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Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UNSC Briefing on the Political Situation in Syria

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
August 23, 2023


Thank you, Special Envoy Pedersen, for your sobering briefing.

And thank you, Ms. Al Kanawati – thank you for calling attention to the unique challenges facing women and men in Syria and the role Syrian women must play in the peace process. I also want to take this opportunity to apologize to you for the unprofessional attack on your credibility by one Member State, and encourage you to continue to raise your voice in defense of the voiceless.

More than 12 years after the beginning of the Syrian revolution, some want to pretend the conflict is over. But the Syrian people continue to suffer the daily reality you detailed – airstrikes, surface-missile attacks, torture and detention, and the denial of humanitarian aid.

And let’s be clear: The Syrian conflict radiates instability across the region. Millions are unable to return to their homes. And the regime facilitates drug trafficking.

In recent days, we’ve seen peaceful protests in cities like Daraa and Al Suweida, where Syrians have called for political changes and for all parties to uphold Resolution 2254. These are areas where the revolution started, and it is clear that peaceful demands have not been met.

This Council has repeatedly reaffirmed the full implementation of all aspects of Resolution 2254. It is our shared roadmap, but progress is elusive. We appreciate your persistent efforts, Special Envoy Pedersen, to encourage renewed momentum toward a political settlement in the face of steadfast opposition by the Assad regime and its backers, including Russia.

Colleagues, this week, we marked the 10th anniversary of one of the most horrific events in recent memory when the Assad regime launched rockets carrying the deadly nerve agent sarin into the Ghouta district of Damascus. This attack killed more than 1,400 people and injured many more.

Ms. Al Kanawati herself was a survivor, and the United States remembers and honors the victims and survivors of this attack, and of the other chemical attacks carried out by the Assad regime. We continue to call for long-overdue justice and accountability for these horrific attacks.

Even in the face of these disturbing human rights violations, many brave Syrian women – like you, Ms. Al Kanawati – have continued to speak out and promote a peaceful, inclusive, and sustainable political solution. And they have called for dismantling discriminatory laws and systems and building an equal Syria.

We must ensure these women don’t just have a seat at the table, but they have a seat at the head of the table. Especially because the conflict has had a unique and devastating impact on Syrian women, many of whom are the sole breadwinners of their families.

Pre-existing gender inequalities, discriminatory laws, and social injustices exacerbate the challenges that women face. We call on all parties to the conflict in Syria to end restrictions on women and grant equal access to education, legal rights, civil documentation, and property records.

It is also long [past] time for the Assad regime to take necessary steps to improve the lives of the Syrian people including Syria’s youngest, most vulnerable population. Across the country, millions of children remain out of school, putting them at high risk of child labor, early and forced marriage.

The bottom line is this: Until conditions improve, the safe and dignified return of the displaced will not be possible. Syrians will not return so long as they risk being drafted into the Syrian army, unjustly detained, tortured, and forcibly disappeared. And we have seen many cases of returnees being harassed or worse.

We welcome the UN General Assembly’s establishment of the Independent Institution on Missing Persons in Syria to help clarify the fate and whereabouts of at least 155,000 missing and unjustly detained Syrians. We hope all parties to the conflict will participate in this important new institution.

And we reiterate our call for all parties to the conflict to release those arbitrarily detained, to provide human rights organizations access to detention facilities and those within them, and to share information on the missing with families.

Colleagues, we saw the August 15 statement of the Arab Ministerial Liaison Committee on Syria, which expressed an aspiration for the resumption of the Constitutional Committee in Oman by the end of the year. It has been more than a year since the Constitutional Committee last met. And we all know who is holding up progress: Russia. Russia claims to support a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political process, but we know that they are only trying to exploit the situation for leverage.

And while we see no need to change the venue from Geneva, we support any effort that would press the Assad regime to return to the Constitutional Committee. Any selection of the venue must be decided by the parties themselves, and must include input from the Syrian Negotiations Committee. And there must be meaningful participation by the regime, regardless of location.

As such, we continue to support you, Special Envoy Pederson. We support you and your efforts to resume a process that will make genuine and verifiable progress toward a political solution.

The regime’s lack of action on broad political transition initiatives, as well as the dire, day-to-day issues facing the Syrian people, demonstrate Assad’s contempt for Syrians. A contempt that we have seen time and time again over more than a decade of war – a war in which Assad has used chemical weapons and committed countless atrocities.

In response to these evils, the United States will continue to promote accountability for the regime’s abuses, including by applying and enforcing sanctions against those who deserve them. U.S. sanctions will remain in place until – at a minimum – there is concrete, measurable progress toward a political solution. And let me be clear: Our sanctions do not target humanitarian assistance.

Colleagues, this Council must not look away or – or worse, move away. Not when atrocities continue. Not when humanitarian needs are greater than ever before. And not when a political solution and accountability are still out of reach. The Syrian people deserve our full support. They deserve peace and security and justice. And we will continue to stand with them in their time of need.

Thank you very much.