Australian Permanent Mission and Consulate-General
Geneva, Switzerland
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UN Human Rights Council – 21st Session

Item 4 – Syria

Statement by Australia, 17 September 2012

Australia is appalled by the ongoing violence in Syria. The death toll continues to rise, with August being the bloodiest month since uprisings began in March 2011. The Syrian Government must accept the weight of responsibility for civilian casualties, given its continuing and indiscriminate use of heavy weapons and combat aircraft as well as responsibility for pro-government militias.

Australia is deeply concerned that the fighting is also exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports 2.5 million Syrians are now being affected by the conflict, including 1.2 million internally displaced people. As of 14 September, over 270,000 Syrian refugees are registered, or waiting to register, with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, with over 100,000 seeking asylum in August alone.

The Australian Government has provided over $20 million to date in humanitarian aid to assist those affected by the violence in Syria. We call on all countries to do all they can to assist, including contributing to the UN Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan.

Australia welcomes the work of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria and its latest report of 15 August. The report provides important – and sobering – insights into the situation on the ground. It is all the more important given the Syrian Government’s failure to cooperate fully with the UN Supervision Mission in Syria and ongoing refusal to allow unfettered access to media and humanitarian organisations.

The report provides further evidence of gross violations of human rights in Syria. It finds government forces and pro-government militias have conducted unlawful killing, indiscriminate attacks against civilians and acts of sexual violence, pointing to involvement at the highest levels of the armed and security forces and the Government. The report also notes that war crimes - including murder, extrajudicial killings and torture – have been perpetrated by anti-government armed groups, but not of the same order as those committed by government forces.

The work of the Commission of Inquiry has been crucial. We strongly support the extension of its mandate by the Human Rights Council.

Australia enforces travel bans and asset freezes on Syrian individuals and entities associated with human rights abuses, in addition to an arms embargo. To increase pressure on the Syrian Government, Australia implemented more robust sanctions measures on 21 August targeting the regime and their interests.

The Australian Government also supports efforts to increase accountability for violations of human rights committed by all parties to the conflict. This includes the work of the Commission as well as other initiatives to collect and safeguard evidence of gross abuses of human rights to ensure those responsible can be held to account.

The international community has a responsibility to the Syrian people to help end the bloodshed and support a process of political transition – a process that must have as its objective the protection of the welfare and rights of the Syrian people.