UN Security Council members despair over Syria aid

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Members of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday said they fear that no progress will be made on getting humanitarian aid for millions into Syria as long as Russia opposes any actions against the government there.

The council, in a rare agreement on a Syria issue, approved a resolution in February asking all sides in the conflict to remove obstacles to aid delivery, but U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told them Wednesday it's "not working" and the situation is getting worse.

The resolution threatened "further steps" in that case. A U.N. spokesman on Tuesday said getting aid across borders into Syria would require a council resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, authorizing action without a government's consent.

The British ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, raised the issue of a Chapter 7 resolution in Wednesday's meeting, and Amos reminded members that the Security Council has had to pass multiple resolutions under Chapter 7 to get aid into other crisis-hit areas in the past.

But Russia, Syria's closest ally, can veto any such action as a permanent council member.

French U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud tweeted from the council meeting, "#UNSC will be haunted by its failure."

The U.N. secretary-general says almost 3.5 million civilians in Syria have virtually no humanitarian aid access. Ban Ki-moon has criticized both rebel and government forces for blocking efforts to get aid into the country. Ban has called the blocking of aid access "flagrant violations ... of humanitarian law."

The conflict is now in its fourth year, with no end in sight and more than 150,000 killed so far. Amos said she was "extremely concerned" that less than 10 percent of the 242,000 people in besieged areas have received aid in the past month.

Australia's ambassador, Gary Quinlan, called the humanitarian crisis "catastrophic" and told reporters that "a large number of us in the council said we do need to take action." Diplomats have talked of a new humanitarian resolution, and France has drafted a resolution to refer the Syrian conflict to the International Criminal Court.

But Araud called Wednesday's meeting "a big disappointment."

"Unfortunately after what I've heard, nothing that we could table to the council would pass," he told reporters. "We have the impression of unconditional defense of the regime."

Araud said the council could press ahead on another resolution, and a veto, but that could show "that the council is unable to act, which is not very good for the U.N., so it's a sad impression of a dead end, unfortunately."

This week, 35 international lawyers, including a former U.N legal counsel, accused the United Nations of an "overly cautious interpretation of humanitarian law, which has held U.N. agencies back from delivering humanitarian aid across borders" into Syria. Their open letter, published this week in the Guardian and Al-Hayat, said the U.N. is acting out of "fear that some member states will find them unlawful."

The lawyers declared that the U.N. faces "no legal barrier" to delivering humanitarian aid across borders into Syria and to supporting other aid groups in similar efforts.

Amos said, "I don't feel we should use precious time getting into an esoteric debate" and said the focus should be on how to get aid into Syria.

Her reply appeared to be "a fairly subtle rollback, but a rollback" from the U.N.'s statement Tuesday on requiring a Chapter 7 resolution, leaving room to explore other options, said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "The reality is, there's space there."

The opposition Syrian National Coalition's special representative to the U.N., Najib Ghadbian, accused the Syrian government in a statement Wednesday of a "calculated policy to starve innocent civilians into submission," and he said a U.N. decision to go ahead with sending aid across borders into Syria "with or without regime consent would save Syrian lives."

He repeated his coalition's willingness to support that access.

About 9.3 million people — more than 6.5 million displaced by the fighting — are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance within Syria, the U.N. secretary-general has said.

Last week, the directors of five United Nations agencies that provide humanitarian aid to Syria said their appeal for $6.5 billion in emergency funding for 2014 has been mostly ignored. With only $1.2 billion pledged, the agency heads renewed their December appeal.