Updated at: 11/19/2013 3:05 PM
By PETER JAMES SPIELMANN
(AP) UNITED NATIONS - The General Assembly’s human rights committee demanded Tuesday that Syria’s government immediately allow humanitarian aid to be delivered to areas throughout the country that need it most and stop hampering distribution with "bureaucratic impediments and other obstacles."
The draft resolution sailed through the assembly’s subcommittee by a vote of 123-13, with 46 abstentions, assuring that it will be adopted by the entire General Assembly later this year by a similar margin. Russia and China were among the countries voting against it.
With the Security Council divided between Syria’s key ally Russia and China on one side, and the West and Arab states supporting the opposition on the other, it has been the General Assembly and U.N. agencies that have been most forthright and vocal in demanding relief in the Syrian crisis and an end to the war. However, General Assembly resolutions are not enforceable.
The resolution approved Tuesday also comes close to blaming the Syrian government and military for the deadly Aug. 21 nerve gas attack in a Damascus suburb held by the rebels.
It says that the report by U.N. inspectors filed in September "provides clear evidence that surface-to-surface rockets were fired on 21 August from Government-held territory into opposition areas, using professionally made munitions containing Sarin."
The independent watchdog group Human Rights Watch analyzed the trajectory of the rockets described in the inspectors’ report and arrived at the same conclusion. The U.N. report itself was careful not to assign blame since it was mandated only to study the effects of the attack. The U.S. said more than 1,400 people were killed, including at least 400 children, though some organizations cited a significantly lower death toll. Assad’s government blamed rebels for the attack.
With the United States and France threatening to retaliate for the chemical weapons attack, Damascus suddenly agreed in September to cooperate with dismantling its chemical weapons laborato4eries and stockpiles, a process that is supposed to be completed in mid-2014.
The resolution "stresses that the magnitude of the humanitarian tragedy caused by the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic requires immediate action to facilitate the safe and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance throughout the entire country."
It "demands that the Syrian authorities take immediate steps to facilitate the expansion of humanitarian relief operations and lift bureaucratic impediments and other obstacles, including through immediately facilitating safe and unimpeded access to people in need, through the most effective ways, including across conflict lines and across borders."
Last month U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government requires written approval for all staff missions and aid convoys, and processing is unpredictable. Some get only single-visit papers, and others are issued for short durations. Syria has also halted aid convoys at the borders and then required them to travel roundabout routes to reach civilians.
Assad’s regime has systematically blocked aid from reaching rebel-held communities. U.N. figures show 6.8 million of Syria’s 21.4 million people in need of humanitarian aid.
While much of the resolution is aimed at the Syrian government, it also "condemns all violence, irrespective of where it comes from, and calls upon all parties to immediately put an end to all forms of violence, including terrorist acts and acts of violence or intimidation that may foment sectarian tensions, and to comply strictly with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)