Let me begin by congratulating you and the delegation of Argentina for your leadership of the Security Council this month.
Today marks the tenth anniversary of the bombing of the Baghdad headquarters of the UN Assistant Mission in Iraq that claimed the lives of 22 people including Sergio Vieira de Mello, the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Instead of defending victims of armed conflict, humanitarian personnel are themselves becoming the victims. In light of the recent attacks on UN personnel in Darfur, the DRC, and South Sudan, we must show zero tolerance to those who deliberately target UN and humanitarian workers.
Civilians continue to make up the vast majority of casualties in armed conflict. Human suffering anywhere should be the concern of men and women everywhere, but the responsibility rests with the international community.
Nobel laureate and humanitarian activist, Elie Wiesel said (and I quote), “Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.”
Today, men and women are being persecuted in every corner of the world. The risk of mass killing has risen sharply in Libya and Mali and the threat to civilians remains critical in the Central African Republic, Somalia and the DRC.
But nowhere is the situation bleaker than in the Middle East - where nations gained their independence long ago, but many people did not.
After years of stifling repression and brutal oppression, the people of the Middle East said enough is enough. Millions have poured into the streets from Benghazi to Beirut and from Tehran to Tunis. They have raised their voices for liberty, for democracy, and for opportunity.
By far, the worst instance has been Bashar al-Assad’s murderous campaign against the Syrian people. Day after day there are reports of detentions and disappearances; of soldiers ordered to fire on civilians; and of people being kidnapped, beaten and tortured. From Hama to Houla and from Deraa to Damascus, innocent people are being slaughtered.
In its June report, the UN’s commission of inquiry investigating the hostilities in Syria said (and I quote), “Crimes that shock the conscience have become a daily reality. Humanity has been the casualty of this war.”
The atrocities in Syria have been made possible by the backing Assad receives from Hezbollah. For months, Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah denied Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict. Today, the whole world knows that his guerillas are openly battling their fellow Arab Muslims in Syria and threatening to tip the fragile sectarian balance.
Nasrallah has repeatedly vowed to keep the murderous Assad regime in power. This past Friday he personally committed himself to fighting in Syria if necessary, saying (and I quote), “If the battle requires me to go ... I will go.” Nasrallah has proven that he has no regard for the lives that have been lost, for the people who have been forced to flee, or for the untold suffering of the Syrian people.
This same disregard for human life is clear in Lebanon where Hezbollah’s arsenal has become larger than that of many NATO countries. And Hezbollah sees fit to store these weapons in homes, schools, and hospitals. It would seem that the people of Lebanon are more valuable to Hezbollah as human shields than as human beings. Hezbollah is a ruthless terrorist group committing double war crimes by operating within civilian populations, directing attacks against civilian populations.
Before proclaiming his support for the Assad regime, Nasrallah travelled to Iran to secure financial and military backing from Ayatollah Khamenei. We must not forget that the first nonviolent protests were in the streets of Tehran – and the Iranian government’s response was to torture, detain and even kill peaceful protesters. These Iranian protestors were human rights activists, former government officials, clerics, students, professors, journalists, and bloggers.
For those who thought that Rouhani’s election would be the dawn of a new Iran – take note. After taking office, the new president wasted no time expressing his support for Assad.
Jewish tradition implores us to raise our eyes to see the needs of all humanity. As one of Judaism’s greatest contemporary scholars and teachers, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, wrote, “We have always considered ourselves an inseparable part of humanity…ever ready to accept…the responsibility implicit in human existence.”
As a family of nations, our responsibility to one another stems from our common humanity. Our moral imperatives supersede whatever politics, religion or geography may divide us. From the deserts of Africa to the jungles of South America, we must stand together to ensure people everywhere have freedom, opportunity and dignity.
Thank you, Madame President.