A leading international rights group said in a new report that the Assad regime is co-opting humanitarian aid and reconstruction assistance and sometimes using it to “entrench repressive policies.”
Human Rights Watch called on donors and investors to ensure their contributions are used for the good of the Syrian people.
The Assad regime has developed a policy and legal framework to divert “reconstruction resources to fund its atrocities, punish those perceived as opponents, and benefit those loyal to it,” the New York-based group said in a 91-page report released in Geneva on Friday.
The report, “Rigging the System: Government Policies Co-Opt Aid and Reconstruction Funding in Syria,” looks at the Assad regime’s policies for and restrictions on humanitarian assistance and reconstruction and development funding to Syria.
“While seemingly benign, the Syrian government’s aid and reconstruction policies are being used to punish perceived opponents and reward its supporters,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“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.”
The report is based on 33 interviews with aid workers, donors, experts, and beneficiaries, as well as a review of publicly available data on humanitarian and development assistance and reconstruction.
Human Rights Watch found that the Assad regime restricts the access of humanitarian organizations to communities that need or allegedly receive aid, selectively approves aid projects, and imposes requirements to partner with security-vetted local actors.
“Humanitarian groups operating in Syria who are forced to accede to government demands may compromise their ability to serve populations in a rights-respecting manner. They have very little leverage to negotiate with the Assad regime.”
“Entities engaged in the monumental task of reconstructing Syria face many of the same problems, including restricted access to project areas and the requirement to partner with individuals or organizations implicated in abuse,” HRW added.
The watchdog group said that donors can operationalize a clearinghouse mechanism and create a consortium for humanitarian aid in Syria so that organizations and agencies adopt the same criteria for programming and prevent backsliding in standards when engaging with the government. Alongside humanitarian organizations, they should ensure that all humanitarian programming is accompanied by an independent monitoring system.
The Syrian Coalition earlier warned of the Assad regime’s exploitation of humanitarian aid and co-opting it to serve repressive policies against civilians.
The Coalition stressed that any country contributing to reconstruction efforts under the Assad regime will be seen as supporting the regime and its crimes against humanity. Reconstruction must be reached through a political solution, which will restore security and stability in the whole country. (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department)