Speech Article from
Address by Minister Dion at Syrian envoys' retreat
Determined peacebuilding in Syria
November 13, 2016 - Mont-Tremblant, Quebec
Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.
I highly appreciate this occasion to speak to such an esteemed group, the brain trust and critical advisers on the resolution of one of the world’s most pressing, seemingly intractable and horrifying crises. For the sake of the Syrian people, the Middle East and global security, it is an important moment in time to reflect not only on how to mitigate the current turmoil but also on options for a peaceful resolution in Syria.
While this is a monumental task, it is an unavoidable one. And we— Canada and all of us in this room—are determined in our quest for peace.
I hope that here at Mont-Tremblant, half a world away from the Middle East, this beautiful, late fall Quebec landscape has offered a tranquil, open-minded space for engagement. This was our intention, along with that of our Dutch co-hosts, in inviting you here. And I am told there have been productive discussions, which I am eager to hear more about.
Permit me to add a few thoughts of my own.
From a certain vantage point, it is possible to see Syria and Iraq as a crucible for so many of the powerful forces destabilizing the world today. Allow me to list the key ones here.
First, Daesh, al Qaeda, al Nusra, Hezbollah and other terrorist groups. These are movements that profess a bloody and distorted version of Islam that is destroying countless lives, particularly in the Muslim community. Their very existence depends on modern technologies, such as the Internet, and they use social media to exploit tensions in our modern societies and economies, in the service of their deformed religious ideology. Daesh practices, like the hanging of murdered civilians from telephone poles in Mosul [Iraq] last week, are beyond inhuman.
The difficult yet steady progress against them in recent days, particularly by Iraqi forces in liberating Mosul, is encouraging. Among the most effective forces are the Peshmerga, whom Canada is actively involved in training, advising and assisting.
As well, the start of the offensive on Raqqa [Syria]—Daesh’s stronghold—by the Syrian Democratic Forces is a sign that the tide is turning. It is also important to recognize the successful Arab and Turkish anti-Daesh efforts in the liberation of [the Syrian cities] Jarabulus and Dabiq.
Yet we already know that depriving terrorist groups of their territorial tyranny in Iraq and Syria, which must be achieved, will not eradicate the bloody ideology that inspired them. It would be a major error for the international community to pull back once Mosul is liberated—to win the war but lose the peace. We can’t allow the vacuum to be filled with ethnic and other tensions. All who have a stake in the region must mobilize to provide continued security, humanitarian, governance and long-term development support. The fight against radicalization, as complex and long-term as it is, must go on. Canada will be there, with conviction and a deep sense of responsibility, for Iraq and Syria, as well as for the neighbouring countries, such as Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia, directly affected by the reverberations of the conflict.
Next in the crucible of the region we have the spectre of the Assad regime, which long ago lost the moral legitimacy to govern but is supported by powerful forces, namely Russia and Iran. The actions in Aleppo [Syria] of this regime and its backers—which also include Hezbollah and Afghan Shia militias—and the ongoing bombings and the absence of a ceasefire have made peace negotiations impossible since April.
Yet there can be no progress in the absence of diplomacy and, ultimately, of a political solution. As a member of the International Syria Support Group, Canada continues to urge an immediate ceasefire and the renewal of serious negotiations involving the legitimate opposition groups. Despite the numerous failures to date, this remains the best way forward. The further delaying of a ceasefire is unacceptable. The price of this chronic delay, and of further failures, is simply too high.
The last few days have been tumultuous in Syria, in the region and in international politics. I am sure that the election of a new U.S. president has flavoured much of your thoughts and your conversations here as it has for many. Given the major role the United States plays in the region, this is natural.
The impact of the new U.S. administration will, of course, take weeks and months to unfold, and there are still large unknowns. Going forward, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Government of Canada will play a constructive role with the United States, both bilaterally as well as multilaterally, including in the search for peace in Syria.
And international cooperation will be essential, given the complexity of the situation and the panoply of actors—as you, as experts, know very well. I already mentioned the backing of Russia and Iran to the benefit of the Assad regime. But there are also Turkey’s concerns about certain Kurdish groups, which are shared by others in the region. There is tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which is feeding distrust between too many Sunni and Shia communities. And there are tensions between Russia and much of the West playing out now from Eastern Europe down through the Mediterranean.
What all of us in this room want, ultimately, is a Syria that is moving toward a peaceful future. Although this seems very removed from the reality of today—and thus difficult—we will not give up.
This future is vital, especially to the conflict’s most vulnerable victims, particularly women and girls. And nowhere is this vulnerability more acute, presently, than in Aleppo. We are witnessing the unfolding of a tragedy in real time, with disregard for the lives of non-combatants, by the regime and its backers. The city has not had humanitarian access since July. And the UN has said that food rations will have run out by this week.
The continued attacks on civilians, hospitals and rescue workers cannot be justified by the presence of relatively small numbers of al Nusra fighters in the city. Al Nusra cannot be defeated through the targeting of civilians and siege tactics.
All of us here need to do everything possible to get food and medical assistance into the city and to make our outrage known.
Canada has been pressing hard at the United Nations to this end, including in recent days. Last Thursday, Canada gathered 60 countries at the General Assembly in New York City to discuss next steps. Under Prime Minister Trudeau’s leadership, the Government of Canada will continue to press the main actors; however, we must also take immediate steps to alleviate the suffering of civilians.
There also has to be accountability for atrocities that have been committed. This is why Canada has been active at the UN and is deploying efforts to investigate and document crimes committed, including the use of chemical weapons. I have personally written twice to the president of the Security Council calling for Daesh to be held accountable for its actions and blatant violations of law.
Let me wrap up my remarks by pointing to the complexity of the global problems that are so clearly reflected in the Syrian conflict. For example, the beginnings of the conflict in the Arab Spring of 2011—in addition to root causes related to the democratic deficit and the struggle for rights—also coincided with a sharp increase in food prices, which itself coincided with damaging weather patterns for food production, which themselves coincide with the warming of the planet. At the Marrakesh conference this month, we must remember that climate change can have concrete effects on the world—and not least on our security.
We can also see how the surge of refugees out of Syria and the region has contributed to increasing fears about immigration in Europe, which in turn has contributed to the rise of far-right populist movements, which have seized on the refugee issue in their rhetoric.
We live in an interconnected world. And this interconnectedness is essential to face global challenges. We need the flourishing of cultures and ideas that I see in this room. We need it to defeat brutal terrorist attacks. Nationalist uprisings. Dictators clinging to power. Rapidly shifting geopolitics. Climate insecurity. And atrocities.
And yet, the syndrome of distrust that underlies all of this is not a given. It is in this context that meetings such as the one this weekend, which brings together experts on the ground and around the world, are critical. Creative solutions must be explored, debated and proposed. And Canada, as a determined peacebuilder, will be there every step of the way.
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