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

Ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet
Acting Deputy Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
December 19, 2019


Assistant Secretary-General Mueller, thank you for your briefing. And I join others in welcoming your excellency Mr. Al-Jarallah, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and also to commend Kuwait’s tenure on the Council and the strong partnership and leadership you have exhibited on several issues including the humanitarian issues that we are discussing today. We look forward to continuing our strong partnership with you.

A new year is on the horizon in Syria, and with it comes the hope not only that this Council’s efforts in the country will improve, but also that the 11 million Syrians who have endured years of suffering might see an end to this violent conflict.

However, before we look ahead to what the Council should do next year to improve humanitarian conditions in Syria, there is still one thing the Council must achieve in 2019, and that is the renewal of the life-saving provisions of the Security Council’s cross-border aid mandate, Resolution 2165.

The United States rises alongside the Secretary-General; OCHA; the millions of Syrians who depend on this resolution; and UN implementors to demand the renewal of the resolution’s provisions for all existing crossings. As we set our intentions for the new year, we do see several achievable steps this Council can take to demonstrate our commitment to real peace for Syrians in 2020.

First, the Council can and should do much more to demand that the parties on the ground verifiably improve humanitarian access. In 2020, no Syrian should be denied life-saving assistance because they live in an area not under regime control, or fear that military operations by the Assad regime, Russia, or any other party will cause UN aid convoys to turn back before completing a delivery.

We call on the Assad regime and the Russian Federation to uphold an immediate cessation of hostilities in northwest Syria, and in the rest of the country. A ceasefire is essential to addressing the needs of the people in Idlib, and to honoring commitments made by Presidents Putin and Erdogan in Sochi in 2018.

The regime’s cynical strategy of attacking its own population while asking the international community to provide reconstruction assistance to Damascus will not go without a response. But our response cannot come at the expense of innocent victims; rather, the Council must redouble its commitment to the political process outlined in resolution 2254, and its promise to reform how the Assad regime treats the Syrian people.

Second, the Security Council must take steps to increase the quality and quantity of UN regular access to Syria, which remains at just 30 percent of the desired level. The UN must be allowed to expand operations to areas including southwest Syria, Homs, and the Damascus suburbs.

For too long, the world has watched the Assad regime block the delivery of food, medicine, and other humanitarian relief to reassert control over the Syrian people. Next year, the Council must work together and press Damascus to permit the UN to have regular and unhindered access to people in need throughout the country.

Third, we ask that this Council support humanitarian access to northeast Syria for all relevant partners, including the UN and other international humanitarian organizations. Access to northeast Syria is critical to ensuring that communities recovering from the scourge of ISIS can receive the provisions they need. It is equally critical to ensuring ISIS cannot reemerge in Iraq and Syria.

Finally, the Council must remain united in its efforts to keep the UN at the center of any attempts to facilitate the principled return of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons to a place of their choosing.

The United States is alarmed by reports that over 150 people who voluntarily left the Rukban encampment for Homs were arrested and arbitrarily detained by the regime, and that this was carried out despite the UN, the United States, and the Russian Federation working together to facilitate safe and informed departures.

We call for the immediate release of these civilians in regime custody, and for the regime to stop its use of torture and the denial of due process. The Council must not retreat from its commitment to ensure that conditions on the ground are verifiably safe for people to return home after years of war.

The United States believes that with focus and effort, the Council can achieve the goals I’ve just described in the next 12 months. Doing so would represent a meaningful and necessary step toward a more lasting peace, in line with Resolution 2254—a peace that will allow the Syrian people to at last begin the work of rebuilding their lives.

Thank you.