Tragic situation in the north-west of Syria [fr]
Syria – Situation in the north-west
Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council - 17 May 2019
At the outset, I would like to thank Mr. Mark Lowcock and Ms. Rosemary DiCarlo for their very useful briefings. Given the tragic situation in Syria, particularly in the north-west, I would like to underscore three priorities: the critical need to preserve the ceasefire in Idlib, the non-negotiable imperative to respect international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians and the urgency of reaching a lasting political solution.
The preservation of the ceasefire in Idlib must be our top priority. France is extremely concerned about the recent ground offensive launched by the Syrian regime in the north-west, as well as the bombardments and artillery fire by the regime and its allies. Those actions are flagrant violations of the ceasefire agreement between Russia and Turkey, which was reiterated in the joint communiqué of the Istanbul summit last October.
Reports that this offensive has ended still need to be confirmed on the ground. We will remain vigilant in that regard. Compliance with the ceasefire must be ensured over the long term. We must do everything we can to prevent another disaster in the north-west; the lives of 3 million civilians, including 1 million children, are at stake. To put it plainly, we must prevent Idlib from becoming the new Aleppo at all costs. An offensive would not only have drastic humanitarian consequences, but would also pose a serious migration and security threat to all of us, with a major risk of terrorist fighters spreading.
In that context, it is the primary responsibility of the guarantors to preserve the ceasefire, in accordance with the agreement on Idlib, on which the Astana guarantors reaffirmed their commitments at their meeting on 26 April. France especially calls on Russia to honour its commitment to uphold the ceasefire in Idlib and bring all the necessary pressure to bear on the regime in that regard. Moreover, I repeat that France will be extremely firm in the event of chemical weapons being used again, and we stand ready to act.
Against that backdrop, the protection of civilians and respect for international humanitarian law constitute an absolute priority. The humanitarian consequences of the escalating violence are of great concern. More than 180,000 people have been displaced, 150 are dead and 11 schools and 18 medical facilities were attacked, including hospitals that were de-conflicted. I reiterate here that France condemns in the strongest terms all attacks on hospitals and health workers, as they constitute war crimes. I repeat, once again, that the protection of civilians, including humanitarian and health workers, as well as civilian infrastructure, is an imperative by which we all must abide and which is non-negotiable.
Let us make no mistake about it: the current offensive is not exclusively about the fight against terrorism. It is part of the brutal retaking of areas that are still outside the control of the regime and its allies. That offensive contributes only to the amplification and spread of the terrorist threat. We support Turkey in stepping up its efforts to reduce the influence of terrorist groups. In any event, fighting terrorism, which is a priority for all of us, cannot be used to justify violations of international humanitarian law.
As everyone can see, we are facing a new moment of truth in Syria, the future of which is at stake. How can we restore the necessary confidence for a credible political process when the population of Idlib is targeted by a violent military campaign? How can we both wish for the return of refugees and launch an offensive that will inevitably make hundreds of thousands of Syrians flee? The reality is that an offensive in Idlib will ruin the prospects for peace in Syria, which could otherwise come to fruition today.
Only a credible, irreversible and inclusive political transition will break the cycle of the Syrian tragedy and pave the way for reconstruction. We must collectively support the Special Envoy’s efforts to implement all the elements of resolution 2254 (2015), including a credible constitutional package. The regime’s obstruction, which has been going on for months, is unacceptable. It is equally important that Geir Pedersen continue his work on confidence-building measures in parallel, with a view to establishing a secure and neutral environment, in accordance with resolution 2254 (2015) and the Geneva communiqué (S/2012/522, annex), and that he start preparing for the holding of elections. On all those points, Russia has a leading role to play vis-à-vis the regime.
After years of failing Syria in the Security Council, it would be yet another great moral and political mistake to turn the page today and look elsewhere, whether because we tired or not courageous enough. To think that the Syrian tragedy is behind us would be a grave lapse in judgement, also because we are convinced that today, for the first time perhaps in eight years, a small but real window of opportunity is opening for us to put an end to the conflict; we must not allow that small window to close. That means that, as members of the Security Council, we must assume our collective responsibility to switch off our automatic pilot modes, build upon our commonalities and at last achieve peace in Syria.