Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Under Secretary-General Lowcock, for your briefing. As always, you inform us and put the gravity of Syria’s humanitarian situation in perspective.
First, given all of the interesting accusations we heard earlier, I want to make a few points crystal clear. The 75 members of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS joined forces to liberate people from ISIS control in Iraq, and the Coalition continues our campaign to eradicate ISIS in Syria. Despite the difficulty of this task, our operations have succeeded in rolling back the so-called ISIS caliphate and addressing a dire threat to our collective peace and security. The Coalition made these gains while the Assad regime, and its backers, focused their guns mostly on the Syrian opposition groups that weren’t ISIS terrorists. While we went after ISIS, and actually achieved lasting gains, the Assad regime was busy bombarding civilians in places like Aleppo, Idlib, and eastern Ghouta.
The Coalition’s operations were carried out in scrupulous regard for the laws of war and to minimize civilian casualties. In Raqqa, our partners conducted a neighborhood by neighborhood evacuation of civilians ISIS had trapped in the city.
The United States will once again put on the record that UN humanitarian convoys are welcome at any time in Raqqa or Rukhban. We welcome this assistance and are ready to do everything that we can to assist it. A UN inter-agency team successfully carried out an assessment in Raqqa just two weeks ago. In Rukhban, Coalition forces are also acting to support humanitarian efforts, and have worked with the UN and other partners to provide requested details on operational security and medevacs. The bottom line is that the United States is ready to support humanitarian deliveries. The delay, as always, continues to be whether the Assad regime will grant permission for the UN’s convoys to move.
We keep hearing in this chamber about mine clearance in Raqqa. Removing unexploded ordinance is one of our top priorities when it comes to stabilizing the area. So far, we have cleared almost 3,000 explosive remnants of war. We have cleared almost 300 critical infrastructure sites, provided mine risk education for 40,000 people, and trained over 120 Syrians to conduct demining operations. This task is not easy, thanks to the quantity of munitions ISIS left behind. But we recognize this work is vital to ensure Syrians can return home safely.
On top of mine clearance in Raqqa, we have provided more than $50 million in food and non-food items to the most vulnerable. For example, we have given close to 300,000 pounds of food and 151 million liters of water to more than 195,000 people.
I could go on and talk about the schools and medical clinics we have supported, or our efforts to restore electricity. We would be happy to brief our fellow Council members at any time on these details.
The issue is that we’re not here to educate ourselves about the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS’ work in Raqqa and our continued efforts to facilitate cross-line delivery into Rukhban. Russia has called us here as part of a messaging campaign to try to distract from the atrocities committed by the Assad regime. In order to do that, Russia has asked this Council to focus its attention on the one part of Syria where the Assad regime isn’t pummeling civilians to death with barrel bombs or banned chemical weapons.
Consider what has taken place since this Security Council demanded a ceasefire in Resolution 2401. On February 24, the Council demanded a halt to the fighting in Syria. Instead, the same day the resolution was adopted, the Assad regime flagrantly disregarded it. The Assad regime, and its backers, ignored this Council and launched an all-out campaign to seize eastern Ghouta. This campaign culminated with the use of chemical weapons against innocent men, women, and children. Over 151,000 civilians were displaced.
Now fighting is escalating in northwestern Syria. Between April 2 and April 7, Syrian and Russian airstrikes damaged four medical facilities in this part of the country – A disturbing repeat of previous circumstances. Between mid-March and early April, airstrikes reportedly killed another 188 civilians and injured 120 others.
In addition to a ceasefire, the Council has also called again and again for unhindered humanitarian access in Syria. However, since the beginning of 2018, the Syrian authorities have only allowed six crossline interagency convoys to deliver humanitarian aid – six. That is just 5 percent of the cross line assistance requested by the UN.
More than ever, we need to focus on ensuring that this Council’s demands for a ceasefire and for unhindered humanitarian access actually get implemented on the ground. But that would require the Assad regime to stop its brutal campaign against the Syrian people, and the countries with influence over Assad to join us in demanding that the Assad regime stop its senseless killing of the Syrian people. The United States will not stop focusing on the ways to achieve that goal, no matter how many times our Russian colleagues convene these cynical, thinly disguised diversions. Thank you.