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13 December 2011 - The situation of Human Rights in Syria - Interview of Mr Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations, with I-télé News Television

(Unofficial translation)

Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador to the United Nations, accused the Security Council of being “morally responsible for the suffering of the Syrian people”. The crackdown has resulted in more than 5,000 deaths.

We now go to the UN headquarters with Gérard Araud. Thank you very much for joining us live on I télé. The very first question: France is a member of the Security Council; who were you thinking of when you issued that statement?

Since March, France and the United Kingdom attempted to get the Security Council to pass a resolution condemning the Syrian regime and imposing sanctions. We ran up against the veto of Russia and China. I was therefore talking about those two countries, which continue to oppose the Security Council’s intervention, but I was also talking about the indifference of a certain number of countries such as Brazil, South Africa and India, that—while they are democracies—are abstaining or remaining extremely quiet.

Are you explicitly pressuring these countries to change their minds?

Pressuring is perhaps a little strong. We are simply asking them to change their minds. Yesterday we received a report by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who came to the Council at France’s request and described the truly horrific situation going on in Syria. There is truly systematic torture, rape; hundreds of children have been killed; Syrian snipers have been instructed to shoot to kill innocent demonstrators. It isn’t simply a humanitarian crisis. In addition to the Syrians’ suffering, there is the risk of civil war, the risk that the country will plunge into civil war and the whole region will flare up. We need a political solution, and it must put pressure on the Assad regime.

If a political solution doesn’t work, should we help the Syrian Free Army, should we, for example—not too visibly but still effectively—provide weapons to this army so that it can topple the Assad regime?

No, we must do everything we can to avoid unrest in that country. We know that because of the religious differences—differences that the regime has in fact deliberately exploited—the potential for violence is very dangerous. We must find a political solution, and we must therefore support the efforts of the Arab League. You know that the Arab League asked the regime to accept observers and to withdraw the army from the cities. That is our main effort.

You heard the interview that Bashar al-Assad gave to an American TV network; do you believe him when he says he is not directly responsible for the orders to fire on the [Syrian] people?

No, I don’t believe him. Syria is a dictatorship. It is obvious that the orders come from on high. And in fact, as the High Commissioner for Human Rights has said, the systematic nature of human rights violations, the systematic nature of the torture and rapes, proves that the orders come from on high.

When the diplomatic solution isn’t working, shouldn’t certain powers – those that defend democracy - act on their own initiative and thus directly help a population that is trying to free itself from a dictatorship, i.e. outside of the framework of the UN?

As you know, we’ve already started to do this; the EU has imposed sanctions on Syria, extremely harsh sanctions. For example, within the European Union, we’re no longer buying Syrian oil and this has very severe consequences for the Syrian economy. Similarly, we have imposed sanctions on a certain number of the regime’s leaders. Together with our colleagues, our European Union friends, we have already started to do this.

But in order to go further, aren’t you or the Americans considering more unilateral action?

For now, what we’re talking about is the Arab League’s action. The Arab League took very strong action by imposing sanctions as well, by making practical proposals, and I believe that’s what we need to do – support the Arab League. You know, every country has its own particular situation. There was Libya, since I know you’re thinking of Libya, but with Syria it’s completely different. No one is considering a military solution, which would be extremely dangerous for the entire region.

So no military solution. But would you consider imposing economic sanctions against Syria?

They’re already in place, as I’ve just said; the EU has already imposed unilateral sanctions against Syria, the Arab League has done the same, and if the Arab League asks us to, then I think we should go back to the Security Council in order to universalize the sanctions in some way. But the Arab League would have to ask us and we would have to convince our other Security Council partners to put an end to their inaction.

Learn more on Syria.

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Organisation des Nations Unies Présidence de la République France Diplomatie La France à l'Office des Nations Unies à Genève Union Européenne Première réunion de l'ONU