Ambassador Richard Mills
U.S. Deputy Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
May 26, 2021
Thank you, Special Envoy Pedersen and Under-Secretary-General Lowcock, for your briefings.
Today – in theory – should be a joyous day for Syrians. If the elections underway were free and fair, we would be celebrating democracy in action. But sadly, they are not. Today’s elections in Syria are an insult to democracy and to the people of Syria. As the Security Council has unanimously declared in Resolution 2254, elections should occur pursuant to a new constitution and under UN supervision in a safe and neutral environment. None of that is happening today. And so yesterday, Secretary Blinken, along with the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom, issued a joint statement deploring these illegitimate elections.
The people of Syria don’t need sham elections. They need food, humanitarian support, and – most of all – peace. So, the United States government reiterates its full support to the Special Envoy to broker a peaceful solution to the conflict in Syria. That solution begins with the adherence to a nationwide ceasefire. So once again, we call on the Assad regime and Russia to uphold the current ceasefire lines. In addition to holding a fraudulent election, the Assad regime continues to perpetrate atrocities and subject Syrian men, women, and children to arbitrary detention, torture, and mass murder. The United States will not normalize, nor support, any other benefits to the regime – not until the regime demonstrates willingness and progress in achieving the political reforms that are called for in Resolution 2254. That resolution remains the agreed and established path for a political solution to the conflict in Syria.
Turning to the heartbreaking humanitarian conditions that Under-Secretary-General Lowcock has just outlined in stark terms, it’s clear that the vast needs have grown – grown by more than 20 percent, we assess, over the last year. The United States – in response to this – supports all methods of delivering aid to Syrians throughout the country, including via cross-line deliveries. But the truth is, cross-line deliveries, even if executed properly and if unhindered, do not have the capacity to fully address the needs of the Syrian people. There is simply no alternative that can match the scale and scope of the UN cross-border humanitarian mechanism. And let’s also be clear, as we’ve heard, one crossing point alone cannot meet the vast needs of the Syrian people. We need to reauthorize Bab al Hawa for 12 months. And we need to reinstate the crossings at Bab al Salam in the northwest, and al Yaroubiyah in the northeast, for another year, as well. If we don’t, people will die. It is that simple.
In February, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2565 to combat and sustainably recover from the COVID pandemic. The Resolution calls for full, safe, and unhindered access for humanitarian and medical personnel to facilitate – among other vital safety measures – COVID-19 vaccinations. There’s no reason for Syria to be an exception. And the renewal and expansion of the cross-border mechanism is the only way this Council can ensure that lifesaving vaccines are provided to all Syrian citizens.
We can’t know just how badly COVID is ravishing Syria, but we do know there is a tremendous shortage of COVID-19 testing kits for northeast Syria. And the WHO continues to struggle to get these kits cross-line. Prior to the loss of al Yaroubiyah crossing, the WHO would have been able to bring them in cross-border. And if the UN loses access to the sole remaining border crossing, the COVID-19 crisis in Syria will go from dire to disastrous.
The United States stands with the Syrian people, so we call on the Assad regime to adhere to a ceasefire, deliver on confidence-building measures, and fully engage in the political process. And we call on the Security Council to reauthorize and expand UN cross-border humanitarian assistance. The UN cross-border mechanism in Syria is one of the most rigorous and accountable mechanisms that exists.
This Council has the power; the power to save lives and stop the spread of COVID. We can provide the Syrian people with their last, best hope of a healthy future. We must act together. We cannot turn away.
Thank you, Mr. President.