Protecting #human rights, social cohesion & reconciliation are the first line of defence against the rise of #extremism in the #MiddleEast
Earlier today I deliver my brieifng to the UN Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. I took note of the Presidency’s interest in discussing a number of issues pertaining to the Middle East and North Africa region. That is why I highlighted some of them in my presentation and deferred to my fellow UN envoys who regularly brief the Council for greater detail on many of these challenges. Today a perfect storm has engulfed the Middle East and continues to threaten international peace and security. Millions have been displaced in the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. In many countries, societies have fractured along ethnic or religious lines. Non-state actors have taken control of territory and terror attacks have spread, indiscriminately striking civilians of all origin and confession.
From the onset, I paid tribute to the countless victims of these senseless acts of violence and called on the international community to show its full and unwavering commitment to defeat terror and incitement; to support the forces of moderation against extremism; to untangle the Gordian knot of political, economic and foreign forces that are driving the myriad of conflicts in the Middle East.
Developments in the Arab-Israeli conflict continue to resonate across the region.
The question of Palestine remains a potent symbol and rallying cry that is easily misappropriated
and exploited by extremist groups. Ending the occupation and realizing a two-state solution will not solve all the region’s problems, but as long as the conflict persists, it will continue to feed them.
Sporadic violence has continued in recent weeks as five Palestinians and one Israeli were killed in various acts of violence. Among the fatalities were two Palestinian teenaged boys, shot by Israeli security forces outside Ramallah, as well as a British woman who was murdered by a Palestinian man in Jerusalem. In March Israel approved the establishment of a new settlement and declared some 240 acres as “state land” inside the occupied Palestinian territory. These moves further undermine the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state in the West Bank. Tenders for close to 2,000 housing units, the vast majority in major population centres close to the 1967 lines, were also issued. I noteed recent reports that Israel has adopted a policy of restraint by which construction will be advanced “almost exclusively” in the built-up areas of settlements but it is too early to determine how this policy will manifest itself on the ground.
Settlement construction is illegal under international law
and I urge for all such activities to be ceased.
On the Palestinian side, multiple worrying developments are further cementing the Gaza – West Bank divide and dangerously increasing the risk of escalation. In April, the Palestinian Government reduced payments to thousands of Palestinian Authority employees in the Gaza Strip. It is important that the burden of decisions to reduce expenditures are fairly distributed and made with due consideration to the harsh conditions under which people in Gaza live. Four months ago Palestinians in Gaza went to the streets when people were left with only a few hours of electricity per day. The situation was temporarily resolved with the help of Qatar, however a more serious crisis is now unfolding again as electricity is down to less than 6 hours per day. The social, economic and political consequences of these developments should not be underestimated. I call on all parties to come together and ensure the vital issue of energy for Gaza is resolved once and for all.
Meanwhile Hamas continues to tighten its iron grip over Gaza
by forming an administrative committee that is seen by many to be a direct challenge to the legitimate Palestinian government. Following the assassination of one of its militants, it temporarily put in place a series of restrictions preventing Palestinians and internationals from leaving and banning fishing for two weeks. On April 6th three Palestinians were executed by Hamas in gross violation of international law and without a fair trial. These actions were condemned by the Secretary-General and I said that I am deeply concerned that further extrajudicial executions are anticipated in Gaza.
On 7 April, nine people were killed in armed clashes between the newly formed Palestinian joint security forces and members of Islamist militants with links to al-Qaeda, erupted in Lebanon’s Ein el-Hilweh Palestine refugee camp. Young Palestinians in refugee camps across the region remain particularly vulnerable to extremists and religious radicals as living conditions in these communities remain extremely harsh.
On 17 April, an estimated 1500 Palestinian prisoners and detainees began an open-ended hunger strike to protest their conditions in Israeli prisons. I also noted my concern by today’s report of an attempt to smuggle explosive material from Gaza into Israel via medical material. These actions will only exacerbate existing tensions.
I then turned to some broader regional dynamics as several states in the region continue to bear a massive burden from the flood of Syrian refugees. While the international community must do more to stand in solidarity with Syria’s neighbors by increased assistance and burden sharing, the underlying causes of displacement must be addressed through a political solution to the ongoing conflict.
In Syria, a democracy deficit, systematic repression, and wholesale human rights violations, including by the Government – which holds the primary obligation to protect the human rights of all civilians in the country – have combined with a prolonged conflict to create a fertile ground for sectarian polarization, radicalism and violent extremism. One of the greatest contributions we all can make to the defeat of listed terrorist organisations such as ISIL and Al Nusra Front is to achieve a comprehensive and credible political settlement to the Syrian conflict and a political transition to an inclusive, democratic and participatory state. Such an outcome would also help to enable a more unified international counter-terrorism response.
I focused on recent reports of the alleged
use of chemical weapons in Syria.
If confirmed, this abhorrent action would amount to a serious violation of international law and present a threat to international peace and security. This is an area in which the Security Council has the primary responsibility and I expressed my hope it can unite to send a strong collective message that the perpetrators of such attacks will be held accountable.
In Lebanon, on 12 April President Aoun decided to adjourn the tenure of the Lebanese Parliament for one month. It is hoped that this will allow time for Lebanon’s leaders to agree on an electoral law, in accordance with the Constitution. The Council will soon receive the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Resolution 1559 (2004), which called on the disbanding and disarming of all militias. Recognizing the vital progress achieved in restoring Lebanon’s institutions to their full functioning, it will be essential for the country to seize the current momentum to counter the maintenance and alleged increase of weapons outside the authority and the control of the state.
Libya, as Special Representative Kobler briefed the Council a day earlier, has made important strides in the fight against ISIL, which no longer holds territory in that country. However, the stalled implementation of the Libya Political Agreement is contributing to a political and security vacuum, putting Libya’s population and its neighbours at risk of further destabilization. Armed groups have committed grave violations and abuses of human rights. It is critical that the political process is resumed with the support of the international community.
In Iraq, the security forces supported by the international anti-ISIL coalition are making progress in retaking Mosul. I welcomed the efforts of the Government of Iraq to secure and rebuild destroyed areas and to advance the national reconciliation process. This will be essential for depriving ISIL of legitimacy, access to resources and support.
Across the region,
social exclusion and marginalisation, particularly in areas of prolonged and unresolved conflicts, provide fertile ground for the rise of violent extremism.
Unity across ethnic and religious lines, reconciliation and a fair sharing of resources help heal wounds and isolate extremists.
Listed terrorist organizations and other non-State actors, including armed groups such as Hezbollah, have thrived in the climate of weak governance and an absence of human rights that pervade the region. It is estimated that over 30,000 foreign terrorist fighters from over 100 Member States have travelled to the Middle East in recent years to join such groups. Their presence over expanses of territory and accumulation of resources and weaponry pose an increased threat to regional and international peace and security. Some foreign fighters have already returned to their home countries spreading violence in their own communities.
The humanitarian and social impact of the conflicts in the Middle East is catastrophic.
In Syria, hundreds of thousands have been killed since 2011 and approximately half of the population is displaced. Over five million Syrian refugees are registered with UNHCR with nearly three million in Turkey, over one million in Lebanon and more than 650,000 in Jordan, putting a huge socio-economic and security strain on these societies.
In Iraq, over 334,000 people are currently displaced in total as a result of fighting in Mosul, most of them people who have lived for two years under the barbaric rule of ISIL. Owing to intensive efforts by the Government and humanitarian partners, operations have kept pace with growing needs, but capacities are strained.
In Yemen — the poorest county in the Middle East, the situation continues to deteriorate as 18.8 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance, including a shocking 10.3 million who require immediate help. More than two million are internally displaced and over two million children are acutely malnourished.
I urgeed the Security Council and all stakeholders to do everything in their power
to protect and spare civilians from the brutal effects of these conflicts,
as required under international humanitarian law. Regardless of the causes, whether defense or counter-terrorism, the abuse for human rights in the conduct of any conflict can never be justified. It only serves to reinforce the fundamental drivers of extremism and violence. The complexities of the region’s conflicts means that political solutions based on justice, dignity and social cohesion are required to achieve and sustain peace.
Developments on the political front continue. In Yemen, Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is consulting with key regional and international actors in an effort to build support for the framework for peace talks as well as to mitigate the effects on the civilian population of the military hostilities along the Red Sea coast.
On 12 April you heard from Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, who underscored that there can only be a political solution to the bloody conflict in Syria. I reiterateed his urgent call for the Council to unite behind the UN-convened intra-Syrian talks in Geneva on political transition as per Security Council resolution 2254 and the 2012 Geneva Communique.
Efforts to revive engagement between Israelis and Palestinians to achieve a negotiated and sustainable peace must also be intensified. In this regard, I said that I was encouraged by ongoing efforts by Egypt, Jordan and the United States to advance the prospects for peace.
On March 29th the League of Arab States convened in Jordan for their 28th Annual Summit where the leaders of 22 countries once again endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative.
In closing, I reiterated the words of Secretary-General Guterres that
the region requires a surge in diplomacy for peace.
Member States, especially through a united Security Council, will have to assume the leading role, including by advancing the implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions. In today’s world there can be no justification for terrorism, nor for the glorification of those who commit it. But without justice, dignity and the protection of human rights, communities will continue to fracture and provide fertile ground for extremists.
To this end the fragility of states must be addressed. Governments need to respond to the legitimate demands of their people and strengthen social cohesion and reconciliation. This is the first line of defense against extremism. Efforts to strengthen the voices of moderation, and build religious tolerance must also be strengthened. Divisions within the region have opened the door to outside interference and manipulation, breeding instability and sectarian strife. Multilateral approaches and cooperation are necessary to address interlinked conflicts, cross-border humanitarian impacts and violent extremism.
I closed by reminding the Council that behind the images of savagery, behind the shocking statistics of human suffering, are the millions fighting every day not only for their own survival but for the true humane essence of their cultures and societies. They are the true faces of the Middle East, and we must do all we can to help them prevail.
Let me begin by praising His Excellency Nassir Abdelaziz AL-NASSER for the steady stewardship as the President of the 66th session of the General Assembly. In your work, Your Excellency, you can count on the constructive engagement of the Bulgarian delegation. But allow me also to personally praise you for the theme which you have selected for this session.
I take this opportunity to also pay tribute to your predecessor, His Excellency Joseph DEISS, for his outstanding leadership of the previous session’s busy agenda.
Mr. Secretary General, you have proven yourself as a diligent, hard-working leader who believes strongly in consensus and harmony – qualities that the UN needs now in its top administrator and will undoubtedly need even more in the years to come.
Let me begin by welcoming the work of our delegations in UN High Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases. Cancer, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes are now responsible for more deaths than all other causes combined. Bulgaria welcomes the negotiated final document. Over 80% of cardiovascular and diabetes deaths, almost 90% of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and more than 2/3 of all cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.
To quote the UN Secretary General’s Report to the GA: “Knowing how to reduce such diseases is not the problem; the problem is lack of action.” Focusing on this “new frontier” now is an important challenge that can be addressed only if we all work together.
Bulgaria also particularly welcomes the High Level Meeting on Nuclear Safety and Security. The effects of nuclear accidents have no respect for national borders. To adequately safeguard our people, we must have firm international consensus and action, as well as agree on stringent international safety standards. As many other IAEA member states Bulgaria considers nuclear power as a viable option to meet our energy needs. Nuclear energy has a key role for providing base load power to our economy with a share of 35% of the total energy mix.
Today we stand on the doorstep of historic change in the Middle East. Change, the scale of which can be only compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the sweeping transformation of Central and Eastern Europe after the end of Communism.
Both processes are quite different, but share a fundamental similarity — people have come out of the bondage of fear. Although the circumstances in each country are divergent, the root causes for what is happening in the Middle East are similar.
- Corrupt leadership breeds dissent and with no democratic process in place, this dissent pours out onto the streets;
- Young people want to be engaged in the future of their countries, not forced into a world of virtual reality and frowned upon by aging dictators;
- Millions of people who live on the brink of poverty and see a privileged few reap the benefits of economic freedom will demand fair economic opportunities for all.
Add to that the feeling of revival, the demand of millions of young Arabs to be respected not to be denied the opportunities that others have, not to be talked down or discriminated and you have the makings of a revolution of Arab dignity and self respect, a historic revolution indeed.
Human dignity is a right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I quote: “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”
As change swept across the Middle East and North Africa, some leaders cringed in fear, others embraced it. Those who opposed their people are no longer in positions of power; their countries are moving on and looking to democratic elections. Those who embraced change have initiated far-reaching reforms and responded to the legitimate demands of their people. His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan and His Majesty King Mohammed VI of Morocco need to be commended for their vision and willingness to reform. They are showing the way forward.
At the same time the international community has been appalled by the developments in Syria. Instead of responding to the legitimate demands of the Syrian people by fulfilling promised reforms, the government cracked down violently on protesters. They did not have unrealistic demands; they did not ask for anything out of the ordinary. According to the UN over 2600 people have been killed since March. The government in Damascus questions these numbers. Even if only one person had been killed, it would been one person too many. The responsibility for the repression lies squarely with the authorities and no one else.
I use this opportunity to call on President Assad — who has made many promises to his people and the international community — to come out from the shadows, change the constitution, dismantle the machinery of repression, and immediately call internationally supervised elections. The people of Syria have the right to elect their own government and hold it accountable. The time for transition has come.
Ladies and gentlemen,
at this session we welcomed the hundred-and-ninety-third member of the United Nations. Our hearts go out to the people of South Sudan who have struggled for independence and we commend the visionary leadership of their new government for paving the way for their independence in a peaceful manner.
We also welcomed the new representatives of Libya, free from the oppression of the Gaddafi dictatorship. It was at the gates of Beghazi in February that he international community, acting on a mandate of the UN Secuirty Council, acted swiftly to prevent a massacre and protect civilians against attacks from their own government. The people of Libya proved that they can stand up and defend their right to freedom. Our thoughts go out to the families of all who lost their lives in this struggle, who fell victim to the crazed ambitions of a deluded dictator.
Bulgaria stands ready to assist the people of Libya in rebuilding their country. Our friendship is strong and has been tested through the years. We know first hand of the brutality that Gaddafi was capable of. The five Bulgarian nurses and a doctor who spent eight years of their lives in a Libyan jail, much of it on death row, are still haunted by their tortures. “We died every time the cell door opened” said one of them in an interview recently. Now safely back home they need to be able to close the chapter of their nightmares. Like the nurses — innocent victims of a brutal dictatorship, the Libyan people do not want to see revenge, but justice. Such justice will be sought when the dictator and his cronies are brought before a court of law.
Ladies and gentleman,
No matter how successful we individually are, we cannot truly bear the fruits of our own development if we live in an insecure environment. Regional cooperation and good neighborly relations are vital for the wellbeing of our countries and our societies. With this introduction let me turn even closer to home — the Balkans. Allow me to use this opportunity to reiterate Bulgaria’s unfaltering commitment to the European future of the Western Balkans. So I will not tire to repeat exactly the same thing I said last year from this podium:
The European Union was created to make war impossible in a continent that has seen at least a century of conflicts. Europe shall not be whole and complete until our neighbours in the Balkans are not part of our Union.
It falls on us – those who joined the EU late, not by their own choice, but because of the ideological divisions of the Cold War – to say it loud and clear: to make war impossible in the Balkans we must see all countries that have emerged from former Yugoslavia be part of the European Union. This is our historic mission. Its our destiny.
This is why we will continue to work tirelessly to remove the obstacles to EU enlargement in the Balkans, to strengthen regional cooperation and develop good neighbourly relations in a region that has seen too much division. With particular vigor we will continue to encourage the EU facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. Bulgaria welcomes the pragmatic approach taken by both Kosovo and Serbia during their first meetings. It is important that they build on this momentum and continue to engage in a constructive and pragmatic manner. All must show restraint and prevent the build-up of tension. This is vital for the security, prosperity and – ultimately, for the European perspective of the region.
Bulgaria will continue to contribute actively to regional reconciliation. Because we believe that our role in South East Europe and beyond is to bring people together, not divide them; to seek solutions, not watch from the sidelines.
We must constantly reaffirm our European commitment to bring in our neighbours in the Western Balkans into Europe, when they meet the criteria for membership. Our neighbours also must reaffirm their own commitment to undertaking often very difficult reforms, and to strengthening regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Bulgaria is a country that has had a proud but turbulent history. Our history teaches us that nations are strong when their civic spirit is strong. It teaches us that you must find pride not only in great historic battles and ancient legends, but in great feats of civic activism, in the standing up for your values and protecting your neighbors. One such inspiring example is that fact that the Jews of Bulgaria survived World War II because hundreds of religious and community leaders, politicians, ordinary men and women stood up and refused to be part of Hitler’s madness.
I stand tall and proud of the spirit of my predecessors. Their example of tolerance inspires much more than the Medieval stories of greatness and empires that we have so many of in Europe.
Two days ago we celebrated our national independence day. After 500 years of foreign occupation and domination in 1878 Bulgaria reemerged on the map of Europe. Our full independence however came only in 1908, some 30 years after the re-establishment of the Bulgarian state.
My country today is the product of the traditions of Christians, Jews and Muslims who all form the fabric of the Bulgarian nation. This is our richness, this makes us quite unique in the Balkans. This is why we cannot remain uninterested in developments in the Middle East, particularly to the elusive prospects of peace between the people of Israel and the people of Palestine.
Over the course of the last year we have seen the tireless efforts of the US administration and the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy to find a way to resume direct negotiations. These efforts, including the agreed Quartet statement of today, need to be applauded, encouraged and supported by all.
It was in the United Nations in 1947 that the State of Israel was born. It was born as a home for the Jewish people, a beacon of hope to a community that has been persecuted and oppressed for thousands of years; becoming the only truly democratic country in the region.
Today this landscape is changing. Slowly but surely the region is moving towards democracy. Democracy, accountable government and the rule of law are ultimately in the long term interest of all — Jews and Muslims; Arabs and Israelis.
The Palestinian people have a right to a state of their own. Indeed we — the international community — have an obligation to support the establishment of a viable and democratic, Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
A Palestine that lives side-by-side with the State of Israel;
a Palestine that lives in security and mutual recognition with the State of Israel;
a Palestine that has secure borders, based on 1967 with mutually agreed swaps.
Both Palestine, as the home of the Palestinian people, and Israel, the home of the Jewish people, must guarantee that all ethnic and religious groups have full rights and protection under law.
But let me also make one point very clear — to refuse the right of Israel to exist means to refuse the right of the Palestinian people to also have a state of their own. I can accept criticism of the policies of any government, but I cannot stand idle when the right of existence is denied to anyone — no matter their religion or ethnicity. To dismiss such policies in passing, would mean to fail the values of our civilization.
Bulgaria will never accept that and nor should any other nation in the global community.
Bulgaria believes very strongly that the definitive solution to peace can only come through direct negotiations. But direct negotiations can resume only on the basis of trust and a real understanding of the security concerns and the legitimate aspirations of both sides. Rebuilding trust between both parties is a prerequisite to resuming negotiations. Unilateral action, changing the realities on the ground cannot be a substitute for negotiations. Obstacles should be overcome and preconditions should be removed. If the leaders of Palestine believe that settlement policy is an obstacle to peace, the leaders of Israel must refrain from such activities. To give peace a chance. If the leaders of Israel believe that no preconditions to a final settlement should be put in place, then the Palestinian leaders must refrain from such actions. To give peace a chance.
Bulgaria has recognised the Palestinian state in 1988. We hold our friendship both with Israel and the Palestinian people dear. This is why we urge the immediate resumption of negotiations as the only road to peace. Bringing both sides back to the negotiating table remains out top priority. I am sure that the United States, working in concert with the European Union, can facilitate this process, based on a vision outlined by President Obama.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The challenges of peace in the Middle East today are challenges of leadership.
Allow me now to turn to my delegation’s vision for the kind of leadership, the kind of United Nations we need for the the next decade. Our organization, in its reform, must be adequate and accountable, brave and bold in its actions, credible and compassionate.
An organization created by 51 member states functions today with 193 members. In order for the UN to be adequate today its institutions need to be reformed, first and foremost, in the composition of the UN’s main body guaranteeing international peace and security. We must build on progress achieved so far within the negotiations on the Security Council reform and move the process to a more result oriented phase. Bulgaria considers enlargement of the Council in its two categories — permanent and non-permanent members as one of the options that enjoys the support of a considerable number of delegations. The increase in the number of non-permanent seats should provide for a just representation of the Eastern European Group, whose membership has more than doubled over the last two decades.
Transparency is impossible without accountability. First, the UN must be accountable to its member states through a continued strive to improve management and the enforcement of strict budgetary discipline, especially in the current period of economic turmoil.
We, the member states, ought to be accountable to the UN by fulfilling all our commitments, including by paying our financial contributions to the organization fully, unconditionally and in time – a principle that Bulgaria upholds and adheres to: by June 2011 my country has paid all its due contributions for 2011 to the regular budget, the Capital Master Plan, the tribunals and the 2010-2011 peacekeeping missions’ financial period.
We all need to be accountable for our actions to future generations. It is easy to speak of “sustainable development”, but at the moment we are not even remotely close to making it a reality. On the contrary: the damage we have done to the planet’s geology, climate and ecosystems for most of the last century is so significant that scientists are increasingly asserting that the human race has actually managed to push the Earth, way faster than usual, into a new, eventually more unstable and dangerous geological period.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We need both wise and courageous leadership from the UN in our efforts to guarantee peace and security. Wise so as to avoid the temptation to use force when it seems to get results faster than mediation and protracted negotiations. Courageous to take responsibility when the use of force is a must.
In this context, I would like to acknowledge the initiative of Turkey and Finland to introduce a resolution on the topic which Bulgaria readily co-sponsored.
The United Nations will benefit much from strengthening its cooperation with regional security organisations. The cooperation with NATO in Afghanistan is an excellent example. International support has to continue beyond 2014. We were all saddened by the brutal murder of a great Afghan leader — former President Rabbani. His work must inspire us to continue supporting the Afghan government ‘s efforts at reconciliation and reintegration.
It is high time for bold and decisive actions in the field of disarmament and nonproliferation as well. It is the legal and moral obligation of all of us to honor the commitments undertaken with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Outcome document of the 2010 Review Conference. A strengthened and robust NPT regime is in the interest of all States, especially with the growing risk of non-state actors getting access to weapons of mass destruction. All States Parties, including DPRK, are bound by the NPT regime. Leaving the NPT should not be without consequences.
Cooperation with IAEA is also essential. As long as Iran continues to not provide greater transparency of its nuclear activities, the concerns of the international community will remain valid. Full compliance with the Security Council resolutions and with the provisions of the IAEA safeguards agreement is paramount for the diplomatic solution of this case.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The sad anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York we commemorate this year, the more recent tragic events in Oslo, Mumbai and other cities of the world prove that terrorism is a global cancer that does not discriminate against developed or developing countries and societies. Its eradication requires decisive actions. The successful conclusion of the negotiations on the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism has Bulgaria’s full support.
Bulgaria attaches great importance to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations and the only international court of universal character with general jurisdiction. We welcome the fact that the Court has acquired a solid reputation as an impartial institution with the highest legal standards that enjoys the trust of the Member States.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I opened my presentation by focusing on the challenge of tackling non-communicable diseases. Human suffering caused by various illnesses is further exacerbated due to the effects of the series of global crises in food, finance and energy and the threats associated with climate change. Taken together, these and other new challenges impede progress towards the achievement of the MDGs.
Our world today faces challenges that will shape its tomorrow. We need to be able to meet these challenges in a bold manner, with a clear vision for the future and tackle them together as a global community of nations.
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