Only a credible political process will make possible the return of refugees to Syria [fr]
Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council - 24 April 2019
First of all, I warmly thank Ms. Ursula Mueller for her very informative briefing and acknowledge her outstanding work and that of her teams in responding to the humanitarian emergency in Syria. I especially welcome the presence of Nujeen Mustapha among us, and thank her most sincerely for having travelled here to give testimony before the Council. Her courage is a source of inspiration and admiration to us all, and her briefing reminds us of the need to take fully into account both the situation of persons with disabilities and the absolute urgency to end eight years of conflict.
More than ever, we must remain fully ready to act on three key priority areas: maintaining the ceasefire in Idlib, about which Ursula Mueller spoke; guaranteeing humanitarian access; and achieving a lasting political solution in Syria.
With regard to the first priority of preserving the ceasefire in Idlib and respecting the front lines throughout the country, an offensive in Idlib would have disastrous humanitarian, migratory and security consequences throughout the region and beyond. We therefore call on Turkey and Russia to intensify their efforts to preserve the ceasefire agreement, in accordance with the commitments reiterated at the quadripartite summit in Istanbul. At the same time, we should work jointly to come up with a coordinated response to the threat posed by the presence of terrorist groups in that region. In the north-west, as in the rest of the country, the protection of civilians, including humanitarian and medical personnel, must be an absolute priority for all stakeholders. It is unacceptable that hospitals and schools are still being targeted, and we cannot say often enough that attacks on hospitals and health workers amount to war crimes and that the perpetrators will be held accountable for their actions. A military intervention in the north-east, wherever it might come from, would have terrible humanitarian consequences. All actors must therefore refrain from taking such action and all the parties must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law. That is not a negotiable requirement.
Secondly, humanitarian access must be guaranteed. Here I should point out the shocking fact that of the 338 requests for access made to the Syrian regime in February and March, only half were granted. That is simply unacceptable. We once again call on the actors with influence on the regime to ensure immediate, safe, comprehensive, unhindered and sustainable humanitarian access throughout Syrian territory, in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions and international humanitarian law. In that context, the Whole of Syria humanitarian architecture put in place by the United Nations to meet the needs of the most vulnerable Syrians is more relevant than ever and must be maintained.
It is especially vital to ensure that a new aid convoy is allowed to deploy to Rukban camp immediately. We must also ensure that the return of displaced persons from Rukban is voluntary, safe and dignified, in accordance with international humanitarian law and in close coordination with the United Nations. It is also important to increase the humanitarian response in the north-east to cope with the influx of displaced persons. France will continue to do its part in that regard. We have made emergency funding available to support the humanitarian response in the region. We must also do everything possible to ensure that safe and unhindered humanitarian access to the Al-Hol camp is fully guaranteed.
Thirdly, a sustainable political process must be launched under the auspices of the United Nations in Geneva. We will continue to support the implementation of a political solution, in line with all the elements of resolution 2254 (2015) and the Geneva communiqué (S/2012/522, annex), and to lend our steadfast support to the Special Envoy’s efforts in that regard. Provided that a balanced agreement on its composition and operating rules can be reached, the constitutional committee could help to implement such a solution. It will be up to Geir Pedersen to tell us when the time comes if that is the case. Only the implementation of a credible political process will make it be possible for refugees to return to Syria, which must take place in safe and dignified conditions and under United Nations auspices. The low numbers of returnees show clearly that so far those conditions, especially on the political and security fronts, have not been met. It is essential that the United Nations be given free access to Syrian territory in order to ensure that returns take place in a transparent manner.
After all these years of the Council’s failures in Syria, it would be a new and terrible political and moral mistake to turn the page today and direct our attention elsewhere, whether out of indifference or cowardice. That is first and foremost because it would be a serious lapse of judgment to think that the tragedy of Syria is behind us, and also because we believe that today, for perhaps the first time in eight years, there is a small but real window of opportunity to end the conflict. That is the role that we, the members of the Security Council, must play collectively on this existential issue for the United Nations.