Australia stands with Syrians fighting for freedom
Articles and op-ed
Published in: Sydney Morning Herald
11 October 2011
Russia and China's UN veto must not ease international pressure on Syria's regime.
BELIEVE it — the human cry for freedom and democracy is universal. In Tunisia, what began as one man's protest, so desperate he set himself on fire, became a symbol of the yearning for democracy across the region.
Since then, we have been moved by the courage of the citizens who sought what is naturally theirs — in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Libya — and, right now, in Syria.
Since March, the Syrian people have protested for their basic democratic rights. The al-Assad regime's response has been brutal. An estimated 2700 people now lie dead. Still more have been harmed, imprisoned and tortured. The world was rightly sickened by this. But the al-Assad regime has shown neither remorse nor any will to change course. Indeed, the violence is escalating.
Australia has consistently called for an end to the violence in Syria, for meaningful political change, and for international pressure on Syria to this end. That is why Australia deeply regrets the obstruction of UN Security Council action against Syria.
On October 4, in New York, China and Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution demanding that the Syrian authorities cease human rights violations, allow fundamental freedoms for the Syrian people, and alleviate the humanitarian situation. Nine of the Security Council's 15 members supported the resolution.
Importantly, many of Syria's neighbours are part of the global outcry against the al-Assad regime's brutality. The Arab League and the Gulf Co-operation Council have spoken out strongly, calling for an end to the bloodshed. The veto therefore is out of step with the international community's calls on Damascus to stop its brutality and respond to the Syrian people's legitimate aspirations.
It shows disrespect for the Syrians who have risked their lives and, perversely, the veto hands a victory to the al-Assad regime at a time of reported mass arrests by the regime.
Russia argued the resolution was based on a philosophy of confrontation, while China claimed the threat of sanctions complicated the situation. Both claims ignore the brutal suppression of the Syrian people.
China and Russia now bear a particular responsibility for persuading Syria to end the violence. Australia will continue to pressure Damascus and urge further international action. We again call on President Bashar al-Assad to step down and for political reform to begin. Australia's autonomous sanctions impose travel and financial restrictions against 34 individuals and 13 entities connected to the violence and repression in Syria, including al-Assad.
We will consider opportunities to widen these measures in co-operation with our friends. Australia will continue to make full use of the multilateral system, including the UN Human Rights Council, to help bring events in Syria to light and to pressure its brutal regime to protect human rights.
The appointment of a UN special envoy on Syria, which I first proposed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in April, would be an important complementary step. Amid claim and counter claim, international monitors are required to establish the facts.
Australia has consistently called for Syria's referral to the International Criminal Court — consistent with the recommendation of UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay.
Australia will also remain alert to the welfare of Syrians. We support humanitarian relief and medical assistance delivered by the International Committee of the Red Cross. In sum, Australia stands with the Syrian people at this grave moment — as we have with the people of Libya, Egypt and Tunisia.
Our diplomacy will continue to be active in the Middle East — based on our national values, our national interests, and expressed through the practice of creative middle-power diplomacy.
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