UN’s partnership with Assad regime

Orient Net - Jamal Mamo 2016-08-30 13:40:00

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It is not completely true that the UN has been doing nothing positive in Syria for five consecutive years other than expressing its deep concern every now and then through its General Secretary Ban Ki Moon, as many Syrians argue.  

A new investigative report by the Guardian shows that the UN mission in Syria, being unable to update and verify the death toll in Syria since 2014, has become more involved in much lucrative business after it had dropped out that arduous – “and highly politicized” – death toll business!

The new murky business unraveled by the British newspaper yesterday took the shape of a clientelist network that helped Assad regime get awarded with contracts worth millions of dollars as part of aid programs.

The report says that people and businessmen closely associated with Assad have been paid substantial sums by the UN mission, as ‘government’ departments and charities – including one set up by the Assad’s wife, Asma, and another by his closest associate, Rami Makhlouf.

According to the report, the UN says it can only work with a small number of partners approved by Assad and that it does all it can to ensure the money is spent properly!

The UN mission in Syria is believed by many critics to have prioritized regime-held areas concerning aid supplies and did almost nothing to break the siege on Darayya, Madaya and other cordoned off areas.

The detailed report also shows that the UN paid more than $ 13m to Assad regime to boost farming and agriculture and at least $ 4m to the regime-owned fuel supplier, which is on the EU sanctions list.

World Health Organization has also spent more than $ 5m to support regime’s national blood bank controlled by Assad’s defense department.  

In the same context, two UN agencies have also partnered with the regime’s Trust charity, an organization started and chaired by Assad’s wife, Asma, spending a total of $ 8.5m.  

UNICEF has paid $ 267,933 to the Al-Bustan Association, owned and run by Rami Makhlouf, a friend and cousin of Assad, and his charity has been linked to several pro-regime militia groups.

On top of this, analysis of the United Nations own procurement documents shows its agencies have done business with at least another 258 Syrian companies, paying sums as high as $ 54m and £ 36m, down to $ 30,000. Many are likely to have links to Assad, or those close to him.

In addition, the report highlights the money which has been spent to put up UN staff at the Four Seasons Hotel in Damascus. The report shows that UN agencies paid $ 9,296,325.59 to the hotel in 2014-15 – which is understood to still be one-third owned by regime’s ministry of tourism, a department outlawed under EU sanctions.

A UN official who worked in Damascus early in the conflict told the Guardian that the UN country team knew from the early days of the conflict that neither the ‘government’ nor its authorized list of local associations for partnership with the UN could be considered as "befitting the humanitarian principles of independence, neutrality and impartiality."

The official added that this important consideration was stepped aside by the UN to satisfy the regime’s demand for the humanitarian response.

However, it is not the first time for the UN mission in Damascus to come under the spotlight concerning its relations with Assad regime. In June, the Syria Campaign accused the UN of breaching its principles in the conflict by effectively letting the regime control aid deliveries.

The international organization has been accused of capitulating and effectively taking sides with Assad regime by allowing it to dictate who benefits from international aid, contributing to the deaths of thousands of civilians in the sieges imposed on opposition-held areas.