Thank you, Assistant Secretary-General Mueller, for your briefing.
This Council met just last week and heard the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs describe his visit to Syria and reiterate a series of requests that, in his estimation, would be a positive step towards improving the humanitarian situation in Syria. Sadly, not only have none of these requests been approved by the Syrian regime, but that the situation in places like eastern Ghouta continues to deteriorate beyond our worst imagination.
To the surprise of nobody, cross-line deliveries in Syria, particularly to besieged and hard-to-reach areas, remain stalled. In fact, there have been no UN interagency convoys – anywhere – for more than six weeks and no convoys to a besieged area for more than eight weeks.
We deplore what are, frankly, starve-and-siege tactics preventing the distribution of aid, which must be needs-based.
As a result, many families are going without the most basic food, medicine, and other supplies required for survival. Hospitals reuse syringes and other medical items meant for single use. And, during the coldest months of winter, families who have run out of fuel and cooking oil burn household items to stay warm. This is happening in Ghouta and elsewhere throughout Syria.
We need an immediate, unconditional humanitarian pause in Eastern Ghouta, where the impact of air strikes and artillery shelling on the civilian infrastructure has forced additional school and medical clinic closures. These bombings continued over the weekend, further proving that any supposed ceasefire in the area was merely aspirational.
We reiterate the need to evacuate hundreds of critically ill people trapped in Eastern Ghouta. We have seen no movement on this issue since late December, and the list continues to grow. Just a few weeks ago, we were hearing that the medical evacuation list contained 600 names, including hundreds of children. Now that list has grown to at least 750 people, according to the UN staff on the ground.
And, just over the weekend, the UN reported that another critically ill person from Ghouta’s medical evacuation list died due to lack of medical treatment. These deaths are senseless and reflect the Syrian regime’s depraved disregard for human life. Gratuitous cruelty such as this suggests that the regime’s siege of East Ghouta is directed not at the armed opposition, but against the civilian population. And we need not remind those on this Council that a siege directed against civilians is a violation of international humanitarian law.
We also appreciate that Sweden and Kuwait worked on a draft PRST to address these dire humanitarian challenges. The overwhelming majority of Council members agree that we must be clear in demanding that Syrian authorities allow immediate medical evacuations and cross-line assistance. When we have hundreds of thousands of Syrians besieged by the regime and starving due to the regime’s actions, these demands are the very least that the Council can make.
We would also like to take a moment to thank the Government of Jordan for facilitating an extraordinary delivery of humanitarian assistance in mid-January to the internally displaced population stranded at Rukban. This population now has food and relief items for one month.
But we continue to wait for the Syrian regime’s formal approval for the UN to begin cross-line aid deliveries to this vulnerable population from Damascus. The UN submitted its proposal in mid-November and has still received no response. All arrangements have been made for these deliveries to begin as soon as possible. The Syrian regime must only grant its approval and stand out of the way for life-saving assistance to reach those in need.
And as we heard earlier today, members of the Security Council visited yesterday the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and saw the exhibit about the Syrian regime’s arbitrary detention and torture of more than 100,000 civilians. The name of the exhibit is “Don’t Forget Us.” We should bear this in mind and what this Syrian regime is capable of doing as we discuss yet again what is taking place in Eastern Ghouta and elsewhere in Syria.