Syria: more necessary than ever to pave the way for a credible political transition [fr]
Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council – 28 February 2019
At the outset, I would like to thank Mr. Geir Pedersen, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, for his first briefing to the Council. The lessons he has learned from his initial contacts and the insights he offers on the next steps in the political process are particularly enlightening. At the outset, I would like to assure the Special Envoy of France’s full support.
Let there be no mistake about the current situation. It would be a serious error in judgment and a grave political miscalculation to believe that the Syrian tragedy is behind us. It is not, as the country begins its ninth year of conflict. The terrorist threat has not disappeared — far from it. The ceasefire in the north-west is regularly violated by the regime, the risk of regional escalation increases day by day due to the presence of Iran and gross human rights violations by the regime continue with impunity. The overwhelming majority of refugees do not plan to return to Syria and the humanitarian situation remains catastrophic. It is no surprise then — and I return here to my previous point — that the vast majority of refugees do not wish to return to Syria. Statistics from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which estimated that 58,000 refugees returned to Syria in 2018 — barely an increase from 50,000 in 2017 — are telling.
Nonetheless, given that forthright report, France firmly believes that, for the first time in many years, there is a small but genuine window of opportunity to put an end to the Syrian conflict. We have the shared responsibility to seize that opportunity via an inclusive political solution because it is the only way to prevent similar causes and effects of aftershocks of the Syrian crisis. In other words, to prevent another grim decade in Syria, it is the responsibility of the Council to overcome its divisions — I repeat, overcome its divisions — on the basis of our shared objectives and interests. On behalf of France, I would like to make an urgent appeal in that regard. With that objective in mind, I will focus briefly on three main points.
First, our common priority must be to continue the fight against terrorism and to work towards a national ceasefire, in accordance with the provisions of resolution 2254 (2015). The fight against Da’esh continues in north-eastern Syria and in Iraq and, as the Council knows, is a top priority for France, which will maintain its involvement on that front. The imminent fall of Da’esh in Baghouz will be an undeniable military success but will in no way mark the end of the threat that Da’esh poses to the region and to our national territories. In that regard, France welcomes the United States announcement that it will maintain a military presence in north-eastern Syria. That is good news for the ongoing fight against Da’esh and for stabilizing region in order to prevent the resurgence of the terrorist group in another form. Pursuing the fight against terrorism in the north-east requires the protection of our operational partners on the ground in the fight against Da’esh. We all know that the coalition’s success against Da’esh would not have been possible without the Syrian Democratic Forces.
With regard to the situation in Idlib, I reiterate France’s deep concern about the strengthening of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group, designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations. Its neutralization is our common objective but we must spare civilians and bear in mind the possible catastrophic humanitarian, migration and security consequences of an offensive. France is concerned about the increase in the number of ceasefire violations by the Syrian regime, including air strikes. That is why it is now essential to do all in our power to preserve the ceasefire. We call in particular on Russia and Turkey to exercise responsibility as they continue their efforts.
Lastly, the Council must unite to ensure respect for international law and international humanitarian law. Today, I call on members with influence on the parties to the conflict to exert pressure in that regard. First and foremost, that means ensuring the protection of civilian and humanitarian and medical workers, as well as free and unhindered humanitarian access. Obstacles to humanitarian access and the use of torture, forced conscription and arbitrary detention in areas reclaimed by the Syrian regime are clearly unacceptable. It is also imperative to discourage any use of chemical weapons in Syria and to react firmly to any new cases of such use. France’s resolve in that regard remains unchanged and uncompromising.
It is more necessary than ever to pave the way for a credible political transition under the auspices of the United Nations. That is our second priority and it is inextricably linked to the first. The regime’s military victory, which was achieved thanks to the support of its two allies and at the cost of considerable human and material destruction, is in no way a prelude to peace and reconciliation in Syria. Such an outcome will be possible only if the regime agrees to sit at the table with the opposition and negotiate in good faith.
To that end, France fully supports the Special Envoy’s efforts to establish a comprehensive road map based on all elements of resolution 2254 (2015), which is now more than ever our common compass. That implies working in parallel with efforts on the constitution to establish credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance, preparing for free and fair elections under the supervision of the United Nations and developing confidence-building measures that can create the safe and neutral environment outlined in the Geneva communiqué (S/2012/522, annex), including by addressing the issue of detainees and missing persons, property rights and forced conscription.
The United Nations alone, through the work of the Special Envoy, will be able to make genuine progress on those converging priorities. In that regard, we welcome the Special Envoy’s efforts to establish a constitutional package as an entry point to the process. That would require reaching a credible and balanced agreement on both the composition of the third list for the committee and on its rules of procedure so that it can start its work quickly, under the auspices of the United Nations and within the framework of resolution 2254 (2015). We lost valuable time last year and it is clear that the Syrian regime is responsible for failing to establish the committee, contrary to the commitments made by the Astana group and at the Istanbul Summit.
This will be my last point, and I will make it short. Today we are at a crossroads, and the Council must therefore support the efforts of the Special Envoy. Only an inclusive political solution can provide a lasting response to the Syrian tragedy, the expectations for reconciliation and the threat of terrorism. It is also our responsibility to respond to Syrian victims’ need for justice, without which peace will be impossible. That is the aim of our support to the United Nations investigative mechanisms and to efforts to see justice done, including in a national capacity, as I brought up once again at the beginning of the week (see S/PV.8471).
The return of refugees will be essential in the long run, but the key to return is in Damascus, not New York, Brussels or anywhere else. It is up to the regime to establish the conditions that will enable refugees to return in complete safety and with all the guarantees necessary to ensuring respect for their freedoms and the restitution of their property. We all see clearly that those conditions and guarantees are not in place today, so we should understand that without irreversible and credible progress towards a political solution, it will not be possible to encourage refugees’ return, pave the way for reconstruction, contemplate any normalization of our relations with the regime or lift the sanctions on it. France and the European Union have affirmed that clear and unambiguous position several times.
Lastly, based on that, France will continue to work tirelessly with its partners to arrive at a credible political solution in support of the Special Envoy’s mission. On behalf of France, I want to once again appeal to every member of the Council to regroup on that basis, to stop running on automatic pilot and to move on from posturing to action. There is not a minute to lose, so let us get to work.