France reiterates call for unhindered humanitarian access in Syria [fr]
Humanitarian situation in Syria (Raqqa and Rukban) - Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations - Security Council - 17 April 2018
At the outset, I would like to thank the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mr. Mark Lowcock, for his briefing, and once again commend his tireless efforts, as well as those of his teams, in responding to the urgency and gravity of the humanitarian situation in Syria. I would also like to thank Russia for requesting this briefing, which enables us to take stock of the humanitarian situation in both Raqqa and Rukban, a month and a half after the adoption of resolution 2401 (2018).
I will say a few words on the humanitarian situation in Syria as a whole before addressing the specific cases of Raqqa and Rukban, and then finally reiterate our call for true assistance to their people by guaranteeing rapid and secure humanitarian access. That constitutes an key element of our draft resolution on Syria, which is still under negotiation among members of the Security Council.
Despite the adoption of resolution 2401 (2018) and our repeated appeals, the urgency of the humanitarian situation in Syria is flagrant. The situation on the ground in Syria is a nightmare that sees no relief. As we have had the opportunity to highlight during each of the Council’s meetings on the subject, the land offensives, sieges, indiscriminate bombings — including on schools and hospitals — and the use of chemical weapons against the people of Douma on 7 April have razed Syria to the ground, with complete disregard for international law. Resorting to terror as a tactic of war has led, as we all know, to horrific consequences. Moreover, since 18 February, at least 1,800 people have been killed and thousands are suffering from often irremediable wounds.
As Mr. Lowcock has just stated, the humanitarian tragedy in Syria remains a daily scandal and a permanent insult to the global conscience. Since 9 March, approximately 151,000 Syrians have been forced to flee eastern Ghouta. Between 90,000 and 100,000 of them were compelled to join the camps around Damascus, which have restricted access to basic services. To date, only 45,000 people have been authorized to leave the camps, where reception capacities are saturated. Despite the urgent situation, access to the camps is complicated due to the regime’s intensified administrative procedures for humanitarian actors. Humanitarian access for people remaining in eastern Ghouta faces similar obstructions, especially in Douma. These are all tragedies and blatant violations of international humanitarian law.
In Idlib, the arrival of tens of thousands of people evacuated from eastern Ghouta has further exacerbated the humanitarian situation in the province, which now hosts more than 1.2 million internally displaced persons. That means that we must be both active and vigilant when it comes to Idlib: active, in view of the very difficult situation that prevails there today, but also especially vigilant with regard to the risks of further outbursts of violence in the region. If we are not careful, the worst is yet to come in Idlib.
With regard to the situation in Raqqa, as Mr. Lowcock described in his briefing, the city is faced with the challenge posed by the return of 90,000 people. The challenge is certainly a considerable one. However, we must note some positive developments, such as the reopening of schools and three functioning clinics, as well as the distribution of schoolbooks, to mention but a few examples. It is henceforth necessary to allow humanitarian actors to channel water, food and other responses to meet the basic needs of the population. Given the situation left behind by Da’esh in the city, humanitarian demining also presents a crucial issue that all else depends on and where efforts already undertaken must absolutely be continued and augmented. That is an effort in which France is fully participating. We set aside €10 million at the end of 2017 and financed a dozen projects for displaced persons and those wishing to resettle in Raqqa in particular, as well as emergency aid, restoration of basic services, health care and mine clearance.
In Rukban, discussions with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent must lead to allowing the channelling and unloading of cargo by the United Nations, all while ensuring the safety of humanitarian personnel. As resolution 2401 (2018) has not been implemented, I wish to reiterate here, on behalf of France, our urgent appeal to guarantee rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access throughout Syrian territory. That is indeed the key, along with the cessation of hostilities, to a real improvement in the humanitarian situation in Syria. Specifically, that means that the Syrian regime must issue the necessary visas and letters of authorization to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and other humanitarian actors, with three immediate operational objectives in mind.
First, a sufficient number of humanitarian convoys must reach areas that are difficult to access or besieged, and the safety of humanitarian personnel must be guaranteed. Secondly, civilians that remain in eastern Ghouta must receive urgent humanitarian assistance and protection. Thirdly, assistance must be provided to displaced persons, including in the camps and host communities around Damascus, in the Idlib province and in the Euphrates region. The regime’s recovery of eastern Ghouta, in the terrible conditions we know of, does not change those imperatives, which fall under international humanitarian law and resolution 2401 (2018), adopted unanimously by the Council.
It is precisely those objectives that we strongly support in the context of the draft resolution submitted by France, the United Kingdom and the United States to members of the Security Council on Saturday and which was discussed at its first reading yesterday. Our draft resolution aims to achieve essential progress in humanitarian terms, fully consistent with the priorities expressed today. Given the catastrophic situation of the population, France has launched an emergency humanitarian programme of €50 million. The draft resolution also aims to recreate a mechanism for the attribution of responsibility with regard to the use of chemical weapons and to put a definitive end to the Syrian chemical programme. Finally, it requests that conclusive political negotiations be held under the auspices of the United Nations and with the support of Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, in accordance with resolution 2254 (2018).
Finally, beyond the silo approach — which has led to so many impasses — the initiative France has taken with this draft resolution, alongside our British and American partners, articulates, for the first time, humanitarian, political and chemical aspects of the Syrian equation. Through this comprehensive and integrated approach, the draft resolution seeks to recreate a space for negotiation, establish potential areas of convergence and therefore — we hope — create the conditions for a truly diplomatic dynamic on the Syrian dossier. We all know how difficult the task is, but we hope that this approach will help us to break free of the impasse and open up the way to genuine negotiations.
Given the interest sparked by our draft resolution and by the first constructive discussions it has led to, this new approach is, in any case, broadly supported and involves committing on this basis to deepened negotiations that require good faith in the goal to reach a conclusion, even though we are all aware of how challenging that will be. We owe it to the Syrian people who, in their diversity, await us in despair.