Toothless UN is bowing to Assad's terror strategies in Syria

Toothless UN is bowing to Assad's terror strategies in Syria
Comment: Even at the highest levels, the Assad regime is regarded as legitimate, writes Sam Hamad.
6 min read
22 Mar, 2018
Humanitarian supplies are delivered to al-Nashabia town in Eastern Ghouta [AFP]
Last week a 25-truck UN convoy delivered vital food and aid to East Ghouta. The aid was stored in a warehouse in Douma, where it was to be distributed to approximately 26,000 of Douma's estimated 130,000 residents - a mere drop in the ocean relative to the size of the population, but a potentially life-saving one. 

The aid would of course be given to those who need it most - the ill, the infirm, the elderly and the young. But it would never reach any of its intended targets. A mere three days later, Assad and Russia's warplanes rained hell on Douma, and one of the targets was the warehouse wherein the precious aid was stored. The entire complex, including all the aid, was incinerated. 

But this episode of Assad and Russia destroying UN aid, is not uncommon. It has become a norm in besieged areas of Syria. One might expect the UN to take more decisive action to ensure that its aid is protected, but the reality is that the UN is only as good as those who comprise it. 

At the top of the organisation, the permanent members states of the UN Security Council, minus Russia, which is one of the main perpetrators, might talk the talk when it comes to condemning Assad, Iran and Russia's genocide in Syria, but the reality of their action is quite different. One might even say it's contrary to their condemnatory rhetoric. 

The UN is a top-down organisation. And its structure, one which tends to favour states over people, is perhaps the main problem vis-a-vis a situation like that in Syria.

For a start, the UN relief mission only operates in Syria with Assad's permission. And while this is to some extent understandable, it immediately compromises the loyalties of the organisation of the country. While UN bias towards the Assad regime has been reported by the Syrian opposition on numerous occasions, the UN essentially accepts the legitimacy of Assad. One might say this is entirely pragmatic, but even if this is the case, it still leads to situations that enable Assad's genocidal agenda in concrete ways.

The UN relief mission only operates in Syria with Assad's permission

The most obvious example of this is that most of the UN aid to rebel-held areas has been funnelled through the Assad regime. While the intentions of the UN might be pragmatic, the consequences are not. This set up simply enables Assad's genocidal practices and intention. It allows him to determine the quantity and quality of aid, meaning certain items can be held back, while Assad also has final say on where the aid is distributed. 

Even more worrying is the fact that the UN has circumvented EU and US sanctions against regime departments, including the Department of Defence (DoD).  The UN has awarded lucrative contracts to businessmen who are close associates of Assad and his regime, as well as one organisation set up by Assad's wife. Often these NGOs distribute aid, which has allowed Assad to weaponise it.

One particularly egregious example of this was the controversy over blood bags, which are of course precious in any combat zone with high civilian casualties. Assad's DoD is responsible for the operation of Syria's main blood bank, which is where the UN via - even more confusingly given they sanction Assad’s regime - the US, send blood bags. 

It goes without saying that the regime would obviously not deliver the blood to rebel-held civilian areas that they are besieging and bombarding, while the UN's 'memorandum of understanding' with the regime includes a provision that the UN cannot provide blood bags as part of its aid convoys to areas outside of regime control.

Regardless of the justifications, the UN's stance simply enables Assad's genocidal grip on the country. As previously mentioned, this arises not from UN staff being devotees of Assad, but from the fact that at the highest levels, the Assad regime is regarded as legitimate, and that the toothless UN has no option but to bow to his terror strategies. 

If Assad wanted to expel the UN from the country, he could, and no force on earth, not the Security Council collectively or any of its individual member states, would do anything.

Thus, genocide is made easy for Assad, Iran and Russia. 

Regarding the current situation in Ghouta, it's of little surprise then that Assad and Russia would let UN aid into Douma only to destroy it a few days later – it knows it will face no recompense whatsoever for the attack. 

It seems that, as with Aleppo before it, even the UN negotiated 'ceasefires', which rarely hold for more than a few hours, are tilted towards allowing Assad to fulfil his goals. To put it another way, the UN ceasefires do not reflect justice, but rather are shaped by the power dynamic.

This criticism of the UN may appear harsh, for it only acts within a pragmatic remit, but this remit is one that from the very top, seems to want Syrians to die or be cleansed, quietly. 

To put it into its immediate perspective, last month, after hundreds of civilians had been murdered by Assad and Russia in their assault on Ghouta, the Security Council passed a resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire. 

The UN cannot provide blood bags as part of its aid convoys to areas outside of regime control

We're now just shy of 30 days later, and not only is the death toll now well over 1,000 people, but Ghouta has witnessed a regime blitzkrieg, with napalm, poison gas and white phosphorus raining down upon residents, seeing the civilian death toll soar, accompanying an Iranian-led pro-regime force ground assault into Ghouta, which has now been split it into three separate parts.

And now the 'evacuations' have begun, with thousands of civilians leaving their homes via a regime corridor in Hamouriyah.

The UN hasn't been allowed to monitor these 'evacuations', while reports have emerged of the fleeing civilians once again being abducted, massacred and used as human shields by pro-regime forces.

But the perversity lies in the fact that all of this, mass murder, blitzkrieg, chemical weapons attacks and now ethnic cleansing, is happening during the Security Council's ceasefire. 

It might be said that the civilians fleeing Ghouta are doing so by 'choice', but the choice is one between facing the same fate as the over 1,000 people murdered so far in this assault, or leaving and walking back into subservience or the dangerous, miserable life of a refugee.

Read more: If Zarif is serious about security, Iran's support for Assad must end

The UN's response has been and tragically can only be to 'request'; to plead at the feet of Assad, Putin and Khamenei, for access to Ghouta as hundreds of thousands of Syrians remain under siege.

It might be obvious to say the UN has never lived up to its founding principles, but Syrians facing the apocalypse do not have the luxury of cynicism - it is the UN they look towards not simply for aid, but for justice, so they might not just merely live, but live with dignity. 

It was after the horrors of WWII and the disastrous failure of its predecessor the League of Nations that the UN was formed. It promised to protect the "life and liberty" of people around the world, but it's in Syria you see how it has come to reflect a world dominated by the brutal order of states and the consequent tacit international approval of genocide.

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.