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

Rodney Hunter
Political Coordinator
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
August 27, 2020


Thank you, Mr. President. And, thank you, very much for your briefing today. There can be no doubt based on your assessment that the Syrian people need more UN humanitarian aid now more than ever, and still the Assad regime is failing to step up to meet its responsibility to provide humanitarian assistance in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality, and impartiality.

At this time of significant humanitarian need, the welfare of millions of Syrians remains at the mercy of the political calculations of the Assad regime and the Russian Federation. Due to the callous and inhumane Russian and Chinese vetoes earlier this summer, UN humanitarian access via the cross-border modality is forced to trickle into Syria from the single remaining crossing point at Bab al-Hawa. And despite their assertions to the contrary, we have seen no sustained improvements in the regime’s provision of cross-line access.

Russia and China’s refusals to re-authorize the al-Yaroubia crossing continue to have a profound impact on the lives of Syrians in need.

We are deeply saddened by reports from UNICEF earlier this month that eight children under the age of five died in al-Hol in less than a week.
We understand that four of those deaths were caused by malnutrition-related complications.

Look, I know that we all talk about things like this in the Council all the time, and I worry that sometimes our words lose their meaning because we talk about such horrifying events just in our normal statements. But these were real people, these were real children, they were real lives that were cut short. They were never given the chance to become what they should have become. They were never allowed to recognize their potential, that they had no choice over the situation that they had been put into. These deaths were completely preventable if the thousands of camp inhabitants still received the life-saving combination of cross-line deliveries from Damascus and cross-border aid deliveries from al-Yaroubia.

Each of us need to ask ourselves, could the deaths of these eight innocent children have been spared if the Council had been able to keep al-Yaroubia open? For the United States the answer to that question is very clear; it’s yes. This Council has to do better.

The United States is also concerned by the reports we are receiving about a massive coronavirus outbreak in the Damascus region and elsewhere in regime-controlled areas. There are no reliable statistics from Syrian authorities in Damascus and no transparency, in general, from the Assad regime on the scale of the outbreak. There is no clear picture of how the Syrian government is using the coronavirus assistance it has been receiving from the international community. Nor has the regime conducted any significant public health campaign or outreach to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Therefore, we call on the Syrian authorities to immediately grant full and transparent access to the United Nations and international NGOS to collect statistics and determine the scale of the pandemic in Syria. Until that happens, the Syrian people will continue to suffer while they and the rest of the world have no real idea about what is going on inside the Syrian government’s territory.

The coronavirus is absolutely exacerbating the Syrian humanitarian crisis. Of the more than 1,600 confirmed cases of coronavirus reported, dozens of health workers across Syria have tested positive. This complicates humanitarian efforts.

The United States stands with the Syrian doctors, and other healthcare and humanitarian professionals, including the volunteer White Helmets, who are serving on the front line of this pandemic to protect their communities.

The brave men and women of the White Helmets remain in our thoughts as they put their lives in danger to help others. Rest assured, the United States will continue to do everything in our power to provide humanitarian assistance and support to all the Syrian people in need.

In northeast Syria, the United States is closely monitoring the operating status of the al-Alouk water station. The United States has been very clear with all sides, including with Turkish authorities, that restricting access to water and other basic services is unacceptable.

We encourage the UN to provide technical assistance to address the water station’s operations because it is imperative that water be permitted to flow at levels that adequately meet humanitarian needs – particularly in the midst of a pandemic.

The United States will continue engaging with the relevant parties to achieve a sustainable solution.

And in northwest Syria, the recent airstrikes by Russia and ground movements by Syrian forces in Idlib province are of serious concern. The continuation of the March 5 Turkish-Russian ceasefire agreement is fundamental to a lasting political solution to the conflict. Notably the continuation of the Idlib ceasefire is more essential now since Resolution 2533 forced the UN shift its operations from Bab al-Salaam and reach the entire displaced population through Bab al-Hawa alone.

Renewed military hostilities could have a profound and crippling impact on UN aid deliveries from Bab al-Hawa, and there is no backup option for UN cross-border assistance to flow into the country if Bab al-Hawa is closed.

Therefore, every single member of this Council must commit to ensuring that Bab al-Hawa remains open. To that end, the United States urges Turkey and Russia to contain all escalatory incidents, continue cooperation on the implementation of the March 5 Memorandum of Understanding, and restore calm in Idlib.

The Assad regime must also heed the calls of Special Envoy Pedersen to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus by releasing detainees who are being unjustly held in horrific conditions.

Seven years ago, on August 21, 2013, the Assad regime launched a horrific chemical attack with the nerve agent sarin on the Ghouta District in Damascus which killed more than 1,400 Syrians, many of them children. On this solemn anniversary, the United States reiterates our resolve to prevent further use of these deadly weapons and to hold the Assad regime accountable for its heinous crimes against the Syrian people.

The United States is committed to the future of the Syrian people. All of the Syrian people. Every Syrian child should have the opportunity to live up to their highest potential. Instead they, and their parents, worry until whether they will live until their next birthday. That is wrong. The United States will continue to work toward a peaceful future for all Syrians, and we know the rest of this Council will as well.

Thank you. Mr. President.