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Syria is co-opting humanitarian assistance: HRW

The Syrian regime is co-opting aid and reconstruction assistance, Human Rights Watch said Friday (June 28th), warning humanitarian players they risked complicity in human rights abuses.

"The Syrian government has manipulated the massive amounts of humanitarian aid that have been delivered to the country, and it is frankly the most sophisticated, brazen operation that we have ever seen," HRW chief Kenneth Roth told AFP.

"Aid gets diverted to loyalists of the government, away from the people who are most in need, who are often the people who have lived in opposition-held areas," he said.

"A lot of it ends up in the pockets of government officials and cronies, and some of it even ends up funding the very security forces who are responsible for the humanitarian crisis, the ones who are detaining, torturing and killing," he added.

HRW's 94-page report, "Rigging the System" details how humanitarian organisations often comply with the regime's conditions for fear of losing access or being shut down.

It also found that aid programmes that include a human rights chapter are almost systematically blocked by the regime.

Aid and reconstruction players are likely to have to partner with top regime figures and allies and thus risk working with or funding rights abusers, it said.

"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," HRW's acting Middle East director Lama Fakih said in a statement.

While the problem has been going on for a long time, Roth stressed the need to quickly break the cycle before reconstruction funds really start flooding in.

"A lot of money is at stake, many new opportunities for graft and for diversion of funds," he said.

HRW did not call on UN agencies and donors to stop providing aid to Syria, but gave recommendations to minimise the chances they would end up complicit in violations.

He suggested they "band together" and create a common clearinghouse mechanism for setting and upholding standards and distributing aid.

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