanitarian law.

Let us not forget that this is a live conflict. The regime continues to launch aerial assaults against people in north-west Syria. And now it wants to control the aid that reaches them too.

The idea that Syria is acting responsibly here is a cruel joke. The UN is now only able to operate across Bab al Ra’I and Bab al Salam. Those crossings, according to Syria’s terms, are only open for another three and a half weeks. A far cry from the 12 months for which the Secretary-General called.

And to say that OCHA cannot or should not engage with all parties on the ground to secure safe access is in violation of IHL, and of OCHA’s mandate. It puts the safety and security of humanitarian teams at risk. Around the world, humanitarians need to speak to all parties so they can get aid to people who desperately need it. Syria is no different.

As we have heard today, time and again, donors are concerned about what this means for the millions of dollars provided every year in humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people. They are concerned about the safety of civilian humanitarian teams on the ground. And about the transparency and governance arrangements that help them know their aid is getting to the people that need it – not being siphoned off.

So let us be clear. Humanitarian assistance needs to be delivered in line with international humanitarian law. Not held hostage to politics.

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