In a joint investigation with the Jerusalem Post, Al Hurra has published a report revealing the deaths of two humanitarian workers in Syria.
The investigation, published on Thursday, said that the two workers had been killed in 2016 by shelling from Assad’s forces, which targeted a relief convoy between the Homs and Aleppo governorates.
The investigation was based on correspondence and testimony. The report showed that UN officials had not released the contents of an internal letter in its possession, which revealed that Assad’s military strikes had killed two aid workers.
The two officials under scrutiny are Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien and Special Adviser to the United Nations Envoy for Syria, Jan Egeland.
The United Nations also deleted from its online account a press conference that was held in Geneva on April 28, 2016, in which an Arab translator reported that one person had been killed during a relief mission.
The UN deleted the video when confronted with its failure to disclose the deaths of the workers after it received press inquiries about the matter in June 2021.
The United Nations also refused to explain why it deleted the video shortly after inquiries were sent about the failure to mention the two killings in Syria.
But according to a written copy of the press conference text, which has been posted on ReliefWeb, Egeland said that one of the three convoys organized by the United Nations at the time “was hit by a mortar shell, and another had to stop several times because of air strikes on the road and all surrounding places.”
A UN official (who asked not to be identified, fearing that he may face recriminations at work), said that a review of internal UN messages exposed the killing of two aid workers on April 25, 2016.
At the time, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien submitted a statement on the situation in Syria to the UN Security Council in New York. The statement reported that “a mortar shell landed in front of a vehicle in the convoy to Rastan, injuring the driver and killing a civilian.” O’Brien did not discuss the aid workers’ deaths.
O’Brien responded to questions posed to him by the investigation team by saying: “I presented the full facts as I knew them at the time of the statement; and my team in New York was aware of those facts.”
Vanessa Hogginen, spokeswoman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), explained that all reports of attacks on humanitarian convoys and humanitarian workers in Syria had been made available.
However, publicly available OCHA reports covering the time period of the investigation showed that the organization did not mention the deaths of the two aid workers.
A UN source explained why the international organization had concealed the deaths of aid workers—that is, if the UN were to report such incidents, the regime and its allies would not allow the UN to operate in Syria.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.