30 August 2012 - Ministerial meeting on the humanitarian issues in Syria - Statement by Mr Laurent Fabius, French Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ladies and Gentlemen,
25,000 people dead, 250,000 injured, more than 250,000 refugees outside of Syria, more than one million Syrians displaced within their own country, and more than 3 million directly affected by the crisis, often without food, water, medicine or electricity.
In this courageous and beautiful country that is Syria, each day the situation is more intolerable because essentially, Mr Bashar el-Assad wants to keep power with its barbaric repression and its brutal fighting, at all costs. He has been and is indiscriminately using heavy weapons, military attack helicopters and fighter jets against the population and has even threatened to use the stoke piles of chemicals and biological weapons.
In light of this situation which shocks the conscience of humanity, France believes that it must do everything possible, attempt everything possible to put an end to the violence and, on the humanitarian level, ease the plight of the civilian populations.
This is the meaning of today’s meeting.
Many of us are already acting to provide material assistance to the refugees, together with the United Nations, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Europe and others. I commend the action of Deputy Secretary-General, Mr Eliasson and UN High-Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Guterres. For its part, France is acting on the humanitarian level; on the political level, including by lending support to the opposition; and on the diplomatic level by supporting the Joint Special Representative Mr Brahimi in order to overcome the obstacles and divisions that have prevented so far any international action under the mandate of the Security Council.
Testify and react: this is what we do. It is a moral obligation to face outburst of violence. It is a duty of solidarity with the suffering of Syrians and of those who welcome them. This is a requirement of security against the risks of destabilization of the entire region.
By bringing you together today, we aim to ensure that every country here today faces up to their responsibilities. I want those who are refusing to save the hundreds of Syrians who are dying every week to be held accountable for their actions by the international community and to be judged by history.
Of course, we are thousands of kilometers away from Deraya, Aleppo, Homs, Dera’a, Damascus, from these martyred cities that are mourning their dead and their maimed.
We receive accounts of this suffering and this misery every day. This unacceptable humanitarian situation exists in Syria and in the neighbouring countries. I personally observed it on the ground when I went to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. These neighboring countries of Syria, along with Iraq, and the UNHCR, that I would like to thank for their presence, bore their direct testimony. No one could then say that they didn’t know.
My tone is moved, so as yours, and angry. This anger is shared by many people in the world who don’t understand why we are allowing Mr Bashar el-Assad to murder its own people and that a Council named the Council Security of the United Nations has not been able so far to provide neither security nor unity.
What can we do right now?
Above all, there is the humanitarian emergency. The divisions in our Council should not prevent us from taking action to ease and put an end to this humanitarian tragedy in Syria.
I want to turn to the Syrian authorities that are here today and to remind them their obligations under international law and humanitarian law.
The use of heavy weapons against their own people is a crime, as are the extrajudicial executions, the arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, the torture and the violence against medical personnel. It appears that Mr Bashar el-Assad practices all this.These crimes will not remain unpunished. There are many of us that think that the matter will have to be referred to the International Criminal Court so that the perpetrators of these odious acts are brought to justice.
I also want to remind the Representative of Damascus that access to the population by the humanitarian workers must be guaranteed. And yet, up until now, as a result of the growing insecurity, as well as a result of the restrictions imposed by the current authorities, humanitarian workers have still not been able to access the areas where the civilian populations are in need. Some of these organizations have even been forced to reduce their number of workers. I therefore call on the same Damascus Representative to comply with the agreement concluded with the United Nations on 28 May relating to the provision of humanitarian assistance. The local and international NGOs –whose action I commend-, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the UN humanitarian agencies must be able to have unrestricted access to the entire population. I also call on the Syrian authorities to implement the “humanitarian truces” that the ICRC has been requesting for months now in order to allow the humanitarian workers to evacuate the injured and treat them. And to guarantee the security of the medical personnel in order to allow them to have access to all those who are injured instead of arresting or even killing them.
I met earlier this week, an international organization of Syrian doctors who secretly treat, with magnificent courage, the local population. These doctors have already lost nearly a hundred of them, and they report that 700 of them have been arrested without they have been given news of them since. They treat and operate on children, women, innocent people whose blood flows because of the attacks by the regime. Do you know what this same regime invoke when it comes to arrest them? "We arrest you because you have blood on your hands" - yes, the blood of the injured that these same doctors are trying to save.
In light of the situation of the refugees, external aid is being organized and the goal of our meeting today is to increase these organization and mobilization efforts. The international community must support the host countries that are making significant efforts, and the humanitarian workers (local and international NGOs, the UN humanitarian agencies and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement) in their so difficult task.
It is clear that the neighboring countries cannot take on the burden of hosting the Syrian refugees on their territory alone. Turkey is responding to a significant influx of refugees in a spirit of solidarity. Jordan has just appealed to the local UN agencies for international assistance. There is a risk of political and security instability as a result of such the influx of refugees. In Lebanon, the needs are vast; there are growing signs of discontent: Lebanon must be protected from the risk that the Syrian crisis may spread.
France, as well as some of you today, is mobilized alongside the Syrian people and the countries of the region. In addition to our support to the NGOs, the ICRC and the UN agencies such as the UNHCR, we have deployed, in particular, a military medical surgical unit to the Za’atri camp in Jordan. Our doctors and surgeons assist victims of the fighting and refugees who are fleeing the conflict zones in Syria.
Yet, more financial means are needed. In France, an initial sum of a bit more than €3.6 million was set aside from the start of the crisis for humanitarian assistance in Syria and for the refugees. In light of the situation, which is continuing to deteriorate, I announce that we have decided to increase our financial support by €5 million. We also convinced the EU to considerably increase its humanitarian assistance bringing its overall contribution to more than €100 million in order to finance the response to the Syrian crisis, and France will pay its fair share, in total of €20 million.
But the very serious and difficult situation of the refugees in the neighboring countries remains less serious than the dreadful fate of the Syrians in their own country. I am thinking in particular of the fate of more than1.2 million displaced persons at the same time who have taken refuge, in appalling and often precarious conditions, in the areas liberated by the Free Syrian Army or directly affected.
Turkey suggested the establishment of “buffer zones” that have to be examined.
As for the displaced people, we have decided to increase our support for the local solidarity networks that are operating on the ground and that we are shaping the Syria of tomorrow. We note that , with courage, citizens of an increasing number of villages, towns and regions, have, with admirable courage and while acting in the public interest, freed themselves from the yoke of the Assad regime and have begun to organize themselves. But there are considerable needs in these liberated areas: food, access to healthcare, education, garbage collection. The international community has a duty to help them. This week Mr François Hollande announced our decision to help directly the revolutionary committees that are organizing the liberated areas and to provide special assistance to their populations.
But of course we cannot be content with adopting an approach that is based solely on humanitarian needs, because humanitarian and politics are linked (?? Cf transcript français). On the political level, a transition should start soon.
In order to achieve that, France encourages the Syrian opposition to form an interim government which will be the legitimate representative of Syria. This interim government, of which we cannot decide the composition, will have to be inclusive, which means widely open, and will have to offer guarantee to all communities. We have added that we will recognize this government as soon as it is so formed.
I want to say this to those who enjoy particularly close relations with the regime of Mr Bashar el-Assad: the regime will fall. But the longer this outcome is delayed, the more we worsen the religious dimension of the conflict, the longer the transition will be; the more we risk destabilizing the entire region, through a conflict that has ceased to be a local conflict, to turn into a regional, and even international conflict.
To those who support the regime, I say that if they continue, they will lose on all fronts. Bashar el-Assad will leave and those people will be guilty in the eyes of the Syrians of tomorrow, of the Arab world, of the whole opinion, of having been the accomplices to a massive crime after all. On the contrary, they should do everything possible to respond to the humanitarian tragedy, put an end to the violence and initiate a political transition with us.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
France wanted to convene this meeting, as I have said, to help in solving humanitarian issues and to ensure that everyone faces up to their responsibilities and to convey to the Syrian people, who are suffering, a message of support and solidarity. I hope that these messages will be heard. We know that the Council is divided, but despite the divisions of this Council, there is no other option than to comply with international law. France remains faithful to its long-standing commitment in this respect and affirms that the UN and the Security Council must contribute to the settlement of the crisis. It is essential today and it will be essential tomorrow when we will have to support the transition and build the Syria of tomorrow – a free, peaceful and democratic Syria for which a majority of Syrians are fighting today with so much courage. We have a responsibility to these admirable fighters to live up to their courage.
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