Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Situation in the Middle East (Syria)

Ambassador Kelly Craft
Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
December 20, 2019


Mrs. Altalli, thank you for your personal story today, and it’s really important for the Council to hear about your work and the other human rights defenders performing at a great personal risk. Your efforts on behalf of all Syrians are courageous and valuable. We deeply value and support the voices of Syrian civil society, in particular women’s roles in the political process. Let me also thank you, Special Envoy Pedersen, for your briefing today and for your leadership this year.

Due to Special Envoy Pedersen’s determination, the willingness of the Syrian parties to step forward, and support from the international community, especially the Small Group, Turkey, and Russia, we witnessed a notable political breakthrough after almost two years of negotiations. After the successful October launch of the Constitutional Committee, the United States – and many on this Council – believed there would be momentum to move toward the creation of a constitutional reform package in line with Resolution 2254. However, the Assad regime delegation entered the second round of negotiations with preconditions, stalling any progress. The regime’s calls for agreement on a set of “national pillars” not only represented barefaced propaganda. They also violate the spirit of the Constitutional Committee’s rules of procedure and obstruct the work of an important diplomatic initiative – an initiative supported by the United States, our Small Group partners, and the Astana Group.

In the new year, the Council must fully support the Special Envoy’s efforts to facilitate the Committee’s work. As a sign of this support, the United States calls for the Office of the Special Envoy to circulate informal written summaries of the most recent round of the Committee’s meetings, held in November. We call for similar reports to be issued after all future meetings. With written reports in hand, the Council can bolster Special Envoy Pedersen’s efforts to hold representatives accountable and – we hope – bring an end to the obstruction and delays. However, if Damascus is not serious about the Constitutional Committee’s work, the Council should reconsider whether the Committee is a viable mechanism for producing reforms called for in Resolution 2254.

Beyond the issue of the Committee, in 2020, we expect to see progress on two specific goals of United Nations Security Council Reform 2254 that will support progress on the political process: a nationwide ceasefire and the immediate, unilateral release of civilian detainees – especially women, children, and the elderly. The Assad regime and its supporters, Russia and Iran, should commit to an immediate, nationwide ceasefire. This week, ongoing hostilities continue to kill civilians, destabilize the region, and threaten to destroy any progress made by the Constitutional Committee. There must be no Christmas offensive in Idlib, and any attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure must cease. The United States also calls upon the Assad regime to ensure the immediate, unilateral release of civilians it continues to hold in detention centers and prisons without just cause, and even subjects to torture.

At this moment, we are displaying photographs in the lobby of our Mission dedicated by the Syrian Network for Human Rights to several of the approximately 128,000 Syrians who have been unlawfully detained and, in many cases, tortured and killed by the Assad regime. I want to reflect just briefly on one of the human stories behind the images in our windows. Leila, a paramedic with the Syrian Red Crescent, was shot by a government sniper and then arrested – not once, but twice – for “providing material support to terrorists.” She was subjected to daily beatings in regime detention. What was her crime? Providing medical care to individuals injured while peacefully protesting for reform. This is simply outrageous. Sadly, Leila’s story is all too common. And though individuals like her remain dedicated to providing medical assistance to all in need, they are unable to safely return to Syria for fear of being targeted by the regime. We must see the mass release of those who have been arbitrarily detained. I want to be clear today that there will be no lasting peace until the regime’s inhumane and destructive behavior against the Syrian people is reversed and accountability measures are established.

The United States firmly believes that achieving these goals in the next 12 months will yield meaningful progress toward an end to the conflict and a sustainable, negotiated peace. We are eager to work with every member of the Council to reach these goals and advance all aspects of Resolution 2254 in the coming year.

Thank you.