Assad regime 'free to edit UN reports on Syria'

Assad regime 'free to edit UN reports on Syria'
A published UN Humanitarian Response Plan has been compared with an earlier draft - written before it was shown to the Syrian regime.
3 min read
29 January, 2016
Residents of the besieged Syrian town of Madaya wait for aid, 14 January, 2016 [AFP]
The United Nations is alleged to have colluded with the Syrian regime over human rights reports into Damascus' alleged crimes, including the deadly sieges and starvation of citizens in areas under its control in Syria.

The UN had "altered dozens of passages and omitted pertinent information" from its Humanitarian Response Plan, after consulting the Syrian government, reported Foreign Policy.

It compared the final document with an earlier draft it had obtained, saying "it is evident that 10 references to 'sieged' or 'besieged' areas" and all "mention of the programme to clear mines and unexploded ordnance, such as the 'barrel bombs' the regime drops indiscriminately on populated areas" were removed.

The report, FP said, also removed any mention of Syrian relief groups that help civilians in rebel-held areas.

The UN, the Washington-based magazine said, was worried about being "booted out of Damascus", and so resorted to downplaying the severity of the Assad regime's violations.

These, it claims, included removing references to regions under siege, such as Madaya - where evidence of children dying of starvation was being reported in news media before the UN would disclose it was even happening.

'Meaningless document'

Syrian relief workers and civil society activists complained in two letters to the UN about the international organisation's "unacceptable precedent" in negotiating the wording of the report with the Syrian regime, removing references to besieged areas and mine-clearing.

They also complained of UN staff being either "too close to the regime or too scared of having their visas revoked by the same powers that are besieging us".

The letters, dated 30 December and 13 January, received a reply from Stephen O'Brien, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, on 17 January, FP reported.

He said that the UN wanted "full, unhindered, unconditional and sustained access to all people in need in besieged and hard-to-reach areas in Syria", and had "repeatedly and unequivocally" called for an end to the sieges in Syria.

O'Brien said he was "angry and frustrated about the situation in besieged areas in Syria and the terrifying toll it is having on its children, women and men".
Donors don't care about this document
- Relief agency staffer

A relief agency staffer said that Kevin Kennedy, the UN's point-person on Syria relief efforts, had dismissed the importance of the Humanitarian Response Plan.

"He said the document is meaningless, and it will be put back on the shelf," and "donors don't care about this document," said the staffer, according to FP.

A representative of an independent Syrian organisation who also attended the discussions said: "There is no willingness to make any change."

"It was a very bad meeting, with irritating answers."

United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura, who is brokering peace negotiations in Syria, has said that securing space for humanitarian workers was a top priority, with an estimated 4.5 million people living in besieged or restricted areas without regular access to aid.
Jan Egeland, a former UN under-secretary general, said this week that government and rebel forces could immediately pave the way for massive aid deliveries if they stopped "playing games".

He urged rival parties to "tear down the Berlin Wall of hindrances they have built between us who can help and millions of defenceless civilians in the conflict zones".

IS-controlled areas

Millions of besieged Syrians who need emergency aid are in areas controlled by the Islamic State group, which is not part of any internationally recognised peace process.

As any deal on humanitarian convoys would not apply to the extremist group's territory, Egeland said he was "willing to speak to anyone to secure the access of me and my colleagues to people in need".

John Ging, operations chief at the UN's humanitarian agency (OCHA), agreed, telling reporters in response to a question about IS that the UN would "engage with any party, anywhere, anytime for the purpose of gaining access", to those who need aid.

"There are certain parties, certain actors, who will not engage with us," he said, in an apparent reference to IS.