In Eastern Ghouta, the worst is yet to come [fr]
Emergency meeting on eastern Ghouta
Statement by Mr François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council - 22 February 2018
I would like to thank Mr. Mark Lowcock for his enlightening briefing of the situation of the inhabitants of eastern Ghouta. Mr. Lowcock has said it all — the torrent of fire that is indiscriminately falling eastern Ghouta is relentlessly pushing the limits of horror and human suffering. There are no words to describe what is taking place in eastern Ghouta as we speak.
The regime is not merely bombing its own people. It is methodically targeting hospitals and vital infrastructure for the population with the macabre aim of ensuring that the injured who have not perished during the shelling do not survive the wounds inflicted upon them. We must insist that the attacks against hospitals and health-care personnel constitute war crimes, and the perpetrators must be held accountable. The reports we have received from non-governmental organizations and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights are unbearable. Twenty eight attacks struck 20 hospitals in eastern Ghouta since January. More than 700 individuals are in need of urgent medical evacuation. Those evacuations are systematically blocked by the Damascus regime, which has been the case for months. More than 400,000 people, including 130,000 children, have been besieged for months by the regime as part of a siege that is reminiscent of the Middle Ages.
We should make no mistake: the Syrian regime and its allies are brandishing the fight against jihadist fighters, the need for which no one is disputing, as justification of an offensive aimed at entirely different goals. Its real intentions are indeed to annihilate any and all opposition and break the morale of civilians by indiscriminately massacring them. The offensive against eastern Ghouta, which has seen an unbridled acceleration in recent years — the worst of which is undoubtedly yet to come — has added to both the methods and consequences of the new Aleppo. Let us recall that in that city the intensification of bombing preceded a reconquest operation and unknown levels of violence that never sought to shield civilians or rule out the use of chemical weapons. We shall be particularly vigilant on the latter.
Yesterday, through President Macron, France emphatically condemned the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and civilian infrastructure. We called for the immediate establishment of a ceasefire to enable medical evacuations and humanitarian access to the people. The Secretary-General also spoke resolutely along the same lines. As was recalled this morning by the French Foreign Minister, Mr. Jean-Yves Le Drian, any lack of action is an indication of guilt. We must act swiftly, for the Council has the means at its disposal, if the willingness is put forth.
Sweden and Kuwait, the commitment of which France commends, have proposed a draft resolution demanding an immediate cessation of hostilities to enable humanitarians to evacuate the wounded and gain access to the people. The draft resolution before us does not seem to me to be a political judgement. It conveys the humanitarian imperative that, as such, must bring us together.
Accordingly, we have noted Russia’s intention to propose changes to the draft resolution. We will consider them, but it is crucial that we quickly adopt the draft resolution so that a cessation of hostilities takes place immediately, as addressing the situation on the ground is of the utmost urgency.
A cessation of hostilities is not a concession. It is the minimal form of response to the repeated requests of the United Nations and humanitarian actors, which have been communicated by members of the Council. Subsequently, it is up to the regime’s supporters to ensure full respect and to respond to all calls for access to humanitarian assistance and medical evacuations under international humanitarian law. It is inconceivable to us that a Council member could be opposed to that.
At the same time, we must — and France stands ready to — redouble our efforts to establish a neutral environment that will allow for a credible political process and the holding of elections in Syria. Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, France has consistently advocated for the priority of achieving a negotiated solution to the military situation and of finding a political solution that satisfies the aspirations of the Syrian people, ensures lasting peace and stops terrorism in its tracks. France will not deviate from the road map adopted by the international community. We have already said, and will say once again, that only a political, inclusive solution, established under the auspices of the United Nations through enabling a political transition within the framework of the Geneva process and resolution 2254 (2015), will end the suffering of the Syrian people in a credible and lasting manner.
I should like to conclude with both a warning and an appeal. Not only has the situation in Syria reverted to the tragic darkest hours of the crisis, but, if we fail to react robustly and immediately — let us make no mistake — the worst is yet to come. The worst is the endless escalation of the humanitarian crisis that is crushing the people, any semblance of humanity and the very values underpinning the United Nations. A widespread ground campaign directed against eastern Ghouta might well be the next deadly stage. The worst is also the expansion of the conflict. The combination of circumstances before us today might lead to a potentially major regional or even international confrontation. That risk must be taken very seriously.
In the name of our shared values and interests, I call on every member of the Council to join and act together. We owe that to the civilians who are dying by the hundreds in the hell in eastern Ghouta. We owe it to the security of the region and of the world, which we have the collective responsibility to protect. We owe it to upholding the credibility of the United Nations, which is our shared heritage. Let us beware that the Syrian tragedy does not also become the grave of the United Nations.
Je vous remercie.