Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 15, 2021
Let me start by thanking you, Special Envoy Pedersen, for your thorough evaluation and recommendations. We encourage and support your continued efforts toward creative solutions that will bring the current crisis in Syria to an end. And thank you to Mr. Duhaime, for your insights and for all the work that you do to help the families of those who have been detained or disappeared.
Today, exactly 10 years ago, the Syrian people peacefully took to the streets. They chanted slogans for freedom and held up pictures of detained friends and relatives. They called for an end to government corruption. They asked the government to respect their human rights. The people were filled with hope, solidarity, and song.
And what response did they get? The Assad regime responded with violence.
As the Secretary-General recently noted, and I quote, “the violent suppression of peaceful popular demonstrations in Syria set the country on the path to a horrific war.”
And now, for a full decade, the Syrian people have endured the unimaginable. A full decade of violent suppression; a full decade of terrorism; and a full decade of a brutal civil war.
Imagine being a 10-year-old child in Syria who has never experienced life free of conflict. One of your parents may have been killed by a chemical weapons attack or Russian airstrikes, or one of the 500,000 killed by Assad’s brutal regime. Some of your relatives were tortured and disappeared. You are one of 13 million Syrians who were forced to flee your home.
You’re gaunt, likely malnourished. You see only sadness in your parents’ eyes. You see tanks on the streets, look out for snipers on rooftops. You are barely able to survive. You’re 10 years old and you have known nothing but war.
For that child, and so many others, we must allow and empower humanitarians to do their jobs and save people’s lives.
The United States considers not only the Security Council’s July authorization of cross-border assistance, but its strengthening and expansion, essential to ensuring delivery of food, medicine, COVID-19 vaccines, and other lifesaving assistance into Syria.
As the Secretary-General said last week, “More humanitarian access is needed. Intensified cross-line and cross-border deliveries are essential to reach everyone in need everywhere.” We know very clearly that cross-line aid alone cannot reach all those in need.
It would be inhumane and unconscionable for the Security Council to halt the UN’s ability to deliver aid to all Syrians, and we call on Security Council members to support this important mechanism, a life-line that is even more important given COVID-19.
To put a permanent end to this suffering, the United States remains committed to achieving a political solution to the Syrian conflict, per the parameters outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 2254. We strongly support Special Envoy Pedersen’s efforts aimed at enhancing and advancing a political settlement.
There’s only one reason we have not been able to enact this solution and resolve this crisis: the Assad regime’s refusal to engage in good faith. The regime has not taken a single step that would lay the groundwork for peace.
So, we call on Russia to press the Assad regime to quit stalling. It’s time for the regime to address the conflict’s root cause: the basic demand of all Syrians to live in dignity, free from torture, abuse, and arbitrary detention.
And I would ask the international community to not be fooled by upcoming Syrian presidential elections. These elections will neither be free nor fair. They will not legitimize the Assad regime. They do not meet the criteria laid out in Resolution 2254 – including that they be supervised by the UN or conducted pursuant to a new constitution.
Instead of delaying and distracting, the Assad regime should release those who have been arbitrarily detained – particularly women, children, and the elderly.
On March 2nd, I attended a high-level panel in the General Assembly where I heard the stories of those who have been detained. One of the briefers, Wafa Moustafa, relayed a horror of being locked up in a regime-run detention center when she was just 21 years old.
She’s still searching for her father – one of over 100,000 who have been arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared by the Assad regime.
So today, I ask the Special Envoy to provide an update on his efforts to locate and release detainees.
The United States asks the Special Envoy to continue to strengthen Geneva-based efforts to work toward the release of detainees, including assistance with locating and returning missing Americans like Austin Tice and Majd Kamalmaz.
We hope to see an increase in UN personnel engaging directly and more regularly with families of the detained, former detainees themselves, and civil society representatives.
Special Envoy Pedersen, I ask you to provide an update on your efforts to locate and release detainees, and your views on how the Council can assist.
It is time to advance a real political solution. The Syrian people deserve progress and dignity. They deserve a safe, stable, and hopeful future. And as I’ve said before, the 11th anniversary cannot look like the 10th.
Thank you, very much.