Thank you, Foreign Minister Blok, for chairing this meeting. And thank you to Under-Secretary-General Lowcock for once again laying out the facts about what’s happening in Syria. I also want to personally welcome Karen Pierce to the Council, and I know all of us here look forward to working with you, though today we have a very difficult subject to address.
Siege. Starve. And surrender. This is the awful, unceasing rhythm of the Syrian war. As we meet here today, the third step – surrender – is taking place in eastern Ghouta. After years of enduring siege and starvation, residents are surrendering eastern Ghouta. The terrible irony of this moment must be stated and acknowledged: in the 30 days since the Security Council demanded a ceasefire, the bombardment of the people of eastern Ghouta has only increased. And now, at the end of the so-called ceasefire, eastern Ghouta has nearly fallen.
History will not be kind when it judges the effectiveness of this Council in relieving the suffering of the Syrian people. Seventeen hundred Syrian civilians were killed in just the last month alone. Hospitals and ambulances are deliberately targeted with bombs and artillery. Schools are hit, like the school in eastern Ghouta that was bombed just last week, killing 15 children. Siege. Starve. And surrender.
I would ask my Security Council colleagues to consider whether we are wrong when we point to Russian and Iranian forces working alongside Assad as being responsible for this slaughter. Russia voted for the so-called “ceasefire” in Syria last month. More than that, Russia took its time painstakingly negotiating the resolution demanding the ceasefire.
And if you watched closely during the negotiations, we could see our Russian friends constantly leaving the room to confer with their Syrian counterparts. The possibilities for what was going on are only two – either Russia was informing their Syrian colleagues about the content of the negotiations, or Russia was taking directions from the Syrian colleagues about the content of the negotiations. Either way, Russia cynically negotiated a ceasefire it instantly defied.
Russia even had the audacity to claim that Russia is the only Council member implementing Resolution 2401. How can this possibly be true when in the first four days after the “ceasefire,” Russian military aircraft conducted at least 20 daily bombing missions on Damascus and eastern Ghouta? And the people of Syria remained under siege. The so-called ceasefire was intended to allow humanitarian access to sick and starving civilians.
Russia even doubled down on its cynicism by proposing 5-hour pauses in the fighting. They said they were necessary to allow humanitarian convoys to get through. But Russian and Syrian bombs continue to prevent the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Only after territory falls into the hands of the Assad government and its allies is food and medicine allowed to be delivered. The Russian and Syrian rationalization is that they have to continue to bomb in eastern Ghouta in order to combat what they call “terrorists.” This is a transparent excuse for the Russians and Assad to maintain their assault.
Meanwhile, from the very beginning, the opposition groups in eastern Ghouta expressed their readiness to implement the ceasefire. They told this Council they welcomed the resolution. Russia’s response was to call these groups terrorists and keep pummeling civilians into submission. And the people of Syria continue to starve.
Last week, after Syrian civilians had spent years barely surviving, an agreement was reached to allow them to leave eastern Ghouta. And who brokered it? Russia. And so we see the cycle being completed. The people of eastern Ghouta are surrendering.
This is the ugly reality on the ground in Syria today. Cynical accusations of bad faith from Russia will not stop us from speaking out. And their blatantly false narratives will not keep us from telling the world about Russia’s central role in bombing the Syrian people into submission.
Fifteen days ago, when it was apparent that the Russian, Syrian, and Iranian regimes were utterly ignoring the ceasefire, the United States developed a plan for a tougher and more targeted ceasefire focused on Damascus City and eastern Ghouta.
Despite overwhelming evidence that the ceasefire was being ignored, some of our colleagues urged us to give Resolution 2401 a chance to work. Reluctantly, we agreed and put off introducing the resolution. Now, eastern Ghouta is over 80 percent controlled by Assad and his allies. Their deception, hypocrisy, and brutality have overtaken the chance of a ceasefire in eastern Ghouta. And for that, we should all be ashamed.
If we were upholding our responsibility as a Security Council, we would pass a resolution today recognizing the reality of what happened in eastern Ghouta. A responsible Security Council would condemn Syrian authorities, along with Russia and Iran, for launching a military offensive to seize eastern Ghouta the same day that we called for a ceasefire.
A responsible Security Council would condemn the Assad regime for deliberately blocking convoys of humanitarian aid during their military campaign and for removing medical items from convoys that attempted to reach eastern Ghouta. A responsible Security Council would recognize that the provision of humanitarian aid was never safe, unimpeded, or sustained, and that there was no lifting of sieges.
A responsible Security Council would express its outrage that at least 1,700 civilians were killed during a military campaign that we demanded to come to a halt. Seventeen hundred civilians who should have been spared in the ceasefire we demanded, but who died on our watch.
But we cannot. We cannot take these actions because Russia will stop at nothing to use its permanent seat on this Council to shield its ally Bashar Al-Assad from even the faintest criticism. And we cannot take these actions because instead of calling out how Assad, Russia, and Iran made a mockery of our calls for a ceasefire, too many members of this Council wanted to wait.
This is a travesty. This should be a day of shame for every member of this Council. And it should be a lesson about what happens when we focus on fleeting displays of unity, instead of on what’s right. For those who think otherwise, the people of eastern Ghouta deserve an explanation.