Documents obtained by the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center (SJAC), a Syrian human rights organization, reveal that the Syrian intelligence branches have long interfered with the aid response in Syria, confirming findings from earlier reports by Human Rights Watch and Chatham House.
Through interviews with humanitarians operating in Syria and a review of publicly available material, Human Rights Watch found the Syrian government has developed a policy and legal framework that allows it to divert aid and reconstruction resources to fund its atrocities, punish opponents, and benefit those loyal to the government. One of the ways it does is to use security forces to interfere with and unduly influence aid delivery.
The documents analyzed and verified by SJAC confirm this. They include orders by the Political Security Directorate, an intelligence agency known for torture and arbitrary arrests, to its branches giving guidance on whether to allow or restrict access for aid. The orders make it clear that the decision to restrict access was based on political considerations rather than security or humanitarian needs. These considerations included whether these areas were held by the opposition (and thus not safe), and whether families of fighters were present. The documents also confirm the government’s policy of removing life-saving supplies from convoys. The orders document how intelligence branches have directly interfered with the delivery of aid at distribution centers, and have in some cases arrested people who visited distribution centers to receive aid.
These documents reveal how a key part of the Syrian government’s ability to co-opt aid and reconstruction funding lies in the abusive nature of the state apparatus itself. By failing to reform the current system which aid workers are currently operating in – including ensuring humanitarian programming is independent from government meddling – aid agencies and investors risk financing the machinery of repression in Syria and not reaching those most in need of assistance.