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Ambassador Power: In Syria We are Witnessing the Worst Humanitarian Crisis in a Generation
February 14, 2014

Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations at a Security Council Stakeout on Syria, February 13, 2014
New York, NY
February 13, 2014


Hi everybody. As you know, Under Secretary Amos just briefed the Council and her report only re-confirmed what’s already painfully clear to everyone who has seen the images of emaciated and tortured Syrians, of dead and dying children, and of so much more. In Syria we are witnessing the worst humanitarian crisis we have seen in a generation.

This Council and the international community have called upon the Assad regime to facilitate immediate humanitarian access and to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people. But despite concerted efforts to get the regime to take concrete action on humanitarian issues, the Presidential Statement we issued in October has not been heeded. Indeed, it has been systematically disregarded.

The situation has only gotten worse in the last four months. In October, when the Council adopted the Presidential Statement, there were 6.8 million Syrians in need of assistance. Now that number is 9.3 million, a rise of more than one-third. There were 4.25 million internally displaced persons, now there are 6.5 million internally displaced persons – an increase of more than 50%. And throughout all of this, the Syrian Government has indiscriminately shelled civilian areas, including the almost daily use of barrel bombs on Aleppo, driving the death toll from 100,000 estimated in October to approximately 136,000 today.

Reportedly, nearly 5000 people have been killed just since the Geneva II talks began. That is the most concentrated period of killing in the entire duration of the conflict – that’s just in the last three weeks – so it is not enough for us to stand here and say there has been no progress, which there hasn’t, we must recognize and state very forcefully that the situation has gotten worst, and is getting worst.

Given these developments, the Security Council must consider additional ways to improve the humanitarian situation. Pressure was brought to bear on the Assad regime in regard to Homs, but let’s not overstate the case there — the deal on Homs took too long to negotiate, the cease-fire was broken by regime shelling just as evacuations and deliveries got underway, and the aid and evacuations, of an estimated 1,400 people – every one of those people matters and we are grateful again that they are out – but the evacuation of 1,400 people does not compare to the more than 200,000 people that remain trapped in besieged areas in Syria and under regime sieges particularly. What’s more, we see that the regime has forced more than 200 men between the ages of 15 and 55 into screening facilities. Given the regime’s past actions, we cannot take the safety of these men for granted and it is essential to press the Syrian regime to release those individuals and to ensure that the UN remains present as an any contact with government authorities in place.

Homs is only a small part of a larger catastrophe. The international community should not have to take action in order for a leader to simply allow the delivery of food and humanitarian assistance to his people in need. It should be a primary responsibility of any government. Clearly that is not the case with the Assad regime, which currently controls more than 80% of the besieged areas. Given the regime’s deliberate denial of humanitarian access to innocent civilians in besieged communities, it is clear the Security Council must take humanitarian action.

The United States strongly supports the draft humanitarian resolution circulated to the Council on Tuesday – which I am sure most of you have managed to read by now – and we are negotiating within the Council to ensure a final text that will make a real difference on the ground. Working in unison, we were able to negotiate a resolution to rid the world of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, an effort, as you know, is very much a work in progress. But now, this Council must speak with a united voice demanding immediate, full humanitarian access to those in need, particularly in besieged areas and increased flows of assistance, including across borders. Thank you and I’d be happy to take a few questions.

Reporter: Madam Ambassador, would a resolution that does not have consequences for those who do not implement – like with the Presidential Statement and things as you just stated, of course – would that be acceptable to the drafters of the Australia, Jordan, and the West resolution, or would you insist on having some sort of consequences for those people? And the records show that they have the habit of not implementing so far…

Ambassador Power: They definitely have shown that they have that habit. Let me say this: for us, given the gravity of the situation on the ground, better no resolution, than a bad resolution. We are not interested in a resolution, for resolution’s sake. As we intensify our discussions, we have to find text that we think maximizes the likelihood of meaningful consequences on the ground: the kind of levers, the pressure, the enlistment of the full Council. Again, a strong resolution is one that is unanimous like we got on chemical weapons. So we are looking for a text that is going to make a meaningful difference on the ground. I think that’s probably all I should say at this point. We’re just really rolling the sleeves up and trying to decide and agree upon the strongest possible text.

Reporter: Thank you. Madam Ambassador, does that, does that mean – certainly Valerie Amos just talked about the importance of levers to ensure that humanitarian access is granted. Is – are some kind of humanitarian levers a redline or a real key to a new resolution, because you yourself just mentioned that basically a bad resolution is worse than no resolution?

Ambassador Power: This conflict has been underway for almost three years. Council has never managed to speak with one voice on humanitarian issues in Syria in a resolution. The furthest we have been able to get up to this point is a Presidential Statement. We are not interested in enshrining the Presidential Statement in a resolution; we, as I said, are not interested in a resolution for a resolution’s sake, either. What we are seeking to do is put provisions in the resolution and seeking agreement – I cannot guarantee we will get agreement – but seeking agreement on provisions that would, that we believe, would make a difference on the ground and that would increase the likelihood that instead of seeing a dramatic deterioration in humanitarian circumstances, which is what we have seen since the October PRST, that we would influence the calculation of actors on the ground in a new way. And, you know, again there are a lot issues that one can talk about in terms of the deterioration. I have mentioned besieged areas. You and others and I myself have mentioned the importance of cross-border access. Obviously, we have all seen the ghastly images of prison conditions inside Syria which are images that make one’s, I mean you know heart stop. So there’s plenty to cover in this resolution.

Reporter: Not to belabor the point, but do you think that enforcement, some sort of an enforcement mechanism, is absolutely essential at this point; and secondly, what do you make of the Russian draft? Is it a non-starter?

Ambassador Power: I think on the second question I am not going to replicate what my colleague did on the resolution that was circulated by Australia, Luxembourg, and Jordan. What I’ll say on the second question is that we have a strong text; the text has been circulated; we are engaged now in discussions; and given the urgency and the, just, critical needs of innocent men, women, and children on the ground in Syria, we want to move that resolution as quickly as possible. We believe it is the right package, as it were, that it touches on the right set of issues, and we are seeking to enlist our colleagues on the Council in support of that resolution. Again, on the precise content, we are entering into negotiations. The only resolution that seems worth all of this, all of this effort, is something that we can reasonably believe is going to have meaningful consequences on the ground, and that is what we are seeking, and to come back to where I started: no resolution would be preferable to a bad resolution. Thank you.