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National statements

Explanation of Vote – Referral of Syria Situation to International Criminal Court

Thematic issues

  • Accountability
  • Commission of inquiry
  • Human Rights
  • Humanitarian
  • Impunity
  • Justice
  • Peace and Security
  • Syria


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

Mr President

The Security Council has today again failed the people of Syria.

The war in Syria is now in its fourth year. The country has been broken apart, possibly irretrievably. Almost half its population of more than twenty million people have fled or been displaced. One family flees Syria every sixty seconds. We face a regime whose military strategy is based on the deliberate targeting of civilians – through sieges; the use of starvation as a weapon of war; indiscriminate aerial bombardment; the targeted use of barrel bombs on residential neighbourhoods; the arbitrary denial of humanitarian access and of medical supplies; the targeting of hospitals and medical personnel; mass systematic torture, sexual violence and execution; the forced depopulation of towns and cities; the denial of humanitarian supplies to its own citizens not living in Government-held areas.

The humanitarian crisis – the greatest this century – is spiralling downwards. There is no solution in sight. All sides in the conflict – including the extremists and terrorists who have sought to hijack the opposition – are guilty of terrible crimes. There is a pervasive culture of impunity. No one is held accountable.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has concluded that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed and has – consistently over the past three years – called for the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry for Syria has documented extensive evidence over the past three years against those who have committed such crimes. The Council itself was shown in April the chilling photographic evidence contained in the "Caesar report" documenting widespread and systematic torture and execution – on an industrial scale – of detainees held by the Syrian regime.

The UN Secretary-General has persistently called for accountability for the crimes we are seeing in Syria. The International Criminal Court was specifically created to ensure that those most responsible for the worst mass atrocity crimes would be held to account, in particular where their national authorities are unwilling or unable to pursue domestic accountability. The Syrian authorities are not only failing in this responsibility, but are themselves among the perpetrators of such crimes. The international community therefore has to act.

Australia was one of 58 UN Member States who wrote to the Council 18 months ago seeking referral of the situation in Syria to the ICC. The situation is so much worse since then. The number of co-sponsors of this resolution, 65, and the 13 votes in favour should send an unmistakeable message to those responsible for these crimes: the resolution may have been vetoed, but there is no statute of limitation on the crimes being committed in Syria and we will continue to pursue justice for the victims.

This Council has a responsibility to protect – mandated by all our leaders at their World Summit in 2005 – and a responsibility to prevent mass atrocities where we can. The Council's role was specifically recognised in the Rome Statute because accountability is central to protection, and to the Council's fundamental responsibilities for the maintenance of international peace and security.

The use of the veto to block a balanced resolution attempting to deliver accountability for the commission of mass atrocity crimes comes at a great human cost. The Council will – correctly – be judged harshly for this failure. At the very least, today's failure underlines the importance of voluntary restraint on the use of the veto in situations where mass atrocities are so clear.

Mr President

This is the fourth veto in the Council in three years preventing action in Syria. In implementing our mandate on peace and security, the Council is now engaged in authorising some of the highest numbers of peacekeepers ever, and increasingly in robust operations to protect civilians in so many conflicts. We are doing this by unanimous agreement among all our Members. As we should. But when we fail – as we have again on Syria today – the consequences can be devastating.

The victims of conflict have a right to the support of the Security Council, and to action by us. The Council has a responsibility to provide that support, and to act.

Thank you.

(As delivered)

Last Updated: 5 June 2015
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