UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Monday 13 February
Report of the Human Rights Council
Statement by H.E. Mr Gary Quinlan
Ambassador and Permanent Representative
of Australia to the United Nations
Over the last week, the world has witnessed the barbaric massacre of civilians in Homs.
This is violence that has shocked the world.
But for over a year now, we have seen violence and human rights abuses take place across Syria.
As we have heard from High Commissioner Pillay today, well over 5,400 people have died.
The UN Human Rights Council has pointed to substantial evidence of gross human rights abuses by Syria's security forces. As the High Commissioner has noted, widespread and systematic human rights violations have not only continued but sharply escalated.
The regime is targeting innocent civilians, including by directing heavy weaponry, tanks, and snipers against civilians and in major population centres such as Homs, Idlib, Hama and Deraa.
Abuses are getting worse, as Syrian people are being subjected to unjust detention, sexual violence and torture. The reports of the torture of children are shocking to all of us.
This must be – and is – unacceptable to the international community.
My Government is profoundly disappointed at the 4 February veto of the United Nations Security Council's proposed resolution on Syria.
The draft resolution did not call for military action; did not call for regime change; did not call for an arms embargo and did not even impose sanctions.
What the resolution did do - crucially - was to call for support for the Arab League's own initiative to bring a peaceful, Syrian-led political resolution to this crisis.
The Arab League has stood by the Syrian people and has shown great commitment and global leadership on this crisis.
The League and – above all - the people of Syria should know, must know, they are not alone.
Australia is united with our Arab and other international partners in our commitment to do what we can to help.
Our support for the efforts of the Arab League is unwavering. President Assad should co-operate fully with the Arab League, including its decision of 22 January to facilitate a peaceful political transition in Syria.
Australia therefore welcomes calls to work with Arab partners to establish an international support group of like-minded countries to work in concert to support peaceful transition in Syria and the earliest end to the bloodshed.
This would be a key mechanism for coordinating international assistance to the people of Syria, backing the diplomatic efforts of the Arab League, maintaining pressure on the Syrian Government to immediately end the violence and of course ensuring that this crisis remains on the agenda of the UN Security Council.
We welcome the conference anticipated by Tunisia for 24th February.
The international community has a responsibility to act to protect the people of Syria from this appalling violence from their own government.
Just as the people of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and many other regional countries have now new freedoms for a more representative, democratic political life, so the Syrian people have the right to the same opportunity.
President Assad has lost all legitimacy and has shown a complete disregard for the rights and welfare of his own people.
The violence by his Government must end.
Australia's own commitment to the people of Syria remains resolute. And we will continue to provide support for the immediate humanitarian needs of the Syrian people, including through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
It is, of course, essential – as the High Commissioner has stated today – that humanitarian actors be guaranteed immediate unhindered access.
In concluding, Mr President, the Australian Government believes that the international community still has an important role to play in seeking to resolve this crisis.
Syria must remain on the agenda of the UN Security Council and we will continue to encourage this.
We also look forward to working with the Arab League and like-mindeds on the resolution on Syria that Egypt has foreshadowed for consideration by the General Assembly, with a view to supporting it. Such a resolution is clearly, unambiguously necessary.
The Australian Government firmly believes that those committing acts of violence, human rights abuses and crimes against humanity must be held accountable for their actions; and that the Syrian people, like the other peoples of the Arab world, should enjoy their fundamental freedoms – rights, which as High Commissioner Pillay has recalled today, are the rights of every human being.