Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 28, 2023
Thank you, Mr. President. I want to thank Secretary-General Guterres and High Commissioner for Human Rights Turk for their leadership on this issue.
Earlier this month, we marked the 12th anniversary of the Syrian uprising. We marked 12 years since the Syrian people rose up to peacefully demand their dignity, their freedoms, their fundamental human rights. But this peaceful movement soon turned bloody as the Assad regime initiated a brutal conflict that has claimed the lives of almost a quarter of a million Syrians.
Over the past 12 years, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, nearly 1.2 million Syrians have been arrested, detained, or forcibly disappeared. And 130,000 people are currently missing or arbitrarily detained. We know that many are held by the Assad regime, but many have also been taken by Da’esh, Al Nusra Front, and by other armed groups.
One hundred thirty thousand people. This is an impossibly large number. And behind each missing or detained person is a family – a family that knows little to nothing about the welfare and whereabouts of their loved ones.
We call on all parties to the conflict to release all unjustly detained people. To clarify the fate of those who are missing. And to return the remains of those who have perished to their families.
But until that happens – for all Syrian victims and families – we must do everything in our power to fight for justice and for the right to truth. That’s why the United States strongly supports the Secretary-General’s recommendation to establish a new, stand-alone entity to focus on this work. And I want to thank the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for their extensive efforts to consult broadly and enhance UN coordination.
We know that there are many existing UN entities that are focused on Syria. Yet, there is a gap when it comes to the matter of detained and missing persons. That’s why Syrian families and survivors led the call for the creation of a new, standalone entity that can work with all UN actors, Member States, and international organizations.
Any effective entity should be broad in mandate and fashioned as humanitarian in nature. And it should be survivor-centered and address the severe gendered impact of this issue.
Colleagues, I want to leave you with a message that Syrian refugees have shared with me during my many visits to the region: Don’t let the world forget us. After more than a decade of war, the Syrian people are worried the world will just move on. That we will forget about their plight and their dire needs.
I promised the Syrian refugees I met we will never move on; we will never forget. I’ve made this promise to Syrian civil society leaders that we’ve hosted in the Security Council or met on the margins of meetings here in New York. And I promised that we will never stop pushing for the release of all those who are arbitrarily detained in Syria, and for more information on the fate of the missing.
This is a humanitarian imperative. People deserve to know about their loved ones. This is something any of us would hope for and expect. And this issue is essential to promoting an inclusive peace process in Syria.
Let us carry this critical work forward together. And let us turn the commitments we are making today into concrete action.