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

Michael Barkin
Senior Policy Advisor
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
October 24, 2019


Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Assistant Secretary-General Mueller, Assistant Secretary-General Khiari, and Director Marcaillo, for your sobering assessments.

The United States welcomed yesterday’s announcement that Turkey would halt its offensive in northeast Syria and agree to a permanent ceasefire. As a result, U.S. Treasury sanctions imposed on October 14th have been lifted. Unfortunately, as was noted in the briefing, the events of the past week have resulted in the displacement of as many as 180,000 people in a country where more than 11 million people already depend on international aid. Nearly 10,000 have become refugees in northern Iraq.

The United States remains committed to ensuring the security and stability of Syria. This is precisely why last week Vice President Pence and Secretary Pompeo traveled to Ankara, where after intense deliberations, Turkey committed to a five-day pause in operations in northeast Syria to enable the withdrawal of the YPG from the Turkish border. The October 17 Joint Statement paved the way for a permanent ceasefire. We are hopeful, based on assurances from Turkish and Syrian Democratic Forces authorities, that the permanent ceasefire will be honored; civilian lives will be protected; and the hard-fought territorial defeat of ISIS will be preserved. This is a solution that will save lives and contribute to long-term stability in the region.

As President Trump made clear, Turkey must protect civilians in northeast Syria. We also expect Turkey to abide by its commitments to prevent ISIS from regaining a foothold in Syria, and to ensure the secure, humane detention of ISIS fighters. We remain deeply troubled by reports that Turkish Supported Opposition forces deliberately targeted civilians. If verified, these actions may constitute war crimes, and we urge our Turkish partners to immediately investigate these incidents and hold accountable any individuals or entities involved. Turkey is responsible for ensuring its forces and any Turkish-supported entities act in accordance with the law of armed conflict.

Mr. President, while much of our attention this past week has been on northeast Syria, we cannot not lose sight of the fact that we may be on the precipice of the largest individual humanitarian catastrophe since the conflict began – one driven by the Assad regime and its allies in northwest Syria. The United States is closely monitoring reports of the recent uptick in airstrikes and shelling in the Idlib province, where more than 400,000 people have been displaced since April. Any military escalation in Idlib province is reckless and poses a grave threat to regional stability, three million civilian lives, and the UN’s ability to deliver humanitarian assistance to a vulnerable population.

Once again, the United States calls on the Assad regime and its allies to cease military operations in Idlib and uphold the September 2018 Turkish-Russian ceasefire agreement. The United States fully expects attacks on hospitals and other civilian infrastructure to cease. We fully expect all parties to support the Board of Inquiry’s work. And, we fully expect the UN Security Council’s authorization of both life-saving cross border aid and regular humanitarian aid to reach every single Syrian in need, regardless of their location in the country.

To facilitate aid distribution, the UN and its implementing partners must have the freedom of movement required to implement cross-border aid deliveries through all agreed border crossings, in line with resolution 2449. Our commitment to the most vulnerable can be seen in the fact that the United States remains the largest donor of humanitarian aid in Syria. We will not waver in this commitment. But we must also stress that no single donor can address all of Syria’s needs. We urge others to contribute additional funding to support stabilization programming and humanitarian assistance.

Looking to this future, this Council cannot forget that resolution 2254 demands that all parties immediately cease attacks against civilian targets, support efforts to achieve a ceasefire and unhindered humanitarian access, and requests the United Nations to convene the parties to engage in formal negotiations on the political process. We are now mere days from the first meeting of the Constitutional Committee. More than ever, it is vital that this political process moves forward. The Council must spare no effort to support UN Special Envoy Pedersen’s work to convene the Constitutional Committee, so that the people of Syria might at last find peace within reach.

Thank you.