Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis
Acting Deputy Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 23, 2023
Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you to Special Envoy Pedersen and to Mr. Tahlama for your helpful, but sobering briefings.
The war in Syria has entered its 13th year. The toll of this war is unimaginable – hundreds of thousands of people killed and many more injured; towns, villages, and neighborhoods leveled; more than 155,000 people unjustly detained and missing; and more than 13 million people internally displaced or living as refugees. A generation of children in Syria have known nothing but war and deprivations.
In these years of war, the Assad regime has never seriously sought peace, but rather committed atrocities, some of which have risen to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and hid behind its patrons, Russia and Iran.
The Assad regime’s refusal to participate in meetings of the Constitutional Committee over the last eight months, after nine rounds of meetings where the regime attended but acted in bad faith, is a clear demonstration of Assad’s belief that he can fight, or starve, the Syrian people into submission.
Special Envoy Pedersen has diligently sought to find any means to advance the stalled political process through his broad engagement with all parties in his step-for-step initiative. The United States supports this effort. As we have said previously, our full participation would require the Syrian regime to reciprocate in good faith.
And yet, as the Assad regime appears content to stall, perhaps seeking better offers and concessions from the international community while proposing nothing to build confidence and demonstrate that Damascus is willing to work towards peace and stability.
Assad must reengage constructively in the UN-facilitated, Syrian-led political process consistent with Resolution 2254. This is the only viable path to find a lasting political solution to the conflict.
We caution those states that are engaging with Assad to seek verifiably constructive outcomes for Syrians and the broader region. In any engagement, real steps to ensure sustained, predictable, and independent humanitarian access, to bring an end to the regime’s atrocities, and to otherwise improve the situation for the people in Syria should be front and center. The Assad regime needs to take irreversible steps to alleviate suffering.
Assad is still the brutal dictator whose regime repeatedly used chemical weapons against the Syrian people, as the most recent OPCW report further demonstrated. His regime has conducted attacks on civilians, schools, and hospitals, and has detained, tortured, or murdered hundreds of thousands of people. Assad is also flooding the region with Captagon, spreading addiction and criminality. The tragedy of the earthquake has not transformed Assad into a statesman worthy of embrace. Only genuine, comprehensive, and irreversible reform will do that.
In the meantime, we will focus our efforts on improving the situation on the ground for the millions of people in Syria. The humanitarian crisis in Syria was desperate before the earthquake, with more than 15 million people in need of assistance. The United States has been the largest donor of humanitarian assistance for Syria, providing nearly $16 billion over the 12 years of war.
The earthquake massively exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria, with enormous needs for shelter, medical supplies, food, and fuel. The United States has announced $235 million in earthquake relief for Syria and Türkiye, including an additional $50 million announced this week at the donor conference generously hosted by Sweden and the European Union.
We urge all states to help with earthquake recovery and, when possible, to work directly with the UN and other humanitarian organizations to ensure assistance gets to those in need. The Brussels VII donors conference for Syria and the region this summer will be an important moment to show our solidarity with the Syrian people and with the countries that so generously host Syrian refugees.
The United States reiterates our support for the distribution of humanitarian aid through all modalities. The continued flow of UN cross-border aid through Bab al-Hawa, and Bab al-Salam, and al-Rai is essential to save lives. We applaud the UN for taking full advantage of the increased access it has been temporarily afforded for its humanitarian operations in response to the earthquake. We urge all parties to do everything possible to ensure sustained, predictable humanitarian access to populations in need in Syria, and we urge against any attempt to exploit the tragedy of the earthquake for political gain. We also strongly urge all parties to facilitate cross-line aid to the northwest and to all Syrian communities in need.
We categorically reject assertions that U.S. sanctions are the cause of the humanitarian crisis in Syria – Assad’s 12 years of war, abetted by his regime’s mismanagement and corruption, are the obvious cause of the crisis.
We also reject assertions that our sanctions, which target Assad and his cronies who have committed atrocities and abuses, hinder humanitarian assistance. Our sanctions have carveouts that support the flow of humanitarian assistance through the UN and international NGOs, and since the earthquake we have worked not only with humanitarian organizations to ensure they can continue their work but also with foreign governments to ensure we can address the needs of the Syrian people.
Since February 6, we have seen countless relief and medical supplies arriving in both regime and non-regime areas via land, air, and sea from all over the world. We continue to stand ready to assist those providing legitimate humanitarian aid if they perceive any sanctions-related hinderance to delivering assistance.
Women have been uniquely harmed by the conflict, particularly those women whose family members have been arbitrarily detained by the regime. While we are focused on helping to address basic needs following these devastating earthquakes, at the same time, we have not forgotten the tens of thousands who have been unjustly detained and missing since long before the earthquakes struck.
Family members have a right to know the fates of their loved ones. The United States supports the establishment of a humanitarian mechanism to catalogue and report the whereabouts of the detained and the fate of those who are missing. We look forward to working with others to help establish such a mechanism.
Nearly one year ago, Assad announced a broad amnesty. We took note of this effort at the time, hopeful for real progress. While this reportedly resulted in the release of some 500 people – a comfort to the families of those individuals – it unfortunately left unaddressed the fate of thousands of others. We urge the regime and all actors to immediately release arbitrary detainees in a humane and orderly fashion and to share information on those who have died in detention and return their bodies to loved ones.
Thank you, Mr. President.