Address by Minister Baird at Geneva II Talks on Syria

January 22, 2014 - Montreux, Switzerland

Check Against Delivery

Ladies, gentlemen, representatives.

It is good that we have reconvened here to affirm Geneva I. I very much appreciate the work that has gone into today. But what we say and do here must have meaning. And purpose.

What we say and do here must not ignore the guns that continue to fire in the valleys of Syria or the planes that bombard the buildings where innocent civilians dwell.

More than 130,000 Syrians have been killed, countless more murdered and maimed. Millions have been displaced. Syria’s ancient cities and peaceful villages have been reduced to rubble. Syria’s rich social fabric of tolerance and diversity has been torn asunder, and a generation of Syrian boys and girls have lost their childhood.

Each day, and in every moment, Syria’s children are becoming members of a lost generation, learning about brutal violence rather than science, math or literature.

Let us be absolutely clear-eyed about how we have arrived in this moment. This war began because Assad refused to respect the basic demands of his own people for their right to freedom. Assad tried to crush the peaceful demands of ordinary Syrians with unrestrained savagery. Assad declared war on Syria for the sake of his own personal privilege and power. And Assad turned his country’s arsenal—including his chemical weapons—against the very people he had the duty to protect.

As a civil war that he engineered rages around him, he has been cold. Calculating. He created the very circumstances he needed to convince us that his absolute rule would be essential to Syria’s stability.

Assad’s war created a vacuum that has been readily filled by terrorists. He has invited the terrorist organization Hezbollah and its state sponsor, Iran, into this conflict through the front door and opened the back door to Al-Qaeda affiliates like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Jabat Al Nusra.

The terrorist threat that is developing in Syria is real. It is a threat to the stability of the entire region and beyond. It is a war we have seen before on the streets of Baghdad, and its agents are ones who have been hardened by the wars of the last decade.

But this war did not start as a war against terrorism—as the Assad regime cynically claims. This war began—and remains at its core—a fight for the rights, dignity and freedom of the Syrian people.

A political solution that addresses that reality is the only way for Syria to begin to recover from the catastrophe of this war. Until the dignity and freedom demanded by the Syrian people are enshrined in a peaceful settlement and the institutions that will uphold it, this war will not end, the terrorist threat will increase, the human nightmare will continue, and the violence will threaten all of Syria’s neighbours.

I would like to recognize the generosity of the governments and people of the region who are hosting Syrian refugees, particularly Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. Canada has also responded generously to support the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people.

This assistance is essential, and its generosity cannot be abused by strengthening a tyrant’s false claims to legitimacy in the way it is delivered. It reduces the suffering of Syria’s people. But all the generosity of Syria’s friends will not restore their hope or bring their country back.

We come here now to begin to put an end to this conflict. In the face of the destruction of a proud nation and the complexity of the task ahead, it is easy to be pessimistic.

But just by being here and finally starting to talk directly, the various sides of this civil war are taking a first step toward peace. We cannot let our pessimism or our sadness at what Syria has become diminish this achievement. The Geneva principles provide the road map to that goal.

This is the only path forward from today’s devastation to the country that Syria’s people—whatever their religion, sect or ethnicity—deserve. Syria’s rich history, culture and tradition of civility is a legacy that must be secured for future generations. This is the task that faces the Syrian delegations in the days and weeks ahead.

Canada calls on all Syrians to commit to work at becoming partners in peace and fully implement the Geneva I communiqué, including the establishment of a transitional governing authority. I urge Syrians to work together to address urgent needs, and begin to build confidence, by ensuring humanitarian access in all areas, proceeding with prisoner exchanges and negotiating local cease-fires.

Canada recognizes how difficult it has been for the Syrian opposition to come to the table—often in the face of death threats. I commend them for their courage, and they will need even greater courage as we proceed down the path to peace.

At the same time we call on Syria’s opposition to adopt, without any ambiguity, the vision of a future Syria that respects human rights and accepts Syria’s diversity. Syria’s leaders need to represent and reflect the interests of all of Syria’s men, women and children.

We call on the opposition to clearly reject the extremists in their midst and fully embrace—in word and deed—democratic values and the principles of tolerance. We call on the opposition that shares these values to share in their leadership on behalf of the Syrian people. It will be difficult, noble, hard-won teamwork that will bear the result they seek. And true teamwork requires leaders who can work with one another.

The road ahead is indeed difficult, but we are compelled forward by the clarion call from those who led us in a different time and shaped a different peace: It isn’t enough to talk about peace. You must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. You must work at it.

These words were Eleanor Roosevelt’s, and they challenge each and every one of you around the table today to decide if you believe in peace or not.

It is time for the leaders of Syria to put the people of Syria first. Syria’s history, its potential and its future is bigger than the narrow interests of the Assad family or differences of opinion within the opposition.

Determining Syria’s future is in your hands, all of you. The moral challenge of reconciliation and rebuilding lies ahead of you. One hundred and thirty thousand of your fellow Syrians have died in this war, and you owe them—and all Syrians who are suffering today—a Syria that is peaceful, prosperous and free. Canada stands with you in your endeavour.

Thank you.