Acting in the face of the humanitarian catastrophe in north-western Syria [fr]
Humanitarian issues in Syria
Statement by Mr. Nicolas de Rivière, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council – 30 July 2019
I would like to thank Mark Lowcock and commend the outstanding work of his teams in responding to the humanitarian emergency in Syria. I would also like to thank the Policy Director of Physicians for Human Rights for her briefing and for the commitment of humanitarian and medical staff on the ground. The assessment made by our two briefers is irrefutable — there is a humanitarian disaster taking place in north-west Syria. The lives of more than 3 million civilians, including 1 million children, are at stake.
Beyond the emergency response, we must focus more than ever on three priorities.
1/ The first is the restoration of the ceasefire in Idlib, which is an absolute imperative.
France condemns in the strongest terms the strikes that continue to indiscriminately target civilians and civilian and humanitarian infrastructure.
We call on the signatories to the ceasefire agreement — Turkey and Russia — to honour their commitments and ensure its effective implementation in north-west Syria with a view to establishing a nationwide ceasefire, in accordance with resolution 2254 (2015). Russia must apply the necessary pressure on the regime to avoid further violence, the primary victims of which are civilians. Fighting the terrorist groups listed by the United Nations is necessary, but that must never be used as an excuse for indiscriminate bombing, which only increases the risk of terrorism and, in particular, the risk of the scattering of jihadists.
Moreover, I reiterate that France will be extremely firm and stands ready to react in the event of a new, confirmed use of chemical weapons.
2/ Respect for international humanitarian law is binding on all and is not negotiable. That is the second priority.
The parties to the conflict must assume their responsibilities to protect civilians, particularly the most vulnerable and humanitarian and medical personnel. The targeting of civilian and humanitarian infrastructure, such as hospitals and schools, including those that have been deconflicted, is an unacceptable violation of international humanitarian law. We call on the United Nations to investigate such incidents. The deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure constitutes a war crime and will not go unpunished.
Immediate, safe, secure, comprehensive, sustainable and unhindered humanitarian access to the entire Syrian territory must be guaranteed. That is the regime’s primary responsibility. Humanitarian aid must be able to reach, as a matter of priority, those most in need — women, children, displaced persons and refugees. There is an urgent need for a new aid convoy to be immediately deployed to Rukban camp. We call upon those who have the means to do so to exert the necessary pressure on the regime to ensure such access in all areas under its control, in particular in the territories it reclaimed in 2018, in the south-west and in eastern Ghouta.
The findings of the Human Rights Watch report that documents the regime’s obstruction and predatory humanitarian aid practices warrant a response. It is essential that the delivery of humanitarian aid not be arbitrarily impeded when supplied in accordance with the principles of neutrality, independence, humanity and impartiality. Here, too, the regime’s supporters have a particular responsibility.
3/ The third priority is the launching of a sustainable political process under the auspices of the United Nations, on the basis of resolution 2254 (2015) in its entirety. The Council must be united in that objective.
We fully support the Special Envoy’s efforts in that regard. We welcome his ongoing efforts and reiterate our call for rapid progress on the political process. We call for a credible and balanced constitutional package, both in the composition of the committee and in its procedural rules.
It is the sole responsibility of the Special Envoy to announce the formation of the committee and to convene it in Geneva. If the regime continues to impede it, it will be up to the Special Envoy to tell us when he considers that he has exhausted all possible avenues to reach agreement on the committee. It will then be the responsibility of the Council to decide how to proceed.
In parallel, we must now start preparing for the holding of free and transparent elections, under the supervision of the United Nations, and in which all Syrians, including refugees, will participate, in accordance with resolution 2254 (2015). To emerge from the Syrian tragedy, it is essential to give Syrians an opportunity to express themselves freely about the future of their country. That work must go hand in hand with the pursuit of confidence-building measures that can contribute to the establishment of a neutral and secure environment.
Without progress on those essential points, there is no reason for France and its partners to change their positions on reconstruction, the lifting of sanctions and normalization.
The regime and its supporters are continuing to destroy infrastructure, particularly medical and educational facilities. They have already asked the international community to finance what they are currently destroying. That is out of the question. There can be no military solution to the Syrian crisis.