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UN Human Rights Council – 23rd Session
Interactive dialogue with Commission of Inquiry on Syria
Statement by Australia, 4 June 2013
Australia joined 35 other countries in support of the Human Rights Council’s resolution of 29 May, expressing our condemnation of ongoing violence against the civilians of Al Qusayr. The killings in Al Qusayr form part of an alarming deterioration in the human rights situation across Syria. Numbers only continue to rise. There are over 80,000 dead, over 1.5 million forced to flee and 4.25 million internally displaced, many forcibly so.
The latest report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry for Syria provides stark evidence that this conflict has reached new levels of brutality. We condemn the human rights violations committed by all parties. We note however that abuses committed by anti-government forces did not reach the intensity and scale of those committed by government forces and militia.
Australia condemns the systematic employment of siege warfare recorded by the Commission. The deliberate creation of civilian suffering as a military tactic is deplorable and directly violates international humanitarian law. We call for all parties to ensure the unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief to civilians. We also reiterate our demands for all parties to ensure access to, and protection of, medical workers, facilities and essential supplies, noting that deliberate targeting of medical personnel, hospitals, and denial of medical access continue to be features of this conflict.
Australia is deeply concerned about the ‘reasonable grounds’ the Commission has to believe that limited quantities of chemical weapons have been used in this conflict. We note conclusive findings about the type of chemical agents, their delivery systems and perpetrators have not been identified. In this context, Australia urges all parties, particularly the Syrian government, to allow full access for the Panel of Experts assembled under the UN Secretary General to investigate all allegations of chemical weapons use. Any use of chemical weapons would clearly violate international law.
The Commission’s records of civilians being targeted and forcibly displaced are evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In his visit two weeks ago to the Northern Beka’a Valley in Lebanon, Australia’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr met with Syrian refugees who have fled the violence. He was deeply affected by their stories of the widespread human rights abuses they have witnessed and suffered, including sexual violence, unlawful killings and violations of children’s rights. Foreign Minister Carr has since made it clear that bringing this suffering to an end is an overwhelming priority.
A comprehensive, inclusive political solution is needed to bring this crisis to an end. Australia calls upon all parties to work constructively towards the international conference in Geneva proposed by the US and Russia. As a member of the Security Council, Australia supports urgent action towards a political transition for Syria.
Australia echoes the Commission’s statement that without justice it is difficult to establish an inclusive and lasting peace. Perpetrators of the serious international crimes being committed in Syria must be brought to justice in one forum or another. Australia supports the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court – we have made our position on this, and on the need for the Council to provide ongoing support to ICC activities resulting from any such referral, very clear both within the Security Council and in public statements.