Malta calls for end to violence in Syria, proud of helping Libya

English: Lawrence Gonzi, Prime Minister of Malta.

Malta PM Gonzi. Image via Wikipedia

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi yesterday joined burgeoning calls to end the terror gripping Syria, saying evidence of human rights violations was “overwhelming” and calling for the redoubling of UN-centred efforts to end the violence.

Syria is in the grips of ongoing civil strife, with mass protests calling for an end to the Bashar al-Assad regime being violently struck down by the Syrian army. The UN estimates that more than 5,000 people have been killed so far.

Dr Gonzi was speaking at the annual exchange of New Year greetings with the diplomatic corps.

His calls for a more effective international response to spiralling violence in Syria came as part of a broader speech emphasising the continued relevance of UN-driven multilateralism within internation-al relations.

“In spite of its weaknesses and disappointments, the multilateral system centred round the United Nations remains a beacon of hope and a focus of action,” the Prime Minister said.

Dr Gonzi gave a brief overview of Malta’s international role throughout the past year. Describing 2011 as “a watershed period in international relations,” he spoke at length about the Arab Spring and Malta’s role throughout the Libyan overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.

“From the very outset we saw our humanitarian involvement as a direct expression of the political support we wished to extend to the Libyan people in their struggle for freedom, dignity and human rights,” Dr Gonzi told gathered dignitaries.

As the much-touted “nurse of the Mediterranean”, Malta played a key role in evacuating the wounded and providing urgent humanitarian assistance to victims of the Libyan war. Foreign Minister Tonio Borg earlier described the operation as “the biggest evacuation exercise in Maltese history”.

Papal Nuncio and dean of the diplomatic corps, Mgr Tommaso Caputo went one further in his brief address, saying that in 2011 Malta had shown itself to be the “Good Samaritan of the Mediterranean”, driven by a belief in solidarity and “cherishing the dignity of man and the values that uphold that dignity”.

Dr Gonzi highlighted Malta’s decision to withhold the return of two Libyan fighter jets, noting that this was done even before UN sanctions were in place. “Such decisions require moral courage,” he told consuls later yesterday evening.

The overthrowing of dictatorial regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya has sprung renewed hope of a democratic shift within the Arab World.

Such hope is reflected across Europe, with Dr Gonzi saying there was “recognition” that the EU now had “a genuinely equal and viable partner” in its Arab World regional neighbour. It is a regional neighbour which, in the guise of the Arab League, grew substantially in personality over 2011, first suspending the membership of Gaddafi-led Libya – something Dr Gonzi alluded to and praised – and then openly condemning the crackdown on protesters by Syrian troops.

But increased activity in 2011 within the Arab world was countered by inertia among Mediterranean regional institutions with Dr Gonzi saying Malta was “disappointed” by the failure to hold the scheduled 5+5 Mediterranean dialogue summit last year. The Prime Minister redoubled criticism later in an address to consuls, saying that when it came to the crunch none of the myriad regional institutions “gave any extraordinary contribution” to the Libyan crisis.

Dr Gonzi found time to reiterate Malta’s support for further EU enlargement, saying that the island looked forward to welcoming Croatia as the EU’s 28th member in 2013