Action in Syria is legitimate, says Foreign Minister

Syria - Statement by Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs

Paris, 14 April 2018

Ladies and gentlemen,

The President of the Republic has observed that the use of chemical weapons in the city of Douma, near Damascus, on 7 April during an offensive by the Assad regime’s forces, was both proven and attributable to the Syrian regime. This chemical attack killed dozens of people – at least 45 according to converging medical sources on the ground – and injured hundreds more. The red line declared by the President in May 2017 has been crossed.

We said that such a transgression would not go unanswered. We have noted the systematic deadlock at the Security Council. We have therefore acted in accordance with our word and our responsibility, in coordination with our allies.

Assad’s regime has deliberately broken the taboo there has been on the use of chemical weapons since the beginning of the 20ᵗʰ century. For the last seven years, it has constantly breached international standards with the greatest disrespect for the law of war and basic humanity.

The chemical escalation in Syria is not acceptable.

It is not acceptable because the use of chemical weapons is a violation of a fundamental standard of international law and humanitarian law.

The employment of these arms of terror is a transgression of some of the longest-standing conventions, including the 1925 Protocol prohibiting the use of chemical weapons in warfare. It violates the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which was signed in Paris in 1993 and which Syria signed up to in 2013. The manufacture and use of such weapons is a threat to international peace and security. Those who contravene these laws choose to exclude themselves from the community of nations.

The chemical escalation is not acceptable because the Syrian regime had committed to fully decommissioning its arsenal.

In September 2013, the Security Council took note of that commitment and decided in Resolution 2118 that Syria must keep to it, or else be subject to measures under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations. Chapter VII has a clear meaning: the use of military measures to compel those who threaten international peace and security.

The chemical escalation in Syria is not acceptable because, since the declarations by the French President, everyone has been aware of the consequences of a violation of the commitments made by the Syrian regime before the international community. Bashar al-Assad’s regime knew the risks it was taking when it again employed these odious weapons against its own people, choosing once more to ride roughshod over international law.

The action taken by our armed forces, whom I would like to commend as I know their professionalism and their cool-headedness in France’s service, will be set out in a moment by Mme Florence Parly, Minister for the Armed Forces.

This action is legitimate. It aims to put an end to a serious violation of the law. It is limited to precise objectives: the destruction of the Syrian regime’s chemical facilities, in order to stop it committing further chemical massacres and continuing its strategy of terror against its own people. It is proportionate, targeted action: it does not seek to hit Assad’s allies or the civilian population, but rather to dissuade the Syrian regime from continuing such criminal acts. The Syrian regime has to stop employing such weapons.

The Syrian conflict has worsened and amplified constantly for seven years now. It is directly affecting the security of France and Europe. In this context, we have two priorities: combating jihadist groups, and Daesh [so-called ISIL] in particular, and restoring stability, which requires a political solution. Only that political solution can bring peace and security for the Syrian people, for the region and for the international community.

That is why we are going to be taking political initiatives very swiftly. We have three imperatives:

- 1 – the verifiable and irreversible decommissioning of the Syrian chemical weapons programme;

- 2 – a ceasefire across the whole Syrian territory, and humanitarian access to civilian populations as required by UN Security Council resolutions. These resolutions have the value of international law and must apply to all. They have so far been ignored. We need to ensure they become effective.

- 3 – a crisis exit plan, which needs to be reached with a political solution. We are prepared to work on that immediately, with all countries that can contribute./.

Syria – Speech by the Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations – Security Council

New York, 14 April 2018

Mr President,

A week after the chemical weapons massacre in Douma, and in the wake of last night’s air strikes, I want to reiterate right now, to those who are pretending to wonder, that France has no doubt at all about the Assad regime’s responsibility for this attack. This morning we published a report compiled by our intelligence services. We invite those who, once again, are attempting to dispute the evidence and misrepresent the facts to the world to refer to this report.

Mr President,

For years, Bashar al-Assad has, with the active support of his allies, been pursuing a strategy of destruction aimed at crushing any opposition, in contempt of the most basic humanitarian principles and at the cost of the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Syria. We’ve seen this in Aleppo, in Homs, in Eastern Ghouta. For years, the Syrian regime has been using the most terrifying weapons of destruction – chemical weapons – to massacre and terrorize its civilian population. This was further demonstrated in Douma, as we’ve seen before in Khan Sheikhoun, Sarmin, Talmenes and Qmenas, where the Damascus regime’s responsibility was clearly established by the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism. No one can say that they did not know.

For years, the Syrian regime has been systematically and repeatedly violating all of its international obligations. The list of its violations is long; it is overwhelming. We are all aware of them:

-  The violation of all international obligations relating to chemical weapons under the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which Syria has been a party since 2013, and the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which prohibits their use against civilians;

-  The violation of the very foundations of international humanitarian law, namely the principles of distinction, precaution and proportionality

-  The violation of successive Security Council resolutions – 2118, 2209, 2235 – and hence Syria’s obligations under the UN Charter.

Lastly, the use of chemical weapons against civilian populations constitutes a war crime under the Statute of the International Criminal Court. The UN Secretary-General even described the use of chemical weapons as a crime against humanity in August 2013.

In the face of the repeated and documented violations by the Damascus regime of all of the rules on which our security is based, France has continuously called for strong action by the international community. We have made every effort to ensure that these horrors do not remain without consequence at the UN or the OPCW, and that they are brought to an end. The Security Council pledged through its successive resolutions – 2118, 2209, 2235 – to impose enforcement measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter in the event of further violations. It was prevented from taking action in accordance with its commitments due to Russia’s systematic vetoes. By systematically exercising its veto at the Security Council, Russia has betrayed the commitment it made before this Council in 2013 to guarantee the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.

The blocking of the Security Council in the face of the mass atrocities committed in Syria is a deadly and dangerous trap from which we must escape.

Mr President,

When it ordered the chemical attack on 7 April, the Syrian regime was fully aware of the consequences. Once again, it wanted to test the international community’s tolerance threshold – and it found it. In the face of this attack against the principles, values and laws that underpin the actions of the United Nations, silence is no longer an option. We cannot tolerate the normalization of the use of chemical weapons, which poses an immediate danger to the Syrian people and to our collective security. We cannot let the deadly genie of proliferation out of the bottle. We issued a clear warning to the Assad regime and its supporters: We cannot stand idly by in the face of such a transgression. We have acted in accordance with our word and our responsibility. We have done so within a controlled and transparent framework, while taking care to avoid any escalation with those present on the ground. President Macron and the French Minister of Foreign Affairs spoke on this issue.

Some people, who have been flouting the most basic rules of international law for years, are now saying that our action would be contrary to the UN Charter. I would remind them that the UN Charter was not designed to protect criminals.

Our action is fully in line with the goals and values proclaimed in the very first lines of the UN Charter. The purpose of our organization is to “establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained.” This action was necessary precisely in order to address the Syrian regime’s repeated violations of its obligations – obligations arising from law, treaties and its own commitments. Lastly, our response was developed within a proportionate framework, restricted to specific objectives. The main research centre of this programme and two important production sites were hit. Through these objectives, Syria’s capacity to develop, refine and manufacture chemical weapons has been rendered inoperative. That was the only goal and it was achieved.

Mr President,

My country, which experienced first-hand the devastating effects of chemical weapons during World War I, will never again tolerate impunity for the use of chemical weapons. It will never give up identifying those responsible for it, who must be brought to justice. That is the purpose of the Partnership against Impunity that we launched in January.

Mr President,

Let me emphasize this point: last night’s airstrikes are a necessary response to the chemical massacres in Syria; they are a response in keeping with the law and our political strategy to bring an end to the Syria tragedy.

To be more specific, we have four imperatives when it comes to Syria – four imperatives that – as the UN Secretary-General noted, and I want to thank him for his speech – are in the immediate interest of Syrians and the entire international community.

I should like, here, to remind you of these four imperatives:

1. Firstly, ensuring the dismantlement of the Syrian chemical weapons programme in a verifiable, irreversible way. We must spare no effort to put in place an international mechanism to establish responsibility, and prevent impunity and any urge the Syrian regime may have to repeat what it has done.

2. Secondly, eradicating terrorism by permanently eliminating Daesh [so-called ISIL]. This is a long-standing commitment that requires even greater efforts in order to win a definitive victory.

3. Thirdly, establishing a ceasefire throughout Syria and humanitarian access to civilians, as required under Security Council resolutions. We need full, unhindered humanitarian access in order to aid populations in distress, in accordance with Resolution 2401. In particular, it is essential and urgent for humanitarian convoys to enter Eastern Ghouta daily and under sufficiently safe conditions.

4. Fourthly, working together to build a plan to end the crisis that offers a lasting political solution. We can resolve the Syria crisis in the long run only within the framework of an inclusive political solution based on the full implementation of this Council’s Resolution 2254. We have been calling for this for seven years; it has never been more urgent to implement it and to restart real negotiations under the auspices of the UN in order to bring about a political transition in Syria.

Mr President,

Only this road map will enable us to end the deadlock over Syria, and France is ready to join forces today with all those who are ready to make every effort in this regard.

In this spirit, on France’s initiative and in line with President Macron’s statement this evening, we will be introducing a draft resolution on these various tracks, with our British and American partners, as soon as possible.

In that regard, I call first and foremost on Russia to finally pressure the Damascus regime to think in terms of a negotiated solution, and to finally end the interminable suffering of Syria’s civilians.

Thank you./.

Published on 19/04/2018

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