Preserving the ceasefire in Idlib must be an absolute priority [fr]
Syria /Humanitarian situation
Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council - 28 May 2019
At the outset, I would like to thank Ms. Ursula Mueller for her very useful briefing, which once again shows that the humanitarian situation in Syria is steadily deteriorating and that we are witnessing another humanitarian disaster in the north-west of the country. I would also like to welcome the presence of Mr. Vershinin, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Russia.
We must focus our efforts on three priorities — the need to preserve the ceasefire in Idlib, respect for international humanitarian law, which is non-negotiable, and the need for a lasting political solution, which is the only possible solution to the Syrian crisis.
First, preserving the ceasefire in Idlib must be an absolute priority for us all. Today’s top priority is to prevent Idlib from becoming a new Aleppo. The lives of more than 3 million civilians, including 1 million children, are at stake. A large-scale offensive would not only result in tragic humanitarian consequences but also represent a security threat and a migration risk for us all. We call on the signatories of the ceasefire agreement to honor their commitments to maintaining it. I recall that those commitments were reiterated by the Astana guarantors on 26 April. Russia, in particular, must exert all pressure necessary on the regime. Iran must also contribute by translating into action in Syria the commitment it made to the Council in a recent letter concerning its assistance on the issue of regional stability.
Despite all the positive rhetoric, the offensive against Idlib is taking place right before our eyes. Behind the pretext of combating terrorism, the new offensive of the regime and its allies are part of a desire to forcibly reclaim areas that remain outside of their control, as was the case for Aleppo and Ghouta. The threat of terrorism could become even greater due to the spread of elements that the regime is claiming to fight. With more than 40 civilian infrastructure sites hit, the targets and objectives of the offensive leave no room for doubt that the fight against terrorism can never justify such actions. Furthermore, I repeat, France will be extremely firm if chemical weapons are used again and stand ready to act.
Secondly, respect for international humanitarian law is binding on all and non-negotiable. I am thinking here of two absolute priorities. The first is the need to protect civilians, including humanitarian and medical personnel. It is completely unacceptable for hospitals, including those that have been deconflicted, and schools to remain the target of attacks in the north-west of the country. The Council’s silence on the issue, for reasons we all know, is as deafening as it is intolerable. I would like to firmly reiterate that attacks on hospitals and health workers constitute war crimes and perpetrators will be held accountable.
The second priority is to guarantee immediate, safe, comprehensive, sustainable and unhindered humanitarian access to all Syrian territory, in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions and international humanitarian law. A new aid convoy must be urgently deployed to the Rukban camp. That is an immediate and vital priority. It is also essential that the United Nations have access to people who have left the camp. We call on those who have the means to exert the pressure necessary on the regime to ensure that it complies with its obligations under international humanitarian law by authorizing the deployment of the convoy and, more broadly, by guaranteeing unimpeded humanitarian access to all areas under its control, in particular in the territories it has recently reclaimed in the south-west and in eastern Ghouta. Lastly, I am thinking of Al-Hol camp, where it is crucial that the United Nations have sustainable access, through the most direct and effective channels, to provide assistance to the more than 70,000 people in the camp.
Lastly, only a lasting political solution can end the Syrian tragedy. That is our third major priority and inextricably linked to the first two. Only a political solution based on resolution 2254 (2015) and the Geneva communiqué (S/2012/522, annex) can end the suffering of Syrians and lead to the stabilization of Syria and the region in the long term. The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, Geir Pedersen, has our full support in implementing all aspects of resolution 2254 (2015). The Special Envoy has made many efforts and it appears that a new agreement may now be within reach. It is the responsibility of the regime’s sponsors to encourage it to engage in good faith in the process.
However, the political solution cannot be reduced to the constitutional committee alone. It must include three elements: a nationwide ceasefire, the implementation of confidence-building measures to create a secure and neutral environment and the organization of free and transparent elections in which all Syrians can participate. Only concrete progress in the areas I have just mentioned will enable refugees and displaced persons to consider returning home. At the moment, the political and security conditions are not in place to allow a voluntary return in safe and dignified conditions under the auspices of the United Nations. That is reflected in the voluntary return flows documented by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which remain very low to date.
Lastly, it is unimaginable to consider financing the reconstruction of the country, normalizing relations with the Damascus regime or lifting sanctions until irreversible and credible progress towards a political solution has been made. It would be not only a grave error in judgment but also a serious political mistake to believe that the Syrian tragedy is behind us. Given the new tragedy looming in Idlib — according to a very familiar script — no one will be able to claim to have been surprised. We call on each member of the Security Council to assume its responsibilities in order to prevent such a tragedy and allow for the establishment of a credible political process, under the supervision of the United Nations, to enable the country to embark on the path to stabilization and peace.