[Blog] Syria: three years of tragedy

London, 14 March 2014

Three years ago today, an uprising started in Syria. It was a peaceful democratic movement. It demanded justice and dignity. It was met with bullets, torture and death.

The eyes of the world are now turned towards protest movements elsewhere. But on this date, it is important to reflect on the terrible violence that has engulfed Syria.

Three years ago, when my staff studied the statistics compiled by the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, casualties were in their hundreds – although they were beginning the tragic creep into the thousands. Even then, the names reflected the kaleidoscope that is Syria: long names, short names, Sunni names, Kurdish names, Armenian names and Alawite names too. Today, this list of shame has swollen to more than 120,000 dead. Whole families, townships and villages have been wiped out. Syrian society has been turned upside down. Some of Syria’s marvellous historical heritage has been reduced to ashes. Violence has been committed on such a scale, with new extremes reached almost every day, that it has appalled even those observers most used to the dark alleys of conflict. Today, even if peace could at last be reached, it would take years for these gaping wounds to heal.

For France, these three years have been years of tireless joint efforts. Efforts to contain the regime, curb its resources, pressure it into stopping violence and make it renounce its chemical arsenal. Efforts to mediate, deploy observers, support the opposition and negotiate. Efforts to mitigate the humanitarian catastrophe, fight the hunger and deprivation engineered by the regime and support refugees in Syria and outside. Efforts to mitigate the risk that the radicalization of the conflict, fuelled by the regime’s violence, might affect our national security.

There have been countless initiatives driven or supported by our two countries as part of the Core Group of Friends of the Syrian People, the European Union, the United Nations Security Council, the Human Rights Council, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the G8, the G20 and all manner of other groupings.

Some of these efforts have had a measure of success. They have made it possible to start dismantling the Syrian regime’s chemical arsenal. They have helped alleviate the suffering of millions. They have kept alive, against terrible odds, the possibility of reaching a diplomatic solution. They have contributed to limiting, to an extent, the spillover into and destabilization of neighbouring countries.

But as spring finally arrives in London, there seems to be no end in sight for the three-year Syrian winter. The implacable numbers keep adding up and, behind them, the destroyed lives of ordinary people. The regime remains as obstinate and violent as ever.

The French government remains wholly committed to finding a solution to this crisis. Together with our British friends, we will spare no effort to this end. The risk of terrorism and further radicalization of the conflict must be averted, while moderates must be supported. The Syrian regime must be held to account. It must proceed with the dismantling of its chemical arsenal, only a fifth of which has been carried out so far. It must implement honestly UN Security Council Resolution 2139, which calls for a number of steps to improve the humanitarian situation. Shallow truces followed by mass arrests will not do: there must be tangible improvements for the population. And after derailing the UN-led Geneva talks, the regime must now engage seriously, at last, with the opposition, to restore peace and start a democratic transition. The future of that great country and of the whole region, after three years of tragedy, is at stake.

France has not forgotten the Syrian people and will continue its efforts in the long term.

Bernard Emié, French Ambassador to the UK

Published on 11/04/2014

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