Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Humanitarian Situation in Syria

Rodney Hunter
Political Coordinator
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
December 13, 2018


Thank you, Mr. President.

Thank you, Under-Secretary-General Lowcock, for your briefing. Once again, we commend the very important work OCHA and your humanitarian partners do on a daily basis to help the Syrian people. Your briefings shed light on the facts regarding Syrians in need of help and the humanitarian system’s ability to reach them. And this helps us make decisions in this Council based on the realities on the ground and not on political spin, so thank you.

The United States is proud to have voted in favor of the renewal of the Resolution 2165 for another 12 months. I’d like to commend Sweden and Kuwait for their stewardship over the negotiations to ensure that the Council’s deliberations on the continuation of the UN’s vital cross-border humanitarian aid mechanism remained focused on the needs of Syrian people, millions of whom have received life-sustaining aid from Resolution 2165’s humanitarian aid mechanism since the mandate was first adopted by the this Council four years ago.

Today’s vote to continue cross-border humanitarian deliveries will ensure that food, clothing, shelter, and medical supplies reach on average one million people in Syria each month. The UN’s cross-border mechanism is transparent, it’s effective, and it’s essential for improving humanitarian conditions inside Syria.

In the face of this astounding humanitarian need, the United States remains the single largest humanitarian donor to the Syria crisis, having provided over $9 billion in humanitarian aid to those most in need since the start of the conflict. We are proud of our unwavering commitment to support the Syrian people, and we will continue it.

But we need to be clear that conditions in Syria are not changing for the better, even though some would like us to think they are. In 2018, the Assad regime attacked civilian populations using chemical weapons, airstrikes, and barrel bombs to reassert control over half of the territory.

Even as the regime has seized more territory, the truth is that humanitarian needs are getting worse. In Syria today there are 13 million people – over 70 percent of the country’s population – in need of humanitarian assistance. And by far most of the people who need assistance are in areas controlled by the regime. That’s because, like always, the Assad regime seeks to punish the Syrian people and not to help them.

When we look at the significant gaps in humanitarian access in eastern Ghouta, in Idlib, in Rukban; when we look at the ongoing instability of the security situation and the hundreds of thousands who remain arbitrarily detained in regime prisons, it’s clear that the conditions in Syria are still very dire and for many Syrians remain very dangerous. These conditions are not conducive to the facilitation of large-scale returns of refugees. Now is not the time to be pushing Syrians to return home.

Until the Assad regime lives up to commitments to provide regular, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access and fully engage in a political transition in line with Resolution 2254, the United States and our partners will not consider providing reconstruction funds for Syria absent irreversible political progress.

It is a sad reality of the Syrian conflict that the Assad regime remains committed to using humanitarian access and aid as political tool. Damascus, to this day, has not approved UN aid convoys to access Idlib where 3 million people can only be reached through the cross-border mechanism. The people of Rukban are once again waiting on the regime to facilitate a second aid convoy. The uncertainty around humanitarian access and the regime’s unwillingness to uphold humanitarian principles, Mr. President, is why a 12-month renewal of Resolution 2165 was so critical.

Make no mistake that the United States looks forward to the day when this mandate is no longer needed because, one, there’s no risk of further military escalation by the regime or its allies and, two, because we see tangible improvements in unhindered and sustained access throughout Syria. However, it is clear from Under-Secretary-General Lowcock’s briefing today that humanitarian conditions in Syria remain dire; security conditions are fragile and, in some areas, remain very dangerous. Cross-line and cross-border access remains vital for millions of Syrian civilians who rely on the continuation of this resolution’s mechanism for life-sustaining aid.

Unfortunately, Mr. President, the risks of even greater humanitarian suffering in Syria remain high absent tangible progress toward a political solution through the formation of a constitutional committee and due to troubling reports and indications of a potential military escalation in Idlib despite the fragile ceasefire held together by the Turkey-Russia brokered de-militarized zone. Let me repeat, Mr. President, that any military escalation in Idlib would be catastrophic for the millions of non-combatants there and for the stability of Syria’s neighbors.

Last week, my government made public our analysis that pro-regime forces likely used teargas against civilians in Aleppo on November 24, and then the Assad regime and Russia falsely accused the opposition and extremist groups of conducting a chlorine attack. We believe the intention behind Damascus and Moscow’s disinformation campaign was to use the alleged attack to undermine confidence in the ceasefire in Idlib.

Given the grave humanitarian consequences of a break in the Idlib ceasefire, it is important that Council members should do all that they can to can to ensure the ceasefire holds. Efforts must move forward to form the constitutional committee as quickly as possible. Russia’s promises to actively support the UN’s efforts to convene the committee have yet to be fulfilled, and the December 31 deadline laid out in the Istanbul Summit statement is rapidly approaching.

Mr. President, few places exemplify humanitarian need as much as Rukban, where once again a UN shipment of humanitarian assistance is delayed. The United States is gravely concerned by the humanitarian conditions in Rukban and calls on the Assad regime and the Russian Federation to take all necessary steps to urgently facilitate the next aid convoy.

The UN has underscored the need to move with a sense of urgency. Winterization supplies are urgently needed in the camp. And UNICEF stands ready to conduct another round of critical children’s immunizations. It should be noted that the vaccinations are time-sensitive.

This should not be a complicated or contentious process. The United States and Russia worked successfully together to make a humanitarian delivery possible in November. It is important that we, the United States and Russia, work together with the UN again now to secure a second delivery to Rukban this month as agreed.

Progress is possible. Let us spare no effort to facilitate an immediate delivery. There is no time for further delays. The United States is ready to move forward with the second delivery to Rukban immediately and with the convening of the constitutional committee immediately. The Syrian people are still counting on this Council, so we call on our fellow Council members and the Syrian regime and its allies, to join in our sense of urgency and resolve these issues without further delay.

Thank you, Mr. President.