Ambassador Kelly Craft
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
July 10, 2020
Today, the United States again voted in favor of a draft resolution that would have enabled the UN and its implementing partners to deliver humanitarian assistance to otherwise inaccessible places inside northwest Syria through two border crossings. We cast our vote to save nearly 3 million Syrian lives, and we were proud to do it in lockstep with the majority of this Council. We thank Belgium and Germany, the co-penholders of the resolution, for their stewardship and the spirit of principled compromise they have brought to these negotiations.
However, for the second time in two days, Russia and China voted to block humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians. They have, once again, vetoed a proposal that accommodated many of the considerations they raised throughout negotiations. They continue to put politics above basic human decency.
Earlier this week, Russia failed in its attempt to cut the crossing at Bab al-Salaam from this text, and 13 Council members sent a unified message that this crossing is essential by refusing to vote in support of their cynical “counter offer.” Now Russia – and their accomplice, China – are attempting to subvert the consensus of this Council, the Secretary-General, and the humanitarian community by running out the clock on this mandate. They’re extorting this Council, trying to destroy this humanitarian mandate in the midst of a global pandemic.
Since January, the crisis in Syria has only worsened, yet Russia and China are unrelenting in their efforts to deny humanitarian access, undermine the effectiveness of the Council, divide this body, and politicize aid – all to protect Bashar al Assad. Their cruelty knows no bounds.
The Security Council has now voted three times this week on cross-border humanitarian assistance for Syria, and each vote has provided more evidence of Russia and China’s ultimate goal – to dismantle the lifeline of cross-border assistance. Throughout these negotiations, Russia has been determined to remove the critical Bab al-Salaam crossing point, and they have made clear that they have plans to remove the Bab al-Hawa crossing soon after. At no point have they offered a valid humanitarian justification for this position, or any details on how millions of Syrians in need will continue receiving aid.
Maintaining both crossings, including Bab al-Salaam, is of critical importance. These aid crossings are already struggling to meet the needs of all of the people in need in northwest Syria, and their operations are incredibly complex. Both have been operating seven days a week, and yet neither has sufficient capacity to provide enough food, shelter, and medicine to help all of the 2.8 million people in desperate need.
At the same time, more and more internally displaced persons are moving into northern Aleppo, near the Bab al-Salaam crossing point. There are 117 IDP camps in the area near Bab al-Salaam with a population of approximately 1.3 million. The IDP camps in Azaz are among the most sprawling and underserved camps in northwest Syria, and they are just a few kilometers from the Bab al-Salaam border crossing.
Without the Bab al-Salaam crossing, aid to these 1.3 million people would need to come solely from the Bab al-Hawa crossing, which is already teetering on full capacity for the population it serves. Beyond the quite obvious capacity issues with having one crossing attempt to serve nearly 3 million people, relying only on Bab al-Hawa would add hours to humanitarian delivery routes and force shipments of food and medicine to cross unstable and unpredictable conflict lines and check points.
The importance of maintaining the crossing at Bab al-Salaam and the medical supplies that come through this crossing point has become even more important. Just yesterday, we heard news we had long been dreading: we learned of the first reported and confirmed case of COVID-19 in northwest Syria. The majority of health aid into northwest Syria goes through Bab al-Salaam, and the networks for COVID-19 planning and response are included in that shipment pipeline. Cutting this crossing in the middle of a pandemic will hinder the COVID-19 response at the precise time we should be scaling it up.
But Russia and China don’t have to take our word for it. We have heard countless times from the Secretary-General, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs, and international NGOs on the ground that authorizing these cross-border lifelines is a matter of life and death. As Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock recently put it, failure to extend both of these border crossings “would cause suffering and death.” It doesn’t get more clear than that.
With their reckless brinkmanship, Moscow and Beijing are gambling with millions of Syrian lives. They have deliberately stood in the way of this Council’s ability to get life-saving food and medicine into Syria. This heartlessness shouldn’t surprise any of us, yet I am shocked each time my colleagues from both countries choose to blithely threaten the lives of millions with the stroke of a pen on their voting letter in this Council.
This is not over. The United States will continue to hold Russia, China, the Assad regime, and any other actors complicit in their treachery to account for their failures to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people. We thank our Council colleagues who were on the right side of history today, supporting access to the life-saving humanitarian assistance we all know the Syrian people need. We will not waver in our support for the Syrian people, and we will continue to do everything we can to protect their access to humanitarian assistance. Justice, compassion, and decency will prevail.