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20 september 2011 - High Level Meeting on Libya - Speech by Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy President of the French Republic

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Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy - High Level Meeting on Libya - New York - 20 September 2011 - UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Unofficial translation

Mr. Secretary-General,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I will make just a few brief remarks. The early 21st century hasn’t offered us many pleasant surprises. Ever since the century began, we’ve had nothing but new crises to manage: economic crises, financial crises, the crisis of famine, the crisis of poverty.

Wherever we turn, there are only complications and difficulties. But there was one piece of great news: the Arab revolutions. The young Arabs who took to the streets using language that we in the West and in Europe hadn’t imagined. They hadn’t come out to say "Down with the West, down with France, down with the United States, down with Israel." They came out to say, "We want jobs, an education, democracy, we want freedom."

When we saw the Arab street demanding freedom and democracy we took some time to react, surprised as we were, amazed as we were by this remarkable change that is such great news.

There was Tunisia, there was Egypt and then there was Libya. But who in this room would have thought that the Libyan people, that young Libyans, would have been capable of overthrowing a dictatorship that had lasted 41 years? Who could have imagined that? The experts? No, that wasn’t what they were explaining to us. The experts were explaining that West and East were doomed to confrontation. Young Libyans took to the streets in Tripoli, Misrata and Benghazi to say "we don’t want confrontation, we want freedom." That’s why, along with a certain number of other countries, we intervened to help the Libyan revolutionaries and we are proud of that.

What makes us most proud is that among those who intervened were the Libyans’ Arab brothers: Qatar, the Emirates, Jordan. If the Arabs hadn’t had the courage to help their Libyan brothers, it would have been much harder for us because at no cost did we want Libya to think it detected a whiff of colonialism.

We know our history and we remembered its lessons. Today it is a free Libya that the whole world is addressing. It is up to the Libyans and no one else to decide what Libya’s future will be. We have said this as have our American and English friends, and all our coalition partners. We will stay to do the job as long as the Libyan revolutionaries need us.

One thing was demonstrated: It was possible to win the revolution with only Libyan troops on the ground. We simply want to say to our Libyan friends: Tell us how long you want us to stand by your side, and we will do so. We want to say something else as well: After having had the courage to fight for your freedom, have the courage to forgive. Have the courage to achieve reconciliation. The whole world is watching you. For us, who stood by your side from the very first day, the best reward would be to see that we were right about our friends. When you arrest Qaddafi, he will be tried. When you call to account those who must be held responsible, they will have the right to defend themselves. That is how you will build Libya’s future, allowing all Libyans who can to take part in the reconstruction. The sooner the Libyan government is in place, the sooner Libyan democracy is in place, the better it will be.

I want to conclude by saying one thing. Many people ask us: Weren’t you afraid that in the future there would be a regime that would be even worse than the one you got rid of in Libya? To them, I want to say this: Fear is not a good counselor. With that type of reasoning, the Eastern Europeans would have kept their dictatorships for years. With that kind of reasoning, we ourselves, we Europeans would have tolerated regimes we never should have tolerated. Liberty is not without risk, but dictatorship equals certain failure. I have faith in Libya’s future. There will be ups and downs, but no one has the right to make those who fought to free themselves go back to the way they were.

This places another responsibility on our shoulders. Since Arab societies are finally moving toward freedom, let us make sure that the conflicts that have endured for 60 years do not poison democracy-building in Muslim countries. Not only does the Arab street give us the obligation to act, it would condemn any form of inaction.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Needless to say, France is proud and happy to be a member of the coalition, and if it had to be done all over again, we would do it. Benghazi will not be Srebrenica or Cambodia, tormented by the Khmer Rouge. There will be no new massacre between Hutus and Tutsis.

Mr. Secretary-General,

The international community had the courage to respond. Let’s learn our lesson from that. That’s the way things went in Côte d’Ivoire, and it’s also how they went in Libya. Let all the world’s dictators know that the international community is no longer condemned to speeches. It is condemned to action. And if necessary, to take up arms in the service of democracy.

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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