Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UN Security Council Arria-Formula Meeting on Accountability in the Syrian Arab Republic

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
November 29, 2021


Thank you, Estonia, for your leadership in organizing today’s discussion, and we are pleased to be a co-sponsor. I also want to thank, as well, all of the briefers, today.

The United States holds deep admiration and gratitude for the Syrian civil society participants who bravely continue to document atrocities and demand justice for victims. Your work is not easy. I am personally inspired by your tireless efforts to bring attention to the prevailing impunity in Syria for past and continued international crimes, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. Your harrowing testimony should shock all members of this Council and other UN Member States to take action.

Just a few days ago, I walked through Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan and I met with Syrian refugees who are working to put the pieces of their lives back together after being devasted by the atrocities committed by the Assad regime. Hearing their hopes and dreams made me hopeful, but also sad. Hearing their fears reaffirmed for me that the situation in Syria is not safe for return at this moment. Hearing their and your stories has made me even more committed to ensuring that they and you receive justice.

In 2012, Hayan Mahmood had just graduated from medical school. He had great promise ahead of him, a life full of saving and preserving the lives of others. But after attending a street protest against the brutal Syrian regime, he was arrested and taken to the notorious Damascus detention center: Branch 251. Only 12 days later, his family was called to collect Hayan’s body. He had died in custody. In less than two weeks, the lives of the Mahmood family had changed forever. Years later, his brother was called upon to testify in a courtroom in Germany against a regime official. But he and others were seriously, and rightfully, concerned about the safety of his family who remained inside Syria, as the regime sought to intimidate potential witnesses.

The search for accountability in Syria has been lengthy, it has been challenging, and fraught with risk for those speaking out. Those who have sought to share the stories of the Assad regime’s crimes and human rights violations have faced retribution from the long arms of the regime’s security apparatus.

In the end, after some of the family was able to safely exit, Hayan’s siblings testified in a German court. But their story is a rare exception. While the Mahmood family finally received a measure of justice, accountability has proved far too elusive for most of the hundreds of thousands killed, the many wounded, and the millions who have been uprooted from their homes since the Syrian uprising. Families should not have to pay bribes to retrieve information about their loved ones. They should not have to wait for years to obtain the remains of their family members, or learn where they had been buried. They should not have to beg for death certificates.

We must support the ongoing efforts by national authorities to investigate and prosecute, within their jurisdiction, crimes committed in Syria. And while the road ahead remains long, we are encouraged by the progress made in this area, notably in Germany, where regime officials have been convicted for crimes against humanity. Accountability, justice, and respect for human rights are imperative for securing a stable, just, and enduring peace in Syria. The Assad regime’s abuses – particularly its campaign of arbitrary detention and torture – affect every Syrian family.

The United States strongly supports the work of the Triple I-M, the Commission of Inquiry, and other organizations and UN mechanisms that work to collect, consolidate, preserve, and analyze evidence of the atrocities the Assad regime, ISIS, and others have perpetrated against the Syrian people. But the international community must do more than just listen to testimonies and read reports. We have an obligation to act. After all, not only is accountability essential to bringing long-overdue justice to the victims and their families, but it is also key to building confidence in the broader political process, as called for in Resolution 2254.

President Biden said in October that “the lesson at the heart of the Nuremberg Trials [was] finding truth, [and] documenting it so it could never be denied.” We must do the same for the Syrian people. The Triple I-M and the COI, with the support of states and brave Syrian human rights defenders, have not only found and documented the awful truth of the Assad regime’s atrocities, but they have also meaningfully helped ensure criminal justice systems could not deny this truth, through investigations, prosecutions, and convictions in independent national courts. We must maintain our unwavering commitment to them, and to justice for all of the Syrian regime’s victims.

Thank you very much, Mr. President.