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Human Rights Council's Commission of Inquiry on Syria

UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY

Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations

Thank you Mr Pinheiro, and the Commission, for your heroic efforts.

You are right to be “outraged” that 10 Commission reports have not spurred our action – indeed, as you have said, our inaction has “only nourished the culture of impunity”, which now characterises the conflict in Syria.

The Commission’s findings about deliberate siege tactics, indiscriminate shelling, and the disproportionate tactics targeting civilians, including hospitals and schools – as we are witnessing today in Homs, Aleppo and elsewhere – are alarming.

We are witnessing war crimes and crimes against humanity. There are crimes on all sides but we note your comment that “massacres and other unlawful killings are perpetrated with impunity. Most have been perpetrated by pro-government forces”.

The Commission’s work is essential to future accountability. There must be no impunity. We urge the Syrian authorities to give the Commission access inside Syria. And we again call for the situation to be referred to the International Criminal Court.

All of us have heard so many times about the human cost of the crisis, now increasing exponentially; over 100,000 dead; 7 million in need of humanitarian assistance; 4 million needing food; 4.5 million internally displaced, and nearly 2 million refugees. One-third of the housing destroyed; 60% of hospitals inoperable or seriously damaged; almost one-third of the schools inoperable. Over half of the affected are children. This is destroying future generations.

The impact on Syria’s neighbours is destructive and untenable. In Lebanon one in four of the population are now Syrian; almost one in five living in Jordan are Syrian. Iraq and Turkey are also suffering the effects. The pressures on services and communities in these host countries are unsustainable. The international humanitarian system is at its limits. There is a direct threat to the stability of Syria’s neighbours and regional peace and security.

As Mr Pinheiro has said, there is no military solution. But President Assad seems to think there is. The inevitable result will be the complete destruction of Syria – which none of us could want.

Convening the “Geneva II” conference on political transition represents the best chance to end the violence. But all parties need to respect their commitments to the Geneva I plan to establish a transitional governing authority exercising full executive powers.

In this context we very much commend the commitment which the Syrian National Coalition made to working towards a political transition for Syria at its meeting last Friday, 26 July, with the Security Council – and for its commitment to a “democratic and pluralist Syria with equal rights for all Syrians regardless of gender, ethnicity or religion”. And for its rejection of terrorism and extremism. We welcome their commitment to accountability with no impunity.

These are fundamental principles on which a new Syria needs to be built.

While efforts to reach a political solution continue, the international community must do more to alleviate the rapidly worsening humanitarian situation. Australia will continue to work with others – including in the Security Council – to find ways to improve humanitarian access, especially for medical workers, facilities and supplies. Australia’s humanitarian assistance now totals $100 million.

It is vital to improve the safe distribution of humanitarian assistance through the removal of bureaucratic obstacles to humanitarian delivery, and through the facilitation of humanitarian assistance across conflict lines and – where appropriate – across borders.

We need the government of Syria to provide unimpeded access to humanitarian workers. The opposition, of course, must also do this and we were pleased with the assurances the National Coalition gave to do so in its meeting with the Security Council last Friday. But the greater practical responsibility for access lies with the government of Syria which must allow access to its own citizens.

Finally, I would note the Commission’s finding that there are “reasonable grounds” to conclude there has been some use of chemical weapons in Syria. Genuine access must be granted by the Syrian government as soon as possible to the UN team to investigate all credible allegations of chemical weapons use.

Thank you.

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