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Victims of attacks and abuses on ethnic or religious grounds in the Middle East

Published on March 31, 2015
Speech by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, in the open debate at the United Nations Security Council
New York, March 27, 2015

Secretary-General,

High Commissioner,

Ministers,

High representatives,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Make no mistake: in the Middle East, we are facing a barbaric, systematic campaign of ethnic and religious eradication.

Although the majority of the jihadist terrorists’ victims are Muslim, non-Muslim communities are priority targets. They embody the diversity that Daesh wants to eliminate. Christians, Yazidis, Turkmens, Kurds, Shabaks – all are threatened with what I will call the triangle of horror: forced exile, enslavement, or death.

France has deep-rooted historic ties with the East and especially Eastern Christians, and a long tradition protecting minorities. Indeed, this tradition is an integral part of France, and we intend to remain faithful to it.

In Iraq, ever since the invasion of Mosul last summer, Christian men, women and children have been hunted down. In Syria, everyone knows that the situation is grave: nearly 220 Assyrian Christians have been kidnapped by Daesh [ISIL] in the northern region of Al-Hasakah. This persecution spreads far beyond the borders of the Middle East: in Libya last month, 21 Egyptian Copts were beheaded, and now the criminals are seeking to extend their strongholds of terror everywhere.

I have focused on Christians, but Daesh attacks all minorities with the same inhumanity. I am thinking in particular of the Yazidis besieged on Mount Sinjar, or the Kurds targeted in Kobane.

The group’s barbarism strikes even the historical remains that symbolize diversity – what the High Commissioner called “the mosaic”: they have sacked the museum of Mosul and attacked the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud and the Parthian city of Hatra. Not content with erasing the present, they want to physically destroy all its roots. They would like history to exist neither before them nor without them. There is truly a danger that minorities will disappear entirely.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are the international community; and we must no longer be, collectively, a sort of power which is actually powerless.

That is why I would like to send two messages from this platform: solidarity with the persecuted and determination to fight the terrorists, whom the United Nations High Commissioner has described as an abomination. We must show the minorities of the Middle East that we are standing beside them and beside the states that respect diversity. And to the terrorists of Daesh, that we will fight them tirelessly and defeat them.

Over recent months, the world has tried to respond to the humanitarian emergency to save these minorities from death. These efforts of course remain crucial, but we can all see that they are not enough. The minorities are not asking for favours; they are quite simply asserting their rights. Our focus must be the return of displaced minorities to the lands from which they have been driven. We must use every possible means to this end.

Firstly, of course, humanitarian support. It’s been very clearly shown that the situation is disastrous. Our collective efforts must enable exiled minorities to return to their homes in security and dignity. The United Nations agencies, especially the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, are playing an outstanding and major role: in our view, they must reorient their action accordingly. Member states need to increase their financial support, which is absolutely needed. In concrete terms, we’d like a specific fund to be set up to assist returning refugees, which could be used to rebuild homes and places of worship, for example.

Military action must also be included in this approach. As Daesh withdraws, we must enable minorities to return to the areas that they have had to leave. This means that troops currently mobilized on the ground need to ensure their security – for without security, they cannot return. In areas not yet liberated, we would like the coalition, in liaison with both the Iraqi authorities and the moderate Syrian opposition, to incorporate the need for minorities to return into its strategy: as well as combating the jihadists, protecting minorities in Iraq and Syria must become a primary goal of the military action of the coalition and local forces.

I also want to reaffirm my country’s commitment to combating impunity. We call on all states in the region to accede to the Rome Statute to enable the International Criminal Court to try the perpetrators of these crimes. We consider – even if it poses legal problems – that given the irreversible destruction that has been committed, cultural genocide should be included in the scope of crimes against humanity. And perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity must be prosecuted, including Daesh terrorists. We believe it is essential that the Security Council refer cases to the International Criminal Court.

Finally, we all know that an overall political solution is needed to achieve the lasting and peaceful re-assimilation of minorities. That is why the international community must support the consolidation of states that do not defend just a single community, but rather guarantee the coexistence of all sectors of society. Because sectarianism, as we’ve clearly said, breeds extremism. Only such “inclusive” states, which protect diversity and guarantee full citizenship for all, are actually capable of restoring the confidence of their people, especially minorities. An inclusive approach to minorities is crucial in order to resolve crises.

I shall take three examples:

In Iraq, in order to respond to the terrorists, the unifying and reconciliation process initiated by Prime Minister al-Abadi must be extended further, because it is essential for a united, stable and peaceful Iraq.

In Syria, the issue of minorities is unfortunately exploited by a power that manipulates the jihadist threat to style itself as a bulwark against terrorism, when in fact it largely triggered and has been complicit in it. Once again, only an inclusive political solution with elements of the regime and the opposition, one protecting the various communities and leading to a genuine democratic transition, can ensure each and every one’s rights for the future.

In Lebanon, the model of coexistence between communities established by the Constitution, the National Pact and the Taif Agreement has been weakened by the current institutional paralysis. We call upon the Lebanese people to elect in the shortest time possible a president who will guarantee the continuity of that model.

I know that comparisons are odious, [but] like you, I remember Yugoslavia: the break-up of the state that protected minorities led to a renewed surge in violence against them. Today, on behalf of my country, I suggest and request that the Secretary-General of the United Nations present to the Security Council an action charter to address the situation of minorities in the Middle East. The international community needs a detailed road map in order to implement its response.

This charter could be structured around the four components I have just mentioned and which tie in with the points discussed by the previous speakers. Firstly,
humanitarian support: United Nations agencies, especially UNHCR, must gear their efforts even more towards the return of minorities. Secondly, concerning military action: the return of minorities and making things safe for them must be incorporated into the strategy of the coalition and local forces. Thirdly, in combating impunity: the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity must be tried by the International Criminal Court. Lastly, at political level: we must strengthen the unifying policy in Iraq and promote an inclusive political transition in Syria, and more generally – I’m thinking of Libya, Yemen and elsewhere – campaign for governments and decisions taken by the state which are inclusive.

I want to warmly welcome the announcement by the Secretary-General on the creation of a Panel of Eminent Persons to look into this crucial issue. I propose that, if they are willing, their priority task be to draw up this action charter. France is prepared to host an international conference which would be devoted to presenting the Panel’s conclusions.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues,

The general public, by that I mean ordinary citizens, is wondering how so many countries gathered here together, who call themselves the “United Nations”, have so far been unable to confront the danger of terrorism and eradicate it. These citizens are right. The meeting of our Council will prove useful if it is not simply a warning cry, but also a specific call for action. Action centred on a single goal: preserving the age-old diversity of this whole region and enabling the lasting, safe return of persecuted minorities to their own lands.

That is the appeal, one of gravity and hope, that I want to make on behalf of France.
Thank you./.

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