Syria : The safe and voluntary return of displaced population remains an absolute priority. [fr]
Statement by Mr François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council - 27 June 2018
At the outset, I would like to thank Mr. Staffan de Mistura for his comprehensive and objective briefing. We assure him of our full support. I also thank Mr. John Ging for his instructive briefing on the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Syria.
I will start with our concerns about the situation on the ground, particularly the ongoing offensive in south-western Syria. I will then touch on the extremely dire humanitarian situation. Finally, I will emphasize that the situation makes it even more essential to launch an inclusive political process capable of uniting Syrians.
The relentless logic of military operations continues in Syria. For the past week we have seen the regime resume its attacks on the opposition in south-western Syria, in a region inhabited by 700,000 civilians. There have been several air attacks on the city of Dar’a since 23 June. This relentless strategy, which represents the worst possible outcome for the civilian population, is sadly familiar. As in Damascus, Homs, Aleppo or eastern Ghouta, the goal of the air attacks is to force the opposition groups to surrender using methods of war that are contrary to humanitarian law. Another operation in southern Syria is paving the way for new sieges that will starve out the population and result in more forced displacements and restrictions on humanitarian assistance. Moreover, that offensive is in an extremely sensitive border area and could have direct consequences for the security and stability of Israel and Jordan. In that connection, I would like to recall France’s commitment to the security of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, in which the Blue Helmets operate under difficult conditions in the Golan Heights, and which should be maintained at all times. Another wave of refugees could destabilize neighbouring countries for the long-term, particularly Jordan, which has already taken in so many Syrians.
These developments are all the more worrying given that the diversity of the forces present in south-western Syria presents a real risk of regional escalation. The territories targeted in the offensive are part of the de-escalation zone in south-western Syria established by the United States, Russia and Jordan in July 2017. France therefore calls on everyone, beginning with the Russians, to honour their commitments in order to put an immediate end to the offensive. Russia must honour the agreement reached a year ago and immediately ensure the cessation of hostilities.
In this troubling context, the continuing catastrophic humanitarian situation is deplorable. In Idlib, eastern Ghouta and elsewhere, the humanitarian situation continues to be particularly alarming. Very rarely do convoys have access to the population, while the needs of the population are immense. The regime is taking on a particularly grave responsibility in that regard. The systematic and deliberate obstruction of humanitarian aid is unacceptable, especially the Syrian regime’s systematic removal of medical materials from convoys, including vaccines for children. The influx of displaced persons renders the situation even more critical, particularly in Idlib. All the parties must guarantee total and unhindered humanitarian access, coordinated by the United Nations, and, finally, medical infrastructure and personnel, which are still being attacked, must be protected.
I welcome the Secretary-General’s report on humanitarian cross-border assistance (S/2018/617 and S/2018/619). Cross-border assistance continues to play a vital role in enabling aid to be sent along the most direct routes. The mechanism is transparent, effective and fully dedicated to the people in need. The neighbouring countries have given the mechanism their unequivocal support and call for it to continue. It is therefore our responsibility to ensure that it is preserved.
It is also essential that OCHA personnel be able to remain in the convoys to ensure the smooth delivery of humanitarian aid. We also call for an independent and impartial assessment of humanitarian needs in Syria, under the coordination of the United Nations.
The safe and voluntary return of displaced people remains an absolute priority. In this respect, the implementation of Law No. 10 adopted by the Syrian regime, which leads to massive expropriations of refugees and displaced persons, with irreversible consequences for Syria as for the region, is unacceptable and jeopardizes any political effort. The implementation of this law as an attempt to reshape the country demographically and politically is likely to constitute war crimes, even crimes against humanity. We therefore call for the immediate repeal of this law. Under such conditions, it would be impossible for the international community to support a development policy that resembles demographic remodeling and would help to reinforce the regime in these unacceptable practices.
Finally, France is taking its full part in financing humanitarian projects in Syria. The President of the Republic has announced an emergency program of an additional 50 million euros, particularly for the north-east and north-west of the country. Humanitarian aid is indispensable everywhere in Syria. Emergency aid is to be dissociated from reconstruction. On this point, it is essential to reiterate clearly to this Council that France and the European Union will not finance the reconstruction of Syria until a political agreement has been reached between the Syrian parties, allowing an in-depth reform of the state and the holding of free and transparent elections, conducted and supervised by the United Nations. This is not a posture, we can not sign a blank check as long as the political causes that led to the current disaster subsist. The same consequences would undermine the reconstruction effort.
Considering the risk of the fatigue over this issue that peeps through here and there, we must all realize that we cannot turn away in the face of the continuing military operations and humanitarian disaster in Syria. We must be particularly careful not to let the potential next chapter of the Syrian tragedy, the regional expansion of the conflict, be written. These problems make launching a credible political process more urgent and necessary than ever. It may be too soon for a Syrian Dayton agreement, but we are seeing the first encouraging signs of a true political process. The road map is clear. We must fully support the efforts of the United Nations in Geneva to promote areas of convergence among the primary parties in the Syrian crisis.
In that regard, the discussion on 18 June between Mr. de Mistura and the three Astana guarantors, followed by another on 25 June with the members of the Small Group of the Global Coalition, should enable the launch of a constructive dialogue with a view to reaching a lasting and credible political solution in accordance with resolution 2254 (2015). The short-term goal is the establishment of a constitutional committee. We are encouraged by the willingness of the parties to work constructively for the establishment of such a committee, composed of one third members designated by the regime, one third opposition members and one third independents. This is a modest but necessary stage that is showing initial progress of a kind we have not seen for months and that could potentially be a turning point towards a true political process. We hope that is the case. That is why we are encouraging the Special Envoy to continue to work actively on appointing the 50 independent representatives in order to ensure that neither the regime nor the opposition has a majority. We urge him to define the modalities of work for the committee as soon as possible.
The demanding path towards a political solution based on an intra-Syrian agreement also requires the holding of free and transparent elections, organized and monitored by the United Nations, enabling all Syrians, in Syria and abroad, to have a voice, and with the active participation of women in the political process. In that connection, France supports a 30 per cent minimum participation rate of women in the process.
Those two elements — the constitutional aspect and the elections — require a neutral, secure and impartial framework for the Syrians to express themselves freely that is guaranteed by confidence-building measures. That is the very aim of the efforts under way by France and its partners to ensure coordination between the Small Group of the Global Coalition and the Astana process. Our goal is not to create a process devoid of substance but to bring together the efforts of the parties with leverage in Syria to better support the mediation of the Special Envoy.
During the debate the day before yesterday (see S/PV.8293), the Russian Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and Director of the Middle East and North Africa Department, Mr. Sergey Vershinin, advocated a political settlement of the Syrian crisis through constructive dialogue. Based on the shared conviction that there can be no military solution to the Syrian conflict, let us be mindful of working jointly for a lasting political solution.
It is high time that we unite behind the United Nations process in Geneva. That is in the interests of us all, above all the Syrians. In that regard, France is ready to engage with the Russian Federation and all actors with leverage, whether on the ground, on the economic front or in international bodies, in order for the United Nations mediation to succeed. We believe that today that is possible. Let us get to work. There is no time to lose.