Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
May 30, 2023
Thank you very much, Madam President. And thank you, Special Envoy Pedersen and Ms. Mudawi for your informative briefings. I’d also like to appreciate and thank Ms. Aveline for her sobering update about the needs on the ground. We are grateful for all you do alongside so many humanitarian workers to assist the Syrian people in their time of need.
Recent public attention has focused on the evolving relationship between Syria and its neighbors. But this obscures a simple fact: The situation within Syria has not fundamentally changed for the better.
For more than 12 years of war and the recent earthquake, the humanitarian crisis in Syria has reached new heights. More than 6.8 million Syrians remain displaced within Syria, and another 5.3 million live as refugees in neighboring countries. And as we speak, Syria continues to export instability to neighboring states and remains a safe haven for extremist and terrorist groups. In short, the Syrian crisis remains a staggering human tragedy, and a threat to regional and international peace and security.
The Assad regime has cynically tried to seize on the outpouring of international support following the earthquakes to reclaim its place on the world stage. But merely sitting at the same table as other regional leaders does nothing to help the people of Syria. And while the United States welcomed this month’s announcement that the United Nations will continue to have access to Bab al-Salaam and to al-Rai border crossings through August 13, the truth is that human suffering does not occur in three-month increments. And the devastation caused by the earthquakes will take much longer than another three months to alleviate.
If the Assad regime wants to help the Syrian people, it should act immediately and announce that it will keep the Bab al-Salaam and al-Rai crossings open through at least August 2024, or as long as it takes. And even if the Assad regime does the right thing, it is frankly no substitute for actions by this Council, which has a responsibility to respond to the dire humanitarian needs of the Syrian people. As we have heard, the Secretary-General has said a 12-month extension is indispensable, and it is a matter of life and death for the Syrian people.
Due to its scale and scope, the UN humanitarian response requires longer timelines for planning and implementation, particularly of early recovery projects. And the cost-savings associated with a 12-month timeline are significant and ever more essential at a time of decreasing humanitarian contributions, given vast global needs.
Colleagues, immediately after the earthquake in February, we saw just how insufficient one border crossing point was given the scale of the humanitarian challenge. And we saw what happened when that one crossing, Bab al-Hawa, temporarily closed. Think of the lives that could have been saved had the UN been able to use several crossings to immediately surge the delivery of assistance into northwest Syria.
Going forward, the UN must have multiple access options available. For this reason, the United States will work with the penholders to seek a 12-month authorization of all border crossing points – Bab al-Hawa, Bab al-Salaam, and al-Rai – through a Security Council resolution this July. We encourage all Council members to back this resolution, which will provide confidence, predictability, and desperately needed support for humanitarian workers, the UN, and the Syrian people.
At the same time, we also encourage additional progress on cross-line assistance to all areas of Syria. We support all modalities to ensure the delivery of assistance through the most efficient and safe means. We welcome the completion of the cross-line delivery to Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad on May 24. And we remain concerned about the lack of progress on long-delayed cross-line missions to Rukban.
Before I close, I also want to discuss the political situation. The Jeddah Declaration from the Arab League summit stressed the need for the regime to take effective practical steps to resolve the conflict in line with Security Council Resolution 2254. We expect the members of the Arab League to hold Syria to the commitment it made to the UN framework at this summit.
One practical step the regime can take is to release the more than 130,000 detainees it holds in its prisons and torture chambers, and to provide an accounting of those who have disappeared or died. The United States also calls on other actors to release and provide more information on those unjustly detained, including those taken by terrorist groups like Da’esh and Al Nusra.
Although the Assad regime claims it is ready to work with regional actors to receive refugees, we see no indication that the regime is committed to ending its harassment, arbitrary detention, torture, and ill-treatment of returnees. Moreover, the regime, along with Russia, continues airstrikes that impact IDP camps in northern Syria. And we must also press the Assad regime to create the conditions for safe, voluntary, and dignified returns of refugees. And countries that have generously hosted millions of refugees must refrain from prematurely pressing them to return.
Finally, this Council must speak with one voice on the need for the Syrian regime to return to the Constitutional Committee. Until there is political progress toward a durable resolution of the conflict, U.S. sanctions will remain in place. And to those who blame sanctions for the state of Syria, let’s be serious: Assad shattered Syria with his brutal war and heinous human rights violations. The United States will continue to hold the regime accountable for its abuses, including torture and killing.
We will however at the same time continue to help provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable. And we ask that others provide more. Syrians should not be forced to live day by day as we heard from Ms. Aveline. We will continue to work with this Council and all Member States to build a more reliable future for the Syrian people, particularly women and children.
Thank you, Madam President.