Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
September 24, 2021
Thank you, Christian, for that introduction. And let me also thank High Commissioner Bachelet for your leadership, for your remarks at this critically important event that the United States is pleased to co-sponsor. Thank you, Catherine, for your steadfast efforts at the helm of the Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria known as the IIIM. And thank you Mazen, Joumana, and the other distinguished panelists for your tireless work. Your courage and immense dedication inspires all of us.
Today we have heard from activists on the ground, colleagues from the UN, and governments who share our commitment to accountability in Syria. We can all agree on a simple fact: After more than a decade of conflict, the evidence of the Assad regime’s innumerable atrocities – some of which rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity – is overwhelming. The regime has committed systematic torture and sexual violence. It has detained people arbitrarily and used illegal chemical weapons to attack their own people. It has dropped barrel bombs to destroy food markets and hospitals. The nearly endless list of the regime’s violations and abuses is damning.
As the Syrian economy crashes under Assad’s reckless leadership and corruption, the regime continues to prioritize funding for its barbaric campaign of death and destruction. And it continues to purposefully obstruct the delivery of humanitarian assistance – food, water, medicine – basic supplies to help Syrian civilians in need.
I saw firsthand the UN’s cross-border humanitarian aid operation – an operation which would not be necessary if Assad was not depriving millions of much needed aid. Despite this blatant brutality, Russia and Iran have continued to support and shield Assad from accountability. The UN, and all actors with influence, must continue to exert pressure. Specifically, we must help secure the release of arbitrarily detained Syrians. Reports indicate that more than 149,000 Syrians remain missing or in detention. We support the OHCHR’s continued direct engagement with Syrian civil society groups, who courageously document abuses every day, including seeking to locate the missing and arbitrarily detained. Families should not have to live with the agony of uncertainty.
Make no mistake, the regime is responsible for the vast majority of abuses in Syria. That said, we strongly condemn the egregious abuses committed by other actors as well. Two and a half years after the territorial defeat of ISIS, the terrorist group continues to conduct attacks across the country, including killings, bombings, and kidnappings. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham reportedly has committed a wide range of abuses, including kidnappings and attacking women in the practice of their human rights. Other armed groups, including opposition groups such as Ahrar al-Sharqiya, reportedly are responsible for abductions, sexual and gender-based violence, and forced displacement.
We support accountability for all atrocities in Syria, regardless of the perpetrators or their allegiance. After all, accountability is the first step toward justice for victims and peace for Syria. And accountability is only meaningful if it applies to all. The Syrian people deserve that first step. So, we are encouraged by the progress on criminal accountability efforts targeting regime officials over the last year. In February, a German court sentenced a former member of the Assad regime’s intelligence service to prison for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity. This was the first ruling regarding torture in Syrian detention facilities by a court outside of Syria. Hopefully more will come. Investigations and trials for other regime officials are underway.
This forward progress would not be possible without the Triple I-M and the courageous work of Syrian activists risking their lives for accountability. In April, the United States was proud to join other states in adopting a decision to suspend certain rights and privileges of Syria under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Most notably, Syria no longer has the right to vote at the OPCW. This small, but historic step further isolates the Assad regime and affirms the international community’s opposition to the regime’s use of chemical weapons.
The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to providing political, diplomatic, and financial support for accountability and reconciliation efforts in Syria. The United States is proud to lead, alongside our allies and Arab partners, the UN General Assembly resolution on the human rights situation in Syria. And we’re asking for your support – we’re asking for your support to convey the international community’s condemnation of the regime’s abuses.
Let me end by thanking all of you; thanking everyone who supports the mechanism, for those who have joined this event today, and for those who share our commitment to accountability in Syria. The Syrian people deserve our collective support in their quest for justice and accountability.
Thank you very much.