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64th United Nations General Assembly

Published on September 29, 2010
General Debate – Speech by Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs

New York, September 27, 2010


I stand here today at this podium on behalf of France to express my sincere and ardent faith in the United Nations. France’s ambition is to be a major actor in building a more just, more solidarity-based, more socially oriented form of world governance, and a world order that is structured and regulated on the basis of a stronger, more representative, more effective UN. A UN capable of resolving the major challenges of our century.

I am looking at you. I know a number of you. For 25 years, even more than that, I have been pacing the corridors of the UN, and because I love the UN – because I believe in the UN – I want to speak candidly.

I will speak to you about women and men, suffering and hope. And I will speak to you about responsibility. Because it is our responsibility as citizens, diplomats and political leaders to respond to this suffering, these hopes, these expectations.

Certainly, each of us would have a thousand reasons to recite a litany of generous intentions and then return home, with a clear conscience, after confronting our own daily problems here before this assembly and, at greater length, at home.

Certainly, after the terrible economic crisis from which we are barely emerging, we must deal with tense economic and social situations with decreasing budgets; times are hard and our fellow citizens are anxious. There is a temptation to withdraw into ourselves.

Certainly, to remedy the great imbalances and injustices that undermine our planet’s security and development, we must continue to hope that we can count on others.

But which others?

There are no others. We are all here; all the nations of the world are represented at the United Nations General Assembly. We must just decide, together, to act. Not acting today would mean resigning ourselves to disorder, injustice and chaos. This choice will not be – will never be – that of France, because it is not in keeping with our history, our values or our interests. In the face of world disorder, the greatest risk today would be settling into our routines. Don’t tell me that we can’t move forward, that the situation is deadlocked. No. In the past, we have succeeded in collectively taking revolutionary approaches to fundamental subjects, even if that meant disturbing the national sovereignties we all represent here.

Remember our audacity: right here in 1988 with Resolution 43/131, and, two years later, with Resolution 45/100 on “Humanitarian assistance to victims of natural disasters and similar emergency situations”. These resolutions made it possible for the first time to guarantee aid workers free access to suffering regions. Remember UNSCR 688 on the situation in Kurdistan of 5 April 1991, which, for the first time, opened the way to a military operation to protect civilians against an oppressor State.

Those were two historic moments that laid the foundations for the right to interfere, which became the responsibility to protect, and which this Assembly adopted by consensus at the 2005 world summit. Who could ever have imagined that such a drastic change in international law would be possible?

It has been a long, hard battle, and it’s not over yet. Far from it. And to speak frankly, the results are not exactly those I had hoped for. But what we must remember is that together we overcame obstacles that were supposed to be insurmountable. And there is nothing to stop us from doing the same on issues we collectively decide to take up.


Our first shared responsibility is that of development. It is to guarantee decent living conditions for all men and women, including the poorest.

The exacerbation of inequalities is not just morally unacceptable, it is politically dangerous. Of course it is costly to act. But the cost of inaction is much higher still. The conclusions of the summit we have just held on the Millennium Development Goals force each of us to face up to our responsibilities. And the need is urgent. We can’t ask suffering people to wait any longer.

As President Sarkozy noted, France is the second-largest international donor of official development assistance – €9 billion a year – targeting education, health, food security and infrastructure. France’s commitment to development will not falter.

But numbers don’t constitute a policy. Our aid must be judged by its results. We must work faster, go further for children dying of malaria – one every 30 seconds –, for whole families decimated by AIDS, for all those who are hungry or who can’t go to school.


Ladies and gentlemen, national representatives, I ask you: what planet do we want to leave to our children? Will we be capable of taking an ambitious decision to fight climate change and preserve our environment? This is a subject that concerns us all and demands a global partnership. We must go forward and reach an agreement on both reducing emissions and the measures to take to adapt to that situation. Most important, we must ensure that the commitments we make are implemented and follow-up mechanisms and effective institutions put in place.

Mr President,
National representatives,


To do all this, we must come up with a lot of money – several tens of billions of dollars a year for us and for our planet. Let us ensure that we have the means to fulfil our ambitions. The solutions exist and are in our hands; they have proved their effectiveness and await only our political will and our courage. They are known as innovative financing. The tax on plane tickets was one step, and it was long in coming.

Today, we must go further and adopt an international tax on financial transactions, which would definitively change the development equation. It is an idea I have been championing for more than 20 years. It is now a priority for France; the President spoke to you about it just a few days ago at the Millennium Development Goals Summit.

Think about it: a minuscule levy of 0.005% (5 euro-cents on a transaction of €1,000) could raise €30 to 40 billion a year, nearly a quarter of official development assistance. Who could dispute the fact that this is a stable, predictable means of massively financing development? Even just half this amount would be enough to send all children from low-income countries to school. The entire world now agrees on the technical and economic feasibility of such a mechanism.

Now, don’t get me wrong: this does not mean we can decrease our official development assistance and shirk our responsibilities. No, this amount would supplement it. Let’s not waste any time: we are here for this purpose, to act, and that is why we created the UN, an institution with no historical equivalent.


Ladies and gentlemen,

It is now a unanimously acknowledged principle that development can come only with peace and security, which are the UN’s essential raisons d’être. But the challenges, in this regard, remain considerable.

Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, the Middle East – so many conflicts continue to fuel chaos in the world.

How many missed opportunities, how many dashed hopes, how many misunderstandings have, for more than 60 years – 60 years! – punctuated the process in the Middle East, that has nothing peaceful about it but its name? The Israeli-Arab conflict concerns us all. I say “Israeli-Arab” because beyond the Palestinian issue, France considers that it is just as important to work on the Lebanese and Syrian tracks.

We now have a historic opportunity. We can’t let it pass.

The process nearly stopped yesterday evening. I am not so sure it will continue in an orderly fashion, with unanimous support. I hope so. We have only a limited amount of time left. Palestine, that new UN Member State so many of us are calling for, will be the best guarantee of security for Israel. All the nations of the region have a key role to play.
All this is important. But what is necessary is for the Israelis and Palestinians to take the strategic decision to put an end to the conflict, in their own interest. I therefore call on President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu to live up to their responsibilities: together they must make painful compromises on the road to peace.


Ladies and gentlemen,

As I told you, I have faith in the UN, I served it, as you perhaps know, in Kosovo and in many places throughout the world. I know, respect and care deeply about those who keep it going.

It is with emotion, affection, and respect that I want, at this podium, to pay tribute to all those who, in the service of the UN, take risks every day in pursuit of our shared ideal of peace and development. I am thinking of all the friends we have lost, those we are perhaps continuing to lose, year after year, and also, of course, of those who take over from them.

Their fight is a noble one. The respect for the universal values and principles of human rights is the basis on which the UN’s action must be built. Our ambition to develop a world order based on the universal respect for human dignity was and always will be at the heart of French diplomacy.

Have we made joint progress in our action in support of these values? Not enough. How long will we continue to accept – when we live in a so-called information society, a world where everyone can find out what is going on in other parts of the world – that in terms of human rights there continue to be so many blind spots, forgotten tragedies and suffering left in the shadows? What has become of the responsibility to protect?

Today, the success of the UN must firstly be judged in the light of its contribution to the protection of civilians. It is above all here that we must be demanding. Massacres and rapes are committed every day throughout the world, in Somalia, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo, including in regions where peacekeeping forces are deployed.
We can no longer be satisfied with counting the victims when massive crimes are committed. Our courage cannot be less than that of those who die as a result of risks that we no longer find it in ourselves to take.

France considers the International Criminal Court one of the most crucial achievements in the history of a humanity that is conscious of the dangers to which its own demons expose it. She hears the criticism of those who think it’s not moving fast enough and those who think it’s going too far. Let me be clear, France will always support the idea of an impartial universal international criminal justice system, the only way to enforce the obligation to fight impunity that is dictated by our history.

To all those who are shocked by the boldness of the Court’s proceedings, I respond that, on the contrary, what would be appalling would be to allow the victims to be deprived of their right to justice!
Human rights, the protection of civilians, international justice, these are not hollow concepts and principles for us. They are firstly and above all, for France, principles of action and the only valid criterion for judging the impact of our actions on reality.


Mr President,

In Guinea, following the massacre in the Conakry stadium on 28 September 2009, we mobilized our efforts to condemn the human rights violations and help the victims of the atrocities perpetrated. The UN Secretary-General dispatched to Guinea an international commission of inquiry one month after the massacre (and I want to officially thank him again), and the ICC prosecutor instituted proceedings. This pressure enabled Guinean civil society on the ground to make a difference. The junta has now written itself out of the picture and a transition government has been put in place. It’s not over yet. The second round of voting will take place in a few weeks’ time. But I wanted to remind you of this achievement by the UN since at the beginning I started by saying that the responsibility to protect was threatened; I think that when we are all in agreement and a movement is taking shape in global civil society, then we can still take action.

Thank you./.

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