Syria: Given the gravity of the situation, waiting to see is not an option. [fr]
Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council – 17 October 2018
I thank Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura for his very informative briefing and exemplary commitment. I also wish to commend the exceptional work of the Special Envoy and reiterate to him France’s full and entire support for the crucial month ahead of us.
Each of us is well aware that Syria is at a crossroads. It could either topple to military escalation in Idlib, which would open one of the darkest chapters of the Syrian tragedy, or take the demanding path of true political momentum towards a settlement of the conflict. It is our conviction that today, and perhaps for the first time in seven years, there is a narrow window of opportunity in this respect, and it is our collective responsibility to seize it. Today both the darkest and the most promising scenarios are possibilities; the choice depends largely on us and on the ability of the Council to unite around the option of peace — a step that, despite the tremendous difficulties of which we all are aware, is today within our reach. In that context, the creation of a constitutional committee can and should be the inflection point that we seek — the first stage of a genuine political dynamic. The establishment of that committee as soon as possible is therefore our priority today.
Staffan de Mistura has just presented us with a mixed picture — to put it mildly — of the progress made on the political scene. Ten months after the announcement of the establishment of the constitutional committee during the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, held in Sochi in January, that forum has yet to meet. Let us say it how it is; that stalemate is directly linked to obstruction by the Syrian regime, which ultimately tells us that it does not wish to take part in the ongoing diplomatic efforts, while its allies are unable or unwilling to convince it to put an end to its intransigence. The lists from the opposition and the regime were sent to the United Nations several months ago, but the systematic obstruction by the regime and its allies on the composition of the third third of the committee has paralysed those efforts. I remind the Council that the Sochi Congress gave a mandate to the Special Envoy for the composition of that committee. It is our collective responsibility to firmly support him in his efforts and to call for an end to any obstruction to the implementation of the road map that we all agreed.
It is therefore imperative that the first meeting of the committee take place as soon as possible and with a clear time frame in order to put an end to these delay tactics. We are determined to support the Special Envoy in carrying out his work, and we need a specific date. I wish to inform Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura that, in keeping with the role accorded the United Nations in this process, he has all the room for manoeuvre that may be necessary to move forward. That is the thrust of the support that the ministers of the small group have publicly provided to him on the margins of the General Assembly. We also call for the committee, whose inclusivity is key, not to be stalled by unbalanced operating rules. It is incumbent on all Syrians, not just the regime in Damascus, to decide on their own constitution.
Finally, the political process cannot be restricted to the constitutional committee alone. This is only the first step in a process consistent with resolution 2254 (2015), which should in particular include an electoral process that is inclusive and credible and the establishment of a safe and neutral environment in Syria. We would also be interested to hear the thoughts of Staffan de Mistura on the regime’s implementation of Law 10, which is of particular concern to us.
Secondly, I wish to come back to the situation on the ground. The agreement between Turkey and Russia has temporarily averted the prospect of a major humanitarian disaster. However, it offers the inhabitants of Idlib only a short respite; there are major challenges remaining. We will therefore continue to closely monitor the implementation of the agreement on the ground, calling for a long-term ceasefire. We must also do everything possible to guarantee the protection of civilians, including humanitarian and medical personnel, as well as ensuring full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access throughout Syrian territory. It is imperative that humanitarian aid remain independent, neutral and equitable. The objective remains the long-term avoidance of an offensive that would have disastrous migratory, humanitarian and security consequences for Syria and the entire region. Our efforts to avert a tragedy in Idlib must continue in parallel with our commitment to begin the work of the constitutional committee and, ultimately, to initiate a political process. Everything is connected; it is a question of breaking the cycle of violence in Syria and finally creating a space for a true political process.
In that context, what can we do in the coming weeks to support the mediation of the United Nations? France, along with its partners from the small group, strongly advocated the convening as soon as possible of a credible and inclusive constitutional committee to initiate the drafting of a new constitution. That is our road map for laying the groundwork for free and fair elections that are open to the participation of refugees and internally displaced persons, under the supervision of the United Nations, in a safe and neutral environment that protects the rights of Syrians and provides them with concrete guarantees, while preventing the regime from rendering the process meaningless. We will spare no effort to move forward on those priorities, which must unite us all. The members of the small group will continue to fully support the Special Envoy in that regard, and I welcome their participation today.
Let us not close the narrow window of opportunity that has opened for the formation of the constitutional committee, which offers the hope of initiating a political process aimed at resolving the Syrian crisis. If these efforts do not prove successful, we will return to square one, and 10 months of diplomatic efforts — including on the part of the Astana guarantors — will all have been in vain. The process of ending the crisis, with the return of refugees and the reconstruction that must accompany it, will be blocked over the long term before it has even begun. It is therefore time to use the next few weeks to ensure the convening of the first meeting of the committee. Given the gravity of the situation, waiting to see is not an option. That must be our common priority today, around which, on behalf of France, I call on all the members of the Council to unite.