David Cameron to urge world leaders to protect civilians

David Cameron will issue a plea on Thursday to world leaders to be prepared to intervene again when civilians are massacred by repressive regimes as he warns that the UN is in danger of losing its nerve after the campaign in Libya.

In his most wide ranging speech on foreign policy as prime minister, Cameron will declare that the UN must change its ways if it is to avoid losing the opportunity provided by the Arab spring.

Speaking to the UN general assembly, Cameron will say: “You can sign every human rights declaration in the world, but if you stand by and watch people being slaughtered in their own country when you could act, then what are those signatures really worth?

“The UN has to show that we can be not just united in condemnation, but united in action, acting in a way that lives up to the UN’s founding principles and meets the needs of people everywhere.”

Britain fears that China and Russia, both of which are angry that the military action in Libya went further than envisaged, are planning to block action in the future against other states. Britain is keen to agree to tough new sanctions against Syria, where more than 2,000 people have died since the uprising against the Assad regime.

Cameron will not name Moscow and Beijing, though he will make it clear that momentum is in danger of being lost when he says: “The international community has found its voice in Libya. We must not now lose our nerve. We must have the confidence to speak out and act as necessary to support those who seek new freedoms.”

The prime minister, who received a rapturous reception with Nicolas Sarkozy in Tripoli and Benghazi last week, arrived in New York on Wednesday bolstered by the success of the Libya campaign. He briefed Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, on his visit to Libya, during a 30-minute meeting .

Obama praised Cameron as “outstanding” and hailed the Anglo-American special relationship. “Obviously there is an extraordinarily special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom,” the president said. “I have always found Prime Minister Cameron to be an outstanding partner, so I am very grateful for his friendship, his hard work, his dedication and his leadership on the global stage.”

Cameron briefed the president on his speech which will draw comparisons with Tony Blair‘s famous Chicago oration in April 1999. In that speech, delivered during the Kosovo campaign, the former prime minister outlined what came to be known as the doctrine of liberal interventionism.

Downing Street sources stressed that Cameron has a different vision to Blair, who is in New York in his role as the Middle East peace envoy. Cameron believes Libya shows the conditions that need to be met before action is taken against repressive regimes:

• The UN must agree to the action

• Other countries in the region must be supportive in the way that the Arab League supported the no-fly zone over Libya

• Action must be tailored to the needs of the particular country in question.

These conditions mean that the most immediate action envisaged by the prime minister – against Syria – will involve tougher sanctions, but not military action. Cameron will condemn the Assad regime, though he will stop short of demanding fresh sanctions.

“On Syria, it is time for the members of the security council to act. Of course we should always act with care when it comes to the internal affairs of a sovereign state. But we cannot allow this to be an excuse for indifference in the face of a regime that week after week arrests, intimidates, tortures and kills people who are peacefully trying to make their voices heard.”

Cameron said the Arab spring showed that the Palestinians have the right to live in a “viable” state. But he made clear Britain’s unease with Mahmoud Abbas’s plans to make a declaration of statehood when he said the focus should be on the resumption of negotiations with Israel. The prime minister, who discussed the Palestinian plans with Obama, said: “No resolution can, on its own, substitute for the political will necessary to bring peace. Peace will only come when Palestinians and Israelis sit down and talk to each other, make compromises, build trust and agree.”

The prime minister, who acknowledges that his premiership has been transformed by Libya, will hail the people of Tripoli and Benghazi for ensuring that their country did not join an infamous roll call of failure. “This revolution truly belongs to the Libyan people. The United Nations played a vital role authorising international action. But let’s be clear, the United Nations is no more effective than the nation states that come together to enforce its will.

“On this occasion a coalition of nations across the Western and Arab world had the will to act. In so doing, they stopped Benghazi from joining Srebrenica and Rwanda in history’s painful roll call of massacres the world failed to prevent.”

Cameron will outline how the Arab Spring presents a challenge to all regions, including Europe. These are, first, that Europe must show it can reform its aid and trade strategy. Britain believes that France is guilty of promoting protectionist barriers which block agricultural imports to the EU.

He will also say that the African Union should “meet the opportunities of this century with the same courage that won liberation in the last”. This will be seen as a dig at Jacob Zuma, the South African president, who was critical of the campaign against Muammar Gaddafi.

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