Ambassador Richard Mills
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 25, 2021
Thank you, Madam President, thank you Under-Secretary-General Lowcock, for your briefing. I want to offer my sincere appreciation as well for the powerful report from our civil society briefer, Sonia Khush. The dedication of the thousands of humanitarians working in Syria is quite laudable and I wish to thank them, and you Sonia, for your service.
I had also hoped, Madam President, to be able to thank Su’ad Jarbawi from the International Rescue Committee. Su’ad is an extraordinary civil society leader who was invited to speak to the Council today and, sadly, our Russian colleagues silenced her voice and blocked her from appearing today. Had she been here, I expect Su’ad would have delivered a simple message to all of us: New York must act. This Council needs to ensure civilians in Syria have access to humanitarian aid, including through cross border operations. In the future, I do hope our Russian colleagues could accord greater respect to women, like Su’ad, who are leading civil society organizations.
Madam President, it is important that we continue to have these difficult and honest conversations about the suffering endured by the Syrian people because of the actions of the Assad regime and its enablers.
Today, I want to focus on three main points: why humanitarian access must reach all in need, why cross-border access must continue, and why, especially as COVID-19 plagues Syrians and the rest of the world, this Council has to stand up to its obligations to help the most vulnerable.
Every Syrian deserves assistance. That is why the United States has given more than $12.2 billion in humanitarian assistance since 2012 to help any Syrian who requires aid, solely based on their needs.
For close to one and half years, people in the Rukban camp have been without medical aid because the Assad regime and Russia will not allow the UN to make deliveries to this informal encampment. We urge the Assad regime and Russia to allow unhindered humanitarian access to the camp in Rukban, including UN humanitarian delivery convoys. This kind of politicizing and weaponizing of aid should outrage us all.
And while we have talked about it a lot, we need to keep repeating it as others have: the cross-border mechanism is vital to ensure humanitarian aid continues to reach people in need. It is our responsibility as a Council to expand humanitarian access this July when the cross-border mandate is up for renewal, not to further restrict it. Further limiting access would have additional catastrophic consequences for the 3.5 million Syrians in the northwest, many of whom have been internally displaced multiple times, and whose lives depend on aid.
Re-authorization for the UN to use Bab Al-Hawa remains the only way to ensure the consistent delivery of food, shelter, and medical supplies. All of us here know well that one crossing point does not meet, however, the vast needs of the Syrian people. We know in the past six months, our increased dependence on this one point – due to the loss of Bab al-Salaam last July – has led, as we have heard, to shortages of food and access to sanitation and shelter. This in turn has led to higher rates of malnutrition and sickness, with deaths on the rise. We are hearing this not just from the United States, but from our briefers, from experts in the UN, and from the Secretary-General. The UN must be allowed unhindered access to all areas of Syria in order to meet the life-sustaining needs of millions of Syrians.
And of course, we are deeply concerned about the continued risk of COVID-19, as it poses a grave threat for internally displaced persons and other vulnerable groups across Syria. Given the limited testing capacity, the poor access to health care, short supply of resources to take preventative steps nationwide, we encourage all actors to work together to develop an equitable and efficient vaccination plan that covers all Syrians. We must also acknowledge the critical role increased cross-border access would play in delivering the vaccine in both northwest and northeast Syria.
Sustained, meaningful access to all those affected by the COVID-19 crisis is required to build trust and vaccine acceptance for all Syrians, and to deliver vaccines efficiently. As we have said, this is just one more reason why the UN cross-border authorization remains vital. We are gravely concerned that those left behind in northeast Syria without a cross-border entry point will continue to be unjustly denied vaccines by the Assad regime. We also remain deeply concerned about the tens of thousands of Syrians trapped in squalid conditions in regime detention facilities who must also benefit from an efficient vaccination plan.
Cross-line assistance shipments – as they have for years now – continue to be regularly blocked, delayed, or re-routed to regime-controlled areas. The Assad regime and its enablers must permit life-saving cross-line assistance to proceed without interference. And we as a Council need to ensure other avenues are open when and where cross-line deliveries are not working.
In conclusion, Madam President, it is also critical that all UN agencies in Syria act consistently with the UN Parameters and Principles for Assistance, as the humanitarian needs in Syria have not been met, and corruption in this regime continues and cannot be rewarded. Syria remains, sadly, a country at war.
As Secretary Blinken underscored earlier this month, the United States remains committed to the international community’s long-standing, comprehensive, and sustained efforts to bring a political solution to the conflict in Syria.
We want, again, to condemn all attacks that have killed or injured aid workers and destroyed their facilities, and we call on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law.
The Security Council should do everything possible to ensure that all Syrians receive the humanitarian assistance they need to survive.
Thank you, Madam President.