Ambassador Richard Mills
Deputy U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 25, 2022
Thank you, Special Envoy Pedersen and Assistant-Secretary-General Msuya, for your briefings. Let me welcome the Assistant Secretary-General here for the first time. Your briefings are important because it is imperative that the Security Council continue to publicly discuss the ongoing political, humanitarian, and security crises in Syria.Today, I’d like to focus on three aspects of the Syrian crisis: the need for progress on the stalled political track, the threat from ISIS, and the imperative of expanding humanitarian access, including through the cross-border humanitarian mechanism.
First, the Unites States reaffirms its strong support for Special Envoy Pedersen’s efforts to advance a political solution in Syria and to fully implement Resolution 2254. We welcome the announcement of a new round of the Syrian Constitutional Committee and call on all parties to participate in good faith and adhere to the format of the meetings. We look forward to further discussion of the Special Envoy’s “steps-for-steps” approach and hope all Syrian parties, as well as other stakeholders, engage constructively on ways to advance all aspects of the political process.
We remain deeply concerned about the lack of progress on the release of the thousands of arbitrarily detained persons, and call on the Assad regime to undertake unilateral releases. We also urge the Assad regime to provide information on the tens of thousands of missing persons. As we have heard in countless briefings, this issue impacts nearly every Syrian family. And the lack of action on this file underscores why nations should not be normalizing relations with a regime that locks up and forcibly disappears its own people.
Second, the attack on the ISIS detention facility in Hasakah in January is a stark reminder that ISIS remains a dangerous threat and that the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS must continue its efforts. We credit the Syrian Democratic Forces for swift action to spoil that attack and deny ISIS the reinforcements that it sought. The SDF took significant casualties in responding to this attack. We call on member states to take action to repatriate, rehabilitate, reintegrate, and prosecute, where appropriate, their nationals who remain in northeast Syria.
The removal of former ISIS leader Hajji Abdullah from the battlefield demonstrates our steadfast commitment to deny ISIS any opportunity to reconstitute, retake, and hold territory in Syria and Iraq.
Third: as detailed by the Assistant-Secretary-General, the dire humanitarian situation in Syria confirms once again what the humanitarian assistance community and the Syrian people have been saying for years: not enough aid is getting to those who need it. Not only that, but according to OCHA’s 2022 outlook, the number of people in need in Syria is now higher than at any point in the 11-year conflict.
The Syrian people do not have enough food. They do not have enough medicine, fuel, blankets, or winter clothes. The situation in northeast Syria, already bad before the closure of the Yaroubiya crossing with Iraq, is empirically worse since this Council failed to authorize its continued use. We commend all states that are providing COVID-19-related assistance to Syria, including a recent major donation of vaccines by Italy. But to get these vaccines into arms faster, we need to expand humanitarian access. Continued cross-border and cross-line access remain absolutely necessary.
It is our collective responsibility to renew and expand the cross-border mechanism this summer. We support all modalities for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. This includes cross-line shipments, and we call on all parties to work constructively with the United Nations to facilitate cross-line deliveries.
However, as we and the Secretary-General have often said, cross-line aid cannot match the scale of cross-border aid. This Council thus must work together to ensure not only that Bab al-Hawa stays open, but that all cross-border options are available to meet humanitarian needs.
While the United States and other donors continue to support the humanitarian response in Syria, we all must remain vigilant in detecting any attempts by the Assad regime and its cronies to manipulate humanitarian aid. The regime’s record on this, going back to the start of the conflict, is clear and disgraceful.
We therefore take this opportunity to recall the critical importance of the Parameters and Principles for UN Humanitarian Assistance in Syria, which aim to ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered in a principled manner, based on need alone. We call on all actors to allow the UN and all humanitarian organizations to operate without interference in the service of the Syrian people.