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Speech by the Ministre d'Etat on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day (May 3, 2011)

I wanted to share with you today the celebration of press freedom throughout the world since May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. I am very happy to be at this podium with Jean-François Julliard, the Secretary General of Reporters without Borders.

I don’t think I need to elaborate on the notion that democracy and freedom of the press are inseparable. There are no examples of a dictatorial regime that respects the freedom of the press and I hope that there are no democracies that can function without the freedom of the press. It’s therefore a fundamental pillar of the values that we believe in and which we fight for. The international events of the last few months, these tremendous aspirations of peoples, not just the Arab people but people as a whole, for freedom, for the freedom of expression, democracy, respect for human rights, is I believe another reason for us to celebrate this World Day with conviction and commitment.

The conditions that allow journalists to conduct their work - since there is no freedom of the press without the freedom which allows journalists to conduct their work - have always been, now more so than ever, a priority for this ministry with respect to our human rights policy. I would like to reaffirm that the Security Council unanimously adopted, on France’s initiative, in December 2006, resolution 1738, which reaffirms the need to prevent acts of violence against journalists. Resolution 1973 on Libya - also adopted on France’s initiative - condemns «the acts of violence and intimidation that the Libyan authorities are committing against journalists.»

This commitment by France is also reflected on the ground and not just through the adoption of legal texts; the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs systematically mobilizes its efforts to ensure journalists’ safety. Let me give a few examples: the protection and evacuation of journalists when they were the victims of violence during the initial stages of the Egyptian revolution, the protection at the Novotel Hotel in Abidjan of all journalists under threat, the release of 2 AFP journalists held prisoner by Qaddafi’s men, and the repatriation of Baptiste Dubonnet, a blogger who was seriously wounded in Misrata.

More generally, the Ministry closely monitors respect for the freedom of the press and the freedom of opinion. A few days ago, France condemned the murder of the Salvadorian journalist Alfredo Hurtado. France demanded that the Syrian authorities release an Algerian journalist, Khaled Sid Mohand, and I have just received, at this very moment, information that he has been released. These are a few examples; we could no doubt give more. I know that journalists pay a heavy toll in the fights that they lead. 57 journalists were killed and 171 were imprisoned in 2010, making our mobilization more necessary than ever. I would also like to pay tribute to the courage of the cyber-journalists who, despite the crackdowns, take risks in order to keep us better informed. As you know, the road to freedom played a key role in the «Arab spring,» as I realized when I met some of these cyber-journalists, or in any case cyber-activists, in Tahrir Square in Cairo, and in Tunis.

On this day, I would lastly like to commend the work of the Directorate of Communications, of our ministry’s spokesperson, who keeps you informed every day through a press briefing and continuous contact, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with the journalists. I would like to pay tribute to this mobilization, to the entire team that’s at your disposal and which is there to express France’s positions on all topical issues.

I will conclude by assuring you that France stands alongside you everywhere in the world. We have symbolically placed the logo of the UN World Press Freedom Day on the France Diplomatie website today.

Naturally, I would like to conclude this short speech by reaffirming that one of our two priorities - since we have hostages in Mali - is the release of our France 3 colleagues, Stéphane Taponnier and Hervé Ghesquières, kidnapped in Afghanistan on December 30, 2009, who have been held for 490 days. I understand the anguish and suffering of their family, friends and colleagues and as I had the opportunity to say recently to the support committee that I received, we are sparing no effort. We thought we were very close to achieving our goal at the beginning of this year, unfortunately things became more complicated. We’ve resumed our diplomatic initiatives, our discussions, our negotiations, while remaining confident that we will be able to achieve a successful outcome. I won’t give any deadlines or dates. You will understand my caution in this regard, quite simply out of respect both for the truth and for the families.

That’s what I wanted to say.

Q - Do you understand things more clearly after what happened yesterday regarding the attitude of Pakistan and the Pakistanis in relation to Al Qaeda, in relation to the Taliban and what clarifications will you demand from the Pakistani prime minister with whom you’re meeting this evening?

R - No, I don’t understand things more clearly. I won’t go into great detail regarding this topic; all the same, I’m having a little trouble imagining that the presence of an individual like Bin Laden, in a major «compound,» in a relatively small town, even though it’s 80km from the center of Islamabad, could have gone unnoticed. For me this is something that should be looked into. Otherwise, as you’re suggesting, I’ll ask Mr. Gilani this evening - since I’m receiving him for dinner at the Quai d’Orsay - to explain what happened. I hope that we will have a constructive dialogue.

Q - Do you think that the Pakistani authorities are taking a genuine approach to combating these groups?

R - I hope so. Pakistan’s position, as you know, lacks clarity in our opinion, but I hope that we will be able to achieve more clarity. We often tend to talk about Pakistan in general and the Pakistani authorities in general; maybe their cohesion isn’t as extensive as we may think, as viewed from Paris.

Q - Syria was mentioned. What is your assessment of the situation today and what really justifies the fact the international community doesn’t yet have the same attitude towards Syria as it did towards Libya?

R - I’m very happy that you ask this question because I heard comments again this morning indicating that France’s attitude was ambivalent with respect to Syria. That’s not true. There’s no ambivalence whatsoever in our position and the successive statements issued by the Spokesperson and by myself bear witness to this. We condemned the Syrian authorities’ attitude without hesitation, we believe first of all that the reform process announced has not been put into practice and that, secondly, our judgment regarding the use of maximum violence, tanks and heavy weapons against the Syrian population was exactly the same as it was regarding Qaddafi’s attitude. There is therefore no ambivalence.

So what’s the difference, the difference is that today we’re not able to achieve a Security Council position on Syria.
The work that we did on Libya which was difficult but which resulted in the adoption of resolution 1973, this can’t be done now with respect to Syria, since, not only is there the risk of a Russian or Chinese veto, we don’t have 9 votes today, given the position of the African countries, India, Brazil and a few others. That’s why there are differences today. I’m not saying that if there was a majority, we would have proposed the same intervention process as in Libya - we have to adapt the response to the specific situation - but that’s why the international community isn’t more mobilized than it is. We’re trying to take action through the European Union; we are, together with our partners, preparing a text in order to at least implement a number of sanctions, notably against those individuals who deserve to be punished. That’s to say our desire for clarity and for a clear condemnation of what’s happening in Syria is absolute, but that’s why we don’t have the same options for taking action as for Libya.

Q - And is President al-Assad included among these individuals?

R - France hopes so.

Q - Do you believe that the Syrian government is legal? Because you say that if the crackdown continues, it could fall...

R - What might fall? The government?

Q - The regime.

R - There’s a difference between legality and legitimacy. You know this. Legality is established according to the rules of international law. Legitimacy is a moral conception. Myself, I don’t make any distinction in that area; a government that kills its citizens because its citizens want to express their opinions and want to establish a genuine democracy loses its legitimacy.


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