Syria : France will keep its word [fr]
Syria/chemical - Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations - Security Council - 9 April 2018
I thank the Peruvian presidency for having convened this emergency Security Council meeting, at the request of France, together with eight other Council members. I also wish to thank the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura, and the Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Mr. Thomas Markram, for their insightful briefings.
There are times in the lives of nations where what is essential is at stake: life or death; peace or war; civilization or barbarism; the international order or chaos. That is the case today following the dreadful chemical carnage that once again pushed the boundaries of horror on Saturday in Douma.
We are aware that two new and particularly serious chemical-weapons attacks took place in Douma on 7 April. The provisional toll of human life is appalling. There are nearly 50 dead, including a number of children, and 1,000 wounded. That toll is likely to be even higher, as assistance cannot reach some areas.
Once again, toxic substances have been dropped to asphyxiate, to kill and to terrorize civilians, reaching them even in the basements where they sought refuge. Chlorine gas has the particular characteristic of being a heavy gas, capable of entering basements. For that reason, it is used. That is the level of deadly cynicism that has been reached in Syria.
There are no words to describe the horror of the images that surfaced on 7 April, nearly one year after the Khan Shaykhun attack, which killed nearly 80 people. What we see in the thousands of photos and videos that surfaced in the course of several hours after the 7 April attacks reminds us of the images we have seen far too often: children and adults suffocating due to exposure to concentrated chlorine gas. What we also see are people suffering from violent convulsions, excessive salivation and burning eyes, all of which are symptomatic of exposure to a potent neurotoxin mixed with chlorine to heighten the lethal effect. As I mentioned, in total more than 1,000 people were exposed to that deadly chemical compound.
The experience and the successive reports of the Joint Investigative Mechanism leave no room for doubt as to the perpetrators of this most recent attack. Only the Syrian armed forces and their agencies have the requisite knowledge to develop such sophisticated toxic substances with such a high degree of lethality. And only the Syrian armed forces and its agencies have a military interest in their use. This attack took place in Douma, an area that has been subjected to relentless shelling by the Syrian armed and air forces for several weeks. Unfortunately, the use of such weapons enables much swifter tactical progress than conventional weapons.
We are all aware that the Syrian regime has already been identified by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism as the party responsible for the use, on at least four occasions, of chlorine and sarin gas as a chemical weapon. There are no illusions as to the sincerity of the declaration delivered by Syria on the state of its chemical stockpiles in 2013. Unfortunately, we once again we have proof in the form of empirical evidence. This dovetails with the regime’s strategy of terror against civilians. We have already experienced this. At the worst, this is bad faith or, even worse, complicity. The Damascus regime clearly seeks, by sowing terror, to accelerate the capture of other urban areas that it wishes to control. What could be more effective to prompt those who resist the regime to flee than sieges, a tactic worthy of the Middle Ages, in addition to chemical terror. Let us make no mistake: the children frozen in an agonizing death are not so-called collateral victims. They are deliberate targets of these chemical attacks, designed and planned for the purpose of waging terror. The Damascus regime is conducting State terrorism, with its litany of war crimes and even crimes against humanity.
The offensive and the shelling conducted by the regime, as well as by its Russian and Iranian allies, over the past 48 hours prove the degree to which they have engaged in a military race without any consideration of the human cost. This latest escalation of violence, punctuated by a new instance of the use of chemical weapons, brings us face to face with the destructive madness of a diehard regime that seeks to destroy its people completely. And that regime’s Russian and Iranian allies are either unable or unwilling to stop it. We are aware of the fact, and the Russian authorities have confirmed this on several occasions, that Russian military forces have a presence on the ground and in the air in eastern Ghouta. On 7 April, as the second chemical attack took place in Douma, Russian aircraft were also taking part in air operations in the Damascus region. Russian and Iranian military support is present on the ground and at all levels of the Syrian war machinery. No Syrian aircraft takes off without the Russian ally being informed. These attacks took place either with the tacit or explicit consent of Russia or despite its reluctance and military presence. I do not know which is more alarming when it comes to our collective security.
The stakes revolving around this recent attack are extremely grave. This is the latest proof of the normalization of chemical weapons use, which we should attribute not only to a regime that has become uncontrollable and continues to gas civilians with complete impunity, but also to its supporters, including a permanent member of the Security Council. That member failed in its commitment to implement resolution 2118 (2013), which it, itself, co-sponsored. That member’s responsibility in the endless tragedy that is the war in Syria is overwhelming.
France therefore of course turns towards Russia today in order to put forward two demands :
• The first demand is a cessation of hostilities and the establishment of an immediate ceasefire in Syria, in line with resolution 2401 (2018), adopted on 24 February, which to date has never been upheld by the Damascus regime. France deeply deplores the fact that, although it was unanimously adopted, it was not possible to implement that resolution, which provides for a truce and emergency humanitarian access.
• The second demand is the establishment of a new international investigative mechanism that will be able to document all of the factors of the attack in Douma and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice. The end of the Joint Investigative Mechanism last November due to two successive Russian vetoes has stripped us of an essential tool of deterrence. For that reason, we support any initiative to bridge that gap. And in that spirit France has committed to a partnership to combat impunity for the use of chemical weapons. In that same spirit, we endorse the draft resolution that has been put forward today by the United States.
With this attack the Al-Assad regime is testing yet again the determination of the international community to ensure compliance with the prohibition against chemica-weapons use. Our response must be united, robust and implacable. That response must make it clear that the use of chemical weapons against civilians will no longer be tolerated, and that those who flout that fundamental rule of our collective security will be held accountable and must face the consequences. The Al-Assad regime needs to hear an international response, and France stands ready to fully shoulder its role alongside its partners.
Ultimately, we know that only an inclusive political solution will bring an end to the seven-year conflict, which has claimed the lives of 500,000 people and pushed millions to take the route of exile. That is why France will remain fully committed alongside the United Nations Special Envoy and in line with the Geneva process. However, in the light of this most recent carnage, we can no longer merely repeat words. Without being followed up by deeds, such words would be meaningless. I wish to reiterate here what President Macron has stressed on several occasions: France will assume its full responsibility in the fight against the proliferation of chemical weapons. France’s position is clear. It will uphold its commitments and keep its word.