Syria: the protection of civilians must be an absolute priority for all [fr]
Syria / Situation in the North-West
Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council - 18 June 2019
I would like to begin by thanking Germany, Belgium and Kuwait, co-penholders on the humanitarian track of the Security Council’s work on the situation in Syria.
I also thank Rosemary DiCarlo and Mark Lowcock for their very informative presentations, the conclusions of which are indisputable, namely, that we are witnessing another humanitarian catastrophe in the north-western part of the country, adding further to the long list of tragic events that Syria has experienced for more than eight years. This dark chapter in Syria’s history has yet to conclude.
The number one priority today is to prevent Idlib from becoming another Aleppo. We must spare no effort to shield the lives of more than 3 million civilians, including 1 million children. In order to help those who are most vulnerable, in the coming days France will release €5 million for the Syria Humanitarian Fund of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), based in Gaziantep.
Humanitarian aid is crucial for the millions of people in the north-west, but remains an inadequate means for sustainably alleviating the suffering of the people. We therefore must also focus our efforts on three priorities: the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, unconditional respect for international humanitarian law in all circumstances, including in the fight against terrorism, and the need for a lasting political solution.
First, the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure must be an absolute priority for all.
Despite the positive words uttered by both sides, the offensive against Idlib is leading to renewed civilian casualties every day, in flagrant violation of every underlying principle of international humanitarian law.
The protection of civilians, including humanitarian and medical personnel, as well as civilian infrastructure, is an obligation that all must uphold. It is not negotiable. It is unacceptable that health-care infrastructure, including that which has been deconflicted, and schools continue to be the targeted. A letter signed by 60 doctors and prepared by the non-governmental organization Syria Campaign, which France recently asked to be circulated as a Security Council document, is an irrevocable appeal to that end. I recall once again that attacks on hospitals and health-care workers, which France condemns in the strongest possible terms, constitute war crimes.
In that regard, we call on the signatories of the ceasefire agreement to fulfil their commitments and ensure an effective ceasefire in the north-western part of the country with a view to freezing the fronts and a nationwide ceasefire, in accordance with resolution 2254 (2015). Russia in particular must exert all the necessary pressure on the regime. We urgently call on that country to do so. Discussions between Turkey and Russia must also be pursued in order to allow for an immediate de-escalation of the situation. Iran must also join that effort.
Furthermore, I reiterate here and now that France will stand extremely firm in the event of the renewed use of chemical weapons and ready to respond.
Secondly, the fight against terrorism must be carried out under international humanitarian law.
The influence that the terrorist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has gained in most of the region covered by the ceasefire agreement is of course a cause of great concern to all of us, but we must be clear on three points.
First, the offensive under way is not part of the fight against terrorism, as was demonstrated by the attacks on densely populated areas and civilian infrastructure. It is impossible to see such attacks as having any other purpose than to terrorize populations and depopulate the localities concerned in order to retake control of those areas.
Furthermore, such an offensive in no way serves our goal of beating back terrorism. On the contrary, it contributes only to increasing and spreading the threat, while running the risk of dispersing the terrorist fighters present in the region. The offensive calls into question Turkey’s efforts to reduce the influence of terrorist groups — efforts we fully support.
Finally, combating terrorism, which is a priority for us all, cannot be invoked in every instance as a justification for violating international humanitarian law, as the Secretary-General has recalled on more than one occasion.
Lastly, the current escalation risks undermining all efforts under way to reach a political solution when such efforts are more urgently needed than ever.
While a compromise on the constitutional committee, which was accepted by most international actors, seemed to be coming to fruition and would have finally allowed for substantive discussions, the Syrian regime chose to adopt a strategy of systematic obstruction, thereby preventing the establishment of that body so as to hold those discussions hostage. We have every confidence that Special Envoy Geir Pedersen will keep us up to date on the obstacles he encounters and will hopefully inform us when a satisfactory balance for all has been found. But we cannot stop there. Every one of us understands that the political process would be meaningless if it were limited to the issue of the constitutional committee. It is therefore imperative that the Council unequivocally support the Special Envoy in order to move forward, as of now, with regard to all aspects of resolution 2254 (2015).
In particular, I am alluding to the issue of elections. The Syrians themselves must be able to freely choose the future they want for their country, and we must ensure that they have the means to do so. That is the condition necessary for providing a satisfactory and lasting response to the tragedy that Syria had undergone. In accordance with resolution 2254 (2015), we must therefore begin to consider the conditions necessary for avoiding a scripted outcome, as was the case in the past, so that the elections will be free and fair, that all Syrians, including refugees, will have a free voice in the process and that the United Nations will be involved in overseeing the process. I also take this opportunity to reiterate that, in the absence of significant and irrevocable progress in the political arena, the positions of France and the European Union on sanctions, reconstruction and normalization will remain unchanged.
It would be a serious error of judgement as well as a grave political misstep to consider that the Syrian tragedy is behind us. In view of the recent tragic events in Idlib that are following a well-worn script, no one will be able to say that they were taken by surprise.
We therefore call on every member of the Security Council to assume its responsibilities to end this recent tragedy and allow for the establishment of a credible political process under the supervision of the United Nations allow that country to move forward on the path towards stability and peace.