"Aleppo must not become the new Homs"
Middle East - Statement by Mr Alexis Lamek, Deputy Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations, chargé d’Affaires a.i. - Security Council - 22 August 2016
I would also like to begin by thanking Stephen O’Brien for the Secretary-General’s latest report (S/2016/714) and for his briefing this morning.
The Security Council is meeting publicly in order to give the humanitarian situation in Syria the attention in deserves, as the picture is dreadful. In Aleppo, 250,000 people are facing what the Secretary-General calls an uprecedented humanitarian catastrophe. Civilians endure endless aerial bombardments. Moreover, chemical-weapons attacks were documented in Aleppo on 10 August, as they were in Saraqeb nine days prior. Such attacks constitute a violation of resolution 2118 (2013) and yet another instance of a war crime and attack against civilians.
Three years ago, almost to the day, Bashar Al-Assad’s regime massacred over 1,000 civilians through the use of chemical weapons in Ghouta. I would like to take the occasion of this notorious anniversary to reaffirm France’s determination to ensuring that this crime is not forgotten and does not go unpunished.
Aleppo joins the list of cities besieged by the regime and its allies, using the same methods. Last February, the cessation of hostilities sparked new hope. The regime seeks to quash that hope. It has never truly desisted from its efforts to plunge the city into a humanitarian chaos of unprecedented scope. In fact, it is clear today that its agreement to a cessation of hostilities was merely an attempt to mask an exclusively military strategy. Aleppo must not become the new Homs. It is the responsibility of the Security Council to check the military course currently at work.
Elsewhere in Syria, the situation is no longer sustainable. Given that air strikes have become incessant, Syrians are trying to survive under the bombs. Humanitarian access continues to be hampered in Dar’a, Darayya and Madaya, endangering the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians. As Stephen O’Brien has reminded us, the United Nations humanitarian plan for the month of August is a serious failure. With regard to the month of July, the report is just as disappointing, as less than half of the population under siege was able to receive food aid, while medical supplies continued to be removed from convoys by the Syrian regime. Syrian civilians lack everything, and we know where responsibility lies.
What has happened? On 22 December 2015 the Security Council adopted resolution 2258 (2015), which demands that,“[a]ll parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, immediately comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law and international humanitarian rights law as applicable” (resolution 2258 (2015), para. 1).
Since then, after a brief pause, the brutality again escalated. On 4 May, after the resumption of hostilities by the regime and its allies, we organized with the United Kingdom delegation an open meeting on Aleppo (see S/PV.7687) to call for compliance with the Council’s demands regarding the humanitarian situation and, in particular, for the cessation of attacks against civilians and adherence to the timetable agreed by the Council in resolution 2254 (2015).
But none of those commitments has materialized. As Mr. O’Brien has just said, we are moving in reverse. The relentless bombing has continued, humanitarian access to besieged cities has been continuously denied and the prospect of establishing a transitional authority by 1 August was scratched out in a pen stroke through the regime’s operations supported by its allies. The tragedy in Aleppo was fully described during the Arria Formula meeting on 8 August. The poignant story of CNN journalist Clarissa Ward and the statements made by Aleppo doctors drew attention to the scandalous practice of targeting medical facilities. As Mr. O’brien has just mentioned, Khaled Harrah of the White Helmets died several days later. I, too, would like here to pay tribute to him, as well as to all humanitarian workers.
The negotiations in Geneva on the terms of a truce in Aleppo must be completed. International humanitarian law and the principles governing humanitarian efforts are not negotiable. The introduction of weekly humanitarian pauses is a strict minimum requirement, which, moreover, should have been implemented much earlier. But above all, what is required is respect for one of the most fundamental rights in situations of armed conflict, namely, unconditional, safe, full and unhindered humanitarian access — in Aleppo and throughout Syria — for all people in need of it.
Similarly, a lasting cessation of hostilities is pressing and crucial throughout the country. Depriving people of their rights and all protection seeds the ground for their radicalization. We must break that spiral, which has caused too much suffering. Only a cessation of hostilities will allow for credible political negotiations. We remind everyone that there is no military solution to the conflict and that only a political solution can bring back stability and lastingly staunch the source of radicalization. As called for in resolution 2254 (2015), France again calls for the implementation of “[a]n inclusive and Syrian-led political process that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people, with a view to full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012”(resolution 2254 (2015), fifth preambular paragraph).
France again expresses its adamance in that regard, so that the supporters of the regime work towards implementing the commitments collectively undertaken in this forum.