Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Syria

Ambassador Robert Wood
Alternative Representative for Special Political Affairs
New York, New York
October 25, 2022


Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you, Special Envoy Pedersen and Director Ghelani, for your informative and sobering briefings. We are deeply troubled by renewed and intensified fighting in the northwest. This violence endangers civilians and interferes with the delivery of humanitarian assistance, compounding an already dire situation and creating conditions that could lead to significant displacement.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a designated terrorist group, must stop its escalatory actions in the area. The Syrian people have suffered enough. And this new round of violence only exacerbates conditions on the ground. As we have heard from the UN and its partners, the growing cholera epidemic reflects the still worsening humanitarian situation. The time to ramp up our assistance to the Syrian people is now before this outbreak spirals further out of control.

For our part, we have provided funding to help first responders throughout the country deliver medical care, nutrition, and clean water. These efforts are essential to saving lives and stopping the spread of the infection. We are also proud to support humanitarian early recovery projects that are rehabilitating community water systems, which is critical for preventing future outbreaks.

But with thousands of suspected cases and mounting deaths, the situation will only worsen without unfettered access for humanitarian actors. And central to that effort is the renewal and expansion of the UN cross-border aid authorization in January. While there has been some notable progress on crossline assistance, cross-border deliveries are the only realistic mechanism to ensure millions of people in northwest Syria get the help they need through this upcoming winter and beyond.

Russia’s decision to block a twelve-month extension of the cross-border mandate is having real consequences on the ground. This humanitarian operation is among the largest and most complicated in the world. Yet, the Council was not able to give UN aid workers what they most need to succeed a resolution mandate that prioritized the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people above cruel political calculation.

The UN is having trouble recruiting staff to join the mission given the uncertainty after January. Procurement has been undermined because orders need to be placed months in advance. And aid workers are spending time worrying about contingency plans rather than how to rollout stronger interventions, including early recovery.

As we have heard on many occasions here in this Council, in UN reports, from NGOs, and in the Informal Interactive Dialogue in September, the UN operation is transparent, efficient, and apolitical. It delivers assistance based on need. Full stop. As we look to January, we need to be focused on renewal of this life saving mandate. Colleagues, in addition to our efforts to meet the immediate needs of the Syrian people, we must also stay focused on a long-term political solution.

The United States fully supports Special Envoy Pedersen’s efforts to revive the Constitutional Committee and take other steps to achieve the aims of UN Security Council resolution 2254. It is imperative that the Assad regime take meaningful action to demonstrate its commitment to the political process. One such action would be to provide information about the approximately 130,000 disappeared or arbitrarily detained Syrians.

Human decency demands the government at least provide basic information on the whereabouts and well-being of detainees to families that have been left in the dark. But information, while critical, is in no way enough. Providing information to victims’ families should be pursued in parallel with other efforts. We call on the regime and all parties to the conflict to immediately and humanely release all unjustly detained persons, clarify the fate of those missing or forcibly disappeared, and provide support to the victims’ families.

The United States supports the establishment of a stand-alone entity with a humanitarian mandate focused entirely on clarifying the fate of all of Syria’s missing persons. People that have gone missing at the hands of the Assad regime, ISIS, or other parties to the conflict. Confirming the whereabouts and status of the thousands of missing Syrians and releasing the arbitrarily detained are essential to achieving a stable, just, and enduring peace in Syria. And we believe this new entity will be vital to this work.

As was detailed in the Secretary General’s recent report though there are various entities that work on aspects of this important file, none have the explicit mandate to solely focus or conduct investigations on the missing and detained.

We stand with the Syrian human rights defenders, survivors, and families working on this file. And we look forward to continuing to support them, Syrian civil society, the UN, and NGOs to make genuine progress toward the creation of a new mechanism. Nearly every Syrian family has been traumatized by the disappearance of a loved one. And we all have a responsibility to do right by those families and those still detained.

Mr. President, if I may just respond to some comments made by the representative by the Russian Federation. The United States is in Syria for the sole purpose of enabling the ongoing campaign against ISIS. We are committed to preserving our limited presence in northeast Syria as part of a comprehensive strategy to defeat ISIS and Al-Qaida working by, with, and through the Syrian Democratic Forces and other local partners. On the issue of Syrian oil, Syrian oil is for the Syrian people. The United States does not own, control, or manage any of those resources, nor do we wish to. As part of the effort to defeat ISIS, the SDF will continue to deny ISIS access to oil and gas revenue in northeast Syria, which it previously used to fund its terror campaign. Thank you, Mr. President.