The situation in the Middle East: Challenges and Opportunities
Paris, March 12, 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Under the UN Charter, the Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. Our organization also recognizes the sovereignty of States and non-interference as fundamental principles. The shift in the focus of our action led us to recognize in 2005 that our Council had a duty to take action when the responsibility to protect is no longer being upheld, when massive human rights violations are taking place before our very eyes, for which governments are responsible as a result of their action or their inability to act.
Our meeting falls within this context; I would like to thank the United Kingdom for taking the initiative to organize this meeting. This is an opportunity for us to examine what our Council can and must do in order to ensure that the “Arab Springs” contribute to peace and security in the region and the world.
For more than a year now, the Arab world has been experiencing unprecedented upheaval. With outstanding courage, the Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenis and Syrians have braved oppression in order to demand respect for their rights. With admirable determination, they rose up to proclaim their legitimate aspirations for freedom, human dignity and democracy.
In France’s view, this momentum testifies to the universality of the aspiration for democracy. It confirms the lessons learned from history by demonstrating once again that regimes that stifle the voice of their people don’t have any future, that sooner or later the governments that violate human rights will end up collapsing.
The Security Council would not have been aware of these situations if several of them hadn’t deteriorated as a result of the criminal obstinacy of archaic governments.
In Tunisia and Egypt, the people themselves managed to oust the discredited leaders and initiate the democratic processes – not without difficulties, certainly, but at least without bloodshed. In Jordan and Morocco, the political leaders courageously chose the path of dialogue, reform and elections. I was in Morocco just a few days ago and this country is an example that gives hope to the entire region.
Of course, nothing has been completely resolved. Of course, we all know that each democratic revolution brings with it the risk of disappointment or regression. We all know that a democratic transition takes time. But history is being made and the upheaval taking place in the Arab world represents an opportunity for this region of the world and for peace.
Libya, however, wasn’t so lucky and the Security Council quickly assumed its responsibility. The Libyan people faced a dictator and a regime that were determined to violently crush their aspirations for freedom. On 26 February, 2011, in an expression of global condemnation, the Security Council decided, through the unanimous adoption of resolution 1970, to impose sanctions and to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court given the brutal crackdown which the ICC Prosecutor labeled a crime against humanity. Faced with a dictator who was promising to massacre the population of Benghazi, the regional organizations, foremost among them the Arab League, but also the African Union, called on the Security Council to take action. That was the whole purpose of resolution 1973, for which France tirelessly campaigned.
My country is proud of having helped to ensure the adoption of this text. It is convinced that we have jointly taken the only honorable and just decision. As a result of this resolution we were able to save thousands of lives and protect the Libyan people. As a result of this resolution, Benghazi went down in history, not as a persecuted city, but as a symbol of freedom. And I would like say to you unequivocally: calling into question the legitimacy and the legality of our action, implying that it was itself apparently criminal, despite all the evidence, as again confirmed by the Human Rights Council’s commission of inquiry, distorts history and insults all Libyans who fought for freedom. Today, by adopting the resolution that extends the mandate of the UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), our Council is continuing to assume its responsibility to help this country establish the rule of law and the conditions for its democratic progress.
Lastly, in Yemen, our Council was able to assume its responsibilities. The unanimous adoption of resolution 2014 allowed a peaceful transfer of power based on the Gulf Cooperation Council’s initiative to take place. After months of crisis and conflict, a national unity government was appointed, a new president was elected with broad support, and tensions have eased. Of course, not all of the problems have disappeared yet, but this marks a new era in Yemen’s history.
In both cases, our Council was effective because it was able to respond not just to the appeal by the people, but also to the appeal by the regional organizations, which clarified its rulings and identified the parameters of a political solution.
Our Council is now faced with a tragedy: the Syrian tragedy.
Over the past year, since the first major peaceful demonstration in Syria, in Dera’a on 18 March 2011, the situation has become more intolerable every day. The regime has remained deaf to the voice of its people, to all of the appeals by the international community, including those of the Arab League and its close partners, and is descending into an ever bloodier crackdown, into ever more brutal violence. The international community strongly condemns in the harshest terms this policy of forging ahead regardless, whether at the General Assembly or at the Human Rights Council, where the commission of inquiry report, the content of which is damning for the regime, was examined today, confirming that a crime against humanity is in progress.
Obviously, bringing an end to the violence and ensuring access by the populations to humanitarian assistance is of the utmost urgency. Ms. Amos will shortly brief our Council on her visit on the ground, but we already know she said she was horrified by what she saw, we already know about the crimes, the abuse and the horrors being suffered by the Syrian populations on a daily basis. Like in Hama 30 years ago, Homs will go down in the history of mankind as one of those cities whose suffering will haunt our memories.
Only a political response to the legitimate aspirations of the people and the implementation of the reforms that were called for with such vigor will help resolve the Syrian crisis.
This will come about through a transition based on the Arab League plan of 22 January, which enjoys broad support from the international community, as demonstrated by the General Assembly resolution of 16 February and the Security Council vote of 4 February. No other peaceful outcome is possible.
Finally, as I emphasized a few days ago to the Human Rights Council, the Syrian regime’s crimes must not go unpunished. The day will come when the civilian and military authorities of that country must be held accountable for their actions. Let us begin laying the groundwork for a case at the International Criminal Court.
Make no mistake—with respect to the Syrian crisis, our Council has a historic responsibility: the responsibility to end massive human rights violations; the responsibility to avoid an escalation that could be fatal to peace in Lebanon and in the region. By refusing to act, we are abandoning the Syrians to violence and barbarity. By refusing to act, we are allowing civil war to gain the upper hand a bit more each day over the quest for a peaceful solution. Being a member of the Council means mobilizing concretely in support of global peace and security. It also means placing the common good above all other considerations. Our responsibility is to act. To act now, to finally end the suffering of the Syrian people and enable them to regain control over their destiny.
A draft resolution is being discussed to respond to this urgent situation and to find a credible solution to the crisis, which is steadily deteriorating. I say today as I said on 31 January: It is unacceptable for our Council to be prevented from assuming its responsibilities. Let us support Kofi Annan’s mission and the Arab League’s plan. After months of deadlock, I urge China and Russia to heed the voices of the Arabs and the world conscience and to join us.
This action in support of the freedom of the people of Libya, Yemen and Syria raises the burning issue of the Security Council’s impotence with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
There is another people in the Middle East whose aspirations must be recognized; aren’t the Palestinian claims as legitimate as those expressed in the rest of the region? Isn’t it natural for the Palestinians, too, to want to see the birth of a Palestinian state? And there is another state whose security must be guaranteed. France will always stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel to guarantee its security, and will not compromise in this regard. Today, we all know that the solution of two states living side by side in peace and security is the only one that is viable, and represents the best guarantee of Israel’s security.
After so many repeated failures of the peace process, after so many years of suffering and dashed hopes, the time has come to change methods. That was the purpose of President Sarkozy’s call to the UN General Assembly on 23 September. It is our conviction that we cannot continue doing without multilateral forums such as this Council and the support of all our partners, notably regional and European. In the coming months, France will do everything in its power to finally establish a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
While talking about peace and security in this part of the world, how could we not mention Iran? In that country, the situation is becoming a little more troubling each day, with a regime that is pursuing a clearly military nuclear program in violation of the decisions of our Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency; a regime that pledges to wipe Israel off the map; a regime that challenges free movement in the Strait of Hormuz and is causing concern to its neighbors; a regime that crushes its people’s aspirations for freedom and democracy; a regime that isolates itself from the international community a bit more each day.
Our Council has expressed itself forcefully and must stand firm, because we know that there are two equally unacceptable outcomes: an Iran with nuclear weapons and an Iran subjected to bombardment.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
What the peaceful revolutions and changes under way on the southern shores of the Mediterranean remind us, what is confirmed by the tragedy unfolding in Syria, is that the principle of legitimacy is a cardinal principle for every government. The day a government loses its legitimacy in the eyes of its people is the day that government is doomed. And in this part of the world, one of the major questions being raised is that of the ability of all communities and minorities to coexist in a national pact that respects the rights of all and human rights for all. The promise of the Arab Spring is the universal right to freedom, and I have confidence in its fulfillment.