Ambassador Kelly Craft
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
December 16, 2020
Thank you, Jerry. And thank you to Special Envoy Pedersen and Under-Secretary-General Lowcock for your critical updates. We appreciate your efforts this year to try to end the daily suffering of the Syrian people.
As 2020 comes to a close, there is little to celebrate in Syria, and much to mourn. More than nine million Syrians need food assistance, the largest number since the outbreak of the conflict nearly a decade ago. We must not forget that it was Russia and China that forced this Council to slash the UN’s cross-border humanitarian access in half amid a global pandemic. The Assad regime’s use of barrel bombs, airstrikes, and shelling in northwest Syria and arbitrary detention and torture has killed and injured thousands of Syrian civilians. ISIS has been weakened but remains a threat.
COVID-19 continues to its uncontrolled spread, in particular among those already displaced by the regime’s violence. And, sadly, this month marks the five-year anniversary of the adoption of Resolution 2254 – and five years with little meaningful progress toward a political solution that would end the conflict and create the foundation for a sustainable and peaceful future.
Despite the grim reality, the Assad regime and its enablers seek to convince this Council that the situation is improving. Unfortunately, for the people of Syria, this is far from the truth. We have said this time and we’ll say it again: there is no military solution to this conflict. Even if guns are silenced, social and political wounds from this decade-long horror story will fester.
The only way forward for peace and stability in Syria is for the Assad regime to support the political roadmap outlined in Resolution 2254. The United States will continue to oppose any attempts by the Assad regime and its allies to bypass Resolution 2254.
We take note of the fourth round of the Constitutional Committee earlier this month and welcome the Special Envoy’s plans to convene a fifth round in January. But the Assad regime must meaningfully participate in this process and stop putting up new roadblocks. We urge the Assad regime and Russia to ensure the January round produces immediate progress toward the drafting of a new Syrian constitution. We underscore Special Envoy Pedersen’s authority to take measures he deems appropriate in facilitating the parties’ efforts to begin work on the new constitution itself.
It is increasingly apparent that the Assad regime is delaying the Committee’s work to buy time as it prepares to carry out a sham presidential election in 2021 and wash its hands of the UN-facilitated political process. Syrian elections will not be recognized as legitimate by the U.S. and the international community if they are not in line with Resolution 2254. The international community will not allow the Assad regime to impose a military victory on the Syrian people with an illegitimate presidential election and no political reforms.
While the Constitutional Committee process is underway, the UN and this Council must also redouble efforts to make progress on the other elements of Resolution 2254. The United States supports the Special Envoy’s call for a nationwide ceasefire. Moreover, we call on the Special Envoy and the UN to press the Assad regime for the immediate release of arbitrarily detained persons, and for the regime to provide families of the more than 100,000 missing Syrians with information on the whereabouts of their loved ones.
In the new year, the Syrian people need to see the UN-facilitated political process achieve tangible results to implement Resolution 2254. Without this, millions of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons will not return to Syria; the United States and the international community will withhold reconstruction and development funding to the regime in keeping with the UN’s own principles and parameters; and the United States will continue to sanction the regime and its supporters for obstructing the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people for a political solution.
One essential element for lasting peace is to promote accountability for those who have committed atrocities in Syria. We express our strong support for the International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism – the “Triple I-M” – as a means to gather evidence of the atrocities the Assad regime and ISIS have perpetrated that will pave the way for a legitimate political solution.
The “Triple I-M” should be fully funded by the UN General Assembly and should not be attacked by those member states who may be held accountable for the crimes they have perpetrated against the Syrian people.
Turning to the humanitarian situation, the recent practice of combining the Council’s monthly meetings on the political and humanitarian situations is shortsighted and sends a dangerous signal to the Syrian people that this Council does not care and will not act to alleviate their suffering.
This tactical maneuver orchestrated by the Russian Federation and followed by its supporters protects Bashar al-Assad. Combined meetings further politicize the Council’s discussions on Syria and leaves little opportunity to truly address Syria’s worsening humanitarian situation. Going forward, the United States supports separate monthly briefings to ensure this Council remains focused on the needs of the Syrian people – and not what best serves the political narratives of Moscow and Damascus.
The Assad regime’s failed economic policies are also inflicting a worsening toll on the Syrian people. Decades of corruption and mismanagement coupled with years of waging war against the Syrian people are responsible for the devastating economic conditions.
The United States has imposed sanctions with robust humanitarian exemptions. I repeat, there are humanitarian exemptions designed to address any concerns. These sanctions promote accountability for the Assad regime’s violence and destruction that has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. The U.S. will continue to apply economic pressure against those who are robbing the Syrian people of their livelihoods through corruption, intimidation, and violence.
We would like to commend Belgium and Germany for their principled leadership over the past two years as humanitarian penholders. They worked tirelessly to keep this Council focused on our core responsibility: helping ensure lifesaving humanitarian aid reaches Syrian people in need. The United States is determined to see this Council renew the vital, cross-border humanitarian aid mechanism that is sustaining millions of desperate Syrians next year. The reauthorization of Resolution 2533 is necessary to keep civilians alive; therefore, Bab Al-Hawa must remain operational.
Yet, it is clear that one crossing point is insufficient to meet the growing needs as evidenced by the current shortages of critical supplies, longer delivery times, and higher cost. In the midst of a pandemic, northeast Syria continues to face critical shortages of medical equipment due to the closure of the Yaroubia crossing almost one year ago. Yaroubia should be re-opened, and the UN must be allowed unhindered all-access to Syria, so that the humanitarian needs of every Syrian can be addressed.
The regime’s humanitarian blockade of Rukban also demands the attention of this Council. It has been 15 months since the Assad regime allowed the last humanitarian delivery to Rukban, and the people in the camp have been without medical aid for just as long. We demand the Assad regime and Russia immediately allow unhindered access to the camp, including humanitarian delivery convoys. This kind of politicizing and weaponizing of aid cannot continue without outrage from this Council.
Over the past 10 years, the Syrian regime has destroyed much of the country’s health infrastructure, killed health care workers, and blocked the ability of civilians in opposition-held areas to seek medical treatment. This has resulted in a healthcare system that was unable to meet basic needs, even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now with COVID-19 taking hold throughout the country, the regime is prioritizing healthcare in loyalist areas leaving regions like Dara’a – where the Syrian uprising began – with a shortage of medical professionals, supplies, and very little humanitarian access. The pandemic has allowed the regime to continue its inhumane siege tactics to break the spirits of the Syrian people. We call on the Syrian regime to provide medical services equitably in all areas under its control, and to allow humanitarian actors to deliver needed supplies.
In closing, Mr. President, I would like to speak directly to the Syrian people. The United States will never stop supporting your legitimate aspirations for an immediate and just end to this conflict. As the largest humanitarian donor to Syria, the American people have given over $12 billion in assistance since this tragic conflict began. Trust that we will continue to do everything in our power to deliver the aid you need to survive this upcoming winter and keep COVID-19 at bay. Let us renew our hopes and redouble our efforts for peace in this new year.