EXCLUSIVE: The UN is waiting for Assad to approve its new Syria chief

Ben Parker

Senior Editor

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The UN is still without a top official in Syria because the government of Bashar al-Assad has not approved the world body’s selection, a UN spokesperson told IRIN on Tuesday.



The new HC's [humanitarian coordinator’s] arrival is on track, but is currently awaiting [the] Syrian government's final approval,” the spokesperson said by email. The previous resident and humanitarian coordinator, Sudan’s Yacoub El Hillo, left Syria more than a month ago, telling the BBC on 26 August the world had failed Syria.

Another UN spokesman, Farhan Haq, told IRIN: “We continue to await an announcement, but have not received one just yet.”

The UN aid system in Syria has only had stand-in leadership since El Hillo’s departure, a period that has seen “unprecedented” military action in Aleppo, according to political envoy Staffan de Mistura, and an attack on an aid convoy near Aleppo that left at least 20 dead.

The UN has come under criticism for allowing the al-Assad regime to influence its aid delivery, and 73 NGOs announced on 8 September that they were suspending cooperation with a UN information-sharing scheme in protest.

The position of UN resident coordinator is the highest-ranking UN official in a member state and holds diplomatic status equivalent to an ambassador. In a crisis-affected country like Syria, the role is bundled together with that of humanitarian coordinator, carrying a wide-ranging set of responsibilities in the delivery of emergency relief.

El Hillo’s replacement, according to multiple UN sources, was expected to be Ali Al-Za’tari, a Jordanian serving in the UN’s office in Libya since June 2015. His name has been rumoured since early August, but the UN has not publicly disclosed his candidacy. Haq told IRIN he “cannot confirm any candidate until one is officially announced”.

Following diplomatic convention, a member state must approve the appointment of a UN resident coordinator, as it does an ambassador, and can effectively block an individual it does not welcome. Al-Za’tari held the same position in Syria from 2004 to 2007.



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(TOP PHOTO: Ali H Al-Za'tari, UN Resident Coordinator for Libya. UN photo)