Thank you for coming together in support of the people and institutions of Lebanon.
Allow me to begin by recalling my close ties with Lebanon and the circumstances surrounding the establishment of this International Support Group.
The need for such a partnership emerged during my years as High Commissioner for Refugees.
As the dramatic impacts of the Syrian conflict spread well beyond its borders, I saw first-hand the outstanding hospitality the Lebanese people extended to Syrians fleeing violence and destruction.
Lebanon has faced an enormous influx of refugees, bringing the total in the country to almost one third of the country’s population. As one can imagine, this has an enormous impact on the country’s economy and society, not to mention the dramatic security challenges owing to the Syrian crisis next door.
Yet Lebanon has displayed admirable solidarity -- in contrast to others whose doors have tend to be closed to those in need.
It is now absolutely essential for the international community to show the same solidarity, a strong solidarity with Lebanon.
Lebanon is a fundamental pillar of stability in the region.
This status is the product of tremendous hard work on the part of leaders and citizens alike.
The country has known many tribulations over the years.
Yet the Lebanese people have showed great fortitude even when it emerged from a devastating civil war.
And they have demonstrated deep-seated commitment to preserving the country’s diversity and pursuing democracy and human rights.
At a time of upheaval across the region, Lebanon cannot afford to be drawn into conflict with its neighbours.
Preserving the stability and unity of Lebanon is essential for Lebanon, the region and the world.
We are here together today to act on that understanding.
For almost five years, this Support Group has played a vital role.
Prime Minister Gentiloni, I want to acknowledge your leadership in supporting the armed forces and internal security forces of Lebanon.
Italy is a long-standing contributor to UNIFIL and a friend of the Lebanese people.
I would also like to acknowledge the collective efforts by the leadership of Lebanon, represented here by Prime Minister Hariri, to ensure the continued functioning of Lebanon’s state institutions.
I am informed that preparations for parliamentary elections on May 6th are on track. This is a testament to Lebanon’s resilience and commitment to democracy.
To maintain that stability, and to ensure further progress, Lebanon must take tangible steps forward and the international community must continue to be unified in support.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The strengthening of Lebanon’s institutions and the extension of state authority throughout its territory are of crucial importance.
Lebanon’s security institutions have made important gains.
In clearing militants from border areas, they have improved security on the eastern border, regained control of territory and consolidated their deployment.
These achievements would not have been possible without the generous support of the United States, the United Kingdom and a growing number of partners.
Last December in Paris, this Support Group underscored that the Lebanese Armed Forces are the only legitimate armed force in Lebanon.
The Group called on all Lebanese parties to resume discussions towards a consensus on a National Defence Strategy that I see is moving forward, and to take tangible steps towards disassociation from and non-interference in external conflicts.
And it called on the international community to step up its support to state security institutions.
I am pleased to note the positive steps taken since then, including the respective statements of President Aoun and Prime Minister Hariri asserting the primacy of the Lebanese Armed Forces, and calling for adherence to the policy of disassociation.
I welcome the strengthened deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces south of the Litani River.
I also welcome plans to accelerate further deployment through the establishment of a model regiment in UNIFIL’s area of operations to advance the implementation of resolution 1701, in line with Security Council Resolution 2373 and in the context of the strategic dialogue between the Lebanese Armed Forces and UNIFIL.
These, together with the consolidated deployment along the eastern border, have been important advances.
Such extension of state authority, through the gradual assumption by the Lebanese Armed Forces of effective and sustainable control of the UNIFIL area of operations and Lebanese territorial waters, is a key element towards achieving the fundamental objectives of Security Council resolution 1701.
To this end, well-equipped, well-trained and well-resourced Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces are a prerequisite.
I therefore welcome the updated capabilities development plan presented by the Lebanese Armed Forces, and the first Strategic Plan for the Internal Security Forces.
They provide a vision and show that Lebanon is headed in the right direction.
I also commend the commitment of the Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces to increase the participation of women at all decision-making levels, in line with Security Council resolution 1325.
I encourage the Government and its security institutions to continue to develop and implement codes of conduct as important measures towards increased respect for human rights and accountability.
Concrete steps towards the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission just announced will be crucial in consolidating the confidence of international partners.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This conference is part of a broader agenda, as Prime Minister Hariri just mentioned with meetings in Paris and Brussels to follow, which includes a meeting next month in Paris on economic investment and reform.
Much depends on the ability of Lebanese authorities to seize this moment and to uphold their responsibilities.
Stability requires a transparent, accountable and democratic state, rooted in the rule of law and strong and functional institutions.
International and regional partners must also do their part.
Countries in the region should work to avoid any steps that could lead to misunderstandings, confrontation or escalation.
It will be equally important to keep the international consensus in support of Lebanon together, and to provide the necessary resources.
Let us all remain strongly and visibly committed to stability in Lebanon – for the sake of the Lebanese people and for the wider peace that is so essential at this time.