Syria is today at a crossroads [fr]
The situation in Syria
Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council – 18 September 2018
At the outset, I wish to join the other speakers in expressing my deepest condolences to the Russian Federation with respect to the event just mentioned.
I thank Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura and Mark Lowcock for their exemplary commitment and their briefings, which not only make clear the gravity of the current situation but also illustrate the potential that exists today for a way out of this crisis.
Syria is today at a crossroads: it can either spiral further into military escalation in Idlib, which would begin one of the darkest chapters of the Syrian tragedy, or it could instead take the path of genuine political engagement towards resolving the conf lict. Both scenarios, the darkest and the most encouraging, are possible at this point. The decision largely depends upon the Security Council’s ability to unite around peace — on option that is today, despite the immense the immense challenges, within our reach.
Syria is once again on a precipice, with an offensive threatening the Idlib area for the past several weeks, where more than 3 million people are now
located. Locations there have already been subjected to shelling, tens of thousands of civilians have fled the indiscriminate strikes and yet worse still could be to come. Several hospitals have been the targets of attack. We cannot reiterate it too much: attacks against health personnel and hospitals constitute war crimes and their perpetrators will have to answer for their actions. The fight against terrorism is in no circumstance an adequate argument to justify such a disaster. Indiscriminate attacks represent not only a humanitarian outrage but also acts of strategic folly, serving only to fuel the terrorism they purport to fight. Syria has therefore become the pre-eminent incubator of terrorism.
An offensive in Idlib would have the same effect and, furthermore, contribute to dispersing the jihadist fighters there across the region, potentially to Europe and beyond.
France has deployed tireless efforts in all forums, on all fronts, in seeking with its partners ways to avert disaster. A four-party meeting was held last Friday among the diplomatic Councillors of Turkey, Russia, Germany and France, with a view to finding common ground between the small group and the Astana group.
In our view, that is an unavoidable path. Turkey has made significant efforts to contribute to concrete solutions. While we note the agreement announced yesterday by Presidents Erdoğan and Putin regarding the establishment of a demilitarized zone in the Idlib area, we call on Turkey and Russia to specify the parameters, such as the fate and movements of terrorist groups designated by the Security Council.
In that context, when we want to believe that diplomacy is finally regaining ground, we must persevere in our joint efforts to persuade all parties to the conflict that there are alternatives to escalation and that the path of dialogue is the only way to deliver on a lasting solution to the situation in Idlib.
The protection of civilians must be an absolute priority for all stakeholders. It is incumbent upon all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular pursuant to the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution. We must also do everything possible to protect humanitarian and medical facilities and personnel and to ensure safe, full and unimpeded humanitarian access to populations in need. I should like to recall the unique and crucial nature of cross-border humanitarian assistance, which in August alone provided vital daily assistance to nearly 750,000 individuals in the north-west.
We continue to support Turkey’s efforts to find a negotiated solution in Idlib. We commend its commitment, like that of the United Nations, which is
making a real difference. It is the very future of Syria that is at stake. How is it possible to simultaneously hope for the return of refugees and prepare for an offensive that could displace hundreds of thousands of people? How is it possible to generate the necessary trust for a credible political process at a time when the population of Idlib continues to be threatened by a brutal military campaign? How can we call for the rebuilding of Syria at the same time as preparing to destroy Idlib and there exists no credible and irreversible political process?
The reality is that there can be no military solution in Syria. An offensive in Idlib would further destroy hope for peace in Syria. I repeat it once again: we will
tolerate no further use of chemical weapons in Syria, and we stand ready to respond. Avoiding an escalation in Idlib is all the more necessary given that a credible negotiated political solution acceptable to all is within our grasp. That is my firm belief. This option was generated by United Nations mediation.
The discussions held last week in Geneva should lead to the prompt establishment of the constitutional committee, the first component of a political process endorsed by the international community, including the Security Council, through resolution 2254 (2015). The small group, which met with
the Special Envoy on Friday, expressed its full support for those efforts. However, the Asana guarantors have expressed reservations regarding the composition of the
constitutional committee established by Special Envoy, despite the mandate entrusted to him by the Sochi final statement of 31 January.
France firmly believes that the time has come to move forward with the setting up of the constitutional committee by Mr. De Mistura as soon as possible. That is the call I wish to issue today on behalf of France, echoing, and supporting, the message Mr. Mistura has just delivered to us. An imminent date is needed
for that work to begin. I recall that participants in the Sochi congress agreed that the Special Envoy would be responsible for the committee’s composition under the
Geneva process. Those commitments must be upheld. The Special Envoy must be in a position to update us on his progress at the next Council meeting on this matter, and the constitutional committee should finally be able to meet as soon as possible. In our view, that is key to building real political momentum. We all are aware that the road ahead is long and difficult; that is the very reason for our call: not one minute do we have to waste.
A political solution does not begin and end with the drafting of a new constitution; detailed discussions must now begin on its many other elements, such as modalities for the adoption of a new constitutional text; the holding of free and transparent elections in which all Syrians, including refugees and displaced persons, can vote; and, more broadly, the creation of a safe and neutral environment, underpinned by confidence-building measures, which is integral for granting the necessary credibility to the entire process.
Our road map has been clearly laid out: a strong commitment to a cessation of hostilities in IdIib; the continuation of the political process, with collective
support for the launch of the constitutional committee’s work as the first step; and the unity of the Council around a constructive political agenda with a view to a peaceful and agreed upon resolution to the conflict.
It is France’s unambiguous position that the rebuilding of Syria can be envisioned only on that basis, once an irreversible, credible and inclusive political transition
has begun. Let us be clear: without a guarantee that such a transition is under way, no Syrians will believe that their country has changed and the vast majority of them will refuse to return home, dooming any hope of lasting peace in Syria.
In conclusion, I would like to stress our belief that the Security Council has a special responsibility to break the cycle of tragedy in Syria and to generate
genuine political momentum. On behalf of France, I call on the Council to rally around that shared political goal by supporting the Geneva process, the Special
Envoy and an inclusive political settlement.