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United Nations Security Council Meeting on Syria

Published on February 2, 2012
Speech by Alain Juppé, Ministre d’Etat, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs

New York, January 31, 2012

Mr President,

We are meeting today so that the Security Council may assume its responsibilities towards a suffering people in a region where peace is threatened by the bloody abuses of a regime on its last legs. The Council’s months-long silence is unacceptable. It is to the Arab League’s credit that it has come here to urge the Council today to resume its efforts. France solemnly calls on the Security Council to be worthy of the mission entrusted to it by the UN Charter, by coming to the rescue of a people and a region that want nothing but peace and respect for their dignity.

Mr President,

The Arab League is taking action and has gone as far as it can to respond to the demands of the situation: suspending Syria from the League, sending an observer mission, defining a political transition plan. I want to pay tribute to the League’s courageous commitment in the Syrian conflict. I want to applaud the presence with us here today of its secretary general, Nabil al-Arabi, and the Prime Minister of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassem, and to thank them for the presentation they’ve just given. I also welcome the decision by the Kingdom of Morocco to present to us the draft resolution, which France fully supports. Finally, I want to welcome the collective effort of all the Arab League states: I am well aware that decisions on the situation in Syria are particularly difficult for some of them to take and implement, if only given their geographical proximity to Damascus.

Today, I repeat, we are meeting in order to end this Council’s outrageous silence. I am indeed using the word “outrageous” and I will try to explain my use of this adjective.

What is the situation in Syria today? A people rose up to defend its freedom. Words are no longer enough to describe the horror of a savage crackdown. To say it is worsening, to say it is tragic, does not convey the reality. There have been 5,400 deaths, according to the UN! 384 children have been murdered, according to UNICEF! 15,000 prisoners! 15,000 refugees! Torture on a daily basis!

I have long described some of the regime’s actions as crimes against humanity. The International Commission of Inquiry established by the Human Rights Council has confirmed this description. But beyond the figures, it is the faces of tortured children, the bodies of sexually assaulted women, the thousands of human beings who are victims of the crackdown that must guide our efforts. The humanitarian situation, which deteriorates a bit further each day. How much horror must there be for the Security Council to demand an end to human rights violations and free access for humanitarian aid?

Each nation has the responsibility to protect its civilian population. Not content with failing to protect its people, the Syrian regime shamefully massacres them without restraint. This behaviour has direct consequences on international peace and security: thousands of refugees fleeing the fighting, violations of the sovereignty of neighbouring states, heightened tensions between communities – so many direct repercussions on the stability of an already fragile region. Even without mentioning the responsibility to protect, these regional consequences are enough to establish the Security Council’s responsibility.

How is this even debatable? France has constantly called on the Council to take decisions, to work on them and put them to a vote. Unsuccessfully, if we leave aside the presidential statement of 3 August. Is that acceptable? I don’t think so. Is it an outrage? I am convinced of it.

Of course, we have continued our efforts despite this silence. Eleven times, the European Union has stepped up sanctions against the regime and its protagonists. France has worked very hard on this.

We have established ties with the peaceful opposition. On several occasions, I have met the leaders of the Syrian National Council, which for us is a legitimate interlocutor, and whose efforts at unifying the opposition I salute.

But our efforts, determined as they may be, those of the European Union, those of the Arab League, cannot replace those of the Security Council. Through the legitimacy invested in it by the UN Charter, it is the Council that can authoritatively express the will of the international community. The Security Council is the cornerstone of international peace and security. To remain so, it has a duty to speak out in cases as grave as that of Syria.

How? By adopting, swiftly and with broad support, the draft resolution brought by Morocco. This lends the Council’s support to the Arab League, which – strengthened by the crucial involvement of regional actors – is today the only body offering realistic prospects for a political settlement.

There are two key points in this text:

- First of all, the text unequivocally condemns the crackdown that the regime is engaging in, without falling into the trap of drawing a false parallel between this and the actions of the opposition members on the ground. Because although a minority of people are resorting to violence, the overwhelming majority of Syrians courageously take to the streets every day unarmed in the face of the regime’s indiscriminate violence. We must bow before these women and men with great respect, these Syrians who march for their freedom every day knowing that they could be shot dead at any moment in the crackdown.

I’d like – because this has been mentioned – to pay my respects to the memory of Gilles Jacquier, the French journalist who died while doing his job. I won’t allow this death to be exploited. It was up to the Syrian authorities to grant him all the necessary protection. I understand this wasn’t the case. As for the observer mission commission’s report which has been distributed to us, it doesn’t really decide on the origin of the exchanges of fire that claimed the life of my compatriot. True, the mission indicates that the journalist was killed by mortar fire from the opposition, but this theory isn’t endorsed by the Arab League, and we’re still waiting for the Syrian authorities to shed full light on this episode.

- Second key point: this draft gives the Council’s support to the three main components of the Arab League’s initiative: the demand for an end to the violence, the request for the observers to be given free access and above all, for the first time, the definition of a credible political transition process. It will be up to the Arab League to implement it. Our responsibility lies in helping it to do so, by conveying to the Syrian regime the clear message that the international community is united behind the Arab efforts.

Certainly, we ourselves would have liked the Security Council to go further. But we need a swift response which will finally provide a way to resolve this terrible crisis. We are therefore ready, right now, to vote in favour of the text proposed by Morocco.

Some people at times make comparisons with the conflict in Libya. That’s a pure pretext. According to them, there’s a plan directed towards a military intervention in Syria. That’s a fantasy. There’s nothing, absolutely nothing in the draft resolution circulated to the Security Council members by the Permanent Representative of Morocco that can be interpreted as an authorization to use force. This draft doesn’t come under Chapter VII. We’re not preparing for a military operation.

The tragic situation the Syrian people are living through is more than enough to justify our action. Our objective is simple: to find a peaceful solution to the crisis which allows these people to freely express their aspirations. [I say] to the Syrian people, to the different sectors [of the population] and no one else: we don’t have any intention of imposing from outside any kind of political regime. It’s up to the Syrians to do that freely.

The Arab League is offering the only viable prospect of achieving this objective. Let’s seize it. Let’s transcend our differences of opinion and support the plan now being presented to us. Let’s live up to our responsibilities, to the political and moral duty imposed on us by the Syrian people’s peaceful uprising inspired by the momentum of the Arab Spring.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There’s no more time to lose. In less than a year, the crackdown has resulted in more than 5,000 deaths. Every week lost leads to hundreds more deaths; every day lost leads to dozens of new deaths. In memory of all of the victims, I urge the members of this Council to immediately vote in favour of this text so that a political process can be initiated that can put an end to the Syrian nightmare.

Thank you./.

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