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

Ambassador Kelley Currie
U.S. Representative for Economic and Social Affairs
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
February 22, 2018


Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Under-Secretary-General Lowcock, for your briefing – particularly how you noted the systematic targeting of civilians in eastern Ghouta and the toll that that is taking on the people there.

Yesterday, Russia’s Permanent Representative requested this meeting in order to “make sure that all parties can present their vision.” The vision that Mr. Lowcock presented today is one, as the Secretary-General and other members have quoted him in saying, of “hell on earth” for the people of eastern Ghouta. I also would like to share the vision of some of the people of eastern Ghouta.

Bilal is 22 years old with a wife who is five months pregnant. Bilal says, “We are waiting our turn to die. This is the only thing I can say.”

Abdullah is a construction worker with a wife and six children. Abdullah says, “Bombs were falling everywhere near our house. We have been spending the last week digging into the rubble of nearby areas with our bare hands.”

Malik is a doctor treating the wounded. Malik says, “The hospitals have been overflowing with blood. We are doing what we can to help, but the situation is becoming unbearable.”

These are just a few of the overwhelming number of horrific stories coming out of eastern Ghouta every day. The pictures and videos are everywhere. Screaming parents digging through rubble to find their children. Doctors working frantically with no medicine and no equipment in underground hospitals to save whoever they can. These are not terrorists showing up in these makeshift emergency rooms. These are civilians. They are ordinary people under attack by a barbaric Assad regime that is bent on leaving eastern Ghouta leveled to the ground, with no regard for the 400,000 men, women, and children who live there.

No one needs to use their imagination to know what the Assad regime is planning. It is exactly what we saw in Aleppo in 2016 and in Hama and Homs before that. The Assad regime wants to bomb or starve all of their opponents into submission. That is why, except for two small deliveries of aid, the regime has not allowed any medical convoys or deliveries of food into eastern Ghouta since November. And the bombing attacks have been relentless. The regime wants to keep bombing and gassing these 400,000 people. And the Assad regime is counting on Russia to make sure this Security Council is unable to stop their suffering.

Yesterday, the Russian Permanent Representative asked for the parties to present their vision and has put forward a deeply cynical one today. You also now have heard from the UN’s humanitarian lead and the people like Bilal, Abdullah, and Malik. The assault from the regime is relentless, and the suffering is overwhelming.

The Russian Permanent Representative also asked that we “come up with ways of getting out of this situation.” Yet it appears to be intent on blocking any meaningful effort to do so.

None of us on this Council need to look very far for the way out. Thanks to the tireless efforts of our colleagues from Kuwait and Sweden, the way is sitting in front of us. We have a draft resolution establishing a 30-day ceasefire to help shield the people of eastern Ghouta to allow for deliveries of food and medicine to arrive.

All 15 of us have spent the past three weeks negotiating this text, patiently attempting to work with each other, including the Russian delegation. And we believed we had an agreed text. There are no surprises here.

The United States is ready to vote on this resolution right here and right now. All of us should be ready. Sweden and Kuwait have consulted everyone on this text. They have done their part. There is no reason to delay. Literally the minute this meeting ends, this Council can take the clearest possible step to help: vote for a ceasefire, and vote for humanitarian access.

What the people of eastern Ghouta need is not complicated. And don’t just take our word for it. The Red Cross head of delegation in Syria summed it up, “This is madness, and it has to stop.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid asked, “How much cruelty will it take before the international community can speak with one voice to say enough dead children, enough wrecked families, enough violence, and take resolute, concerted action to bring this monstrous campaign of annihilation to an end?”

UNICEF could hardly put words on a page. All UNICEF said in a haunting statement was, “No words will do justice to the children killed, their mothers, their fathers, and their loved ones.”

And Secretary-General made his point clearly yesterday. He supports the cessation of hostilities because, “eastern Ghouta cannot wait.”

Yesterday, Russia’s Permanent Representative asked what we should do about eastern Ghouta. The people of eastern Ghouta, UN officials, humanitarian and human rights leaders, and indeed pretty much the entirety of this Council have answered. Stop the bombing of eastern Ghouta. Allow medical assistance in.

The rest of the Council is ready to act. We urge the Council to move forward with this ceasefire and humanitarian resolution immediately. Thank you.