Thank you, Mr. President. I want to personally thank the Secretary-General for being here a second day in a row, but more importantly for your comments on Syria. I think that it is time for us to realize that we can’t continue to look away, and I very much appreciate you taking the time to make that personal plea. I think it’s important for all of us to know. And it’s an honor to have back former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. So welcome back home; we are happy to see you, as well.
I’m grateful for the presidency from Kuwait for calling this meeting. It is important that we pause for a moment every so often to reflect why it is we’re here and what guides our work. And we should start by being honest: there is a lot of lip service paid to the Charter of the United Nations. Everyone claims to be motivated by it and be acting in accordance with its principles. But all too often, Member States invoke the UN Charter not to inspire us to act, but to excuse their lack of action. And so we see the Security Council frequently failing to act at the times it’s most important to defend the principles of the Charter.
But the United Nations is not simply a collection of nations. The UN Charter gives this body an identity and a meaning of its own. The Charter commits all members to the pursuit of peace and security based on respect for the principal of equal rights and self-determination. It calls on members to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. In practice, however, the UN has all too often fallen short of this ideal.
Sovereignty is critically important. The United States will never forfeit our sovereign right to govern ourselves and determine our future. All Member States share this right. But all Member States also struggle to balance their sovereign interests with the need to work cooperatively with other nations. In the United States, our constitution and democratic system of government binds us to act in the interests of our people. I am accountable to the American people in what I say and what I do. Governments that are not accountable to their people are less constrained. They often point to sovereignty to justify bad behavior – and to claim this Council has no business meddling in their affairs. But sovereignty gives no country the right to trample on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of others.
Human rights are the Security Council’s business. This is so because the UN Charter calls on all members to respect these rights. And also because violations of human dignity inevitably lead to threats to peace and security. Sovereignty is no excuse for a government to use violence and rape to expel a minority group to a neighboring country, as the Burmese security forces have done. And sovereignty is no excuse for this Council to do nothing. Sovereignty is no excuse for a regime to gas its own people, as the Assad regime is doing in Syria, and for this Council to do nothing. Sovereignty is no excuse for any dictatorship to abuse its people, spark violence, foment regional conflict, and then get off scot-free. If that were true, there would be no reason for us to be here.
For the words of the Charter to have any meaning, all Member States must be accountable and abide by them. For the words of the Charter to have any meaning, the Security Council must be willing to act when Member States violate them.
The Security Council has done admirable work to address the threat of North Korea. But too many Member States have failed to abide by their Charter obligation to enforce the sanctions this Council has imposed. In the meantime, Pyongyang continues to develop its nuclear arsenal, threaten its neighbors, and categorically refuse to discuss denuclearization. We must do better.
For far too long, this Council has watched Iran play a deeply destabilizing role in the Middle East without addressing the urgent regional threat it poses.
And in Ukraine, Russia remains an occupying force in Crimea and a destabilizing force in Eastern Ukraine.
Let me repeat: the sovereign rights of nations are fundamental. But when we don’t uphold the principle of sovereignty by allowing the Kim, Assad, and Putin regimes to act with impunity, just the opposite is true. When the Security Council provides accountability for nations that violate the UN Charter, we protect sovereignty.
Such was the case in 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. After the invasion, Saddam proceeded to ignore 11 Security Council resolutions calling for him to withdraw. And then, on November 29, 1990, the Security Council rightly invoked Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. It gave Saddam Hussein one last chance to do what was right. In January 1991, after he refused to comply, a coalition of 34 countries led by the United States began the fight to liberate Kuwait. That coalition’s efforts were successful. The proof is in the chamber body today. The sovereign nation of Kuwait presides as president of the Security Council.
I once again thank our Kuwaiti friends for calling this important meeting. It is a great reminder of the purposes of this body. And I congratulate the entire nation of Kuwait for being a living reminder of what this institution can accomplish when it lives up to the principles of the Charter.