As the fighting in Syria winds down, international humanitarian organizations (IHOs) operating from Damascus are hopeful that the Syrian government’s interference in their work will decrease. However, the government is attempting to formalize its influence over humanitarian operations.
Throughout the Syrian conflict, the government has imposed multiple administrative processes on humanitarian organizations to limit their ability to operate independently. This includes restricting the operational environment; undermining organizational independence; imposing local partners; influencing procurement procedures; and preventing direct monitoring and evaluation.
While some level of coordination with the government might be a pragmatic necessity to ensure the safety of operations in regime-controlled areas, this cooperation should not enable the government to use aid for military or political purposes. Consequently, international humanitarian organizations have an ethical dilemma in how they provide aid in these areas without undermining their principles of humanity, independence, impartiality and neutrality.
The solution to this dilemma lies in the ability of IHOs to work together to come up with detailed operational guidelines to reduce administrative approvals imposed on them and improve their operational independence. These guidelines should be used to argue for the freedom to choose local partners, to develop transparent mechanisms for procurement and to create independent monitoring and evaluation processes.