To break the cycle of the Syrian tragedy and create positive momentum [fr]
Statement by Mr François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council – 30 January 2019
I should like to begin by thanking Mr. Mark Lowcock for his briefing, which, as always, was very useful, and to reiterate to him our admiration for his work as well as that of his team in responding to the humanitarian emergency in Syria. I wish also to commend Germany and Belgium, which, along with Kuwait, will be assuming the key function of co-penholders on Syria. I also thank Sweden and Kuwait for their outstanding work, particularly with regard to resolution 2449 (2018), adopted last December, which renewed cross-border assistance.
It would be irresponsible if we were to downplay the situation in Syria as the country enters its ninth year of conflict, with the threat of further escalation still very real. That is why we must remain fully mobilized around three key priorities: maintaining the ceasefire in Idlib and the protection of civilians; guaranteeing humanitarian access; and ensuring a lasting political solution in Syria.
Concerning the first priority, maintaining the ceasefire in Idlib in the long run, the Russian-Turkish agreement on Idlib made it possible to prevent a further offensive, which would have had disastrous humanitarian, migratory and security-related consequences throughout the region and would have further diminished prospects for a political solution. We supported the ceasefire that it made possible, which is vital to stability in the region. The situation in Idlib remains extremely tense, with terrorist groups ramping up their efforts to control that zone. We cannot rule out a worst-case scenario and therefore must do everything possible to maintain the ceasefire over the long term, in keeping with the commitments made at the four-party summit held in Istanbul. This must be an absolute priority for all stakeholders, as it is the only way to protect the 3 million civilians who live in Idlib, including medical and humanitarian personnel. Everyone knows that since the beginning of the conflict, hundreds of humanitarian workers have been killed or wounded. We therefore need to hammer home the fact that all parties need to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.
The second priority is ensuring humanitarian access to the entire Syrian territory. The Syrian regime is relentlessly pursuing its strategy of aid politicization by constantly creating obstacles to the delivery of aid. Indeed, the most minor of activities or displacements on the part of humanitarian organizations are subject to authorizations, which are handed out in dribs and drabs.
I would recall here also that the regime has not hesitated to criminalize humanitarian organizations for political reasons. It is particularly difficult to understand that the regime can for more than two months have been able to delay the convoy headed for Rukban camp, where more than 40,000 people are living under inhuman conditions. It is imperative that a new convoy be deployed immediately. Once again we call on all actors with influence on the regime to guarantee full, safe, unhindered and sustained humanitarian access throughout Syrian territory, in keeping with the relevant Security Council resolutions and international humanitarian law. This imperative of access for humanitarian assistance should be respected at all stages, from independent needs assessments to the implementation and follow-up of humanitarian projects, in order to ensure that aid reaches the most vulnerable segments of the population.
In the areas that are not under the regime’s control, it is vital that the entire international community continue its efforts to help those who are in situations of increasing uncertainty. Here I am thinking especially of the north-eastern and north-western parts of the country. In the north-east, our mobilization to respond to the needs of the people must remain full-fledged, as this is a humanitarian imperative and will also help to prevent any resurgence of Da’esh in the region. In the north-west, all actors must maintain the greatest vigilance, given that Security Council-listed terrorist groups — and here I am thinking in particular of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham — have consolidated their civilian and military control.
Finally, and lastly, I would reiterate that there can be no sustainable humanitarian solution in the absence of a credible political process. Syria is today at a crossroads. While risks remain tremendous in Idlib and elsewhere, we remain convinced that today, perhaps for the first time in eight years, there is a very small window of opportunity to find a way to resolve the Syrian conflict. But that window of opportunity might soon close. It is more important and urgent than ever that everyone assume their responsibilities to establish a credible political process, under the supervision of the United Nations and in accordance with resolution 2254 (2015). That is the task of the new Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, Mr. Geir Pedersen, to whom we reiterate our full support.
I would like to reiterate the distinction between humanitarian aid and reconstruction. Humanitarian aid is an immediate need, subject to the principles of strict neutrality, impartiality and independence. It is to be distinguished from reconstruction, which will be possible only once an irreversible, inclusive and credible political transition has begun. Moreover, let us not forget that it is not the absence of reconstruction that prevents the voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees; it is the absence of guarantees for their safety, in particular against arbitrary arrests, forced conscription, forced expropriations and the loss of identity documents. The continuation of those practices by the Syrian regime in the areas over which it recently regained control are completely unacceptable and should be denounced as such. It is therefore not surprising that very few refugees have chosen to return to Syria, as demonstrated by the statistics from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Against that backdrop, where the realm of the possible is especially broad, I especially want to call on all the members of the Security Council to rally together to break the cycle of the Syrian tragedy and create positive momentum with the view to reaching an inclusive political settlement in Syria. Only credible progress in the political process will make it possible to achieve a lasting improvement in the humanitarian situation and, in the long-term, make possible the voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees. As the Council knows, France stands fully committed to that end.