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Ethnic and religious violence in the Middle East/international conference on the victims of ethnic and religious violence in the Middle East

Published on September 10, 2015
Speech by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development

Paris, September 8, 2015

Thank you all for your mobilization; it is obvious, and shows your solidarity with the persecuted peoples of the Middle East and your determination to help them.

Last week, the picture of the tiny body of Aylan Kurdi washed up face down in the water and sand of a Turkish shore pricked the world’s conscience. Aylan’s father had to flee Damascus, where he was being hounded by Bashar al-Assad, then reached Kobani with his wife and children. There, his family had to contend with the barbarity of the terrorists of Daesh [ISIL]. The Kurdi family sought refuge in Europe, but death put a stop to their hopes.

This tragic path, similar to that of so many others who remain nameless and faceless, points to what we must call the failures and failings of the international community. And no one here is prepared to accept these failings indefinitely. First, let’s acknowledge that there’s been a failure to find the ways and means for a political transition in Syria, and we know that only this transition will put an end to the tragedy and definitively stop the spread of Daesh that feeds on it. We need to step up our efforts to speed up this transition.

The second serious failing concerns the duty of solidarity. Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt in particular are to be commended, and all these countries, represented here today, are aware of the cost of solidarity with the Syrian refugees. Their generosity is to be commended and supported. Other countries must play a greater part, and as you know, as regards Europe, a whole series of mechanisms is being put in place.

A third failing lies in the problems we have had fighting Daesh. The global coalition is doing its part, supporting the local forces that are in the front line on the ground. Yet Daesh continues to carry out its atrocities and hold sway. Our conference, whose purpose is not to deal with the military issues, must help stop this spiral. We need to act to protect or recover the unity and diversity of the societies that Daesh targets. It must be very clear – and it is for everyone – that our condemnation of these crimes does not vary depending on the victims’ origins. Neither does our duty to help. Let’s not forget that the primary victims of Daesh are Muslims, there’s no doubt about that.
But we are seeing Daesh engage in a systematic, barbaric process of ethnic and religious eradication, targeting certain communities, and attacking the very existence of Eastern Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen, Kurds, Shabaks and all those, more generally, who refuse to submit. They are represented here and it is with respect that I pay tribute to them.

The terrorists attack not only men, women and children, but history, culture and art. They want to physically destroy all traces of a past in which civilizations and the major religions lived side by side. In the wake of Mosul Museum, the Assyrian site of Nimrud, the Parthian city of Hatra and the Temple of Bel in Palmyra, they want to eradicate diversity in the Middle East, the diversity that constitutes the Middle East.

Back in March of this year, I sounded the alarm, as did many of you, in the name of the President and France at the UN Security Council and called for everyone to rally in support of these populations. Today, we are going to find concrete ways – and I stress this – to draw up a more precise road map. We are going to work on three tracks, which will be the focuses of the morning’s round tables. Firstly, the humanitarian track. We need to respond to the humanitarian emergency while facilitating the voluntary return of the persecuted peoples to the lands from which they have been driven. These populations need, if they so wish, to be able to return to these lands in safety. Obviously, this often implies action by means of force, when the conditions for this return are not yet in place. And we need to be sure that these peoples find their dignity again in their exile. Humanitarian players – whom I warmly commend here – should focus their action on these goals. As a conclusion to our work, at the end of the morning, I’ll talk about some of the new things France is doing.
We also need to promote the political and security conditions in the Middle East for the sustainable and peaceful return of the threatened communities to their country. In this, we need inclusive states that guarantee full citizenship to all and respect for their rights, including freedom of belief. In Iraq, this is the purpose of the reforms launched by the government. In Syria, we need to step up our efforts for a political transition based on the Geneva Communiqué.

Finally, the third track is the fight against impunity. The perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity must be prosecuted and, in our view, the Security Council must refer such matters to the International Criminal Court. Wehave decided to work on this. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court will share her enlightened point of view with us.

These, then, are the three components – humanitarian, political and judicial – of this road map. I reiterate, before handing over to my friend Nasser Judeh, that our aim is to be operational, by providing as concrete responses as possible to the tragedies that have brought us here today. It is a matter of extreme urgency and I ask you to respond to this altogether. I now hand the floor to Nasser Judeh./.

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