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
January 29, 2020


Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you, Under-Secretary-General Lowcock for your briefing this morning. Since this Council met last month, the humanitarian crisis in Syria has significantly deteriorated, as we have seen and heard. The lives of millions of civilians are now at even greater risk as the combined forces of the Assad regime, Russia, the Iranian regime, and Hizballah escalate their offensive to cement a military – not a political – end to the conflict in Syria.

Russia has denied principled humanitarian aid for those in need throughout Syria for over eight years. Now, with China blindly following its lead, Russia has escalated its campaign to restrict humanitarian access in Syria through a cynical and politicized effort to undermine the cross-border resolution. The step taken by Russia and China on January 10 to drastically reduce aid delivery is part of a clear strategy to completely sever the cross-border lifeline on which four million people rely. We cannot let that happen. This Council must work with, not against, humanitarian partners on the most important task at hand – ensuring that humanitarian assistance reaches the millions of civilians in need across Syria, including in the northeast, where more than one million lives hang in the balance.

The closure of the Yaroubia crossing halted approximately 40 percent, 40 percent, of UN medical equipment and supplies to civilians in northeast Syria. At al-Hol camp, the amount of critical medical supplies was cut overnight by 60 to 70 percent. Other items that routinely crossed Yaroubia included kits that helped combat water-borne illnesses, supplies for child protection and education activities that reached thousands of traumatized children, and life-saving nutrition services for tens of thousands of children and pregnant mothers. These entirely preventable cuts in aid confirm what we already know: there is not a single good reason for this border crossing to have ever been closed. The United States looks forward to the Secretary-General’s report to the Council, which should include a clear and specific analysis of whether there are feasible alternatives to Yaroubia. We expect the report will document the access restraints facing UN agencies and other humanitarians operating in the country.

There are those on this Council who question why UN aid cannot simply be delivered in a rapid, unhindered manner through Damascus. The answer to that is clear. The Assad regime is using humanitarian aid as a weapon of collective punishment against Syrian civilians – a strategy that, sadly, is not new. Take for example the situation at the internally displaced persons camp in Rukban. It has required enormous effort to convince Russia and the regime to agree to three humanitarian deliveries in the past 18 months. We cannot allow Rukban to serve as a model for how we deliver aid in Syria, where Russia and the regime time, time and again refuse, restrict, and delay the delivery of life-saving aid to a population entirely reliant on humanitarian assistance. This Council should not accept such a bleak reality for the millions of Syrians counting on us to ease their suffering.

This brings me to another disturbing example of the Russians and their ally, the regime, knowingly exacerbating humanitarian tragedy: the offensive in northwest Syria. As we have just heard in the last two days alone, 20,000 civilians were forced to flee their homes in Idlib and western Aleppo, due to a barrage of airstrikes and artillery fire launched by the combined forces of the Assad regime, Russia, the Iranian regime, and Hizballah. These airstrikes have continued unabated – striking more than 50 communities since January 14 and killing at least 50 civilians. Russia and the regime are writing their military strategy in Syrian blood.

The United States offers its full support to the UN Board of Inquiry mandated to investigate attacks that have struck UN and UN-supported facilities in northwest Syria, for which the regime and Russia are overwhelmingly responsible. We will continue to support the Board of Inquiry in its work and encourage all member states to do the same. The United States remains eager to work with its partners in this Council to ensure unhindered humanitarian access to all Syrians, regardless of who controls the territory. Thank you.