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National statements

Wrap-up Session - April 2014

Thematic issues

  • Accountability
  • Burundi
  • Central Africa
  • Central African Republic
  • Commission of inquiry
  • Conflict Prevention
  • Darfur
  • DPRK
  • Human Rights
  • Humanitarian
  • Middle East
  • North Korea
  • Peacekeeping
  • Protection of Civilians
  • Sanctions
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • Ukraine


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

Madam President

As we know we are at a series of dangerous points – in Ukraine, Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Darfur, the Middle East Peace Process. Fundamental human rights are intrinsic to each of these crises and are threaded through all the Council's work – from conflict prevention to crisis response and effective peacekeeping focused on the protection of civilians. My comments today will focus on human rights.

On 8 April, the Council was briefed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights dimensions of five country situations before the Council. The current High Commissioner has briefed the Council more often than all her predecessors combined. Her briefing reminded us of the very direct relevance to the Council of her work and that of the UN human rights machinery. The Council was also briefed by the ASG for Human Rights a number of times. Such briefings should be regularly scheduled.

Human rights monitoring mechanisms provided crucial assistance to the Council this month, shining a spotlight on serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. With the deterioration of the situation in South Sudan, the Council requested further deployment of human rights monitoring capacity to support the AU's Commission of Inquiry. The Secretary-General's decision to deploy the High Commissioner herself, with the SG's Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, sent a powerful message that further violations will not be tolerated, as did their forceful statements in Juba earlier today.

On Ukraine, Council members relied on the Secretary-General's exercise of his good offices, through the work of the ASG for Human Rights and his team, to provide an accurate and objective assessment of the human rights situation. This was a crucial contribution, given concerted attempts to misrepresent the human rights situation to justify interference in Ukraine's affairs.

The Council also strengthened the human rights related functions of peacekeeping operations it established. As further reports of horrendous violations emerged from the Central African Republic, the Council adopted Resolution 2149 authorising a UN peacekeeping operation, the mandate of which includes monitoring, investigating and reporting on human rights, and provision of direct support to the International Commission of Inquiry established last December.

The Arria formula meetings held in April brought incisive reports on two truly horrific human rights situations directly before Council members. The meeting on the Caesar report exposed the extraordinary abuses committed in Syrian government detention facilities – widespread and systematic use of arbitrary detention, torture, starvation and murder, carried out on an industrial scale; abuses that are just one aspect of the devastating picture of violations in the Syrian conflict. And are part of a military strategy which deliberately targets civilians through aerial bombardment, barrel bombs, sieges, and the use of starvation and the withholding of medicines and medical assistance as calculated weapons of war.

The briefing by the Commission of Inquiry on DPRK established by the Human Rights Council exposed the devastating human rights situation in North Korea, including in the system of gulags that have been in place for decades and in which at the very least 80,000 prisoners – maybe 120,000 – are brutally perishing. The list of crimes against humanity found by the commission is chilling – arbitrary detention; enslavement; rape; torture; sexual violence; forced abortion; infanticide; murder; and extermination. In response to both briefings, many Council members called for accountability, and specifically an ICC referral. In both cases, further Council action is required. During April, the Council considered how sanctions could be utilised to target those most responsible for human rights violations. Listings under the CAR regime will be an important signal. A similar regime for South Sudan should be established urgently.

The Council's 20th commemoration of the genocide in Rwanda forced us to look again at the ramifications of our collective failure to act in the face of mass atrocities. We always have so much to learn from our failures. The commemoration reminded us of how fragile peace can be, how quickly and devastatingly things can spin out of control, and how vigilant the Council must always be. Effective early warning can be preventive. Human rights violations will often be the canary in the mine-shaft. Secretary-General Ban's statement in Kigali on 7 April that UN peacekeepers should not wait for instruction from headquarters before taking action to protect civilians was an important act of leadership – one that will save many lives.

This was an example of the Secretary-General's "Rights Up Front" initiative in practice. This is reshaping the way the Secretariat operates, and the way it provides information to the Council. The Department of Political Affairs cited the initiative when it asked to brief the Council on Burundi on an "early warning" basis. A briefing for Council members on Rights Up Front would be useful.

Madam President

The UN Charter of 1945 and its guiding principles remain both our touchstone and our mandate. But we should not forget the achievements of 1948 and 1949 – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions. In response to the most devastating conflict in history, the international community established, in just four years, the basis for a new international order – where relations between states could not be conducted through threat or use of force, and where rights of individuals in peacetime and protections for individuals in conflict were to be respected. The first line of the Preamble to the UN Charter – "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war" – is followed directly by the commitment "to reaffirm fundamental human rights". Even then, the connection was obvious.

Council practice demonstrates that human rights are a central element of the Council's work. Debates about the exact jurisdictional demarcations of various UN organs are increasingly anachronistic and sterile in a world where security challenges have obvious political, economic, social and humanitarian dimensions and require multi-dimensional responses.

Madam President

The developments I have raised should be viewed as components of a broader protection agenda for the Council. One that incorporates, but goes beyond, both the protection of civilians in armed conflict and the Responsibility to Protect principle. That recognises the inherent links between upholding human rights and the Council's role in conflict prevention. Australia will continue to make this a focus.

Madam President

Thank you for the able manner in which you have led us in April. And for reminding us that the Council is a body designed to act. We pledge our full support to Republic of Korea for the month ahead.

Thank you.

(As delivered)

Last Updated: 18 June 2015
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