The victims of attacks and abuses on ethnic or religious ground in the Middle East - Statement by Laurent Fabius - ministerial-level UNSC debate (27 March 2015)


Secretary-General of the United Nations,
High Commissioner for Human Rights,
High representatives,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Make no mistake: in the Middle East, we are facing a systematic, barbaric process of ethnic and religious eradication.

The majority of the jihadi terrorists’ victims are Muslim, but non-Muslim communities are priority targets. They embody the diversity that Daesh wants to eliminate. Christians, Yazidis, Turkmens, Kurds, Shabaks – all are threatened with the same triangle of horror: forced exile, enslavement, or death.

France has strong historic ties with the Middle East, and especially Eastern Christians and a long tradition protecting minorities, which is an integral part of France. We intend to remain faithful to it.

In Iraq, ever since the invasion of Mosul last summer, Christians, and women, and children, were victims of a manhunt, . In Syria, the situation is grave: nearly 220 Assyrian Christians have been kidnapped by Daesh in the northern region of Al-Hasakah. This persecution spreads beyond the borders of the Middle East: in Libya last month, 21 Egyptian Copts were beheaded, and now Daesh seeks to spread its strongholds of terror.

I have focused on Christians, but Daesh attacks all minorities with the same inhumanity. I am thinking in particular of the Yazidis besieged on Mount Sinjar, or the Kurds targeted in Kobane.

This barbarism of Daesh strikes even the historical remains that symbolize diversity, what the High-Commissioner for Human Rights called the mosaic. They have sacked the museum of Mosul and attacked the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud and the Parthian city of Hatra. Not content with erasing the present, they want to destroy its very roots. History exists neither before them nor without them.

There is truly a danger that minorities will disappear entirely.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are the international community; we must no longer collectively represent a sort of powerless power.

That is why I would like to send two messages from this platform: solidarity with the persecuted and determination to fight the terrorists, what the UN Secretary-General called an abomination. We must show the minorities of the Middle East that we are standing beside them and beside the states that respect diversity. And to the terrorists of Daesh, that we will fight them tirelessly and defeat them.

Over the past few months, the world has tried to respond to the humanitarian emergency to save these minorities from death. These efforts of course remain crucial, but they are not enough. The minorities are not asking for favours; they are asserting their rights. Our focus must be the return of displaced minorities to the lands from which they have been driven. To this end, we must use every possible means.

Firstly, humanitarian support. The situation is disastrous. Our collective efforts must enable exiled minorities to return to their homes in security and dignity. The United Nations agencies, especially the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, are playing a key role: they must reorientate their action accordingly. Member States need to increase their financial support. In concrete terms, I propose setting up a specific fund to assist returning refugees, which could be used to rebuild homes and places of worship, for example.

Military action must also be included in the same approach. As Daesh withdraws, we must enable minorities to return to the areas that they have had to leave. This means that troops currently mobilized on the ground need to ensure their security – for without security, they cannot return. In areas not yet liberated, France would like the Coalition, in liaison with both the Iraqi authorities and the moderate Syrian opposition, to incorporate the need for migrants to return into its strategy: as well as combating the jihadists, protecting minorities in Iraq and Syria must become a primary goal of the military action of the Coalition and local forces.

I would like to reaffirm France’s commitment to combating impunity. We call on all states in the region to accede to the Rome Statute to enable the International Criminal Court to judge the perpetrators of these crimes. We consider, given the irreversible destruction that has been committed, that cultural genocide should be included in the scope of crimes against humanity. All perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity must be prosecuted, including Daesh terrorists. And we believe it is essential that the Security Council refer the matter to the International Criminal Court.

More broadly, we all know that an overall political solution is needed to achieve the lasting and peaceful re-assimilation of minorities. That is why the international community must support the development of states that do not defend just a single community, but rather guarantee the coexistence of all sectors of society. Sectarianism breeds extremism. Only such “inclusive” states, which protect diversity and guarantee full civic rights for all, are capable of restoring the confidence of their people, especially minorities. An inclusive approach to minorities is crucial in order to resolve crises.

I shall take three examples:

In Iraq, the response to the terrorists is the unifying and reconciliation process initiated by Prime Minister al-Abadi, but that process needs to be stepped up. It is essential for a united, stable and peaceful Iraq.

In Syria, the issue of minorities is unfortunately exploited by a power that manipulates the jihadi threat to present itself as a protector against terrorism, when in fact it has triggered and been complicit in it. Once again, only an inclusive political solution with elements of the regime and the opposition, protecting the various communities and leading to a real democratic transition, will protect each and every person’s rights in future.

In Lebanon, the model of coexistence between communities established by the Constitution, the National Pact and the Taif Agreement has been weakened by the current institutional paralysis. We call upon the Lebanese people to elect in the shortest time possible a President who will guarantee the preservation of that model.

For what the comparison is worth, let us think back to Yugoslavia: the breakup of the state that protected minorities led to a renewed surge in violence against them. Today, on behalf of my country, I suggest and request that the Secretary-General of the United Nations present to the Security Council an action charter to address the situation of minorities in the Middle East. The international community needs a detailed roadmap in order to implement its response.

This charter could be structured around the four components that I have mentioned. Firstly, humanitarian support: United Nations agencies, especially UNHCR, must focus even more heavily on the return of minorities. Secondly, concerning military action: this issue of returning minorities must be incorporated into the strategy of the Coalition and local forces. Thirdly, in combating impunity: the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity must be judged by the International Criminal Court. Lastly, in political terms: we must strengthen the unifying policy in Iraq and promote an inclusive political transition in Syria, and more generally we must advocate for inclusive Governments, I think about Libya, Yemen and elsewhere.

I welcome the announcement by the Secretary-General on the creation of a Panel of Eminent Persons to look into this crucial issue. I propose that their priority task be to draw up the action charter. France is prepared to host an international Conference for the presentation of the Panel’s conclusions.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The general public, that is, ordinary citizens, are wondering how so many countries gathered here together, who call themselves the “United Nations”, have so far been unable to tackle terrorism and eradicate it. These citizens are right. The meeting of our Council will prove useful if it is not simply a warning cry, but also a specific call for action. Action focused on a single goal: preserving the age-old diversity of this whole region and enabling persecuted minorities to return permanently to their own land.

That is the appeal, one of gravity and hope, that I make today on behalf of France.

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