The Syrian tragedy is not behind us [fr]
Humanitarian situation in Syria
Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council – 26 February 2019
I would first like to thank Ms. Reena Ghelani, Director for Operations and Advocacy of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, for her very useful briefing, and to commend the excellent work of all the teams involved in responding to the urgent humanitarian situation in Syria. I also commend the commitment of the humanitarian co-penholders, as was expressed by the representative of Belgium only a few minutes ago.
Let us be clear. We would be making a serious miscalculation and a huge political mistake if we were to assume that the Syrian tragedy is behind us. It is not — as the country enters its ninth year of the conflict, the risks of escalation continue to be very real and the humanitarian situation remains a disaster.
In the Idlib region in particular, ceasefire violations are on the rise and the risk of a humanitarian disaster remains acute, as illustrated by the recent displacement of more than 20,000 people in less than one week. Equally distressing are the situations of the besieged population in Al-Baghouz, where a large number of people have lost their lives while trying to leave the area, and of the 47,000 people who are currently living in Al-Hol camp. Those calamities are the result of the horrific and systematic policy of Da’esh, in particular its resort to mining on a massive scale and its use of human shields. In that context, now more than ever, we must remain fully prepared to act with regard to three key inseparable priorities — the need to protect civilians, ensuring humanitarian access and achieving a lasting political solution in Syria.
Our first priority is therefore the protection of civilians. The protection of civilians, including humanitarian and medical personnel, must be an absolute priority for all stakeholders. Hospitals and schools remain the target of attacks, which is completely unacceptable and at odds with international humanitarian law. It must therefore be stressed that all parties must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law. That is not a wish but a requirement.
In particular, we must do everything possible to preserve the ceasefire in Idlib over the long term, in accordance with the commitments reiterated at the Istanbul quadripartite summit. An offensive would have disastrous humanitarian, migration and security consequences throughout the region. To avoid that worst-case scenario, Turkey and Russia must continue their efforts to preserve the ceasefire agreement that they were able broker last September and monitor its proper implementation.
Our second priority is ensuring humanitarian access. I would like to recall a statistic that is more eloquent than long speeches — of the 200 requests for access made to the Syrian regime during the months of December and January, only 40 per cent were authorized. In particular, it is unacceptable for the regime to be blocking access to areas it has reclaimed. We again call on actors with influence over the regime to ensure immediate, safe, comprehensive, unhindered and sustainable humanitarian access throughout Syria, in accordance with relevant Security Council resolutions and international humanitarian law.
Humanitarian access must be respected at all stages — from independent needs assessment to the implementation and monitoring of humanitarian projects — in order to ensure that aid reaches the targeted populations, in particular and as a priority the most vulnerable. In Rukban, we welcome the deployment of the United Nations convoy in early February, but the situation remains extremely worrisome and calls for a two-pronged approach.
On the one hand, it is imperative to allow the United Nations to regularly deploy convoys to meet the needs of the more than 40,000 people in the camp, who live in appalling conditions. On the other hand, the results of the United Nations survey are clear — 95 per cent of people wish to leave the camp. The return of displaced persons from Rukban must be voluntary, safe and dignified and must be conducted in accordance with international humanitarian law and in close coordination with the United Nations. We must also ensure that displaced persons have access to all necessary information, including information on the security situation in the areas to which they wish to return and access to their property and basic services, as well as the necessary guarantees against the risk of arrest, arbitrary detention or forced conscription.
Reports that the Syrian regime practises such violations in the territories now under its control, in particular in the south-west and eastern Ghouta, are particularly worrisome. I therefore call on the regime’s supporters to put an end to those violations, which is a prerequisite before the return of internally displaced persons and refugees can be considered. In areas outside the regime’s control, it is crucial that the entire international community continue its efforts to meet the urgent needs of the population.
Regarding the north-east in particular, our mobilization must remain intact — it is a humanitarian imperative, contributes to the stabilization of the region and should help prevent the resurgence of Da’esh. I would also like to sound a warning of the risk of humanitarian disaster and serious human rights violations that a military intervention in that area would pose, regardless of its origin.
Our third priority — a decisive one — is the launch of a sustainable political process. Only an irreversible, credible and inclusive political transition will break the cycle of Syrian tragedy and pave the way for reconstruction. Concrete progress in the implementation of all elements of resolution 2254 (2015) is necessary to achieve lasting improvements in the humanitarian situation and to make possible the voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees. That was the commitment made by the European Union and the Arab League at their summit on 24 and 25 February by declaring that they will pursue their respective policies towards Syria in line with the tangible progress made towards a political settlement.
It is our belief that today, perhaps for the first time in eight years, there is a small window of opportunity to put an end to the Syrian conflict. Our shared responsibility is to seize that opportunity through an inclusive political solution, because that is the only way to prevent the same causes leading to the same effects in future repetitions of the Syrian tragedy. That is why we call on each member of the Security Council to assume its responsibilities to allow the establishment of a credible political process, under the supervision of the United Nations, within the framework of resolution 2254 (2015).
The Council should be aware that there will be no lasting political solution without justice for Syrian victims. Following international arrest warrants issued by French courts against senior officials of the repressive Syrian regime, the recent arrest in France and Germany of three former security officers suspected of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity is an important step, which demonstrates that serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights will not go unpunished. In that regard, France reiterates its support for the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic.
The Council can count on France’s full mobilization at all levels in support of the political process and the efforts of Mr. Geir Pedersen, the new Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, to whom we pledge our full support.