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Syria: Humanitarian Access Dilemma
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Syria: Humanitarian Access Dilemma

Experts are still largely divided at what should be the next step in the situation with Syria. The disturbing security situation has had horrible consequences for the peaceful population in cities, towns and villages throughout the country. Though international community is still unsure of various ways to stop the atrocities against people and constantly increasing humanitarian needs the “devil hides in the details”.

Tensions are growing towards what kind of methods and means to use when providing humanitarian protection. From one side supporters of classic humanitarian relief, for example International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), aim to negotiate arrangements of mutual consent to provide relief to those civilians that require it, through continuous negotiations with the sides of the conflict. At the same time on the other side those who favor more aggressive international intervention, generally including particular member-states of the United Nation Security Council (UNSC), vouch for much stricter measures for the civilian protection: creation of “militarized corridors” or “safe zones”. Aiming that such arrangements to be enforced by the UNSC. Such places will serve as securitized "safe havens " and relief inside and outside of Syria.

While envoy of both UN and Arab League former Secretary-General of UN Kofi Annan has been given the mandate to mediate among the parties on both political and humanitarian fronts he was able to negotiate obligations on sides to stop hostilities by the end of April 12, 2012. Assad’s forces have to leave cities and towns, while opposition will cease armed resistance. In fact it seems international community is very keen on humanitarian and political perspectives in that case. Some experts suggest that over time, humanitarian agencies and professionals will need to devise their own terms of engagement in specific circumstances and be ready to conceptualize humanitarian arrangements that remain amenable to the parties and credible on their own terms. They also note that UNSC members would only gain by being more explicit regarding the requirements of setting up “safety zones”, as well as the limitations in the deployment and use of military forces for these purposes. Indeed there are many examples of the past where that would have been useful.

However, in the case of Syria the situation does not develop as the past experiences suggest it would. The so called six points “Annan Plan” itself is not going towards the results it is supposed to produce. While armed forces controlled by Assad are moving our steadily out of the larger cities and towns their presence and hostilities increase in smaller villages and settlements. At the same time opposition gets more active in the urban areas left by the government’s forces. Such situation already prompted Syrian government to demand written guarantees from Kofi Annan that opposition will not take over the cities the government’s forces are leaving to fulfill their obligations.

In such cases the differences in the approaches of providing the humanitarian relief are slowly moving towards each other. It seems the supporters of humanitarian access through consent became aware that any agreements in the in non-international armed conflicts are very hard to maintain. At the same time militants can gain valuable advantages from such agreements or corridors, getting access to the resources they require. At the same time the humanitarian organizations are very active right now in their call for the use of an independent international military force that would facilitate and monitor the provision of relief on the territories in need, thus ensuring the non-military and neutral nature of humanitarian arrangements and corridors. The main concern of humanitarian organizations is dedicated to the fear that such military presence can be enrolled into the political, security and other agendas, as it happened in several armed conflicts before.

Therefore, the decision of the methods of providing humanitarian access to Syria lies in between the two different approaches that international community is faced with. First, there is a notion that humanitarian corridors are always based on the consent of parties that they are ready to provide relief to civilians in need, while indicating that such support shall remain neutral and will not in any way be entangled with political and security agendas of parties to the conflict. Second, for humanitarian corridors to function effectively and reach their goals they have to come from international and/or regional intervention as a part of certain agenda on stabilization, development, and transformation that would allow amending the situation.

Thus international community is locked in the dilemma between two contradicting approaches. While there is also no consent in the UN Security Council between its permanent member-states, the fact that international community can’t come to the common grounds even on the aid provision issues is far more disturbing. While there is growing humanitarian crisis in Syria and ICRC attempts to remedy the situations are honorable and brave, they can’t address everything without effectively implemented agreements between the parties on humanitarian relief to the people in need. One thing is certain: at some point the international community will have to stop arguing and start acting.


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