Acting Political Coordinator
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
November 25, 2020
Thank you, Madam President, and thank you, to the Deputy Special Envoy and the Acting Assisting Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs for your briefings.
The Assad regime and its allies, including permanent members of this Council, would greatly prefer that the world ignore your briefings, pretend that Resolution 2254 is obsolete, believe somehow that political and humanitarian conditions in Syria are stabilizing, and that the conflict is over. Sadly, the realities cannot be obscured and must not be ignored.
Lasting peace will only come when the Assad regime and its backers, including Russia, China, and Iran, accept a UN-brokered political settlement to the conflict in line with Resolution 2254. When the Assad regime shelling and Russian warplanes no longer destroy Syrian communities, families, and futures. When Iranian support for terrorist forces in Syria ceases. And when Chinese and Russian obstruction on this Council finally comes to an end, and humanitarian assistance can reach every last one of the 11 million Syrian women, and children, and men in need.
The preposterous “refugee conference” hosted earlier this month in Damascus is a prime example of how Russia and the Assad regime continue their attempts to perpetuate a false narrative about the situation in Syria. Russia and the regime have repeatedly and spectacularly failed to convince the international community, including those countries generous enough to take in large numbers of Syrian refugees, that Syria is ready for large refugee returns, and that the regime genuinely wants them to return.
Rather than end their depraved military campaign, enact political reforms, and further a political process to create an environment conducive to voluntary, safe, dignified, and informed returns, Russia and the regime are using refugees as a public relations tool. To add insult to injury, Russia has the audacity to ask the international community to provide the Assad regime with reconstruction funding after the brutal leader plunged the country into civil war and continues to kills his own people.
The United States does not oppose the idea, in principle, of a conference centered on Syrian refugees to take stock of actions needed to ensure Syria’s 6.6 million refugees can return safely, for those who choose to do so. However, a legitimate conference on refugee returns can only be successful if coordinated with the United Nations, the United States, and other relevant countries, hosted by the UNHCR, and held in a neutral location, not Damascus.
Such a conference certainly would affirm that Syrians should not be pressed to return to their country until it is safe to do so, and that those living outside Syria should be able to participate in free and fair elections. As long as the Assad regime effectively ignores or undermines every aspect of Resolution 2254, Syrians will not be able to return safely.
The United States welcomes the Special Envoy’s plans for the fourth round of the Constitutional Committee later this month. This latest round is long-overdue, and we urge the Committee members, in particular the regime and Syrian opposition co-chairs, to make immediate, substantive progress. Furthermore, we encourage Special Envoy Pedersen to take any measures he thinks appropriate to facilitate the parties’ efforts consistent with the UN’s parameters and principles, and identify to this Council any participants who continue to obstruct progress.
Beyond the work of the Constitutional Committee, we ask the UN to facilitate and the parties to undertake confidence-building measures. These should include the unilateral release of arbitrarily held detainees, as called for in Resolution 2254, and the provision of information on the whereabouts of more than 100,000 Syrians who remain missing, including women and children.
Turning to the humanitarian situation, it is abhorrent that humanitarian workers continue to face threats as they endeavor to deliver life-saving aid to the Syrian people. We offer our condolences to the families of two aid workers killed in northwest Syria earlier this month as they were on their way to work in a child-friendly space run by UNICEF.
UN humanitarian operations, including cross-border operations, remain essential for the more than 11 million Syrians. The loss of three cross-border operation access points in the last ten months has only worsened the suffering and the vulnerability of the Syrian people, and there are increasing reports of shortages at hospitals and medical facilities, and delays in food delivery.
We call the Council’s attention to the resolution on the situation of human rights in Syria that passed overwhelmingly in the UN Third Committee last week. The resolution, which was co-sponsored by the United States, highlights the regime’s egregious denial of humanitarian aid and urges the Council to re-authorize the opening of previous crossings points or open new ones to ensure aid gets into Syria through the most direct routes.
We are closely monitoring the recent spike in violence in Syria’s northwest. The Assad regime, Russia, and Iran must ensure that the nationwide ceasefire the Secretary-General and the Special Envoy have called for throughout this year is implemented, and no military offensive should resume anywhere in Syria.
Winter is approaching, and we urge all Council members and UN member states to support efforts to quickly scale up assistance efforts to meet the growing needs of the 4.2 million Syrians in Idlib. Last year, the world was rightly horrified by reports of children freezing to death. We must not allow this to happen again.
In addition to these needs, the Syrian people also face another long winter compounded by COVID-19. We are increasingly alarmed by reports of hospital ICU beds for COVID-19 patients already filled to capacity in northwest Syria, straining the region’s already fragile health system. According to the official numbers, cases have risen by 250 percent since September. Sadly, we know that the official numbers are only the tip of the iceberg of Syria’s COVID-19 crisis – the actual rates of infection are much higher than what is reported, yet the limited ability to test and trace makes it impossible to know the full extent of the virus’ spread. The Syrian people face the same risk from COVID-19 as all of the rest of us, yet the shortages of medical supplies and the lack of testing raise concerns that the virus can spread unchecked and inflict damages on already vulnerable populations.
Every month, this Council meets on the crisis in Syria, and every month the briefings reveal worsening human suffering. The United States once again calls on the Assad regime’s supporters and abettors to alter the course and join us in pushing for full implementation of Resolution 2254. That is the only path that leads to peace and security in Syria, and a more hopeful future for the Syrian people.
Thank you, Madam President.