Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Syria

Ambassador Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
October 26, 2016


Thank you. I had not intended to speak today. I thought this would be one of the occasions we would actually go into closed consultations and talk to one another rather than talking to the gallery. But I feel compelled because of the statement by the Russian representative and the attack on the United Nations – a United Nations that has been trying, in good faith, to reach people in desperate need; a United Nations that I think, actually, has not gone far enough in calling out a permanent member of the Security Council; a United Nations that tried around-the-clock to work with the armed groups, with countries who attempted to have influence and tried to work with the Russian Federation and was never really given notice to what the Russian Federation’s plans were. Russia decides it’s going to have a pause; decides the pause is over; and presents fait accomplis to the UN, to the international community, even though the UN’s own people are there – vulnerable, on the ground – trying to make a deal happen for the sake of the most vulnerable.

Just a few comments, in response. First, I believe what we just heard in terms of the New Zealand resolution, Gerard, is that if you could produce a resolution that ratifies what the Russian Federation is doing, they’d be happy to support your resolution. So you should bear that in mind. I’d like to say – because one of the things that the United Nations Under-Secretary-General mentioned is the shelling of western Aleppo out of eastern Aleppo, which is something that the Ambassador from the Russian Federation also went on at some length about. We condemn the shelling of civilian areas into western Aleppo. It’s outrageous. Is Russia prepared to condemn the shelling of and the aerial bombardment of eastern Aleppo? Does Russia believe that all the children who are being killed in eastern Aleppo are themselves al-Qaeda members? Is that what happens – you come out of the womb and you’re an al-Qaeda member right from the beginning? Of course Russia can’t condemn the shelling and the bombardment – systematic aerial bombardment – of eastern Aleppo, because Russia’s carrying out the systematic bombardment of eastern Aleppo. Because Russia has brought to bear in the conflict weapons that even a brutal Syrian regime had never used before. These bunker-buster weapons that are designed to get families who are huddled, hospitals that have had to be rebuilt several stories down in basements. These weapons are just designed to target people burrowed in the ground. They’re not designed for terrorists. They are designed to militarily conquer eastern Aleppo by making the civilians relent and cry uncle.

What is so remarkable and troubling about the presentation we’ve heard today, is that what Russia really wants from the UN is credit. Congratulations Russia, you’ve stopped for a couple days from using incendiary weapons. Thank you for not using cluster bombs in civilian areas. Thank you for staying the hand of brutality with regard to bunker buster weapons. You don’t get congratulations and get credit for not committing war crimes for a day, or a week. That’s not how the international system is structured, and nor should it ever be.

If you want an indicator of Russia’s intentions, you heard from Under-Secretary-General O’Brien – there’s the leaflet that Russian and Syrian planes passed out. Because what is said in the Council – which sounds so benevolent you would think Russia was like the Red Cross, and then there’s the leaflet which is what they put into the actual theater where civilians are living and are desperate.

“This is your last hope, save yourselves. If you do not leave these areas urgently, you will be annihilated.” Annihilated. “We have opened for you safe passage to exit. Make a quick decision. Save yourselves. You know that everyone has given up on you. They left you alone to face your doom and nobody will give you any help.” Will the Russian Ambassador state for-the-record that Russia had nothing to do with these leaflets, which came out of Russian planes and came out of Syrian planes? Those of you on the Council who support the Syrian regime, is this a leaflet that you also would throw your weight behind?

Russia can’t have it both ways: to pretend to care about the well-being of people of eastern Aleppo, and at the same time to threaten to annihilate those who remain in their homes. Russia made an announcement about six humanitarian corridors and urged people to take those corridors, including people with arms, as the Russian Ambassador recalled. But also medical evacuations and so forth.

We worked very hard with the UN and others to try to use whatever influence we could to make that happen. Here was our challenge: the families of those who needed medical evacuation, as was put today, the “so-called wounded” – they’re not the “so-called wounded,” they’re the wounded – by your bombs. But those families and those individuals, not withstanding their grave and potentially fatal injuries, were terrified. They were terrified about entrusting their fates to the people who’d been bombing their neighborhoods. That’s an unfortunate fact, but it’s not a crazy one. I mean, again, if we were there and we’d been subjected to this siege; if Russia and Syria – the regime – had refused to allow food in since July 7; if it had sent out a leaflet threatening annihilation – then they say, “Here are your six corridors. Come, trust us. We have a humanitarian objective, we want to help you with your medical issues.” Again, we threw our weight behind it because we were so desperate also to get these people out, and because we wanted to support the WHO and the UN in its on-the-ground tactical efforts. But they don’t become “so-called wounded” just because they’re terrified of ending up like the people in the Caesar photos. They’re wounded. They’re desperate. And they’re terrified of being pulverized by the Russian Federation and by the Syrian regime.

Today, we’ve talked a lot about Aleppo – both sides of Aleppo. But Under-Secretary-General O’Brien also referenced the shelling in Idlib. If you haven’t – and it’s very hard to make oneself do this – look at the pictures of what happened in Haas today. Just look at the pictures. Look at the kids carrying their backpacks, frozen, as they attempted to go to school before being hit either by the Russian Federation or the Syrian regime. More than a dozen parachute bombs. On a school. Today.

It’s not history. It’s not Srebrenica 20 years ago. It’s not Rwanda 22 years ago. It’s Grozny, but it’s today and it’s in eastern Aleppo. The Ambassador from the Russian Federation said that if we needed to be preached to, we would go to a church. I think given what’s happening, it would maybe be useful if more people went to church. Thank you.