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Summary: 27 March 2015, New York – Statement on behalf of the European Union by H.E. Mr. Stavros Lambrinidis, EU Special Representative for Human Rights, at the Security Council Open Debate on “The victims of attacks and abuses on ethnic or religious ground in the Middle East”

Thank you Mr. President,

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union.

Mr. President,

In February this year the Security Council strongly condemned the “ongoing barbaric terrorist acts” committed by militants of ISIL/Da’esh and reaffirmed its determination in defeating the extremist group.

This is the first point I want to make: it is essential to condemn these indiscriminate and atrocious attacks, which the EU does unreservedly. These acts, perpetrated in particular against Christians and other religious and ethnic groups, have to be condemned at all levels and by all actors, including politicians and religious leaders. The perpetrators can never be left with the impression that their actions are accepted by anyone.

We have underlined the importance of preserving the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-confessional character of the Syrian and Iraqi societies. The EU supports international efforts and initiatives to address these issues and welcomes in this regard today’s ministerial meeting, which we thank France for organizing.

We are united in our support for the work of this Council, in particular its Resolutions 2170 and 2178 and call on all countries to swiftly implement these resolutions with full respect for human rights and the rule of law.

And this is my second point: respect for human rights, promotion of inclusive and democratic societies and support to vibrant civil societies are the only way to guarantee full security and full stability for all people in the region. We have to fight terrorism with those means that these terrorists are trying to destroy: with human rights, open societies, through empowering women and educating girls.

Third, we have to counter the extremist discourse. Tackling terrorism means eliminating the spaces where impunity prevails and countering those where extremism resonates. This is a security challenge, but we should not forget its political, social and cultural dimensions. We must redouble our efforts in reaching out to those who might be vulnerable to the discourse of violent extremism. If we want to stop the cycle of violence and human rights abuse we must also address their root causes and work further for the realization of all human rights.

Mr. President,

In the Middle East, grave violations committed against the civilian population demand accountability and an end to impunity. And this is my fourth point: accountability.

The EU welcomed the ninth report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, and condemns the crimes against humanity and human rights violations and abuses detailed therein, perpetrated in particular by the Assad regime and by terrorist groups. We support the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry. We also support the documentation of crimes in Syria to ensure that all perpetrators are held accountable. The EU reiterates its call to the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

We would also like to take the opportunity to pay a special tribute to Syrian human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders, for their tremendous commitment and tireless efforts in documenting human rights violations.

ISIL/Da’esh’s actions in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere are horrific and cannot go unpunished. The human rights abuses committed by them are increasing both in the number of victims and in atrocity. They include the vicious and barbaric murder of prisoners, abuses of the worst kind against children and women and the persecution of persons belonging to different religions, ethnic communities and vulnerable groups.

Fifth, we have to step up the protection of the freedom of religion and belief. The kidnapping of more than 200 Christian Assyrians in the Hassakeh region of Syria, at the end of February, is just the most recent in Daesh’s long list of brutal actions that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity according to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria. All of this is in complete contravention of international human rights law and goes directly against freedom of religion or belief, which includes the right for persons of all faiths to live and practise their religion freely – or for that matter not to believe – without fear of intolerance or attacks. In this context, the EU would like to express its deep appreciation for the work done by UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or belief, Dr Heiner Bielefeldt, including his latest report on the topical issue of violence committed “in the name of religion” that focus on the ways to best counter religious intolerance, discrimination and incitement to hatred. We also express our gratitude to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, for his work and that of his Office.

In terms of numbers, the first victims of Daesh are Sunni Muslims. At the same time, it is clear that ISIL/Da’esh poses a specific and more deliberate threat to minorities in the region, to Christians, but also to Yazidis, Shabakis and other groups.

ISIL/Daesh tries justify its acts by branding recent events as a ‘clash of civilizations’. But it is not: it is the perpetrators of these crimes who by way of their terrible atrocities are trying to create a ‘clash of civilizations’ among us.

ISIL/Da’esh’s actions jeopardise the survival of the multi‑ethnic and multi‑religious character of the Middle East, and the prospect for inclusive stability in the long‑term. The European Union and its partners cannot tolerate this.

Sixth: the protection religious and cultural heritage. We denounce the attacks on, and destruction of, world heritage sites, and the illicit trafficking in cultural properties. This is why on numerous occasions we have expressed our determination to contain and defeat Daesh and to contribute as fully as possible, both at the individual level of Member States and the collective level of the EU, to the efforts of the global coalition.

Mr. President,

The fight against terrorism is also a battle for hearts and minds. Da’esh, as well as other terrorist groups, is trying to revive a fabricated clash of civilizations. We will not forget that the first victims of their attacks are Muslims: Sunni and Shia, Arabs, Africans and Asians.

My seventh and last point: military action. Military action is essential, but not sufficient on its own. It is necessary to address the underlying violence in Syria and Iraq, which has given terrorist groups a foothold. It is the instability in Syria, caused by the Assad regime’s brutal war against its own people, and a long period of non‑inclusive policies in Iraq, which have allowed Da’esh to flourish.

At the last Foreign Affairs Council, EU Foreign Ministers adopted a strategy outlining how the EU is planning to counter the threat posed by ISIL/Da’esh and help restore peace and security in Syria and Iraq. The EU aims at a comprehensive effort addressing the underlying dynamics of the conflicts, through diplomacy and support for political reforms, economic development and reconciliation between different ethnic groups. For the years 2015 and 2016, the European Commission has allocated €1 billion to the implementation of the strategy.

We will also follow-up on the outcome of the Washington Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, in particular through fostering cooperation: this includes education, through engaging more with local communities, especially in the Horn of Africa region. We held our annual plenary session of the GCTF Horn of Africa Working Group – which took place in Kampala/Uganda on 17-20 March 2015.

A final word on sustainable peace and stability. We are in the midst of the discussion for the post 2015 agenda. A truly transformative agenda must include peaceful societies and freedom from violence as a key ingredient. Peace is not possible without development and respect for human rights.

Thank you Mr President.

  • Ref: EUUN15-036EN
  • EU source: European Union
  • UN forum: Security Council
  • Date: 27/3/2015

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