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"The Rule of Law"
September 24, 1990
Francois Mitterrand

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am addressing this Assembly for the third time and am well aware what an honour it is both for my country and myself. I should like to congratulate you, Mr. President, for having been chosen to lead the debates of an organization which has perhaps never before discharged such heavy responsibilities, and I should like to pay a tribute to the country you represent. Finally, I turn to the Secretary-General, Mr. Prez de Cullar, and I thank you, Sir, for your talent, the strength of your conviction and your untiring efforts on behalf of the United Nations which have done so much to bring about its rebirth.

Two years ago before this Assembly, I spoke of a hope for freedom; how much headway have we made since then! In many countries on every continent, democracy has prevailed in places from which it had long been thought banished. Borders no longer hold back its contagious forces.

Think of the events that have shaken up Europe and the World in 1939, the popular movements that have emerged from the depths which, like the French revolution of 200 years ago, have triumphed over structures and systems, set ways of thinking and acting, powers and fears, because of the simple, irresistible need to live differently, in accordance with the requirements of the mind.

When the walls separating peoples came down, walls built on the foolish assumption that the order they were protecting would forever be untouched by the great winds of space, dreams and ideas, I remember saying to my compatriots in France at that moment of happiness, of a kind so seldom experienced in history, that the end of one order did not necessarily mean that another order would be born immediately thereafter, and that it would be a very difficult process.

And I would ask you this: what are we to do with this era we are entering, so promising, so perilous? What shall we make of it?

The confrontation between military blocs has long ensured peace, while moving the location of conflicts. Since the Second World War have we not seen more than 100 regional conflicts? What we call the South became the theater for battles no longer waged in the North.

The gain of one camp was perceived as a loss suffered by the other. And while this somewhat simple arithmetic has now become outmoded, we can now see how, for over half a century, it interfered with progress towards the settlement of conflicts and the calming of passions, it held in its grip both disaster and mourning, it proved to be a laboratory for relations between the Powers, and it maintained in a position of dependency millions of human beings who, at one time, had thought that they were masters of their own destinies.

The ending of the East-West confrontation must be hailed as a conquest of both reason and a sense of responsibility. This conquest is due to the courage and far-sightedness of a few who have shown themselves able to change the course of history, to overcome the heavy weight of selfish interests and the conflicts of ideologies, in order to conceive of a new equilibrium which would no longer be based on terror throughout the world. I wish to state here today that, to these few, humanity owes respect and gratitude.

However, I should refrain from being overly optimistic. As you, I know how much illusion can enter into the vision of a world which would suddenly and painlessly find its own way.

To this day, violations of human rights remain numerous, unbearable and flagrant. Ethnic and religious minorities, remain persecuted. The pursuit of self interest has lost nothing of its brutality. The strong is preying on the weak and the oppressed seeks revenge. But henceforth the confrontation between blocs can no longer serve as an excuse for those who fear the challenge of democracy, for those who appear to believe that they can postpone until tomorrow what is expected of them today. I trust that you have all understood that I am here referring to the North-South relations.

In a world where no one, even the most powerful can escape the reality of our common destiny, it is tempting to seek a means of escape by withdrawing into oneself, as if the only way to assert one's own identity is to deny that of the neighbour, as if the need to affirm that identity can find its answer only in xenophobia and nationalism.

In this regard, the conclusion which will be given to the crisis resulting from the Iraqi aggression will serve as an example. Equally, the tragedy which has befallen Liberia must serve as a warning.

If we are not careful, the unique chance afforded by the end of the blocs will turn into a bad dream.

In order to forestall such anarchy, to guard against the rule Off might, to prevent also an alliance of the powerful from imposing an order which others would not recognize as theirs, I know of no other answer than the rule of law.

But no one, no State, no philosophy holds a monopoly on law. Law is an expression of the general will. And is it not remarkable, in this respect, that we should witness the emergence of an almost universal agreement on simple values named freedom, freedom to speak, to act, to travel, to elect one's leaders, equality, justice, respect for the rights of people, tolerance, acceptance of differences, all of which values place dialogue above a relationship based on force? And everyone feels, and everyone knows, that in the relations among peoples there can be no lasting peace, no lasting freedom, if the States do not agree to abide by the common rules which it is your mission to set forth.

Forty five years after its birth, after being long paralyzed, the UN is unfolding itself before our eyes, and is now emerging as a true judge, setting forth the law and endeavouring to enforce it, thereby fulfilling the mission assigned to it by the San Francisco Charter. On this basis, everything will change, or rather everything can change.

I ask you to understand me, Ladies and Gentlemen: the advent of the rule of law concerns us all. Which country can claim to be immune to violence, to arbitrary rule, to outside domination? Indeed, the time has come for the rule of international law. You need only so decide and act accordingly

Precisely, over these last few years, the organization has become increasingly and successfully involved in the settlement of conflicts. Need I mention Namibia and Nicaragua, the Iraq-Iran war, and soon, I hope, Cambodia and the efforts of the United Nations to end the abhorrent regime of apartheid? Why not facilitate the meeting of two men of good will, both of them South Africans, both of them capable of being heard by their respective communities: Nelson Mandela and Frederik de Klerk.

But we must go further. We have the choice between the law of the jungle and the rule of law. What would become of us, should we refuse to choose? The choice is here to be made, between those who want the victory of law and those who put up with the decrees of violence, I am alluding, obviously, to the Gulf crisis.

In the conflict initiated by Iraq against Kuwait, the Security Council has shown its swiftness and its cohesiveness. My country, a permanent member of the Security Council, has voted and sometimes initiated the successive resolutions adopted by that body, from the beginning of the crisis to this day. And we continue to be fully united for the following reasons.

Kuwait is a Sovereign State, a member of the international community. In whose name can one decide that this State has ceased to exist? In the name of the law of planes and tanks and guns? I wish to specify that France has long maintained friendly relations with Iraq, which it supported in times of dire peril during the war against Iran, with a view to contributing to the preservation, on this millennia-old border, of the historic balance between the Persians and the Arabs, a balance whose upset would have triggered a chain reaction, with consequences on the entire Arab world and as far as the shores of the Atlantic.

Bonds of friendship were tied in these circumstances, between the Iraqi and the French peoples. I do not repudiate these: I do hope that, in spite of all, they will endure. But France is first and foremost a servant of the law as defined by the judge among nations, your institution. We are applying the embargo according to the resolution of the Security Council. We are participating in its implementation. We have dispatched naval and air forces to the Gulf region for that purpose, but in so doing we have not issued any threat nor acted in provocation.

Our policies are those of the United Nations. In fact, we have indicated to the Iraqi authorities that we would stand by the side of whoever might be the object of a new aggression in the region. Far from being of an offensive nature, our action is purely defensive. However, it will be neither biased nor marked by complicity. Once they have accomplished their mission, our forces will leave the area to return home.

How could we not feel repulsion at the sight of thousands of hostages among which we find some 500 of our compatriots who had been welcomed as guests, according to Iraq's own statements, as friends who were assured of the hospitality of a noble people, among the oldest and most illustrious on earth.

How could we accept that some of them should, as is indeed the case, serve as shields of flesh and blood at certain locations of possible combat, a combat in which they have no part?

How could we accept that the residence of our Ambassador to Kuwait be violated, looted, robbed and its occupants arrested? If indeed it was a mistake why say so at such a late date, why increase in this way the number of hostages? Faced with these repeated acts, I have taken the decision which was required of me, both as a matter of honour and in a spirit of solidarity, to dispatch land reinforcements to the neighbouring countries which were threatened. My instructions remain as they were at the outset: to ensure the implementation of the resolutions of the Security Council, to contain aggression, to serve peace in the context of the rights of each without surrendering to violence in any way. I should add that France is acting in close agreement with its 12 partners of the European Community and with those of the Western European Union, in close coordination with the military forces of the United States, of the Arab countries and of others which have been dispatched to the Middle East for the same purposes. In no way does this coordination affect our capacity for autonomous decision.

Thus, we remain available in the event of any peace opening which we are seeking for our own logic is one of peace as opposed to the logic of war which appears to prevail and which the policies of Iraq are forcing upon an anguished world.

Indeed, not the slightest word nor the slightest gesture on the part of the President of Iraq has given cause for a beginning of conciliation. He ignores or rejects the supreme authority the United Nations which was created following the second world war by the nations who understood the price of death and blood for not having been able, on two separate occasions, to avert the fatality of disaster.

What else can we say to Iraq but that the conditions have been made clear, that they are contained in the resolution of the Security Council, that they have been unanimously adopted and that they cannot be modified? Can hope be entertained no longer? Is there no longer any room for peace? We must not pronounce such a verdict.

A number of proposals forthcoming chiefly from certain Arab heads of State and prominent individuals have offered new perspectives. This gratifies me. France has been hoping that the countries of the region could find a way of acting as the arbiters of the disputes which have arisen between two countries within their group. I wish I could say that this remains my hope. It would indeed be desirable to do away with the doubts and the suspicions which the armed intervention of western countries have generated, however unjustly this may be. But the Arab nation has yet to overcome its divisions and we cannot merely express pious hopes. In the absence of such a solution which, I must reiterate, remains the one which I would by far prefer, let us examine the context which would enable diplomacy to win, preventing an outbreak of war. First of all, this can be done by speaking clearly: I must state that there will be no compromise as long as Iraq refuses to accept the position adopted by the Security Council. Yes, let Iraq withdraw from Kuwait. The sovereignty of that country is no more negotiable than that of any other. Let us remind ourselves of the men and women who are living under foreign domination or who must face exile, of the neighbouring populations which, if we remained inactive, would be prey to the expansionist ambitions of one man or of one warrior state. Instead, let Iraq declare its intention to withdraw its forces, to free the hostages and everything becomes possible.

In a second stage, at least this is how I see the situation, the international community which has condemned aggression would be in a position to guarantee the implementation of the military withdrawal, the restoration of the sovereignty of Kuwait as well as the democratic expression of the Kuwaiti people. The third phase could then proceed, the one that the whole world is expecting albeit with faint hope since it appears to be so out of our reach at this moment, or that it fears, because it will prove to be the moment of decision: it will be the moment when the confrontations which are wounding the Near-East will have to give way to a momentum of good neighbourliness in a climate of peace and security for all.

I have in mind the Lebanon which has still failed to regain its full sovereignty throughout its territory which remains occupied by foreign troops and divided among divergent forces.

I have in mind the Palestinians who are in the throes of despair, tempted by dangerous courses of action, in order to satisfy their legitimate aspiration to the possession of a land which they could call their homeland where they could put in place the state structures of their choice.

I have in mind Israel which lives in a climate of permanent insecurity. In brief, I have in mind all these people which art crushed as a result of overarmament, which are terrified by a state of war which is either open or latent and which has become their daily lot. I wish to make myself clear: it is not my intention to assimilate conflicts which are different in their nature nor to claim to solve in one fell swoop, through some magic formula, all the problems which we are facing. A global approach would be unrealistic and therefore dangerous as it would offer a pretext to those who prefer not to act.

Our own approach implies dialogue, a direct dialogue between the parties concerned, an agreement with the neighbouring states or those who are close by, and finally the indispensable international guarantee which you represent. At the end of the road, one finds one self with the idea of an international conference which would guarantee the implementation of the agreement and act as the catalyst of any successful negotiation.

And even looking beyond, one can envisage a fourth phase which would dealt with a mutually agreed reduction of armaments in the region, with the beginning of a cooperation which, from Iran to Morocco, from the Middle-East to the Atlantic Ocean, would open the way to stability and prosperity in a region which, because of its history, its culture, its immemorial contribution to humanity, is destined to exert the influence which rightly belongs to it in the affairs of the world. But let us revert to ourselves, if we may.

For our part, we also have the obligation to respond to the questions which are being put from all sides: so many resolutions adopted by the Security Council which have never been applied. The reason for this state of affairs was due -- at least I would like to think so -- to the mutual neutralizing effect resulting from the antagonism between East and West and which has left the Near and Middle-East in a warlike situation which is both ruinous and desperate. It is not without reason that this has caused some in the Arab world to question the sudden swiftness shown by the United Nations where Iraq is concerned. And it is true that there is in this failing a regrettable reference which affects the fair and just authority of our recent decisions. Truly, on this occasion which brings us together, I find it impossible not to say this loud and clear: the law must apply equally to all, both in regard to its principles and to its consequences.

And now I would live to emphasize a vital issue that I have raised constantly, among others, in international fora and to which present events have given glaring prominence. While the conflict in the Middle East is admittedly not a North-South conflict, because it is not a conflict between a rich country and a poor one, nevertheless the embargo, the oil shortage, and the increases in the price of oil, all contribute to making the already very difficult living conditions of the developing countries even worse. That help should be given to those who are close to the scene of the conflict and who are directly hit by the present crisis is obvious. But we must go further, and give new impetus to the unfinished debate on the North-South relations between rich and poor, between the heavily industrialized countries and those who lack the means to pay their debts or to revive their anaemic, or totally destroyed economy. The year 2000 is almost upon us, and yet 40,000 children die each day of hunger or of disease, although the treatment, or the vaccines, exist. In a few days in this very place the World Children's Summit will be considering problems of this kind. Let us beware: there are injustices which are themselves a form of unbearable violence to which further violence will respond.

How could the very concept of the rule of law have any meaning for these hundreds of millions of destitute human beings who live in circumstances of total deprivation, without even any hope for the future? How can you expect someone who is rejected excluded, who's very existence is denied, to submit to the law? Whether they like it or not, the North and the South are partners, sharing the same history. It is high time that they should understand this. Some progress has been made in recent years, but not nearly enough compared with what needs to be done. It is normal that countries that have run into debt in order to develop their dormant economy should be crushed by the burden of their debt, that their people should work and produce more and yet receive less because of interest payments subjected to the fluctuation of foreign currencies?

It is normal that Africa and Latin America, to name but those two cases, should have experienced a constant decline of their export proceeds during the whole of the last decade, that despite the multiple forms of aid addressed to it, the South ends up by financing the North: as net flows from South to North increased this year by a further l0 billion dollars, bringing the level up to 43 billion dollars?

Although still inadequate, some progress must be noted. I refer to what was decided in Toronto in 1988 and at the Summit of the Arch in Paris in 1989. At the Least Developed Countries Conference held this month in Paris, the main industrial countries agreed various procedures designed to reduce the public debt.

Some countries, including France, abandoned all their claims on the poorest countries. As to the European Community, by renewing the Lome agreements with 67 countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific area, and by substantially increasing its financial contribution, it has taken full account of a situation which could well become explosive. The Community has also established the basis for first approach to the marketing of their products.

There are other initiatives that attempt to offset an endemic disequilibrium that has every reason to get worse. But how can such endeavours withstand speculation on commodity prices?

I await the long announced, and hoped for, discussion of a world plan of aid to the developing world, with fresh resources, which would bring together for an in-depth debate the actors in a tragedy, that will finish like all tragedies if we do not decide to change the rhythm, the goal, the very nature of the play.

Ladies and Gentlemen, despite all that I have just said, I think that an era of hope is opening up for mankind, if the peoples of the world accept to overcome what they take to be the fatality of history, and of their own interest. Believe me, such a goal is within our reach. After destroying each other in three wars in less than a century, France and Germany have sealed their reconciliation, a pare occurrence indeed: They belong to the same community, they meet together, they are forging a genuine friendship. While I speak, on the eve of German unity, instead of harping on the tragic events they experienced in the past because of each other, our two peoples are turned toward the same future. And so it is that here in New York I can send the best wishes of France to the Germans, who are preparing to celebrate a great moment of their history. The deep understanding between France and Germany is a reality. As you know it makes itself felt in the 12 nation European Community. Can you imagine the trouble and strife, the conflicts of age-old ambitions that were overcome 40 years ago by a bold, almost unbelievable undertaking engaged in first by 6, 9, then 10, now 12 countries of Europe?

Let us reflect on the determination and imagination that the men of the immediate post war generation had to show in order to achieve the first results. Already, however, an even vaster project, complementary to the first one, has started. We Europeans are looking beyond the Community, to the horizon of the continent of Europe, the Europe of geography and history. The meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe to be held in Paris on the 19th of November will define the content of that Europe and will set up its permanent bodies. Where would our old continent be now if audacity had not managed to overthrow well established patterns of thought?

And if peoples and their leaders had not accepted to build a future different from the past? In this Europe these are countries which yesterday were known as Eastern bloc countries and which belonged to a rival system. Now they control their own destiny hut with what means at their disposal? Should they not turn toward the European Economical Community, either to associate to themselves with it, or to plan the course that will bring them together? We must think of them, they are our brethren and we will be by their side, until as I said in France, a more fixed relationship will bring together all the countries of Europe, those of the East, those of the Community, those of the Free Trade Area, these who are part of no system, in what I have called a Confederation, I mean within an organization which will have its rules and regulations, in which each member will be able to meet the others and build

Similarly building the future also entails the continuation of disarmament.

Europe has been the first field of application thereof and very real one, but each and every one of you knows that disarmament is a necessity in any area of the world whatsoever Besides, our task at home is far from completed. The Vienna negotiations on the so-called conventional disarmament must be concluded as soon as possible.

But in the other areas, the biological, chemical and strategic areas, the new world balances can no longer tolerate the ruinous cost and hopelessness of the arms race.

Ladies and Gentlemen, at the beginning of this century and at the end of the previous one, our forebears expressed their dreams of peace with these three words: disarmament, arbitration, collective security. Theirs came to be an era of unrest dictatorship and war. Let us act in such a way, I beseech you that through the United Nations, law, solidarity and peace may finally rule over a new era.