Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Humanitarian Situation in Syria

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
Acting Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
April 24, 2019

As Delivered

Thank you, Mr. President.

During a December 2018 Arria-formula meeting on the situation of persons with disabilities in conflict, the United States made a commitment to raise the situation of persons with disabilities more systemically in the Council. We are very pleased to see the Council doing so today. We want to thank Ms. Mustafa for sharing her story and her perspectives, and for ensuring that Syrians with disabilities will never be invisible to this Council. For our part, the United States will continue to advocate for the needs of persons with disabilities when planning, coordinating, and implementing humanitarian assistance in Syria, and elsewhere.

Mr. President, numerous UN reports detail the Assad regime’s systemic, barbaric use of arbitrary detentions against hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians. The United States will continue to work toward accountability and justice for those who have been arbitrarily or unlawfully detained and for missing persons in Syria. This will be necessary as the political transition in Syria moves forward under the leadership of Special Envoy Pedersen in line with Resolution 2254.

The United States strongly supports a third UN-led humanitarian convoy to the Rukban IDP camp. Unfortunately, Mr. President, as we have heard, the Assad regime has denied the UN’s request. We also understand that commercial traffic into the encampment is blocked. It’s unacceptable to starve the Rukban residents into submission. The United States condemns any attempt to prevent the UN from delivering humanitarian aid. As the residents of Rukban prepare for the holy month of Ramadan, we call on Moscow to secure Damascus’ agreement to provide humanitarian assistance to Rukban immediately and to stop blocking commercial traffic into the encampment.

Recent discussions among the humanitarian community and in the press have once again shined a light on cross border assistance. Cross-border assistance remains a critical lifeline for more than 11 million people inside Syria. The Security Council must remain united in its support of full implementation of the cross-border humanitarian mechanism authorized by resolution 2449 in December.

The United States is deeply concerned by recent attempts by Russia and China in the UN General Assembly Fifth Committee to politicize and undermine the Security Council’s unanimous authorization of cross-border humanitarian operations by proposing cuts to the mechanism’s operational costs. These attempts are at odds with the vital necessity of UN cross-border humanitarian aid to the Syrian people.

Mr. President, the United States calls on all Council members, as well as our regional partners, to ensure that the UN has the operational capacity to implement cross-border aid deliveries throughout all agreed border crossings in accordance with resolution 2449. No one should politicize or try to dictate UN operations for cross-border aid delivery in Syria. Not the Assad Regime. Not the Russian Federation. No one.

The Assad regime continues to only prioritize provision of humanitarian assistance, including cross-border assistance, to areas controlled by regime forces. Yet even areas under regime control, like Quneitra and Dara’a Governorates in southwest Syria, are struggling and reliant on approvals that are purposefully delayed by regime officials in Damascus. These delays of regime approvals for routine humanitarian access requests underscore the importance of cross-border operations to continue unimpeded from all four border crossings, including the al-Ramtha crossing from Jordan, which represents a direct route to reach the hundreds of thousands in need in southwest Syria.

The United States remains committed to the guiding principles for the voluntary and safe return of IDPs and refugees in dignity. They should return only at a time of their choosing. They should be able to choose where they go. They should have access to proper civil documentation necessary for the exercise of their legal rights. They should be able to reclaim their property, and when this is not possible, be given appropriate compensation. And they should be free from fear that they will be victims of disappearances, unlawful detention, and forced conscription.

Finally, Mr. President, the United States is alarmed by the surge this month in Russian and regime airstrikes in the Idlib Governorate that have killed scores and displaced more than more than 110,000 people. The United States’ position on Idlib is clear – the September 2018 Russian-Turkish ceasefire must hold. Any military escalation, including any use of chemical weapons, by the regime and its allies in Idlib would be catastrophic for the millions of people there, and for the stability of Syria’s neighbors and the broader region.

I thank you.