Syria aid rigged, donors and aid agencies risk abetting abuse

A Syrian boy leans on new jerry cans as he watches aid items to cope with the winter weather being delivered to the Al-Hol refugee camp in Al-Hasakah governorate in northeastern Syria on January 07, 2019. (File/AFP/Delil Souleiman)
Updated 28 June 2019

Syria aid rigged, donors and aid agencies risk abetting abuse

  • Aid and reconstruction players in Syria are likely to have to partner with top regime figures and allies who dominate the economy and thus risk working with or funding rights abusers
  • While the problem has been going on for a long time, Roth stressed the need to quickly break the cycle before reconstruction funds really start flooding in

GENEVA: The Syrian regime is co-opting aid and reconstruction assistance, Human Rights Watch said Friday, warning humanitarian players that they risked complicity in human rights abuses.
Eight years after the start of the civil war, President Bashar Assad’s forces control around 60 percent of Syria and are looking to rebuild the battered country.
The New York-based watchdog urged donors, investors and agencies partnering with the Damascus government to ensure their programs would not entrench repressive policies and contribute to serious human rights violations.
“The Syrian government has manipulated the massive amounts of humanitarian aid that have been delivered to the country, and it is frankly the most sophisticated, brazen operation that we have ever seen,” HRW chief Kenneth Roth told AFP in an interview.
“Aid gets diverted to loyalists of the government, away from the people who are most in need, who are often the people who have lived in opposition-held areas,” he said.
“A lot of it ends up in the pockets of government officials and cronies, and some of it even ends up funding the very security forces who are responsible for the humanitarian crisis, the ones who are detaining, torturing and killing,” he added.
HRW’s 94-page report, entitled “Rigging the System” details how humanitarian organizations often comply with Damascus’s conditions for fear of losing access or being shut down.
It also found that aid programs that include a human rights chapter are almost systematically blocked by the authorities.
Aid and reconstruction players in Syria are likely to have to partner with top regime figures and allies who dominate the economy and thus risk working with or funding rights abusers, the watchdog said.
The group admitted that aid in government-controlled areas of Syria was needed and that donors and agencies there had little room for maneuver.
“The Syrian government’s aid framework undermines human rights, and donors need to ensure they are not complicit in the government’s human rights violations,” HRW’s acting Middle East director Lama Fakih said in a statement.
Roth said humanitarian agencies were often cornered into supporting Damascus’s objectives.
At a certain point, he said, the humanitarians, donors and investors working with the regime “are all complicit in this.”
While the problem has been going on for a long time, Roth stressed the need to quickly break the cycle before reconstruction funds really start flooding in.
“A lot of money is at stake, many new opportunities for graft and for diversion of funds,” he said.
HRW did not call on UN agencies and donors to stop providing aid to Syria, but gave recommendations to minimize the chances they would end up complicit in violations.
In particular, Roth said, HRW would like to see donors and humanitarian agencies “band together” and create a common clearinghouse mechanism for setting and upholding standards and distributing aid.
“If they were to operate in a more unified way, not let Damascus divide and conquer, this would be a way to change things,” he said.
If humanitarian actors stand together, he said, they will have more leverage to ensure aid is “distributed not according to partisan preferences, but according to need.”


Tunisia bans internal travel to contain pandemic

Updated 7 min 1 sec ago

Tunisia bans internal travel to contain pandemic

  • Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi has said Tunisia cannot afford a second lockdown

TUNIS: Tunisia on Thursday banned travel between the country’s regions, suspended schools and public gatherings and extended a curfew, as it tried to contain a rapid surge of COVID-19 cases with hospitals nearly full.
Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi has said Tunisia cannot afford a second lockdown with the government already fighting the central bank over a projected deficit double what it had originally foreseen.
However, after successfully containing the coronavirus in the spring and summer, Tunisia is now experiencing a very rapid spread of the disease with more than 55,000 cases and intensive care units full in some regions.
As well as banning internal travel in most cases, the new rules include a suspension of schools until Nov. 8, a two-week suspension of universities and a ban on protests and public gatherings of more than four people.
A night curfew already in place in several regions has been extended across the country and brought forward to start at 8pm instead of 9pm on weekdays, while remaining at 7pm on weekends.