Open Letter to HE Secretary General Antonio Guterres of the United Nations and
HE Vice President of the European Commission and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Maria Mogherini
Dear Mr Secretary General and Madam Vice President
I write to express my alarm, which I know is shared by many, that there was no acknowledgement at the Brussels Conference on Syria recently of the large-scale misappropriation of humanitarian aid by the Syrian regime or any announcement that this grand larceny and high level corruption at the expense of the most vulnerable would be investigated. Therefore, in securing a further $3.3 billion for Syria, you must be aware given past form it is almost certain much of it will be misappropriated and further embolden a brutal dictatorship to continue its war against civilians which is characterised by a stream of crimes against humanity, so many documented in reports since 2011 by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria established by the UN’s Human Rights Council. What hope for transitional justice and a democratic future for the people of Syria if the regime is allowed to sustain itself stealing humanitarian aid?
The leading humanitarian Dr Annie Sparrow, who helped save thousands of children’s lives in Syria, exposed the Syrian humanitarian aid scandal in a number of articles, and most recently in the prestigious international relations journal Foreign Affairs showing how UN agencies effectively helped the Syrian regime evade the impact of sanctions in allowing as she put it ‘the Assad regime to take control of the $30 billion international humanitarian response, using donor funds to skirt sanctions and subsidise the government’s war effort.’ Indeed, to underline the importance of aid to Assad, Dr Sparrow quoted an unpublished report from the Syrian Centre for Policy Research which showed that total humanitarian expenditures in Syria, including both UN and non-UN sources of funding, made up 35% of the war ravaged country’s GDP.
Dr Sparrow also showed the quite shameless way in the which the Syrian ministry of defence and various branches of the intelligence agencies took direct control of aid through the regime’s establishment of the Higher Relief Committee (HRC) which handles all requests for UN humanitarian access. She presented prima facie evidence in the form of an HRC facilitation letter she obtained from a source within the Syrian aid community, authorising a Red Crescent aid delivery signed by the minister for health and officers from air force and military intelligence services, exposing the long suspected role of these agencies in directing humanitarian aid. In other words, the Ministry of Health, and the heads of the air force and military intelligence all sanctioned by the US, UK and the EU are “managing” humanitarian aid!
However, as Dr Sparrow pointed out the Assad regime does not only control humanitarian aid it also siphons off large portions to pay for its “war” and to line the pockets of its key figures. This siphoning process extends from levying a tax on the salaries of up to 20% on all relief staff to insisting that all international humanitarian aid organisations must only operate through “local partners” who can only be selected from a list from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has also been sanctioned by the US. These “local partners” can better be described as fronts for the regime’s explicit theft of humanitarian aid as Dr Sparrow explains that these
“….regime-controlled entities, such as Syria Trust (founded and chaired by Syrian First Lady Asma al-Assad), or shell companies disguised as charities, such as Al-Bustan, owned by Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf. Both Asma al-Assad and Makhlouf are subject to international sanctions, as is Walid Moallem, the minister of foreign affairs. In May 2017, the U.S. Treasury added Al-Bustan to its list of sanctioned entities. Yet since the UN does not require its partner organisations to disclose their own subcontracting partners, National NGOs such as Syria Trust can still subcontract Al-Bustan and similar entities, channeling UN funds to regime insiders.”
Tolerating this level of corruption against a background where the former UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has described the Assad regime’s war efforts as a ‘monstrous campaign of annihilation’ of civilians is not only reinforcing the climate of impunity but also allowing the diversion of humanitarian aid to fund crimes against humanity? Potential crimes against humanity that were again being committed during the Brussels conference, and still continue with the Syrian regime bombing civilians in Idlib, albeit on a smaller scale than usual only because they have not yet launched a full scale offensive against these defenceless civilians. Meanwhile, as you are aware the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs has warned that if Assad and his allies do attack that region deploying their usual scorched earth tactics against the three millions civilians including one million children living there, most of whom were forcibly displaced by his regime from other parts of Syria, it will result in the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the whole history of the conflict.
The case for an urgent investigation into corruption and the misappropriation of humanitarian aid in Syria is beyond dispute. However, if you fail to insist on that you will continue to make us complicit in the crimes against humanity being committed there by helping to fund these crimes and sustaining an egregious climate of impunity.
Yours respectfully and sincerely
RONAN L TYNAN
‘Syria – The Impossible Revolution’
25 March, 2019.
Ronan L Tynan is Director of the multi award winning ‘Syrian – The Impossible Revolution’ and co-founder with Anne Daly of Esperanza Productions:
Web site: http://www.esperanza.ie