Syria : a large-scale offensive in Idlib would be a disaster [fr]
The situation in the Middle East
Statement by Mrs. Anne Gueguen, Deputy Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council - 6 September 2018
I thank the Under-Secretary-General of Disarmament Affairs for her clear and enlightening briefing.
It is no secret that this meeting is taking place against an extremely worrying backdrop, in the light of which I will make three series of observations regarding the threat of a large-scale offensive in Idlib, potentially involving the use of chemical weapons; the state of play of the Syrian chemical file; and lastly, the urgenct need a political solution and the priority that must be given to the protection of civilians.
Let us get straight to the facts. Syria is once again on the brink of an abyss. I would ask everyone here to carefully consider what a major attack on Idlib would mean. There are nearly 3 million inhabitants in the city, more than half of whom are internally displaced. Such an attack, in the context that I have just outlined, would have disastrous humanitarian, migratory and security consequences that would open a new chapter in the long Syrian tragedy. Such an attack would indeed produce an absolute humanitarian tragedy, with deadly attacks on civilians, indiscriminate air raids and the use of prohibited weapons, notably chemical weapons, by the regime, while civilians would have nowhere to go. Such an attack would also generate a major migration crisis towards northern Syria, Turkey and potentially Europe and beyond. Finally, such a major attack would pose a serious threat to regional security, particularly through the spread of jihadist fighters, who are also in the area.
In the light of the threat of such a disaster, we are fully mobilized and wholly determined. The priority of our collective efforts must be to respect the ceasefire in the area, and today, on behalf of France, I call on Russia and Iran to use their influence on the Syrian regime to achieve that. The supporters of Damascus have the means to prevent such a crisis, because the regime cannot act alone.
We also remain extremely vigilant in the light of the risk of chemical weapons use. As we have said on several occasions, notably alongside the United Kingdom and the United States, any new and verified use of such weapons by the Bashar Al-Assad regime would not go unpunished. Our political leaders have expressed themselves unambiguously on that point.
As I said, there is currently a particularly serious and high risk of such activity. It is no secret that the Syrian regime has not stopped using chemical weapons since 2013, in violation of its international commitments and of the most essential principles, values and rules of law. The regime has pursued its strategy of crushing any opposition by resorting to the most terrifying weapons, while conducting a cynical campaign of misinformation that is propagated by its allies.
Hundreds of civilians paid the price for that in Douma, in April, as well as in Khan Shaykhun, one year earlier, in April 2017. I remind those who would once again try to deny or qualify the reality of the facts or to try and cause confusion that the regime of Bashar Al-Assad has already been formally identified, on several occasions, as having the capacity to use sarin, chlorine and gas on civilians — capacity that it has used.
Let there be no mistake — the Syrian chemical weapons programme has not been dismantled. The continued use of chemical weapons in Syria is an irrefutable indication that stocks of both sarin and chlorine exist. We have taken note of the reports of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) noting the destruction of all declared facilities and the transmission of information by the Syrian regime. However, I remind the Council that the regime has never sincerely cooperated with the OPCW and that, to date, it remains impossible to confirm if the regime declared all of its inventories and capacities in 2013.
In that edifying context, we therefore call on Syria’s allies to take full responsibility for preventing further escalation and banning the use of chemical weapons. The meeting of the Astana Group countries tomorrow must establish clear commitments on their part to maintaining the ceasefire of which they are guarantors; avoiding a military escalation, which would be disastrous in humanitarian terms; and protecting civilians in an area that, I recall, is supposed to be a de-escalation zone.
Such action is imperative for Syria and for the international community. The re-emergence of weapons of terror poses a serious threat to the security of each of our countries and to the entire non-proliferation regime. We therefore have a collective moral, legal and political responsibility to prevent and deter the use of such weapons. The perpetrators of chemical atrocities in Syria and elsewhere must know that they cannot act with impunity and that they will be held accountable. That is the goal of the international partnership against impunity for the use of chemical weapons and the mechanism for identifying those responsible being established in The Hague t. It is also one of the reasons for our support for the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011, which must be able to complete its work. There can be no lasting peace without justice.
In conclusion, I stress once again the particular gravity of the current situation, the responsibility incumbent upon us all to act, and the importance of fully mobilizing the Council and, more broadly, the international community to that end. The military preparations under way in Idlib and the presence within that enclave of a concentration of terrorist fighters and several million civilians, including many displaced persons, are creating conditions that could lead to a humanitarian and security disaster that we must and can prevent together if we pool our efforts. Such a scenario would seriously undermine all the efforts under way to find a political solution, under the auspices of United Nations mediation and with the support of the Council, and would represent a major setback.
The priority must be to respect the ceasefire, the protection of civilians and full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access. France therefore calls on the Astana guarantors to maintain the de-escalation and avoid the escalation of violence, with the primary concern being to protect civilian populations. We are at a crossroads. We can either once again plunge into chaos or rally around United Nations mediation led by Staffan de Mistura, which provides us with a way out by promoting the establishment of a constitutional committee in the coming weeks — the cornerstone of a lasting political solution that, if we are able to pool our efforts, is within reach. Let us therefore not allow the conflict to regress into violent escalation.
We will have an opportunity to rally together at the upcoming session of the General Assembly. On behalf of France, I call on everyone today to rise as one to the occasion. It is in our and the Syrians’ best interests.