Thank you, Mr. Chair. The United States is proud to co-sponsor today’s session and welcomes the participation of High Commissioner Zeid and thanks him for his presentation. We appreciate France convening this Arria and the presidency of the Netherlands in allowing us to convene today.
Today’s session is a stark reminder that when we are committed the Council can move, and we aren’t blocked by those who seek to thwart the will of this Council, we can do things together. We also note that participation of so many delegates here in the hall today – so many who would not have otherwise turned up for this Council session had the procedural shenanigans earlier today not occurred.
So, while it is shameful that some members of this Council sought to prevent the High Commissioner for Human Rights from speaking on this topic today, and we’ve seen the lengths that some members of this Council will go to to hide and distort the truth about what is happening in Syria. We are so proud to join our colleagues in refuting this cynical effort and showing that it will not succeed, that human rights do have a place in the Security Council. In fact, that effort has failed spectacularly, as this full chamber attests.
It is absolutely appropriate for the Council to focus its attention on the victims of the Assad regime’s atrocities in Syria. It is absolutely appropriate that the Council focus on the more than 13 million people suffering inside Syria, more than half of whom are children.
These are innocent children, like the five week old baby who was rushed to one of the few clinics still functioning in eastern Ghouta after an airstrike killed his entire family. The physicians trying to treat him, however, quickly realized there was no formula left, and unless this child could get some kind of nourishment, he would also die. At the same time, a young mother was rushed to the same clinic, bleeding after being hit by an airstrike and had to have her hand amputated. She was also the sole survivor of her family, having lost her own newborn. The doctors realized that the young mother was still producing milk, and by joining these two together – orphan child and bereaved mother – this child was able to have the chance to live another day. This child and his mother deserve more. They deserve better than the government that removes critical medical supplies, even baby formula, from aid convoys. Children are dying as a result of these removals and the regime’s systemic surrender-or-starve campaign against the people of eastern Ghouta.
The depth of depravity to which the Syrian government and its backers will sink is unfathomable. Of course, for a regime that is willing to systematically torture its own people, its own children, starving them is nothing.
The Assad regime, along with its backers in Moscow and Tehran, should immediately adhere to the Resolution 2401 ceasefire, cease their hostilities, and allow unfettered humanitarian access.
We remind the Council and all of those present here today of what we have seen time and again after intensive bombings leading to the destruction of civilian infrastructure and targeting of first responders and the restriction of humanitarian aid. Once they’ve done their dirty work, the regime then detains fleeing civilians. Hundreds remain missing after the regime retook Homs and Aleppo. This rampant abuse is why we are here today and why it is so important to talk about the nexus between the regime’s gross human rights abuses and the ongoing crisis that has engulfed the region.
As the High Commissioner said, this conflict began seven years ago when the government chose to meet Syrians’ peaceful demands for their human rights and fundamental freedoms with torture and death. Since that time, the Assad regime’s atrocities in Syria have caused unparalleled human suffering, killing nearly half a million people and driving millions from their homes. Sickening reports continue of the government’s use of chemical weapons, arbitrary detention, and torture on its own civilians.
The regime continues to imprison tens of thousands of Syrians – including women, children, doctors, humanitarian aid providers, human rights defenders, and journalists – subjecting them to torture, sexual violence, inhumane conditions, and denial of fair trials.
Numerous UN reports have repeatedly documented the massive, synchronized nature of deaths in state-controlled detention facilities and concluded that they amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes. This is why we are here today and why we keep talking about these issues week after week. This is also why certain Member States don’t want these facts exposed. Those who survive Assad’s torture cells suffer devastating and lasting damage, as do their families. We reiterate the many calls from UN bodies, including this Council, for the Syrian government to cease its egregious abuses against its own people, and allow for immediate, unfettered access to and medical services for all detainees.
United with the Syrian people and the international community, we also reiterate our call for an immediate end to these egregious human rights violations and abuses by the Assad regime and its allies, as well as accountability for the perpetrators. We must not forget what the Syrian people will always remember: Assad and his allies have, from the very beginning, been by far the primary perpetrators of killing, torture, and deprivation in this war. We reiterate our call for a political solution to the conflict that should be an inclusive process owned and led by the Syrian people, as called for in UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the Geneva Communique.
As today’s briefing has shown us yet again, the situation in Syria is a tragic example of how a government’s systemic and widespread mistreatment and the continued denial of human rights of its own people can lead to a grave threat to international peace and security.
The Security Council cannot and must not be silent on that point – the lives of innocent Syrians are at stake.