Comments in Consultations: Syria
- Commission of inquiry
- Human Rights
- Peace and Security
UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
Comments in consultations by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations
Thank you Under-Secretary-General Amos, High Commissioner Guterres and Assistant Secretary-General Simonovic for your briefings – and for what Lebanon's Ambassador Nawaf Salam characterised to the Council as their "relentless" efforts to help. And – yet again – for their essential wake-up calls to the Council about the Syrian crisis: But as the Turkish representative said this morning, how many wake-up calls do we need?
Each time the Council receives briefings of this nature, the scale of the humanitarian tragedy becomes more stark. As the Commission of Inquiry into Syria briefed us in the recent Arria meeting of the Council arranged by Australia, the conflict has descended into "new levels of cruelty and brutality".
Valerie Amos has said there is "open and blatant disregard for the laws of war and a climate of generalised impunity" with crimes committed by both sides:
– although the intensity and scale of violations by the regime are worse, the fact is crimes are being committed by both sides
– these must be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.
ASG Simonovic's warnings about the seriously increasing hate speech and sectarian and religious denigration across the region resulting from the conflict are very disturbing.
I want to focus my comments on humanitarian access.
We welcome Damascus's final agreement to the appointment of a new UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator – but this has taken half a year. There has been some increased reach for some agencies [WFP, UNICEF, ICRC] in some areas of Syria, enabling them to provide essential goods such as food and water. But the fact is we have heard again today that there remain serious continuing obstacles to delivery of humanitarian assistance:
– As Luxembourg's PR has pointed out, the Syrian authorities are manipulating access selectively, often giving an apparent concession in one area but taking away elsewhere – making it impossible to actually operate on the ground
– the only conclusion is that the Syrian authorities are engaging in a systematic campaign to deny humanitarian assistance to their own citizens.
The scale of the humanitarian crisis obviously demands a more flexible response by the Syrian authorities.
As USG Amos has outlined, there are further measures needed to facilitate humanitarian assistance, including:
– removing bureaucratic obstacles
: customs and approval procedures including for the UN Department of Safety and Security (DSS) staff – necessary to ensure safe delivery of humanitarian assistance; DSS vehicles have been stuck in customs for six months
: further easing on visa processes and approvals
– removing obstacles on the operations of NGOs in the neediest areas
– increasing the number of humanitarian hubs
– granting free passage of medical supplies
– designating priority humanitarian routes
– warnings to civilians ahead of conflict
– and, as appropriate, cross-border access.
I particularly note that improving access to and the protection of medical supplies, workers and facilities is essential. Medical aid is being targeted specifically – even the removal of supplies from convoys intended for civilians in Opposition-held areas. We support OCHA's call for the free passage of medical supplies and the demilitarisation of medical facilities. And we endorse the call made on 12 July by USG Amos and High Commissioner Pillay on the need for immediate safe passage for civilians and aid workers in Homs and Aleppo and strongly support a humanitarian pause.
The disastrous effects on Syria's neighbours have been graphically outlined to us – especially by Ambassador Salam (Lebanon). It is the direct responsibility of the Council to respond to this situation and address the threats to regional peace and security created by the Syrian conflict.
The refugee burden being borne by Syria's neighbours is enormous and the need to respond to the UN's Regional Response Plan announced in Geneva on 7 June is now urgent
For our part, Australia has provided USD 78 million to support the humanitarian and regional response, including for Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
There is also a need to support host communities in addition to the refugees themselves. The pressure on services and the domestic infrastructure of these countries has become untenable.
This should include support for medium and longer-term recovery and development. And we must continue to support the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry for Syria. The culture of impunity which exists in Syria has been one of the most corrosive aspects of the conflict – as the CoI told our recent Arria meeting.
We know that the real solution to the Syrian conflict is a political one. And obviously we welcome efforts to convene the "Geneva II" meeting on political transition in Syria.
But, while we recognise that time is needed to ensure the conference is properly constituted and capable of reaching decisions on a transitional governing body with full executive powers, delays in holding the conference only prolong the crisis in Syria and the region.
In these circumstances – and irrespective of the prospects for "Geneva II" – the gravity of the situation in Syria demands that Council members consider now what additional steps can be taken to meet the devastating humanitarian crisis Syria and the region are facing.
Australia is more than prepared to work with others on additional steps the Council can take.
In her briefing USG Amos said "we are watching not only the destruction of a nation but also of its people". Her defining word to me was "watching"; we are just watching.
High Commissioner Guterres said "we have seen nothing like this rate of displacement and refugees since the Rwandan genocide". The comparison with the genocide in Rwanda is, of course, not precise – the genocide was sui generis. But one shameful similarity is clear – we watched the genocide unfold over 100 savage days, including on our TV news every day. We all said "never again" – but here we are – again. And not just watching the destruction of Syria and its population – but also the terrible crisis for its neighbours which is itself a direct threat to international peace and security.
Ambassador Salam reminded us that 1 in 4 people living in Lebanon are Syrian and of the untenable pressures on his country. And he reminded us of what those figures would mean if we experienced such refugee flows and pressures in our own countries. He said that 1 in 4 would be equal to a refugee population of 75 million in the United States, for example.
The Council needs to act.