New York

12 March 2012

Secretary-General's remarks at Security Council meeting on Changes in the Middle East

It is a great pleasure to welcome the distinguished ministers attending this important meeting.
Foreign Secretary Hague, thank you for using the United Kingdom’s presidency of the Security Council to focus on the dramatic developments that have taken place in the Middle East -- and that are still in motion as we speak.
The remarkable events of the past year have transformed the region and changed the world.
We see a newly democratizing Tunisia – the country that produced the initial spark that has since spread far and wide.
We see Libya putting decades of dictatorship behind it.
We see Yemen with a newly elected president.
And we see people across the region – women and youth in the vanguard – continuing to call for freedom and human rights; for dignity and opportunity; for accountable government; for an end to corruption and monopolies of wealth and power.
The spontaneous and homegrown democratic movements are a credit to the Arab people.
But we must also recognize that the cost in human suffering and loss of life has been large. 
We have reached a sober moment. 
In Egypt, we continue to urge a peaceful and early transfer of power to a civilian government.
In Bahrain, there remains a need for an all-inclusive dialogue and meaningful reform process.
In still other countries, people are standing up and battling their fears to call for more political empowerment and social justice.
In Syria, what started as a peaceful, popular call for long-denied democratic rights has turned into a dangerous spiral of violence leading both Syria and the region into uncertainty.
The Syrian government has failed to fulfill its responsibility to protect its own people, and instead has subjected citizens in several cities to military assault and disproportionate use of force. These shameful operations continue.  Sustained attacks against Idlib, Homs and elsewhere in the country have killed scores of people over the past couple of days, including women and children.  
I thank the Security Council for supporting UN humanitarian efforts.  The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ms. Valerie Amos, continues her efforts, following her visit to the country, to gain the unhindered access needed to respond to the devastation.
The International Commission of Inquiry for Syria concluded that Syrian Government forces have committed widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity.
And still the conflict deepens. Increasing numbers have fled internally or sought refuge in neighbouring countries. More groups are picking up arms.  It is urgent for the international community to stop the violence.
The General Assembly has spoken clearly in supporting the Arab League’s calls for a cessation of violence and a peaceful political solution.
Together with Arab League Secretary-General el-Araby, I have asked former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, to be our Joint Special Envoy, to use his good offices to facilitate urgent achievement of these goals. He will be assisted by Deputy Special Envoy Nasser al-Kidwa.
As you will have followed closely, the Joint Special Envoy has just visited Syria over the weekend. Prior to that, he had intensive consultations with me and others in New York as well as in Cairo with Secretary-General el-Araby and a wide range of ministers attending the Arab League ministerial meeting there. In Damascus he met twice with President Assad, with part of the opposition and with Syrian civil society, business and religious leaders. All interlocutors in Syria welcomed Mr. Annan’s mission.
Mr. Annan held frank and comprehensive discussions with President Assad, and put concrete proposals to the President. He urged President Assad to take immediate steps to bring an end to violence and abuses, address the humanitarian crisis, and embark with Mr. Annan’s facilitation on a peaceful, inclusive, Syrian-led political process that meets the legitimate and democratic aspirations of the Syrian people.
I add my voice to that of Mr. Annan in urging President Assad to act swiftly, within the next few days, in response to the proposals put forward by the Joint Special Envoy.
I appeal to the Security Council to unite strongly behind ending the violence and supporting Mr. Annan’s mission to help Syria pull back from the brink of a deeper catastrophe. This is vital for the Syrian people and for the entire region.
I appreciate the recent initiatives by the Russian Federation and by China, including their engagement with Syria and with the League of Arab States.   At this critical juncture, it will be essential for the Council to speak with one voice, and I hope the Council can find its way towards a consensus resolution that sends a signal of strong resolve.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me also say a few words about the broader picture in the region going forward.  I see five crucial points to bear in mind:
First, leaders must choose the path of meaningful reform, or make way for those who will.  People do not want cosmetic changes that give only the merest taste of democracy.  They want accountable governance and firm measures against corruption and cronyism.
Second, we must promote pluralism and protect the rights of minorities. Inclusive government should be the watchword in the region’s new democracies. 
Third, women have stood in the squares and streets demanding change, and now have a right to sit at the table, with real influence in decision-making, and safe from violence, intimidation and abuse. The deficit in women’s empowerment has held back the Arab region for too long.
Fourth, we must create opportunities for young people.  To absorb young entrants to the workforce, Arab countries need to create 50 million jobs within the next decade. 
Fifth, there must be regional peace.
A regional awakening based on the ideals of freedom, dignity and non-violence cannot be complete without a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Yet the past year has not brought new momentum; the peace process continues to stagnate.
The situation in Gaza is yet again proving its unsustainability.  I am gravely concerned at the latest escalation between Gaza and Israel, and once again civilians are paying a terrible price. Rocket attacks out of Gaza against Israeli civilian areas are unacceptable and must stop immediately. I reiterate my call on Israel to exercise maximum restraint.
I have appealed to Israeli and Palestinian leaders to embrace regional changes and show the courage and vision needed to reach a historic agreement.
Together with my Quartet partners, with whom I met this morning, we will remain engaged to assist the parties in forging a way forward.
We must create the conditions for meaningful negotiations that will resolve the core permanent status issues -- territory, security, refugees, Jerusalem -- and end the occupation that started in 1967.
This is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace that will realize the vision of two states living side by side in peace and security.
The region would also benefit from an end to tensions rooted in concerns over Iran's nuclear programmes.  I urge all sides to exercise the utmost care and restraint, commit to diplomatic efforts in good faith, and to comply with all relevant resolutions of this Council.
Mr. President, Excellencies,
Two decades ago, a previous generation rebelled against tyranny in Eastern Europe. The international community was quick to help. Today, the international community should engage once again.
As we do so, it will be crucial to move beyond some of the assumptions that have often governed relationships between Arab countries and their partners. 
One damaging notion is that the Arab world is not ready for democracy.
Another is that security must take precedence over human rights.
These have had the effect of keeping unrepresentative governments in power – with little to show for democracy or security.
The United Nations, too, must update its approach to the region.  We are placing the full spectrum of our expertise and best practices at the disposal of the countries in transition.
We are strongly committed to doing our part to enable a profoundly changing region achieve peace and realize its potential.
Thank you.