Syria: the Syrian tragedy could be the downfall of the United Nations [fr]
Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council - 30 April 2019
Since this is, I believe, the last public meeting we have together, allow me also to warmly congratulate you, Mr. President — indeed, you and your entire team — for the outstanding work of the German presidency throughout this month of April, and, if I may also allow myself to mention it, the particularly close — I would even say unprecedented — cooperation that has united our two countries and our two presidencies during the joint presidencies in March and April. I thank you very much, Sir.
I would like to thank the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, Geir Pedersen, for his insightful briefing on the actions he has undertaken to implement the five priorities he presented to the Security Council two months ago (see S/PV.8475). I would like to reiterate to him France’s full support for his mission, the extreme complexity of which we all know. Today I will focus on two points— the situation on the ground and the political process.
To all those who claim that the war in Syria is over, I would like to remind them of the grim reality of the situation in that country. The terrorist threat is still present, whether from Da’esh or Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham. The humanitarian situation is catastrophic. The situation on the front lines remains very volatile. In that context, the urgency, in our view, is to secure a real ceasefire across the entirety of the territory of Syria. A ceasefire is essential to enable us to save lives and focus our efforts on the two inseparable priorities that unite us — the fight against terrorism and the active search for a political solution.
However, I would like to highlight in particular the seriousness of the situation in the north-west. The intensification of the regime’s strikes in recent days is extremely worrisome. The presence of thousands of terrorist fighters in the area and the risk of a humanitarian disaster are a source of deep concern for all. In that particularly difficult context, France calls on Russia specifically to honour its commitments to maintaining the ceasefire in Idlib and to putting pressure on the regime to stop its strikes.
Similarly, we are all aware of the considerable efforts that remain to be made in the north-east to ensure Da’esh’s complete and definitive defeat. In that regard, we welcome the continued presence of the United States. Any military offensive against the area must be avoided at all costs.
Across the country, and especially in the areas under the regime’s control, the information we are receiving is particularly worrisome. The Syrian regime is continuing its policy of repression. We condemn the obstacles imposed by the regime to prevent safe, continuous and unhindered humanitarian access, in particular its refusal to allow the delivery of a third convoy to Rukban. France calls on Russia to use its influence to ensure that that convoy can be authorized as soon as possible, which would be an important symbolic gesture before Ramadan.
We would also like to recall that the return of refugees requires the Syrian regime to make firm, concrete and verifiable commitments with regard to the security of persons and the restitution of property and land. The information we are receiving on that subject is appalling. The restrictions on access to populations seeking to return to their homes imposed by the regime on the United Nations are unjustifiable. They are proof that the regime wants to leave its hands free to pursue its repressive strategy without hindrance and that in reality it is hostile to the return of refugees to their homes. The United Nations must be able to provide objective follow-up on that essential subject. France warns the international community against the exploitation of the refugee issue by the regime and its supporters, which in the face of all the evidence seeks to reverse the burden of proof.
Turning now to the political process, I would like to stress the urgency of moving forward despite the inertia and delaying tactics. On behalf of France, I would like to welcome the Special Envoy’s efforts to reach an agreement on a constitutional package through numerous contacts with Syrian and international actors. We will support any agreement on the constitutional committee that is credible and balanced, both in its composition and in the operating regulations it provides for. It is up to the Special Envoy — and him alone — to tell us when he considers that those two conditions are met. Such an agreement seems to us to be within reach.
However, the political solution cannot be reduced to the constitutional committee alone. In that spirit, we also support the Special Envoy’s efforts to implement all the elements of resolution 2254 (2015). A credible political process requires three complementary elements in particular — a national ceasefire, which I just discussed; confidence-building measures to create a neutral and secure environment; and the holding of free and transparent elections. It is crucial for the Special Envoy to continue to be proactive on all those elements.
I would like especially to stress the urgency of implementing confidence-building measures, including unilateral measures, such as measures that would result in progress regarding prisoners and missing persons, forced conscription and the reform of property laws. The third release of prisoners under the auspices of the Astana group underscores once again the need to go beyond the strict reciprocity imposed by the regime and move to a new level under the auspices of the United Nations. We welcome the priority given by the Special Envoy to that issue.
It is our collective responsibility to continue to exert pressure on the Syrian regime to encourage it to really engage in a credible political process. That is primarily the responsibility of Damascus’ sponsors. For its part, France, together with the European Union, will continue to impose sanctions on the regime and refuse to finance the reconstruction of the country or normalize relations with Damascus until there is credible and irreversible progress towards a political solution, which alone will put an end to the Syrian tragedy.
With social anthropologist Laëtitia Atlani-Duault, I expressed here in the Chamber the fear that the Syrian tragedy would be the downfall of the United Nations and everything it represents (see S/PV.8434). I continue to think that. After all those years of Security Council failures in Syria, it would be yet another grave moral and political failure to turn the page today and look elsewhere out of fatigue or cowardice. First, it would be a serious error in judgement to think that the Syrian tragedy is behind us. Secondly, for perhaps the first time in eight years, we believe that we have a narrow but real window of opportunity to put an end to the conflict. We cannot allow that window to close. We have therefore a responsibility as members of Security Council to switch off our automatic pilots, build on our points of convergence and finally seize hold of peace in Syria.