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Home Articles posted by Tilman Rodenhäuser and Jonathan Somer

The Security Council and Humanitarian Relief in Opposition-Held Territories

Published on August 12, 2014        Author: 

TilmanTilman Rodenhäuser (pictured left) is a researcher at the Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, and a PhD candidate at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. Jonathan Somer (pictured right) is the founderJonathan Somer of Persona Grata Consulting, advising on international law and policy in fragile states. Until recently he was Legal Adviser for Geneva Call and has previously worked with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Over the past year, the Security Council has repeatedly demanded all parties to the armed conflict in Syria, particularly the Syrian authorities, to allow and facilitate humanitarian relief operations across conflict lines and across borders (see resolution 2139 and a presidential statement) – but with little success. In its latest resolution the UN Security Council decided – for a period of 180 days – “that the United Nations humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners are authorized to use routes across conflict lines and [specific] border crossings … in order to ensure that humanitarian assistance” reaches people in need in Syria. The Security Council also decided to establish a monitoring mechanism in neighbouring countries in order to confirm the humanitarian nature of the relief consignments.

Resolution 2165 was adopted as international humanitarian law experts continue to debate whether aid may be lawfully delivered cross-border to opposition-held territories without the consent of the host state. While some (here and here) contend that the issue is clear-cut – with consent being required – the only thing that does seem clear-cut is the lack of consensus. Others, including one of the present authors, argue a case exists for cross-border assistance without consent under certain conditions. This latter view has been supported by the former President of the International Humanitarian Fact Finding Commission and co-author of an authoritative commentary on the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions, Professor Bothe, in an unpublished study provided to the UN. A group of prominent legal experts have made even bolder claims in a recently published open letter. So while international lawyers continue to sharpen their pencils, resolution 2165 supplements IHL by invoking the authority of the Security Council to fill in the gaps left by IHL’s uncertainties on cross-border aid in non-international armed conflict.
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