Dear Prime Minister Mikati
Thank you very much for your invitation and for your wonderful hospitality
Ladies and gentlemen,
I came several times in the past to Lebanon and I came to Lebanon to witness the enormous generosity of the Lebanese people in relation to the Syrian refugees I was supposed to support as United Nations High-Commissioner for Refugees.
And I remember what it represented at the time, the entry of much more than one million Syrians into Lebanon, not to mention the old Palestinian Community of a million, with the dramatic impact on the economy, on the society and of course the Syrian conflict with a dramatic impact on the security of the country.
And in those circumstances, and in a world in which so many doors are closed, so many rich countries closed their borders, in Lebanon, I saw borders open, doors open, and hearts open to receive Syrians.
And I was always deeply moved by your generosity. A generosity that is rooted in one of the oldest civilizations in the world. We believe that the capital city of my country Lisbon was founded by the Phoenicians and since then this has always been an area in the world where civilization is deeply rooted and that have an enormous influence in the region and beyond.
And the Lebanese society represents not only from the civilizational point of view, but from the religious and cultural point of view, one example that I remember in my youth and in my adulthood, an example, extraordinary example of religious tolerance of the capacity to create a diverse society that was harmonious that was prosperous and that was I would say the center of the region. And Lebanon was where people would come to study.
Lebanon was where people would come to do sophisticated businesses. Lebanon was the country with the solid financial system of the region. And so, I have to say that it is for me very emotional to come back to Lebanon and to come back to Lebanon knowing that you are facing a very dramatic situation.
A very dramatic situation in which obviously the Lebanese have some responsibilities but let’s not forget that many responsibilities are also outside Lebanon, both because of the dramatic situation of the region and all its implications, the questions, I remember the Israeli invasion several years ago, of course the impact of the Syria crisis, and then all the interferences of big and medium-sized powers, many times conspiring to make it difficult for the Lebanese to be able to come together themselves. But the truth is that the Lebanese people are today suffering tremendously and that creates naturally a great responsibility for Lebanese leaders to come together.
I mean this is not the moment for divisions to be explored. This is the moment for unity and for all the institutions to do everything possible to solve the problems of the country. But let’s be clear, Lebanon also deserves now the same kind of solidarity that was given to the Syrian refugees and it deserves a massive mobilization of resources to support your economic recovery.
I was extremely impressed by the commitment of the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament. We have the guarantee that elections will take place according to the constitution allowing for the new Parliament to be elected before the end of the mandate of the present Parliament, and I was extremely encouraged by what the Prime Minister told me about the strong commitment of the government to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund and at the same time to lead the number of economic, financial, administrative reforms that are necessary for the country to take full benefit of the potential created by international support to guarantee that the recovery of Lebanon starts as quickly as possible and is effective as possible.
Now in this context, it is of course a great pleasure to meet you for this important discussion on the partnership between the United Nations and Lebanon and on our cooperation, as you know we have the Agenda 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals, I know Lebanon was deeply committed in this direction and I know that the crisis of course undermines this effort, but we want to do everything possible to support Lebanon to come again on track in relation to these objectives that we both share.
And I believe that everybody in the room on both sides have a role to play. Our strategies need to be coherent, our methods aligned in pursuit of a common goal: a stable peaceful Lebanon that offers again hope and opportunity to all its people. And it’s the role of the United Nations to do everything to support the Lebanese government in this direction. This strategic partnership is critical to finding sustainable solutions that are tailored to the challenges that you face.
I want to say that our mission is essentially a mission of solidarity. You can be sure that Lebanon is today in the center of all our strategies and efforts, both at the level of the Secretariat and at the level of the different agencies that are cooperating with the Lebanese authorities, not to mention our two missions, and in particular now UNIFIL that we want to be more and more actively cooperating with the Lebanese army as a fundamental factor of stability and security in the southern part of Lebanon.
We must at all costs avoid the repetition of forms of conflicts of the past that have dramatic consequences for the Lebanese people and we must make sure that Security Council resolutions are implemented and that violations of the ceasefire do not take place.
We are also launching as you know a common agenda in the UN, and in this common agenda one of the key aspects is the support of the United Nations to member states in the review of their social contract in the context of all the changes that are happening in the world, changes in the climate, in technology, changes related to the impact of things that were unforeseen ten or twenty years ago in the structure of the economies, in the structure of labor markets and that require new forms of social protection and new forms of relationship between the state and the citizens.
Of course, we know that you are now facing a very special, very difficult phase, but we want Lebanon to be part of this important discussion, of how to build in this 21st century a new social contract in the context of a new global deal in which international relations become much more just than what they are at the present moment.
We are also at your disposal in our context with international financial institutions to make sure that they are able to provide to Lebanon the maximum possible support, and on the other hand, we will be working to make sure that Lebanon’s Reform, Recovery and Reconstruction Framework that brings together the government, the civil society and the private sector has our full support. We want to be strongly engaged with the government in all these aspects.
Allow me a word, we are very much committed in the UN to gender equality and I believe that societies work much better when women play an important role in all structures of those societies. We have now parity in the 200 top leaders of the UN and in the 143 Resident Coordinator Systems, and we really want to express our wish to see Lebanon move forward in a determined way also in the perspective of gender equality.
We are totally committed to support Lebanon in this regard and I have to say that to guarantee peace, to guarantee stability, and to guarantee harmony in a society, women’s role is extremely important, so you will excuse me for this, that is a very personal commitment and personal passion and my wife wouldn’t let me be different on this regard. I would like to say that we are totally at your disposal to support the efforts that I know are taking place, and I hope the next parliament will have larger number of women than in the past.
The Lebanese people are suffering as a result of many factors, but one thing you can be absolutely sure, Lebanon is not alone and the entire United Nations family is with you. And it is essential that we tackle this linked crisis together with a united front based on a focused, coherent and coordinated effort with only one agenda: the wellbeing of the Lebanese people.