Ambassador Kelly Craft
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
September 16, 2020
Thank you so much for your patience. And thanks again to Under-Secretary Lowcock. Mark, as always, the work that you and your team perform on the ground is nothing short of amazing. And you always tend to have such an optimistic view, and in light of Christoph’s statement it’s really hard to keep that optimistic view, but we also need to be very realistic, listening to Christoph, and understanding that what you face on a daily routine, and that just how much of a debt of gratitude, Mark, that we owe to you and your team for truly carrying on what Christoph defined as humanitarian efforts.
The Syrian people themselves continue to face a humanitarian disaster and remain in need of strong humanitarian response from the international community. There is no doubt that Syria’s humanitarian challenges would be lessened if the Assad regime was committed to protecting the health, safety, and well-being of the Syrian people. But the regime is not. Instead, Assad and his friends continue to put the Syrian people in danger and stop life-saving aid and assistance from reaching those who need it most.
Syria will remain one of the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophes until the regime decides to change its behavior toward its citizens and take meaningful steps to improve humanitarian conditions. For example, through the consistent provision of UN access and aid to every single person in need and by finally ending, permanently, the regime’s military operations throughout the country.
The recent escalation of the COVID-19 crisis in Syria is a clear example of what happens when the Assad regime does not change its behavior toward governing people in a way that keeps them safe from threats of terrorism, war, economic insecurity, and pandemic diseases. On Monday, Secretary Pompeo said, about the Assad regime, I quote:
“Their first priority is not public health, but the protection of their own power. They refuse to answer hard questions. They sow disinformation, scapegoat vulnerable groups, expand mass surveillance, and suspend the rule of law. People suffer when their leaders are accountable only to themselves or to the parties they control.” End quote.
A change in the Assad regime’s inadequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic is desperately needed as community transmission of the lethal virus is now widespread, and is growing amongst even health care workers in the country.
The United States is increasingly concerned by the reliable reports of massive outbreaks of the disease in the Damascus region and elsewhere in the Assad-controlled areas, including in Homs, Latakia, and Tartous. We are deeply concerned by reports that the regime is preventing the proper dissemination of coronavirus assistance to punish communities perceived to be supportive of the opposition which, if true, would be deplorable. There is no transparency from the Assad regime on the scope and scale of the coronavirus in Syria or how the regime is using the COVID-19 response assistance it has received from the international community to help its people.
To date, the Trump Administration has provided nearly $32.4 million to assist Syria’s response to the coronavirus as a show of the strength of our conviction to support the Syrian people through the crisis.
The regime has not conducted any significant public health campaign or outreach to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We call on the Assad regime to immediately grant full and transparent access to the UN and international NGOs so that they may determine the scale of the pandemic in Syria in order to properly and adequately help address the situation and save lives. Further, we reiterate our calls for the Office of the Special Envoy to work with Damascus to secure the immediate and unilateral release of women, children, and the elderly from regime custody on a humanitarian basis.
The surge in coronavirus cases in Syria demands a continued scale up of UN access and humanitarian assistance deliveries throughout Syria using a combination of cross-border and cross-line modalities. While the UN and its implementing partners are reaching communities in northeast and northwest Syria, an estimated 12,000 internally displaced persons living in the Rukban camp are particularly susceptible to a COVID-19 outbreak and lack the access to medical care in the camp. Civilians in the Rukban are in immediate need of a UN humanitarian aid convoy and an updated intentions survey to ensure those who wish to depart the camp for areas under regime control can do so safely and without the fear of retribution, torture, or forced disappearance.
In northwest Syria, the UN has spent the summer months readjusting its operations so that all shipments previously crossing through Bab al-Salaam will now go through Bab al-Hawa. However, because of this closure, cross-border assistance designed to meet the immense needs of Syrians in the north face additional costs, complexity, and risk. Once the rainy season begins, it will inevitably become more difficult for UN convoys to traverse the roads from Bab al-Hawa to the northern part of the country. We continue to urge Syria and Russia to halt shelling and air strikes in northwest Syria and continue to uphold the March 5 Idlib ceasefire.
I would like to take this opportunity to address the allegations, often heard in this Council, that U.S. sanctions are responsible for the worsening humanitarian conditions in Syria. Allegations that U.S. sanctions prevent humanitarian aid from reaching Syria are blatantly false. Such statements are cynically designed to distort reality through disinformation and lies. U.S. sanctions are not killing the Syrian people. Let me make this very clear, the Assad regime is killing the Syrian people. U.S. sanctions are not stopping medicine from reaching those in need. Once again, the Assad regime is. It is clear exactly where the problem lies here.
In fact, the United States works closely with international organizations and the humanitarian assistance community to address any obstacles from our sanctions and, to date, none of them report that U.S. sanctions prevent them from doing their life-saving work. None of them.
The U.S. provides humanitarian assistance to all Syrian civilians based on need, including those residing in regime-held areas. While the conflict continues, the U.S. will continue to lead the world as the largest provider of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, totaling over $11.3 billion since 2011. We are proud to provide life-saving support to the millions of men, women, and children impacted by this conflict, inside Syria, and in the region, because the Trump Administration is a friend to the people of the Syrian people, and we will not forget you.
We call on the Assad regime and Russia to take action that is in the best interest of the Syrian people. This Council should do everything possible to ensure that all Syrian people receive the humanitarian assistance they need to survive. The Syrian people deserve nothing less from us.
Thank you, Mr. President.