Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Syria

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
Acting Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
March 27, 2019


Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Under-Secretary-General DiCarlo and Director Rajasingham, for your briefings today.

Mr. President, after eight years of the Syrian conflict, we would like to remind members of the Council that this war started when the Assad regime delivered Hamza al-Khatib’s 13-year old body to his family shot, burned, and mutilated after he had taken part in a peaceful protest in southern Syria.

Unfortunately, Hamza’s story foreshadowed the next eight years of suffering for the Syrians. The world will never forget the images of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s corpse drifting to the shore in the Mediterranean; five-year-old Omran Daqneesh covered in dust and blood in Aleppo; and countless children and others gassed in Khan Sheikhoum and Douma and those starved in besieged Eastern Ghouta.

Mr. President, the source of this suffering and the ultimate cause of this conflict is, and has been, the Assad regime’s violent crackdown on its own people. The Assad regime and its allies must take concrete steps to de-escalate military operations and end forced disappearances, release innocent civilians held in detention, and permit rapid, safe, and unhindered access for humanitarian agencies across Syria. Meanwhile, a future credible, legitimate, and pluralistic Constitutional Committee should have the opportunity to invigorate a political transition to leadership that will protect, rather than harm, Syria’s citizens.

As a Security Council, we should demand the regime respect international humanitarian principles and human rights standards. We encourage Special Envoy Pedersen to finalize a political settlement by and through the Syrian people, and we must see full implementation of Resolution 2254, including a political settlement, a nationwide ceasefire, and unhindered humanitarian access.

In 2015, this Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2254, calling for the drafting of a new constitution within six months and an election in 18 months. We fully support the efforts of Special Envoy Pedersen to revitalize the political process without any further delays.

A political process will be futile, however, unless hostilities end across Syria. Shelling and airstrikes have displaced more than 70,000 Syrians since February alone. The United States is gravely concerned by the recent escalation and by the Russian Federation and Syrian regime’s joint strikes in the de-militarized zone. These attacks on civilian infrastructure and innocent Syrians, including members of the White Helmets, must end immediately.

Mr. President, we’ve also heard from our UN colleagues that food delivered to 42,000 IDPs in Rukban last month has already run out. The United States strongly supports the UN request for a third convoy to Rukban, and we call on the Russian Federation, as should the rest of this Council, to press the Syrian regime to allow humanitarian agencies access to vulnerable populations throughout Syria.

We reiterate that the United States and its local partners are not impeding departures from Rukban. Rather, for the past year, Syria’s allies have obstructed efforts of this Council to ensure the regime handles the issue of Rukban humanely and in a manner consistent with humanitarian principles. The United States appeals directly to the Russian Federation to work with us in finding a way to assist the Syrian people. We welcome increased coordination to facilitate return of displaced persons, wherever they may be. However, such a process must be closely coordinated with the UN. IDPs should have access to accurate information as to what awaits them, including the availability of services, access to the civil registry, safe passage, and physical safety at their destination. All Syrians seeking relocation must be protected from arbitrary detention.

Mr. President, we’re also deeply concerned about the situation in Al Hol camp, where 70,000 civilians currently reside, 90 percent of whom are women and children. Humanitarians are working around the clock to respond, but are constrained by capacity. We encourage countries to contribute to the response, as the UN recently outlined in its emergency appeal for Al Hol.

Mr. President, efforts to release detainees held by the Assad regime and Syrian opposition groups have stalled under the auspices of the Astana Guarantors. Meanwhile, the regime continues to arbitrarily arrest, torture, and execute detainees. The United States supports a UN-led approach to address detainee issues.

A key component of accountability is recognizing the rights of victims and transitional justice. That’s why the United States recently announced our intention to provide $2 million in support of the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism. We hope fellow Member States will continue to support the important work of the IIIM.

Mr. President, to end on a positive note, the liberation of territory once held by ISIS in Syria is now 100 percent complete. Moreover, in an incredible display of commitment, 60 members of the international community came together this month to pledge $7 billion to humanitarian aid to Syria. The extraordinary nature of pledges this month reflects the recognition that this conflict and its impact on the Syrian people are far from over.

I thank you for your attention.