Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Humanitarian Situation in Syria (via VTC)

Ambassador Kelly Craft
Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
July 29, 2020


I would like to begin by thanking Under-Secretary-General Lowcock and Amany Qaddor of Syria Relief and Development for their briefings today. And I would to just open up with a quote, Amany, from CNN from you, which said “we talk about the ability to stay home and be on lockdown, and we see people rushing to stores right now. That is not something you have in Syria; you are not able to prepare for what appears to be an apocalypse and go get a month’s worth of food. You’re displaced, you’re out in the open in a tent that might not even have a door, and you cannot protect yourself from these threats, including the major threats of infectious disease.” And we cannot express our gratitude for the true emotions felt by you today and the fact that you are really defining public service and what it is to be a servant, the heart of a servant. So, I acknowledge this and truly felt that the small wins to you bring a huge perspective as they do to all of us. So, thank you so much for your briefing today.

The Council’s adoption of Resolution 2533 provides a lifeline and hope to millions of internally displaced persons in northwest Syria, who have relied on the UN’s cross-border humanitarian aid deliveries day-in and day-out over the past five years. They know now they will continue to receive life-saving food, shelter, and medicine for another year, including through the harsh winter months.

But, make no mistake, the continuation of the cross-border aid deliveries through a single crossing via Bab al-Hawa is fragile. The United States and the majority of members of this Council have demanded more crossings because we know they are necessary to address the needs of the Syrian people. Russia and China ruthlessly stand in that way.

Moscow and Beijing’s decision to veto two separate draft resolutions to deny the UN’s use of Bab al-Salaam for cross-border aid deliveries has left millions of Syrians in northwest Syria vulnerable and in need at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Resolution 2533 slows cross-border humanitarian aid deliveries and makes it more expensive for the UN and the major donors, like the United States. It also makes the brave humanitarian workers charged with transporting aid inside Syria more vulnerable to hostile fire. These humanitarian heroes are now more dependent than ever on a comprehensive nationwide ceasefire that to this day remains elusive, despite the relative calm in Idlib since the establishment of the Turkish-Russian de-escalation zone on March 5.

As the U.S. continues to be the largest single humanitarian donor to this operation – now totaling more than $11.3 billion in humanitarian assistance since the start of the conflict – it is our responsibility to ensure that every dollar given to the UN is effectively used to help as many Syrian civilians as possible. That is why the Trump Administration opposed Russia and China’s removal of Bab al-Salaam. Moscow and Beijing made a purely political and amoral choice to help the Assad regime re-assert more control over the lives of Syrians that he has shown no interest in protecting. Humanitarian access to the Syrians is now more difficult, costly, and dangerous. This is aid that is paid for largely by the United States and our European, Canadian, and Arab partners to support the Syrian civilians. Unlike Russia and China, the United States refuses to play politics with the lives of innocent Syrians.

We also have to remember the 1.3 million people who relied on the al-Yaroubia border crossing for life-saving assistance from Iraq. There is no doubt that Russia and China’s December 2019 vetoes of the Council’s re-authorization of al-Yaroubia and the Assad regime’s callous unwillingness to increase cross-line access have disrupted the region’s response to COVID-19 and caused a significant gap in health assistance.

Resolution 2533 must be a wake-up call to the international community. There is still no viable alternative to the UN cross-border operations, yet now, there is only a single crossing point for aid to get in. Cross-line deliveries from Damascus are not working. Cross-line deliveries are insufficient in the face of the growing humanitarian needs of the Syrian people. Most troubling, Assad is still unwilling to make the adjustments required to make cross-line assistance a viable alternative to cross-border. The U.S. will not accept the Assad regime’s policy of denying humanitarian aid to people living outside of its military control.

The routine denial of humanitarian aid by Damascus is, sadly, just one in a long list of the Assad regime’s atrocities – along with torture, the forced disappearances of more than one hundred thousand people, the dropping of barrel bombs, the multiple confirmed cases of chemical weapon attacks, the displacement of millions of Syrians, and other despicable acts. Through all of this, Russia and Iran have acted as a shield for the regime rather than a protector of the Syrian people.

Notably, regime forces and their affiliated mercenaries – including those supported by Iran – have yet to withdraw from the de-escalation zone as required by the Astana Agreement. The possibility of a Russian and regime resurgence can happen at any moment, as large numbers of reinforcements arrived outside Jabal al-Zawiya, al-Arba’in, Saraqeb, and Kabinah. Over the past three weeks, the frontline in south Idlib has witnessed a major reconstitution of regime forces, along with artillery deployments the full length of the line of control.

The Commission of Inquiry on Syria’s July 7 report notes the devastating impacts of Syrian regime and Russian assaults in Idlib province on Syrian civilians, millions of whom were already displaced from their homes by the regime’s earlier reckless and destructive campaigns of violence. The Commission’s latest report is further confirmation from the United Nations that the Assad regime and its enablers are responsible for the vast majority of atrocities inflicted on the Syrian people, as well as the dire ongoing humanitarian conditions, made worse by decreasing humanitarian access.

The COVID-19 virus is worsening the existing humanitarian crisis, which is already negatively affected by major displacement, high population density in the northwest, and inadequate sanitation in many parts of Syria. We support the decisions of the local councils in Aleppo and Idlib governorates that have taken precautionary measures such as suspending local markets, banning public gatherings, and shifting schools to remote education in recent weeks.

In response to those needs, the Trump Administration has allocated more than $31 million to support mitigation and response activities throughout Syria, including among displaced populations living in crowded settings in opposition-held areas.

Protecting and aiding the most vulnerable must be our highest priority. One example we wish to applaud is the work of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. With financial support from the United States, it has quadrupled its emergency response and support to the people in northwest Syria. Already this year, the UNHCR has provided protection services to more than 66,000 people, offered shelter to more than half a million people, and relief commodities to more than one million needy Syrians in the northwest.

I will conclude my statement with a few comments on the Trump Administration’s decisive actions to hold the Assad regime and its supporters accountable for two of the conflict’s most horrific humanitarian tragedies against the people of Hama and Maarat al-Numan.

The Departments of State and Treasury continued the U.S. sanctions campaign against the Assad regime by releasing 14 new designations under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act and other authorities. This campaign began last month with the first round of Caesar Act designations.

We have named today’s tranche of designations the Hama and Maarat Al-Numan sanctions. These names are meant to memorialize the victims of two of the Assad regime’s most notorious atrocities, both of which occurred in this week in 2011 and 2019. Nine years ago, Bashar al-Assad’s troops carried out a brutal siege of the city of Hama, killing scores of peaceful protesters in a shocking sign of what was to come. One year ago, the Assad regime and its allies bombed a busy marketplace in Maarat Al-Numan, killing 42 innocent Syrians.

It is time for Assad’s needless, brutal war to end. This, above all, is what our sanctions campaign is meant to bring about. A political solution under Resolution 2254 is the only credible path to the peace the Syrian people deserve.

We have heard Russia and China spin a false narrative that U.S. sanctions are to blame for the crisis in Syria. That’s just outlandish propaganda, but also a sinister attempt to whitewash Assad’s brutality and crimes against humanity. The Caesar Act and other U.S. Syria sanctions are not intended to harm the Syrian people and do not target humanitarian assistance or hinder our stabilization activities in northeast Syria.

We will continue our humanitarian assistance through our international and Syrian partners, even in areas under the Assad regime’s control. The United States will continue to act bilaterally and as a member of the Council to provide humanitarian support to the Syrian people. We must protect millions from the Assad regime’s inhumane campaign against its own citizens.

And I am going to close again with, Amany, with another one of your quotes that, “small wins bring perspective.” And I know, that as a Council, that we all can bring many small wins in order to help you achieve your goals in Syria.

Thank you.