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

Ambassador Michele J. Sison
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
November 29, 2017


Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Under-Secretary-General Lowcock, for your briefing. Under-Secretary-General Lowcock, you warned us today about dire conditions in the besieged community of eastern Ghouta. You warned us about children on their death bed due to severe acute malnutrition and about hundreds of sick people who desperately need to be evacuated for life-saving treatment. In fact, you’ve been giving us these warnings for months.

One Syrian mother in eastern Ghouta is running out of options. This mother reportedly came into a clinic recently, and she was crying as she brought in her four malnourished children to be treated. But what this mother told the clinic’s doctor was shocking to hear, even for a doctor working in the midst of one of the world’s worst warzones. The mother said that all she could do was give her four children damp pieces of newspaper to chew on so the children would stop screaming. That’s all she had left: damp pieces of newspaper to feed her children.

So to my colleagues around this table, tomorrow morning when we pick up a newspaper, we need to think about what this mother is going through. And realize that this is just one family. This is just one family out of the nearly 400,000 people living under siege in this region just a short drive away from Damascus.

You could say that it’s ironic that eastern Ghouta is a so-called de-escalation area. But it is no coincidence that, in the past week, dozens of civilians have died from relentless airstrikes and shelling there. It’s no coincidence that these airstrikes were carried out by the Assad regime with the support of the Russian government. The Syrian regime is pummeling a population of starving, desperate people that has been cut off from food and medicine for months. It’s the latest version of the Assad regime’s despicable “starve and surrender” strategy.

The objective is not peace, but domination, and the regime doesn’t even try to hide its strategy. This month, the Assad regime only allowed the UN to make one shipment of aid to a besieged area. This is one delivery, and it helped 21,500 people. But 398,000 other Syrians living in eastern Ghouta and nine other besieged areas got nothing. They got no food, no medicine, no vaccines. They will spend another month collecting whatever scraps of food they can find, or when that fails, chewing on things like grass or damp newspapers.

Moreover, the two and a half million civilians living in hard-to-reach areas are also deeply suffering and struggling to survive. In October, thanks to the Assad regime’s strategy of denying aid to its political opponents, the UN could only deliver humanitarian assistance to about six percent of this population. But the cruelty doesm’t end there.

The Assad regime and its allies like Hizballah steal pieces of assistance out of UN convoys all the time. They have taken out more than 630,000 medical items from UN trucks since the beginning of 2017. The regime and its thugs grab surgical gloves, ultrasound equipment, ventilators, and, as we all heard, even formula for infants from UN trucks before they reach the Syrians in need.

Now, some members of the Council urge us to put more faith in the Assad regime. They ask us to trust that the regime will allow for aid deliveries. They act like the regime makes decisions for the best interests of the Syrian people. But why would we ever expect a regime that literally steals medicine from the sick to do the right thing? Why would we ever expect a regime that has spent years starving Syria into submission to do the right thing? Why would we ever expect a regime that has gassed its own people, fire-bombed its cities, and turned its schools and hospitals into rubble to do the right thing for its people?

So one thing is clear: those countries with influence over the Assad regime must use their influence. This is especially true of Russia, which is both a permanent member of the Council and a nation that has stated its commitment to a Syria political process. We must all demand that every besieged area and all civilians in need receive assistance. We must all demand that Assad and the regime’s allied militias stop plundering aid provided by the UN. It’s a simple message, but one that the Assad regime has virtually never accepted in the history of this conflict.

We as members of this Security Council have another extremely important responsibility coming up. In December, this Council must renew the authorization for cross-border deliveries of assistance into Syria, which was originally granted in Resolution 2165. The consequences of this mandate are enormous. It’s not an exaggeration to say that renewing this mandate is a life or death question.

Since 2014, the UN has conducted more than 663 cross-border convoys with 16,844 trucks of aid passing through border crossings approved by the Security Council. And on average, this assistance reaches more than 1 million Syrians every month. Again, 1 million people get assistance as a result of a mandate from this Security Council. We can only imagine the number of lives saved from this one resolution.

To give just one example, in October, the World Health Organization sent supplies for 9 healthcare facilities and 80,567 people through two cross-border deliveries. More than 546,600 Syrians benefited from access to clean water through cross-border shipments in October as well.

So we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of Syrians who won’t get sick this month because of this Council’s cross-border assistance mandate. And we can’t forget that this cross-border assistance is closely monitored too. The UN Monitoring mechanism looked at 420 trucks used in 20 shipments in October. For each truck, the Monitoring Mechanism confirmed that every delivery was humanitarian and notified Syrian authorities of what was in it and where it went.

So despite our divisions on Syria, this Council’s rare moment of unity on cross-border assistance has had a vital impact. We managed to set politics aside and come together to establish this mandate, and then renew it for each of the last two years. We must once again stand with the Syrian people and renew this authorization. The lives of far too many Syrians depend on us living up to our responsibility to help.

Thank you, Mr. President.