Idlib area has become a humanitarian, migration and security time bomb [fr]
The situation in Idlib
Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council - 7 September 2018
I thank the United States presidency for convening this meeting, which comes at a critical moment and allows us to reiterate collectively our serious concerns about the situation in Idlib. I also thank Mr. John Ging and Mr. Staffan de Mistura for their very enlightening briefings and commitment and that of their teams.
Let us go straight to the facts. Syria is once again on the verge of abyss, as the Idlib area has become a humanitarian, migration and security time bomb. That is the three-alarm fire that we would face in the event of a massive military offensive on the part of the regime. The risk is considerable and clearly defined. In recent history, few disasters have been as clearly anticipated and been the subject of as many convergent warnings by the international community. As the moment of truth approaches, those repeated warnings, made through all means available, must be fully grasped by the stakeholders. That is the very purpose of today’s meeting and there is not a minute to lose.
As we speak, a large-scale military offensive by the regime, supported by its allies, appears to be imminent in Idlib, where hundreds of thousands of Syrians have taken refuge throughout the conflict. As John Ging and Staffan de Mistura reminded us, Idlib counts almost 3 million inhabitants. More than half of them have already been displaced from other parts of Syria. In that context, a large-scale military offensive would create a new humanitarian disaster, given that those civilians have nowhere else to go. We are now only all too familiar with how such offensives repeatedly play out, entailing large-scale violations of international humanitarian law with deliberate, deadly attacks on civilians, indiscriminate air raids and the risk of the renewed use of chemical weapons by the regime. Such an offensive would also lead to a major migration crisis for northern Syria, Turkey, and potentially Europe and even other parts of the world. Such an offensive would also pose a serious threat to regional security with the spillover of jihadist fighters there. Lastly, a large-scale military operation would have repercussions in Europe and even beyond.
Given the gravity of the situation and the stakes, we call on the Astana guarantors, who are meeting today in Tehran and have the means at their disposal to stop events from spiralling out of control — especially Syria, Russia and Iran — to shoulder their responsibilities and commit to three imperatives: to respect the ceasefire, of which they are the guarantors; to guarantee full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access throughout Syria, while protecting civilians; and to make way for a process leading to a credible political solution to the Syrian crisis. Respect for the ceasefire is the only viable path.
Let us make no mistake — the goal is to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and not merely to manage it as best as we can. Those supporting the Syrian regime have the means to prevent such a crisis, as the regime does not have the ability to act alone. A new massacre would therefore be the responsibility and the failure of the regime’s supporters. Conversely, they can still halt the escalation and show the world that they have paved the way for a peaceful settlement. There is still time to avoid disaster in Idlib, but once again there is not a minute to spare. That is why we call on Russia and Iran to ensure the maintenance of the Idlib region as the last de-escalation zone, to protect civilians and to respect and enforce full respect for international humanitarian law there.
I welcome the steps taken by the United Nations to prevent escalation and its significant efforts to help the civilian population, as John Ging mentioned earlier. I also welcome Turkey’s efforts to that end. For its part, France has been fully engaged, in particular alongside Presidents Erdoğan and Putin, to avoid any offensive and to relaunch the political process. At the same time, we must do everything possible to ensure safe, full and unhindered humanitarian access and the protection of civilians, civilian infrastructure and humanitarian personnel. We commend the difficult work of the United Nations on the ground and encourage Mark Lowcock, his team and John Ging to persevere in their requests to the Syrian authorities.
I also recall the crucial nature of aid provided by cross-border convoys, authorized by resolution 2393 (2017). Assistance via Turkey facilitates the daily delivery of vital support to almost 2 million people in the north-west. It is therefore our responsibility to help maintain and strengthen cross-border aid. France will maintain and adapt its assistance accordingly to north-western Syria.
We must be extremely vigilant with regard to exploiting the issue of humanitarian corridors. The forced displacement of thousands of people to areas under the regime’s control in the total absence of international supervision would in no way be humanitarian, but would rather amount to war crimes. Priority should continue to be placed on the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
Lastly, as our highest-level political authorities have stressed on more than one occasion, I reaffirm in the strongest terms that we will exercise the utmost vigilance concerning any verified renewed use of chemical weapons by the regime and our full resolve to take action in any such situation, alongside the United Kingdom and the United States, as we have stated previously.
Concerning the fight against the terrorist threat, in which France is on the front line, it can in no way justify what we have witnessed in Syria. When the struggle against terrorism is used to justify indiscriminate attacks on civilians and serious violations of international humanitarian law, it becomes merely a pretext whose effect — and perhaps goal — only fuels the terrorism that it asserts to combat.
Everyone here must carefully consider the fact that a massacre in Idlib would undermine the efforts undertaken to reach a political solution. We must therefore strive for a sustainable, inclusive and credible political solution, pursuant to resolution 2254 (2015), which the Council adopted by consensus. In the immediate term, we must support the establishment of a constitutional committee with the help of Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, whom I thank once again. Such a committee must meet as soon as possible and carry out its work in a completely independent manner under the auspices of the United Nations, which is the very prerequisite for its credibility. We all know that this is just one step, and it will be essential to quickly address the issue of the holding of free and fair elections, open to all Syrians, including refugees and internally displaced persons, as well as the creation of a neutral environment conducive to the restoration of trust and the implementation substantive reforms. Those will be essential steps, and that is the only way to avoid the prolongation of the crisis ad vitam æternam.
In conclusion, I stress that a deadly offensive in Idlib would mark not the end of the Syrian crisis, as certain experts in the art of confusion would have us believe, but rather the beginning of a new phase in the protracted Syrian tragedy, which would be characterized by radicalization, instability, an endless cycle of the same causes and effects, the entrenchment of terrorism and a possible geographic spread of the conflict. Beyond the looming humanitarian disaster, that is what is at stake in Idlib.
Our collective responsibility is to look to the future. The European Union and several partners have clearly reiterated that they can assist in rebuilding Syria only when an irreversible, credible and inclusive political transition is indeed under way. There will be no blank cheque for Syria or a massive return of refugees without confidence-building measures that guarantee a secure environment. Contrary to what the regime and its allies would have us believe, it is clear that it is not the lack of rebuilding that prevents the return of refugees, but rather the lack of credible progress in the political process.
We are therefore at a crossroads. France again calls on the Astana guarantors to respect the ceasefire because an escalation of violence is in no one’s interest and, as we speak, could even be avoided. That alone will enable us to move towards an inclusive political solution. It is in our best interest and above all that of the Syrian people. On behalf of France and in support of the Geneva process, I invite us all to forge ahead towards a political solution that is within reach if we unite our efforts and overcome all difficulties.