The city of Aleppo is collapsing before our very eyes [fr]
Emergency meeting on Aleppo - Speech of Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations - Security Council - 30 November 2016
I thank the Senegalese presidency for having convened today’s emergency Security Council meeting on the situation in Aleppo at the request of France and the United Kingdom. I would also like to thank the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura; the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Relief Coordinator, Mr. Stephen O’Brien; and UNICEF’s Geert Cappelaere for their briefings.
On 15 November, the Al-Assad regime and its supporters launched another ground offensive on Aleppo, which intensified on 26 November. That major ground and air offensive led to the taking of half of the area under the control of the opposition. The toll stands at at least 225 civilian deaths, including 27 children. More than 20,000 people were displaced because of the fighting and more than 200,000 remain under siege. As has been said, the humanitarian situation is simply tragic. The areas that remain under opposition control no longer have operational health infrastructure. Hospitals in eastern Aleppo have been repeatedly bombed without respite. United Nations emergency food reserves have been exhausted for more than 10 days now and access to drinking water is insufficient to meet the needs of the entire population. The ancient city of Aleppo, in which many of the greatest civilizations flourished, is collapsing before our very eyes.
Each of us is aware of the extreme cynicism and brutality that characterizes the Syrian regime’s current offensive in Aleppo, which is a strategy of total warfare. The regime does not hide its objectives. But even war has rules, established, inter alia, by the Geneva Conventions, which apply everywhere and at all times. Those rules embody respect for international humanitarian law, and in particular the protection of civilian populations, by banning belligerents from deliberately targeting areas in which humanitarian workers and civilians are present, carrying out indiscriminate attacks against them, hampering humanitarian assistance and medical evacuations and using famine as a weapon of war. Those basic legal and moral principles have been persistently flouted by the regime and its backers, who have shown themselves prepared to do anything to regain control of the city and break the insurgents’ resistance. The civilian population of eastern Aleppo is not even a factor in this implacable, unrelenting equation. Eastern Aleppo is a victim twice over, of constant shelling and a siege that is medieval in its ferocity. In their targeting of civilians, including hospitals and medical personnel, they both constitute war crimes.
During the past week France has continued to hammer home the same message, demanding that the regime and its backers end the offensive and all their indiscriminate attacks and finally allow humanitarian aid access to the people of eastern Aleppo as soon as possible. The priority is providing assistance and protection to the civilian population, whether they wish to leave or stay. Those who want to leave should be able to do so and should be able to choose which direction they wish to take. At the moment they are rightly terrified by the strikes that are killing those who try to flee, the massacres of those who enter areas controlled by the regime and the camps they have been dumped in.
Today we have seen that the Council has once again been unable to agree on a path for saving the people of eastern Aleppo. Every initiative in the Council aimed at saving them — the draft resolution proposed by France and Spain, that of New Zealand and, finally, the humanitarian penholders’ initiative — has come up against the same rejection, by Russia. That is why France is once again asking those Council members who are involved in the conflict and have influence on the regime — Russia in particular — to bring all their efforts to bear to interrupt the current spiral, whose legacy will be a devastated country condemned to decades of instability, violence and terrorism. We should emphasize that the current policy of total war is also a strategic error.
Let us not deceive ourselves, the painful tragedy of Aleppo does not represent the road that should be taken if Syria is to ultimately be stabilized in a viable, reconstituted form. No, the tragedy of Aleppo represents yet another stage in Syria’s descent into the abyss, at the bottom of which lie its children, blown to bits by bombs or disfigured by hunger, and with the potential for a never-ending conflict of which terrorists will of course be the greatest beneficiaries. The tragedy of Aleppo automatically fuels radicalization and, as a consequence, terrorism. It simply presents the terrorists with a gift of blood and bullets. Sadly, the comparison between eastern Aleppo today and Guernica during the Spanish Civil War is an apt one. Aleppo is at once a vast humanitarian tragedy — the epicentre of the worst such tragedy since the twenty-first century began — a black hole that swallows and destroys every value that the United Nations upholds, and, ultimately, a harbinger of terrible tragedies to come.
For France, which like others has been a victim of terrorism and is still exposed to its threat, Aleppo lies at the core of a challenge that goes to the heart not just of our values but also of our interests, including our security interests. The humanitarian tragedy and the terrorist threat in Aleppo — the horror and the terror — are two sides of the same coin. On behalf of France, I would therefore like to emphasize once again how utterly urgent it is that we end the bombing and the war, protect the civilians and work together to find ways to reach a political settlement, because that is the only possible way out of this conflict. It is in that spirit that on 10 December Mr. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister for Foreign Affairs of France, will hold a ministerial meeting in Paris for those who reject the current strategy of total war and wish to relaunch efforts towards a negotiated solution as soon as possible.
That is the call I am making today on behalf of France. It is a call to action and to urge us to unite around our shared goals, shouldering our responsibilities together. On top of everything else, the credibility of the Security Council is at stake and deeply engaged in the tragedy that is Syria.