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

Rodney Hunter
Political Coordinator
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
July 23, 2020


Thank you, Mr. President. I would like to begin by thanking Special Envoy Pedersen for your briefing today. And to Ms. Wafa Mustafa from Families for Freedom, thank you for your clear and direct remarks today. I know it’s particularly difficult to speak on a topic that’s so close to your heart and we greatly appreciated you putting a human face on the issues at hand here today. Thank you so much for all that you do.

Mr. President, the full implementation of the political process roadmap in Resolution 2254 is vitally important to the Syrian people and is at the foundation of every track we work on at the UN. Despite its importance, there is, sadly, still a long way to go to achieve the accountability and constitutional reforms necessary to facilitate Syria’s political transition from a government at war with its own people to a government that is respectful of and responsive to its citizens. A government that the Syrian people want and that the Syrian people deserve.

We need to see a real, genuine progress and negotiations. Not staged photo opportunities and elections that are far from being free and fair. The Trump Administration sees the July 19 parliamentary elections for exactly what they are – a false pretext to undermine the UN-led political process and another in a long line of the Assad regime’s stage-managed, unfree votes in which the Syrian people have no real options to select their leaders.

The United States has received credible reports of polling staff handing out ballots already filled in with Ba’ath party candidates. We are also aware of reports of citizens being pressured to vote and that voter privacy was not guaranteed. In addition, Syrians residing outside the country – comprising nearly one quarter of Syria’s pre-revolution population – were not permitted to vote.

Elections in Syria must be free and fair, supervised by the United Nations, and include the participation of the Syrian diaspora. The Council must be united in our demand that any future Syrian elections are held in line with Resolution 2254 and that the Constitutional Committee’s work to draft a new Syrian constitution moves forward without delay.

We welcome Special Envoy Pedersen’s intention to convene the third meeting of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva, and we recognize Russia’s efforts to bring the regime to the table. These negotiations open the door to a clear path to ending this conflict.

But this path will only work if Syrians are given a conducive environment, and that means peace on the ground through a sustained and UN-verified ceasefire.

A ceasefire remains essential to Resolution 2254, and we reaffirm our support for Special Envoy Pedersen’s efforts to reach a lasting ceasefire and to implement a credible political process in order to achieve a lasting solution to the conflict in Syria.

We denounce in the strongest terms the roadside bomb attack on the Turkish-Russian patrol on July 14 on the M4 highway near the town of Ariha in Idlib province which injured three Russian soldiers. We ask that Russia exercise restraint in its response and discontinue any further airstrikes or violence. This includes reports of Russian airstrikes in Ariha and al-Bab that killed several civilians shortly after this terrible incident on the M4.

On the issue of detainees, Ms. Mustafa’s father, Ali, was abducted, as she noted, by Syrian security forces and arbitrarily detained seven years ago at his home in Damascus. His fate, as she noted to all of us today, is still unknown. There are hundreds of thousands of Syrians like Ali Mustafa – men, women, even children and the elderly – who were forcibly disappeared, arbitrarily detained, tortured, subjected to starvation and sexual abuse, and some even executed or tortured to death.

The Assad regime’s actions to delay justice for the families of political prisoners can no longer be overlooked. The UN must redouble its efforts to secure the unilateral and large-scale release of civilians in regime custody as an urgent step to advance the political reconciliation process between the regime and the Syrian people. Additionally, the Syrian people need political and constitutional reforms which remove this fear of arbitrary detention by the Assad regime.

We call on the regime to immediately and unilaterally release the thousands of civilians being held arbitrarily in detention centers. We also call for the regime to grant humanitarian organizations and the UN immediate access to all facilities to ensure that detainees’ medical care and preventative measures against the coronavirus are taken care of. Furthermore, we call for disclosure of lists of all detainees and missing persons, including death records and burial sites.

There is only one way forward for the Assad regime. Pursue a negotiated political solution to the conflict with the UN and the Syrian opposition. There will be no reconstruction funding, no diplomatic recognition, and no sanctions relief until a political process in line with Resolution 2254 is irreversibly underway.

Our position today is fully in line with UN Secretary-General Guterres’ position, with the United Nations principles and parameters, and with our Council partners. We encourage Special Envoy Pedersen to take all efforts to facilitate the parties’ compliance with the UN’s principles and parameters. The Syrian people deserve nothing less.

Thank you, Mr. President.