December Wrap-Up Session
- Central Africa
- Central African Republic
- Chemical weapons
- Commission of inquiry
- Human Rights
- North Korea
- Peace and Security
- Protection of Civilians
- Sierra Leone
- Small arms
- South Sudan
UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
Statement by HE Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations
Thank you for convening this session, and for guiding us so effectively as President this month. We welcome the fact that you have focused Council attention on issues of crucial importance to Africa – including the lethal threat from the alliance of terrorism and transnational crime. And that Chad has received recognition for its commitment to UN peacekeeping.
It was the most revered UN Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld, who famously said that the United Nations was not created to take humanity to heaven, but to save it from hell. In the past two years of Australia's term on the Council, heaven was never within reach. But there were many days when it seemed we were already deep in hell.
The massacres and mass rapes in eastern DRC. The brutal killings of civilians in South Sudan. The horrific attacks committed by both Seleka and anti-Balaka forces against civilians in the Central African Republic – where we only barely averted disaster. The awful, rising, toll of UN peacekeepers and humanitarian workers deliberately targeted and killed – in situations as diverse as Syria, Mali, Iraq and Sudan. The constant drumbeat of horrific terrorist attacks, with children so often the victims.
A number of situations which had appeared to be on a positive trajectory have deteriorated sharply. In Libya and Yemen, conflict has broken out. Only a year after the Council applauded Sierra Leone's Foreign Minister in this chamber for his country's peacebuilding achievements at the end of the UNSMIL mission, the Ebola crisis threatens the gains that that country, Liberia and Guinea have made in the past decade.
We have witnessed a deliberate pattern of provocation, destabilisation – and outright aggression – which has led to the annexation of Crimea, conflict in eastern Ukraine with over 4,500 dead in the last 10 months – and a commercial aircraft shot out of the sky, with 298 killed, including 38 Australians. There are ominous indications of a future threat to the territorial integrity of Georgia.
And then there is Syria – a situation already extremely grave two years ago, immeasurably worse two years later. Over 200,000 people have now been killed, 12.3 million require urgent humanitarian assistance, over half the population are displaced. The Syrian regime's deliberate targeting of its citizens through the use of barrel bombs and siege and starve tactics continues, violating every civilised norm despite the Council's unanimous demand that this stop. We have seen the extremes to which the regime will go – torture on an industrial scale, as evidenced in the Caesar report, and the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Ghouta – and on multiple occasions since. And this has spawned the rise of ISIL-Daesh, with its horrific oppression and exhibitionist defiance of the most basic norms of human behaviour. As Under-Secretary-General Valerie Amos told the Council on 15 December, "we have run out of words to describe this".
Worldwide, almost sixty million people are now displaced by conflict – either internally or as refugees – the highest number since World War Two. 120 million are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, the vast majority due to conflict. The dimensions of the challenges before the Council are staggering. We face more simultaneous conflicts with a bigger impact on a larger number of people across a wider swathe of the world than at any time since World War Two. Terrorism is resurgent and in large areas rampant.
It will, of course, always be the case that the Council will be judged by its failures; our failure to break the geopolitical stalemate on Syria will be a permanent stain. But faced with this catalogue of crisis and conflict, the Council has sought to respond. We have not always succeeded. But the Council has endeavoured to use the tools it has in innovative ways – sometimes to decisive effect.
Peacekeeping is the Council's primordial tool. The number of peacekeeping missions and personnel deployed are at record levels. The Council has taken some crucial steps to strengthen peacekeeping – and the Secretary-General's current high level review should consolidate these. The establishment of the Force Intervention Brigade in MONUSCO in March 2013 took robust peacekeeping for the protection of civilians to a new level. The mandates for MINUSMA (Mali) and MINUSCA (CAR) confirmed this trend. The decision of the UNMISS mission to shelter 80,000 civilians in their bases when violence broke out a year ago demonstrated, we hoped, a new mindset. As we commemorated the twentieth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda a few months later, there seemed to be some sign that the international community now recognised that we had a responsibility to protect that requires us to respond in the face of mass atrocity, and that this might mean something in practice.
Later today, we must act to help protect the people of North Korea by inscribing a new item on our agenda – the situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. This is a situation of a totalitarian state systematically and grossly violating the most basic human rights of its citizens in a way unparalleled in today's world.
In the past two years, the Council has used another key tool – sanctions – as a response to threats to international peace and security. We have applied sanctions to two new situations, in the CAR and Yemen, while calibrating existing sanctions regimes to better respond to evolving situations. New listing criteria have been developed, with more direct focus on listing perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
We have also pursued accountability. While the Council has been unable to provide the International Criminal Court the support it deserves – and needs, it is paying closer attention to the link between human rights and conflict. Some resist this, but the linkage is as linear as it is unassailable. The just published report of the Commission of Inquiry into serious crimes committed in the CAR provides ample demonstration.
Australia came on to the Council convinced that elected members could and should contribute across the whole Council agenda. But we also knew it was important to identify practical issues which required Council attention and where we could focus in order to try to make a difference. Our initiatives on small arms, which resulted in Resolution 2117 last September – and on policing, which resulted in Resolution 2185 adopted last month, sought to fill gaps in the most defining Council task, the prevention or control of conflict.
Our ambition, shared with Luxembourg and Jordan, to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Syria – the single greatest humanitarian crisis the world faces – reflected the determination of three elected members to find a way through the political gridlock of the P5. We succeeded certainly because we were determined, but fundamentally also because the P5 needed us to succeed. There is a lesson for elected members in that. Resolution 2191 adopted last week was our third Syrian resolution since February and has renewed the historic mandate from Resolution 2165 on humanitarian access across borders. As penholder on Afghanistan, we have sought to ensure strong Council support for that country's transition to a democratic future. Resolution 2189 adopted ten days ago is designed to underwrite this through a continuing international presence to assist the Afghan security forces following the conclusion of the ISAF combat mission at the end of this month.
Our experience as Chair of the Al Qaeda, Taliban and Iran sanctions committees confirmed our view that the UN system needs to modernise and professionalise its approach to sanctions. We have worked hard to that end – in chairing our committees, as a co-sponsor with Sweden, Greece, Germany and Finland of the High Level Review of UN Sanctions, and in regular Council negotiations. There is a strong and growing demand among affected States – and UN members generally since all are obligated to implement the Council's sanctions decisions – to engage with relevant committees and to access technical assistance. Australia intended to put forward a resolution which would provide the UN system with the capacity it needed to respond to this demand. Unfortunately, despite undeniable demand and overwhelming support from the UN membership for assistance, a Council consensus has not been achievable. But this is not the end of the matter. The conversation has started. Member States will demand more, by way of participation and technical assistance, from the Council and the Secretariat. Delivery of the recommendations of the High Level Review – shortly – will be the next important phase in this work. And we will continue to pursue this after the conclusion of our term.
As we approach the seventieth anniversary of the UN Charter next year, it would be nice to think that the fundamental norms it contains are universally accepted, and no longer require protection. But ominously this is not the case. Key precepts of the Charter – including respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and the prohibition on the use of force in inter-state relations – and of the legal framework of protection for individuals in conflict and in peace-time – have been dramatically defied in the past year. This Council must continue to be vigilant and work continuously – whatever the obstacles – to ensure these fundamental norms are protected – for all UN member states, and for the millions of individuals who look to the UN for protection.
As Australia finishes its term, I would like to thank the UN membership for giving us the privilege of representing them on the Council for the last two years, and convey our uninhibited support to members of the Council of 2015 as they take over what is an immense responsibility. We also convey our deepest gratitude to all the UN personnel – in headquarters and in the field – who work so hard, and often in great danger, to fulfil the tasks the Council gives them, and to realise the ideals of the Charter. They are truly the custodians of the best of humanity.
I would like to thank all the Council members – and the Secretariat's Security Council Affairs Division – for the remarkable experience of working with you. Whatever the Council's failures, we have also achieved a great deal together. And the whole Australian team is deeply grateful for that.