Protection of civilians must be a top priority for all stakeholders [fr]
Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council – 29 October 2018
I would like to begin by thanking the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mr. Mark Lowcock, for his ever-helpful and informative briefing, and by commending his tireless efforts, as well as those of his team, in responding to the extreme humanitarian emergency in Syria.
In the aftermath of the quadripartite summit that President Erdoğan convened in Istanbul on Saturday with President Macron, President Putin and Chancellor Merkel, I would like to reiterate that the humanitarian situation will be lastingly improved only with a long-term ceasefire and a credible political solution. That was the challenge at the Istanbul summit, which we thank the Turkish authorities for convening, and it marked an important step in that direction. In their joint statement, the four leaders demanded the full and lasting implementation of the ceasefire in Idlib, asked that the constitutional committee meet by the end of the year and called for free elections to be held under the supervision of the United Nations with the participation of all Syrians, including members of the diaspora. It is the implementation of that road map that will bring peace and stability to Syria and put an end to the suffering of the Syrian people, which has gone on for too long.
At the summit, the Presidents of France, Turkey and Russia and the German Chancellor recalled the imperative that all humanitarian organizations have quick, safe and unhindered access to all of the populations that need assistance in Syria. That is not the case today, as Mr. Lowcock pointed out, due to the Syrian regime’s determination to manipulate and politicize humanitarian aid. In concrete terms, in order to relieve the suffering of Syrians and overcome this challenge, we must remain mobilized around three essential and complementary priorities: the protection of civilians, the guarantee of humanitarian access, which I just mentioned, and a lasting political solution in Syria.
The first priority is the protection of civilians and humanitarian and medical personnel. As Mr. Lowcock pointed out, the Russian-Turkish agreement on Idlib temporarily averted a bloodbath with an offensive that would have had disastrous humanitarian, migratory and security consequences throughout the region. The quadripartite summit on Saturday reaffirmed the importance of that ceasefire not being a temporary freeze in the situation, but rather a long-term solution that allows us to stabilize the situation in Idlib. In that context, the protection of civilians must be a top priority for all stakeholders. All parties must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law. We must also do everything to protect humanitarian and medical facilities and personnel. It must be hammered home that the attacks on hospitals and health workers are war crimes and that the perpetrators will be held accountable.
With regard to refugees, the conditions for their safe, dignified and voluntary return are not yet being met. The quadripartite summit identified those conditions, of which there are three aspects, namely, the need to be protected from armed conflict, arbitrary arrests and political persecution, respect for the right of ownership and access to basic services. We are far from attaining that, and it is clearly down to the Syrian regime. Despite announcing the repeal of Law 10, on forced expropriations, the regime does not seem ready to abandon its strategy of demographic engineering. We must continue to strongly oppose that strategy, which has serious and irreversible consequences and is one of the main obstacles to the return of refugees and displaced persons. Let us not be fooled by the regime’s tale; it is not the absence of reconstruction that is preventing the return of refugees. It is the lack of credible progress in the political process, which is an indispensable process in creating the conditions for their return to be made possible within the framework guaranteed by international law.
The second priority is the guarantee of safe, complete and unhindered humanitarian access throughout Syria. The Syrian regime incessantly continues its strategy of the political instrumentalization of humanitarian aid — which constitutes the height of cynicism — by imposing unacceptable obstacles to the delivery of aid and disregarding the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law. Access to aid is essential for all parties, especially in hard-to-reach areas. It is unacceptable that the regime has been blocking inter-agency convoys for over two months now and is putting in place a punitive strategy by impeding the delivery of aid to the reconciled areas. In addition to convoys, humanitarian actors must be able to access the most vulnerable populations throughout the territory, based on the needs of those populations and not the authorizations that are arbitrarily handed out by the regime.
It is imperative that the entire population in need benefits from humanitarian aid. We call on actors with influence over the regime to ensure that all convoys can travel safely and unhindered throughout the country, in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions and international humanitarian law. I wound mention in particular the extremely worrisome situation in the Rukban camp, where 50,000 people are living in nightmarish conditions with no humanitarian convoy having been able to access it since January. I refer as well to the people displaced from Afrin who have taken refuge in the Tal Rifaat area, where they have been living in deplorable conditions for months. I am recalling these facts at a time when those people are preparing to face the rigours of a sixth winter of war.
I would also like to recall the indispensable and irreplaceable nature of cross-border humanitarian aid, which provides vital support to hundreds of thousands of people every day. More than 900,000 people were able to benefit from such help last month. The Council will soon be looking into the renewal of resolution 2165 (2014), and we call on members to demonstrate unity and shoulder their responsibility so that that important gain is preserved. We must be able to access populations in need by the fastest and most effective means possible. I emphasize in particular the magnitude and the urgency of the needs of populations in the north-east who have been liberated from Da’esh, where the coalition is working to stabilize the area. The situation calls for the United Nations to significantly and rapidly step up its work in that area, including through the cross-border delivery of aid. I formally call on the Organization to do just that.
The third priority concerns the launching of a sustainable political process, which is essential to eliminating definitively the risk of any new horrific escalation. As the Istanbul summit underscored, the ceasefire in Idlib, which has enabled avoiding a humanitarian disaster, also provides us with a window of opportunity to launch a credible political process in line with resolution 2254 (2015), which serves as our common guiding light more than ever. The goal is to create the conditions necessary for a virtuous cycle with the improvement of the humanitarian situation and the launching of a true political process, both of which are inextricably linked. In that regard, the calls of the international community are clear. On Friday (see S/PV.8383), Council members together with Mr. De Mistura called for the establishment of a constitutional committee, for which the United Nations has a mandate, as soon as possible, and, on Saturday, the Istanbul summit communiqué called for the committee, an initiative of two of its participants, to be put in place by the end of the year. The formation of a constitutional committee is a necessary first step on the path of a credible political process that must be followed by the holding of free and fair elections under the supervision of the United Nations, with the participation of Syrian refugees and displaced persons in a safe and neutral environment.
Although the stabilization of areas liberated from Da’esh by the coalition is a priority, help to rebuild Syria is not on the agenda. There should be no ambiguity concerning the fact that assistance with reconstruction will be foreseeable only when an irreversible, credible and inclusive political transition has begun. To proceed otherwise would be to reward the intransigence of the regime and to rebuild on sand.
Rest assured that France will continue to spare no effort to improve the humanitarian situation in Syria and open the way to a political solution to the conflict.