27 March 2015

Strongly Condemning Religious-Based Attacks, Secretary-General Urges Security Council to Help Middle East End Atrocity Crimes, Reclaim Historic Diversity

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the Security Council open debate on victims of attacks and abuses on ethnic or religious grounds in the Middle East, in New York today:

I thank Foreign Minister [Laurent] Fabius for convening this high-level debate.

I am deeply concerned about the grave dangers facing minorities in parts of the Middle East.  At stake are millions of individual lives and the social fabric of entire countries.

Right now, thousands of civilians are at the mercy of ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham] or Da’esh.  Its fighters are systematically killing ethnic and religious minorities, those who disagree with its warped interpretation of Islam, and anyone who opposes its apocalyptic vision.  They are targeting women and children with heinous brutality, and they are destroying religious and cultural symbols that constitute the heritage of humanity.  We see this spreading in Syria, Iraq, now Libya — and even Yemen, where the bombing of mosques last week has further fuelled sectarian violence. 

I condemn in the strongest terms all persecution and violations of the rights to life and physical integrity of individuals and communities based on religious, ethnic, national, racial or other grounds.  I urge all parties to ensure the protection of civilians and spare innocent lives.  The members of this Council — and all those with influence — must help the people of the region reclaim its historic diversity and dynamism.  This is essential to securing our common future.

The atrocity crimes in the region demand an urgent response.  We must end impunity for those committing serious crimes against any and all communities.  I also stress again that abuses in counter-terrorism are morally wrong and strategically counterproductive.  The commission of atrocities never absolves Governments of their responsibility to honour human rights obligations.

In Iraq, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) mission of investigation cited information strongly suggesting that Da’esh may have perpetrated genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

My Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect warned last August that acts committed by Da’esh pointed to the risk of genocide.  Now we also see sectarian violence against local populations in areas liberated from its control.  There is strong evidence that members of a number of different minorities have been victims of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other very serious violations and abuses of human rights.  This is especially true for women and girls.

We must also remember that violent extremism in Iraq precedes Da’esh’s advance.  The underlying conditions must be addressed.  I welcome steps by the Iraqi Government to further national reconciliation, promote inclusion, strengthen social cohesion and reform the security sector.  I call on the Government to do more to uphold human rights and restore the rule of law in areas liberated from Da’esh.  The international community must help Iraq in this effort.

Five years into the conflict in Syria, the lack of accountability has led to an exponential rise in war crimes, crimes against humanity and other human rights violations.  Both Government forces and non-State armed groups in Syria, especially Da’esh and Jabhat al-Nusra, have committed such deplorable acts.

As we consider the plight of minority communities, we must avoid highlighting differences and reaffirm the values of diversity and peaceful coexistence.  I urge the international community, particularly the Security Council, to overcome differences and seek new ways to ensure the protection of all Syrian civilians.

In a few days, I will travel to Kuwait to attend an international pledging conference for Syria.  I call on all countries to give generously to help the millions of Syrians who are suffering — and to assist the neighbouring countries which shoulder most of the burden.  This humanitarian assistance is also vital to the region’s political stability.

I am deeply concerned about developments in Libya.  Da’esh-affiliated groups are targeting minorities and attacking religious sites.  Amid widespread violence, religious minorities remain highly vulnerable.  The main parties must quickly reach agreement to bring an end to the military and political conflict.  That is crucial to curb the danger of Libya falling in the hands of terrorist groups.

I am also concerned at the ongoing tribal tensions in the South — which could ignite violence along identity lines.  No strategy will succeed without strong regional cooperation and an empowered Libyan State.

The United Nations is developing a plan of action on preventing violent extremism, which we will launch in September.  We are also strengthening our efforts to champion — and protect — diversity in the Middle East.  I hope to convene a group of respected women and men with deep understanding of the region’s religious, civil, cultural, academic and business sectors.  They would serve as an advisory panel on inter- and intra-sectarian dynamics.

Governments and parties have the primary responsibility for protecting minorities — but we must engage with partners in civil society, faith leaders and others with influence, including regional and other actors.  I especially look to religious and community leaders to clearly remind their followers that religions are about peace, not violence and war.

Next month, the President of the General Assembly and I will invite leaders from different faith communities to a special event at the United Nations.  We will build on the experience of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations to promote mutual understanding and reconciliation.

The Middle East is widely considered the cradle of many of the world’s great civilizations.  Today, let us resolve to empower people — especially youth — to transform the region into the birthplace of a more stable and secure world.

For information media. Not an official record.