Interview with The Project

  • Transcript, E&OE
14 December 2016

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop joins us now. Minister, we have seen the people there. A lot of them feel like the world has turned their back on them. Is that true of Australia? Could we have done anymore to stop this atrocity?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia has provided significant humanitarian aid; we have been a very strong voice in the United Nations. But the fact is you now have a conflict, a deep and bitter hostile conflict where the Assad regime, backed by Russia, is on one side and opposition forces backed by the US and others are on the other side.

While ever either side thinks they can have a military win this will continue. The situation on the ground is very fluid. It is fast-moving. We are told that the Assad regime has reclaimed control over eastern Aleppo, that there is a ceasefire in place, and that civilians and opposition fighters are being allowed to leave.

But there have been some deplorable incidents occur, and some mass atrocities are being reported. We utterly reject the suggestion that this cannot be resolved. There must be a political solution with the Assad regime, with the opposition groups, and the United States and Russia must broker that political solution.

JOURNALIST: We have been monitoring vision that's been coming in. Moments ago it seems as though buses arranged to transport people out of the conflict are sitting empty on the side of the road, the drivers just sitting in the buses. There's been a delay there. What's happening with that?

JULIE BISHOP: We have to rely on reports from others, because we don't have an Embassy in Damascus, we don't have on the ground consular or humanitarian presence in Syria. But we have been urging for there to be humanitarian corridors so that the UN can access the affected areas and can not only provide humanitarian assistance, but, also, oversight the treatment that is being provided to civilians and fighters. So, we have provided... since 2011 about $500 million in humanitarian aid to Syria and a smaller amount to Iraq.

But, of course until such time as there is a political settlement this conflict won't end even if eastern Aleppo has been reclaimed by the Assad regime. Other parts of Syria are being held by the opposition forces, and even other parts of Syria are being held by ISIL, the terrorist organisation. It's one of the worst humanitarian crises in living memory.

JOURNALIST: It is chilling to hear Ban Ki-moon talk about the Security Council resolutions that the UN hadn't gone through, that he thinks could have led to some humanitarian intervention. What do you know about why that didn't happen - three of them he mentioned?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, they have been vetoed by Russia. So, Security Council resolutions have to be unanimous, and there are five permanent members of the Security Council. Any one of them has a veto. In this instance Russia has vetoed them.

You saw the film footage of Sam Power, the UN permanent - the US permanent representative to the United Nations. She had some pretty harsh words to say of Russia. I agree with her. I mean, the barbarism that has gone on in relation to civilians, the atrocities, the indiscriminate use of weapons, the reported use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs is utterly appalling. It would appear that serious international crimes have been committed and must be investigated, because people have to be held accountable for this.

JOURNALIST: So Minister you are saying there should be consequences for Russia who have clearly committed all those crimes in this campaign? Will there be? Will they be held accountable?

JULIE BISHOP: I have to say all sides have added to the humanitarian crisis. You have the opposition forces, who are continuing to fight, the Assad regime is continuing to take back territory, and then in the midst of it all you have a terrorist group in the form of ISIL that is committing atrocities against both sides. It is one of the worst conflicts, worst humanitarian disasters, we have seen.

Until the United States is able to get Russia to agree to a permanent ceasefire, the humanitarian relief come in, and people given some kind of safe haven, as they are seeking to get to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, then this will continue. It's a tragedy. It is appalling. But surely - this is the point Samantha Power is making - surely what's happened in Aleppo is enough to make Russia and the Assad forces say, "Here's an opportunity to give the civilians a break and get some humanitarian support into them.", which is so badly needed.

JOURNALIST: We hope so. Well Julie we really appreciate your time, thank you.

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