Ambassador Richard Mills
Deputy U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
July 12, 2022
Thank you, Mr. President. And I also want to thank the Penholders; I want to thank them for leading a process with integrity and unquestionable commitment to meeting the needs of the most vulnerable Syrian people.
The vote we took this morning is what happens when one Council member takes the entire Security Council hostage, with the lives of Syrian men, women, and children hanging in the balance.
Right now, the humanitarian needs in Syria are greater than they have ever been. As other colleagues have noted, the Secretary-General asked for more. UN agencies asked for more. NGOs asked for more. Syrians asked for more. All these voices told us that a straightforward 12-month mandate for cross-border was the bare minimum. That now was the moment to step up. But one country, one member has chosen not to put humanitarian needs first. Rather than scaling up, we have been sadly pushed to cut down. This is such a heartless play. It will only serve to hurt the Syrian people.
Last year, this Council showed there was a different way. The entire Council came together to adopt a resolution unanimously that ensured the bare minimum was met. This year, 14 members of the Council were prepared to go that route again. But one member stood against it. And now the last remaining UN-authorized border crossing has been whittled back. This mandate will make the work of humanitarian organizations more costly and more challenging for procurement, staffing, and planning.
Let us remember that this mandate exists because the Assad regime has a well-documented history of corruption, of stealing aid, and denying it to communities in need. With its brutal behavior and continued attacks on civilians, the cross-border mechanism remains essential to ensure aid is able to reach those in need. Russia continues to defend this brutal regime and treat the Syrian people as disposable. They were already hanging on by a thread – and now that thread could snap. The rest of us will do whatever it takes to get the most vulnerable Syrian people the humanitarian aid they need. And Russia knows that.
Some of the recent dire needs in Syria are a direct result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the shocks that brutal invasion has caused to food systems in Syria and around the world. And the simple truth is Russia does not care. Russia is so brazen in its disregard for Syrian lives that it has not even bothered trying to justify its stance on a humanitarian basis. This is an immoral and cynical approach to humanitarian needs.
Let us be clear: The first of the two six-month extensions that the Security Council decided upon today will bring us only to January, which will be the very moment when humanitarian needs peak. The weakness of this resolution is that it requires another action from this Council to confirm what should be automatic. But to fail to do so would be unconscionable. It would leave Syrians without blankets or fuel for heat in the dead of winter. It would deprive children of their education since their schools will not have funding to plan for the second half of the year. We cannot lose sight of the gravity of this decision and what will be at stake
When we talked to the UN and NGOs over the weekend, they told us that a temporary extension was better than nothing. And since our approach to humanitarian aid has always been driven by needs, we are listening to the experts on the ground. That is why we did not stand in the way of this resolution. In the coming months, we will work with our humanitarian partners to stave off the worst-case scenarios we have all been warned about. And we will undertake a hard look at our aid posture in Syria and do everything in our power to help those in need.
But, Mr. President, as I close, let us not forget: The Russian Federation was the only Council member to oppose a straightforward 12-month resolution. Despite my Russian colleague’s comments, the entire Council voted last Friday. Russia stood alone, in complete isolation, and used their veto to punish the Syrian people. It bullied Council members and continued its merciless approach toward the most vulnerable.
We now move forward knowing that the Council voted in solidarity today with the Syrian people and with the principles of humanitarian assistance. The U.S. commitment to the Syrian people will not end with this resolution. We will not turn our backs on those who have been suffering for more than a decade and we hope the other members of this Council will not do so either.