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PHR: Russia and China Hold UN Security Council Hostage, Today Blocking Life-Saving Aid to More than One Million in Need in Syria

Today, after a series of tense negotiations this week, the United Nations Security Council passed a compromise resolution regarding a life-saving UN mechanism that allows humanitarian aid to get into Syria to reach millions in need. The final resolution renews only one crossing from Türkiye into Syria for a period of 12 months, shutting down direct routes to hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians in dire need of food and medicine.

China and Russia successfully pressed for the closure of the most direct route through which aid would have continued to be delivered to as many as 1.3 million women, men, and children in northern Aleppo. Over the past few months, hundreds of UN International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization (WHO) truckloads delivered critical vaccines, essential medicines, and trauma kits to the distressed and food-insecure population of Aleppo, now at risk of rapid spread of COVID-19.

Though the cross-border aid mechanism had been authorized annually since 2014, in January 2020, it was reduced in scope, removing the essential Yaroubiyeh crossing from Iraq into northeastern Syria. At that point, the mechanism was renewed for only six months due to pressure from China and Russia.

Russia and China have again obstructed the effective continuation of the cross-border aid mechanism. Earlier this week, Russia proposed the continuation of a single crossing point at Bab Al-Hawa from Türkiye into northwestern Syria for just six months. After nine rounds of votes, Germany and Belgium finally tabled a resolution in response, in order to reach the compromise of only one remaining border crossing for 12 months. That resolution passed today with a vote of 12 in favor and three abstentions.

Susannah Sirkin, director of policy at Physicians for Human Rights, said in response to the vote:

“The cynical and cruel maneuvering of Russia with China’s support is one more tragic example of the broken UN humanitarian system, and a defamation of the Security Council’s charter. Exercising their veto over the will of the Council and succeeding in closing one critical border crossing risks cutting off life-saving aid to more than four million Syrians.

“The cross-border aid mechanism has been the most viable channel to deliver aid to millions of Syrians in need. Without it, civilians who rely on life-saving assistance will be at the mercy of the Syrian government, which maintains the authority to approve crossline deliveries from the government to the population in opposition-controlled areas of the country. The Syrian government, with its allies including Russia, has spent nine years bombing hundreds of hospitals, killing its own health care workers, and destroying civilian life. To shut off these vital cross-border channels of humanitarian assistance during a global pandemic, under the assumption that the Syrian government in Damascus will sustain the needs of these incredibly vulnerable millions, is an exercise in self-delusion.

“With this vote, Russia and China have demonstrated blatant disregard for humanitarian principles and have cynically prioritized political objectives over human lives.”

At the end of June, Sirkin briefed the UN Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria and the necessity of the continuation of the cross-border mechanism through all possible crossings. In July of 2019, Sirkin briefed the Security Council on attacks on health care in Syria; following that briefing, members of the Security Council asked Secretary-General António Guterres to investigate attacks on humanitarian facilities in northwestern Syria.

Today, the two again obstructed the continuation of the cross-border aid mechanism, with Russia insufficiently proposing only one crossing point at Bab Al-Hawa for just six months instead. The move demonstrates blatant disregard for humanitarian principles and the ongoing prioritization of political objectives over human lives. China and Russia were the only two members of the UN Security Council to oppose the renewal of the resolution today.


PHR has developed and maintains the following resources documenting the impact of the Syrian conflict on the country’s health care infrastructure:

  • Interactive Map: Illegal Attacks on Health Care in Syria
  • Facts and data: Medical Personnel Targeted in Syria
  • Factsheet: The Syrian Conflict: Eight Years of Devastation and Destruction of the Health System
  • Report: “‘My Only Crime Was That I Was a Doctor:’ How the Syrian Government Targets Health Workers for Arrest, Detention, and Torture,” December 4, 2019
  • Case Studies: Specific incidents of attacks on health care facilities and personnel in Syria
  • PHR blog archive concerning Syria

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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