With no end in sight to the vicious civil war in Syria, a U.K. daily has unearthed evidence that backs a sickening claim that the UN is actually providing Assad millions of dollars.
The Guardian investigation reveals that companies under EU and U.S. sanctions, Assad associates, regime departments and charities, including some set up by the president’s wife and his closest associate, have been paid large sums as part of the UN relief mission — and that these amounts are used to support a regime which has killed thousands of its own citizens.
The Guardian states that the UN may be compromising its principles of independence, neutrality and impartiality with these procurements.
After extensive research and detailed examinations of documents as well as feedback from UN insiders and aid workers, dozens of UN’s deals raised suspicion, says the article.
UN’s contracts awarded to the regime –directly or indirectly were- exposed for the first time by the analysis.
The analysis stated that the UN has made payments to a state-owned fuel supplier to boost farming and agriculture, despite being under sanction by the EU for fear of how the money will be used.
$13 million and $4 million respectively were paid to the regime for these purposes.
The World Health Organization also provided $5 million in support to Syria’s national blood bank which is controlled by Assad’s defense department.
The Syria Trust charity, which was set up and chaired by Assad’s wife, Asma, received a total of $8.5 million from two UN agencies.
UNICEF also paid $267,933 to the Al-Bustan Association, owned by Rami Makhlouf, a cousin and friend of Assad as well as being Syria’s wealthiest man. This charity has been affiliated to several pro-regime militia groups.
UN agencies also paid $9,296,325.59 to the Four Seasons hotel in Damascus 2014-15, a facility still one-third owned by Syria’s ministry of tourism.
In addition, UNICEF paid Syriatel — sanctioned by the EU and US — $147,289 for a health awareness campaign via SMS after a polio wave hit the country. Syriatel is also owned by Makhlouf.
The analysis also showed that the UN had paid amounts ranging between $54 million and $30,000 to 258 Syrian companies.
Figures also show that $900 million of the total $1.1 billion in the UN relief efforts in 2015 was spent on “aid funneled through Damascus.”
What raises alarms about these deals, besides their proximity to Assad, is that the UN has secured lucrative deals with those who have been branded as “off-limits” by the EU and the US.
The UN, of course, argued that it does not have to abide by EU or US sanctions and has to cooperate with the regime in order to save millions of lives in Syria.
“When faced with having to decide whether to procure goods or services from businesses that may be affiliated with the government or let civilians go without life-saving assistance, the choice is clear: our duty is to the civilians in need.”
Based upon documents seen by the Guardian, the investigation states that the UN has been caving in to Assad’s requests in Syria, especially on which areas aid can be delivered to as well as what sort of aid.
The regime has been known to impose restrictions on what can be distributed and by whom.
Ordering the UN to stay loyal to a list of “approved” international and Syrian organizations it can work with for aid missions, Damascus has many times removed items such as incubators, and refused to let convoys into certain areas.
The regime also inhibits the work of the UN and other NGOs, for example banning imports from Turkey and insisting that medicines should be supplied from inside Syria.
The UN can only work with a short list of partners, and only with the blessing of Assad.
The investigation also voices concern that aid is being prioritized in regime-held areas.
Back in June, the Syria Campaign had also accused the UN of compromising its principles and letting itself being dictated by the Assad regime as it controlled aid deliveries.
A report, backed by over 50 humanitarian, human rights and civil society groups, said the UN agreed to not helping opposition-held areas after threats by the regime.
Although the UN is transparent and publishes the names of its suppliers, Assad’s grip on relief efforts has created unease among some UN agencies, a UN official said.
Dr Reinoud Leenders, a war studies expert at King’s College in London, expressed his concern, saying that “the UN needed to rethink its strategy in Syria”. He also said that the UN needed to keep its distance to Assad and his associates, who caused the brutality and repression, which brought about the need for humanitarian aid in the first place.