A series of UN resolutions saved countless lives in Syria by pushing humanitarian relief where it was most needed.

The decade-old conflict in Syria has claimed the lives of more than 450, 000 people. The number of people in need reached 13 Million in 2020, out of which 4.8 Million are vulnerable children. The number of people in acute need in Syria is over 5 million, while Syria's internally displaced have surpassed 6.2 million people. Over 5 million Syrians have become refugees, or externally displaced. 

These staggering numbers indicate the multiplicity of the problem and complexity of the solution. At its core is a humanitarian dimension, closely linked to economies and livelihoods. Conflicts prevent people from sustaining a dignified life without depending on external relief. In 2017, the World Bank indicated that economic activity in Syria shrunk by 60 percent compared to 2010. 

Already burdened with severe economic loss, Statista revealed that nearly a quarter of the houses in Syria had been damaged. These numbers are a sad reminder to all of us on the devastating impact protracted crises have on human life and suffering. It is also a reminder of the cost of conflicts with their tangible and intangible elements, with people being uprooted, traumatised and separated from their families. 

The relentless efforts of the humanitarian community has helped ease and mitigate some of the suffering and dehumanisation that conflicts cause. The United Nations agencies, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, and International and local non-governmental organisations should be lauded for providing to those in need. If this coordinated support was missing, then the conflict would have inflicted an even heavier cost. Currently, the United Nations, together with their implementing partners, manage to target 10.5 Million people with humanitarian assistance inside Syria.

It has not been easy to get to this point. Between 2010 and 2014, humanitarian workers faced unexpected and atypical requests. These included approval of humanitarian convoys, the removal of medical supplies from convoys and lack of internal communication in the mechanisms of government authorities. All of this culminated in that period with denial of access and delays at checkpoints and insecurity. In these four years, 94 tragic incidents involved humanitarian workers, with several resulting in deaths. 

These obstacles limiting humanitarian assistance have created serious hurdles for agencies to fulfil their mandate in Syria. For one year, humanitarian agencies were not able to reach many people in need and stuck in the middle of fierce conflict. 

In International Law, state sovereignty and territorial integrity are overarching principles. International Humanitarian law, the branch of International Law protecting the right of belligerents and applicable to armed conflicts also embraces the dominant view to preserve these principles. Thus, it allows for initiating humanitarian operations only with the consent of the parties to the conflict –  with some exceptions. Otherwise, these acts may be deemed unfriendly, interference and intrusion However, the discretion of giving consent is not unlimited, and its usage shall be based on sound and reasonable justification. 

The parties to international and non-international conflicts have an obligation to provide for the needs of civilians in territories under their control.  If they are not able or willing to cover their needs they cannot arbitrarily refuse or withhold their consent for humanitarian assistance offered by impartial humanitarian organisations.

It was a clear fact that the right to life of millions of people, protected by International Human Rights Law were severely in danger and the protection of their rights presupposed the provision of life-saving humanitarian assistance in Syria.

Considering these facts, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution of 2139, which strengthened the needed legal framework in 2014. This resolution was an important turning point as the UN urged all parties, including the Syrian regime, to take the necessary steps to facilitate the efforts of the United Nations, its agencies, and all humanitarian actors engaged in relief work. 

Deviating from its conventional approach cantered on state sovereignty, the UN Security Council went beyond, demanding the facilitation of and allowance for rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access by using the stronger word 'urge'. 

There were two other noticeable elements in the UN Security Council's Resolution that was of importance. The first one was its demand to stop "depriving civilians of food and medicine indispensable to their survival" and its recall that starvation is prohibited by international humanitarian law. The second noticeable point was related to "the removal of medical supplies from humanitarian shipments" linked to medical care the wounded and sick must receive under International Humanitarian Law.

The culmination of these elements provided evidence that there was an arbitrary denial of humanitarian assistance in Syria. These recalls proved that the discretion of parties to conflict to consent humanitarian assistance were not used in accordance with International Law. Furthermore, the siege, even if it can be used as an acceptable method of war under certain conditions, was not used lawfully. Thus, it caused the deprivation of civilians of food and medicine in the besieged areas, which is a clear violation of International Humanitarian Law and classified as a “war crime” in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Despite the UN resolution, very limited improvement was witnessed in providing access to humanitarian organisations. Exemplifying the situation a UN report that estimates 3.5 million people were residing in areas that were difficult or impossible for humanitarian organisations to reach, and that 242,000 living in areas besieged were included in this figure. He also stated that UN agencies and their implementing partners could only reach 34 out of 262 locations in hard-to-reach and besieged areas. The Secretary General also declared that medicines were routinely denied to those who needed them, and that 89, 652 people were deprived of medical assistance as a result of lack of approval or removal of medical interagency  convoys to hard-to reach areas.

The continued arbitrary denials, systematic impediments and hindrances resulted in the passing of UN Resolution 2165. This time humanitarian assistance was not left to the discretion of authorities. The Resolution directly authorised UN humanitarian agencies and their partners to use the most direct route and border crossing to deliver humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable in Syria. 

Today, these resolutions have enabled UN Humanitarian Agencies and their implementing partners including the Turkish Red Crescent to supply food, medicine, tents, blankets and hygiene items to millions of people inside Syria. Moreover, the UN and its implementing partners reached 77.4 Million beneficiaries in different sectors through the Turkish Border from 2014 to 2020.  Were it not for these resolutions many more lives would have been lost to this tragic war.

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