EU nations call on Syria to end offensive in Idlib

Syria – Joint article by 14 European foreign ministers published in the daily newspaper Le Monde

Paris, 26 February 2020

In Idlib, a new humanitarian disaster is playing out, one of the worst in the Syrian crisis that, in nearly a decade, has caused too many such disasters to even count.

The Syrian regime continues its strategy of military reconquest of the country at any cost, regardless of the consequences for Syrian civilians. Since December, its operations in the north-west have grown in intensity, with support from Russian aircraft.

The unremitting air strikes and dropping of barrel bombs have forced nearly one million Syrians to flee in just a few weeks.

Relief structures are saturated. Hundreds of thousands of people – mostly women and children – are seeking shelter in makeshift camps, and are subjected to cold, hunger and epidemics.

In defiance of international humanitarian law, the strikes deliberately targeted hospitals and health centres – 79 were forced to shut down –, schools and shelters. A total of 298 civilians have been killed in Idlib since 1 January, based on data from the OHCHR.

It is perfectly clear to us there are radical groups in Idlib. We would never take terrorism lightly. We are fighting terrorism with determination and are on the front lines of the fight against Daesh [so-called ISIL]. But fighting terrorism cannot and must not justify massive violations of international humanitarian law, which we are witnessing every day in north-west Syria.

The United Nations has warned of the risk of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis if the current offensive continues.

We call on the Syrian regime and its supporters to end this offensive and resume the ceasefire established in 2018. We call on them to immediately end hostilities and honour their obligations under international humanitarian law, including the protection of humanitarian workers and medical personnel, many of whom have lost their lives because of their commitment to civilian populations in Idlib.

We also call on Russia to continue negotiations with Turkey in order to de-escalate the dire situation in Idlib and contribute to a political solution.

Beyond the urgency of a truce in Idlib, we call on Russia not to block the Security Council in the coming months from renewing the mechanism allowing for desperately needed cross-border humanitarian aid to be transported to north-west Syria; a mechanism it has already shut down in the north-east, where we now need to identify alternatives to the Al Yaroubiyah crossing.

Who can currently claim the Syrian regime of its own accord will allow aid to reach those in need, when it bears the greatest responsibility for their situation?

Finally, it is important to remember that only a politically negotiated end to the conflict can serve as a durable conclusion to the Syrian crisis. Political normalization cannot happen before a genuine, irreversible political process is firmly under way.

Focused on its military strategy, the regime seeks to undermine any type of inclusive political process, by blocking all constitutional discussions planned in Geneva under the aegis of UN Special Envoy Geir Pedersen. But the reconquest under way is an illusion and the same causes will produce the same effects: radicalization, instability in Syria and in the region, and exile, in a country where more than half the population is displaced or living as refugees.

We have to acknowledge the tremendous efforts Syria’s neighbours are undertaking, to provide shelter to these Syrians who had to leave their homes.

In the face of the tragedy unfolding, Europeans too are shouldering their responsibilities. From a humanitarian standpoint, the European Union and its member states are the largest donors in support of the Syrian population. We will sustain and expand these collective efforts in reaction to the developing crisis.

Europe continues to apply pressure on the regime to genuinely engage in the political process.

On 17 February, Europeans adopted fresh sanctions that target, on an individual basis, Syrian businesspersons who are fuelling the regime’s war efforts and benefiting from its impact.

It is also our responsibility to fight impunity with regard to the crimes committed in Syria. It is a matter of principle and justice.

It is also a necessary condition for sustainable peace in a Syrian society that has been torn apart by nearly 10 years of conflict.

We intend to continue to support the mechanisms to fight impunity that have been established by the United Nations: the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism.

These collect proof that will be vital in the preparation of future proceedings against those who are responsible for the most serious crimes.

We will also continue our work to refer cases to the International Criminal Court.

We will maintain our commitment, including within the framework of our national jurisdictions, to ensure crimes committed in Syria do not go unpunished. These include the use of chemical weapons, breaching most fundamental norms of international law.

We need to establish responsibilities and we need accountability. And we need clarity on what happened to the many detainees and missing persons./.

Published on 02/03/2020

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