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Monday, 5 November 2018

The UN aid convoy and the Assad regime torture chief



Who is responsible for Rukban camp? Above: Jamil Hassan, head of Syrian Air Force Intelligence, wanted on criminal charges in Germany and France; Gavin Williamson, UK Defence Minister; Jim Mattis, US Secretary of Defense; Abdullah II, King of Jordan.

On Saturday, a UN aid convoy from Damascus reached Rukban Camp in the Tanf Deconfliction Zone, southern Syria.

On Monday, international arrest warrants issued by French judges against three high-ranking Syrian regime officials were made public.

These two stories are connected—here’s how:

French judges issued the international arrest warrants on 8 October 2018, but they were first made public on 5 November. The three Syrian regime officials named are Ali Mamlouk, Jamil Hassan, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud. They are charged with complicity to crimes against humanity and (for Mahmoud) war crimes, in connection with the disappearance, torture and death of dual Syrian-French nationals, Mazen and Patrick Dabbagh.

Jamil Hassan, head of Syrian Air Force Intelligence, is also subject to an international arrest warrant issued by Germany’s federal prosecutor in June of this year for his role in the deaths of ‘at least hundreds of people’ between 2011-2013 in Syrian prisons.

Jamil Hassan has been under EU and US sanctions since 2011.

Jamil Hassan personally signs the facilitation letters that permit UN agencies and NGOs to make aid deliveries inside Syria. No UN aid moves through Damascus without his signature. For years this meant that little or no UN aid was allowed to reach civilians under siege by the Assad regime.

Saturday’s UN aid convoy from Damascus was to Rukban, a camp of 50,000 or more civilians on the border with Jordan, outside of regime-controlled territory in the Tanf Deconfliction Zone, an area around the US-UK Coalition’s Tanf base. This UN convoy was the first aid delivered there since January, when aid was delivered across the Jordanian border by crane.

The government of Jordan (a UK ally and recipient of UK aid money) has been restricting cross-border aid to Rukban since 2016, while the Assad regime has been resisting calls to allow cross-line aid from Damascus.

Rukban camp is inside the Tanf Deconfliction Zone, an area militarily controlled by the US-UK Coalition. The zone is defended both against ISIS and against pro-Assad forces by the Royal Air Force and other Coalition forces. The zone  is patrolled on the ground by Maghaweir al-Thowra (MaT) which is a local Syrian militia trained at Tanf base by UK and US forces, and equipped and paid by the US-UK Coalition.

Under Geneva Convention IV, the US and UK as occupying powers have duties to civilians in the Tanf zone, including the duty to bring in food and medical aid themselves when UN cross-border and cross-line aid deliveries fail.

Despite this, the US-UK Coalition has sought to evade responsibility for Rukban camp. On 20 October 2018, the Financial Times reported Colonel Sean Ryan, a spokesperson for the US-UK Calition, as saying that Rukban camp was a “humanitarian concern but not technically part of our military operation.”

Rather than take full direct responsibility for civilians in the US-UK area of military occupation, the US and UK have left the civilians in Rukban dependent on the signature of Jamil Hassan, Assad’s torture chief in Damascus, the same criminal who is now subject to international arrest warrants from both Germany and France. Survivors of Assad’s starvation sieges in Daraya, Madaya, Moadamiya and elsewhere can testify to the immorality of this policy.

Today we see small steps forward on accountability for Syrian regime crimes. The US-UK Coalition also need to be held legally accountable for their actions and inactions. The UK and its allies must now do their duty towards civilians in the Tanf zone.

Read more: Rukban Camp in Syria: The UK is failing in its legal duty under the Geneva Conventions

Update: UK organisations write to Prime Minister Theresa May on Rukban camp




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