Early in the afternoon of Saturday 19 March, the French air force went into action over Libya. In accordance with Article 35, paragraph two of our Constitution, it is my honour to inform the National Assembly of the reasons for and the conditions of our engagement.
Since the start of this year, 2011, a wind of democracy and freedom has been blowing through the Arab world. The Tunisian people, then the Egyptian people, have expelled their leaders and abolished the authoritarian regimes in place since decolonization.
Libya entered into the same process.
We all hoped its outcome would be happy and swift; unfortunately, the Gaddafi regime decided to drown in blood the revolt that threatened it. In the space of two weeks, the Libyan people’s hopes turned into a nightmare.
Last Thursday, Benghazi – the last bastion of freedom in Libya – seemed condemned to fall into the hands of the troops loyal to Gaddafi.
The revolution seemed to be living through its final hours. Two days later, hope was reborn in Benghazi. They waved French flags and they waved the flags of another Libya, with its dreams of democracy and modernity.
Gaddafi was banking on the international community being powerless. And it must be admitted we nearly descended into an endless cycle of appeals and warnings, whose sole consequence was offended speeches. France refused to accept this fate.
President Sarkozy chose to act, and along with Alain Juppé – whose determination I want to welcome – he was able to persuade the United Nations Security Council to refuse the unacceptable.
On Saturday, at France’s initiative, a Summit for the Support of the Libyan People was held in Paris, to secure the swift implementation of UNSCR 1973.
Ladies and gentlemen deputies, the use of armed force in an internal conflict in an Arab country whose tribal structures still carry great weight is a grave decision. Some wonder about its chances of success. Let me say risks always exists. But wouldn’t the moral and political doubt be more profound and devastating if we’d done nothing? Wouldn’t we be burdened by a huge sense of guilt if – through caution and weakness – we’d stood by and witnessed the repression of an unarmed people? (…)
From the beginning of the crisis in Libya, France took the initiative of demanding sanctions against the Libyan regime, both at the United Nations and within the European Union; of involving the International Criminal Court, to which a crisis has for the first time been unanimously referred by the Security Council, for acts which may constitute crimes against humanity; of sending humanitarian aid on a large scale to Benghazi hospital and the Tunisia-Libya border; and of helping the thousands of refugees fleeing the fighting to go back to their countries of origin, by means of an airlift from Tunisia.
France fought tirelessly in all the international forums to persuade all her Western, Arab and African partners; at the United Nations Security Council, which adopted an initial resolution as early as 26 February; at the European Council of 11 March, under the impetus of Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron; and at the G8 foreign ministers’ meeting in Paris on 14 and 15 March. (…)
Unfortunately all these urgent appeals from the international community, all these warnings, all these sanctions did not weaken the Libyan regime’s cold resolve. Consequently, the use of force became the only solution. (…)
The call by the Arab League has provided us with backing from the countries of the region. We have a solid legal basis in the adoption of UNSCR 1973, in support of which President Sarkozy made a solemn appeal the day before the vote, with Alain Juppé playing a key role by travelling to New York to uphold it. It was a collective effort, and it took concrete shape in Paris on Saturday afternoon with the presence of 22 leaders of European, North American and Arab countries and international and regional organizations, who reaffirmed their determination to act on the basis of this resolution. (…)
NATURE AND GOALS OF MILITARY ACTION
It’s about protecting the Libyan population while explicitly ruling out the dispatch of an occupation force on the ground. It’s about establishing a no-fly zone. It’s about implementing the arms embargo. And it’s about fleshing out the sanctions regime already set out in UNSCR 1970.
The message from the international community is unequivocal: an immediate end to the violence, the Libyan armed forces’ withdrawal from all the areas they have entered by force, their return to barracks, and full access to humanitarian assistance.
By depriving the Gaddafi regime of its military superiority, we want to offer the Libyan people a chance to regain their confidence, define a political strategy and decide their future, because, ladies and gentlemen deputies, it’s not our role to replace them. (…)
On Saturday 19 March, at the end of the Paris summit, President Sarkozy decided to launch the first missions. Some 20 air force fighter planes, refuelling planes, radar surveillance and electronic warfare planes then conducted an operation over the Benghazi region, both to halt the advance of Colonel Gaddafi’s forces and to start establishing a no-fly zone. (…)
France is deploying more than 20 fighter planes a day, their missions planned in consultation with our allies. Since this morning, the carrier battle group has been in operation off the Libyan coast. The Rafales, Super Etendards and navy radar planes will henceforth be deployed from the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.
The no-fly zone is in place. As UNSCR 1973 envisages, the aim of our air force’s action is indeed a total cessation of the violence and of all attacks and atrocities against the Libyan civilian population. And proof of it is that on Sunday, when our fighter planes failed to detect any Libyan units attacking the civilian population, they did not make use of their weapons. (…)
So we’re implementing the whole of, and nothing but, UNSCR 1973. And I remind you that the Secretaries-General of the United Nations and the League of Arab States are notified in advance of actions to implement it. (…)
France hopes a new era will begin tomorrow in the Mediterranean region, free of colonialist baggage and outdated attitudes; a new era based on the notions of respect and dignity, in which the fear and rejection of others give way to the sharing of common values. (…)
At a time when France is engaged militarily, when our armed forces are bravely fulfilling their mission, I know, ladies and gentlemen deputies, that I can count on your sense of national unity.
In Benghazi the tricolore flag has been raised, and this gesture compels us to accept our duty. As I stand here I know you, the nation’s representatives, are concerned to uphold a certain idea of France and liberty. Today there is neither Right nor Left, there is only the Republic, which commits itself from the heart, courageously but also with clarity and moment./.