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Syria crying out for an end to the slaughter

May 31, 2012

An op-ed I wrote, published in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph:

We’ve all been appalled by recent images of the slaughter of more than a 100 men, women and children in Haoula, Syria.

It was a hideous and brutal crime. The time to act against Syria is now.

So I ordered the expulsion of the Syrian charge d’affaires and one other diplomat from Australia.

They were given 72 hours to leave the country. I made it clear that Australia will have no further engagement with the Assad regime until it abides by the UN ceasefire. Damascus must know that Australia will do everything in its power to ensure that those responsible for the ongoing violence in Syria are held to account.

The immediate priorities are to get the military out of civilian areas, to end the use of heavy weapons and to bring an end to this bloodshed.

This conflict is now over a year old. It’s impossible to know the precise numbers, but by some estimates as many as 15,000 people have been killed. We have seen reports of gross violations of human rights including kidnappings, torture and executions.

Syrian forces have deployed tanks and artillery for attacks on urban centres. Thousands of refugees have poured across the borders into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

The human toll is immense. And it’s growing. Immediate action is required.

We have strongly backed the appointment of Kofi Annan as the Joint Special Envoy on Syria.

We have given our firmest support to his six-point peace plan which seeks an immediate ceasefire and a political solution to this problem.

The Syrian people deserve a better life. And a durable peace.

The sad truth is that the violence in Syria is not a unique event.

As we watch the violence in Syria unfold we recall events like the murder of 8000 men and boys in the fields outside Srebrenica and the slaughter of 800,000 in Rwanda. And the international community pledged to never let this happen again.

In recent years, in places like Libya, we have seen the evolution of a new international norm — the Responsibility to Protect civilians when governments commit acts of mass atrocity. Known as R2P, it also recognises that we have a responsibility to assist states to meet their obligations and to act when they fail in their responsibilities.

Australia strongly supported decisive action by the UN Security Council in 2011 to prevent the impending atrocities in Libya — action that was taken after exhaustive measures had failed to stop the Qaddafi regime.

In recent days, I have been repeatedly asked why the international community is not doing more to help the people of Syria.

I can understand the frustration.

When the original 50 nations met in San Francisco in April 1945, their first objective was to save succeeding generations from war.

The UN Charter — now covering 193 members — commits us to maintain peace, to stop acts of aggression and to settle disputes through international law.

To date the UNSC has adopted two resolutions establishing an UN observer mission to monitor implementation of the six-point plan. At the same time, all countries must do what they can to pressure Syria to implement the Annan plan.

We welcome the Arab League’s efforts in Syria.

Our diplomats in New York, and I’m speaking to them daily, are working around the clock to edge all parties towards Kofi Annan’s peace plan. It’s tough.

The Syrian government is hard line. But, as one adviser in the UN told me, it is the only game in town.

4 Comments
  1. June 1, 2012 12:49 pm

    If armed insurrectionists were to seize control of small parts of Australian territory, killing troops and police and unleashing mayhem, Australians would expect our Government to quickly and effectively suppress the revolt. Why expect the Libya Government in 2011 and the Syrian Government today to do otherwise?

    Whatever credibility the R2P principle had when first proposed, it was shredded last year when it was invoked to get UN SC approval for a No Fly Zone in Libya – yet that NFZ immediately morphed into a massive bombing campaign that last half a year, complimented by arming of ‘rebels’, use of helicopter gunships and ‘special forces’. To add insult to injury, the NATO aggressor nations have ever since blocked calls by Russia and leading NGOs for the UN to investigate the casualties in Libya resulting from its own actions. As the total number of bombing sorties was close to 10,000, it seems likely that many tens of thousands of Libyans died from that bombing campaign alone.

    With respect, it is ludicrous to suggest that “exhaustive measures had failed to stop the Qaddafi regime”. The gap between first (highly exagerated) reports of Libya Government atrocities in mid February) and the two UNSC resolutions on Libya was a matter of days). After that, the Ghadaffi Govt agreed to implement the African Union pace plan in entirety – but the NTC, pushed hard by NATO nations, did not agree. So, with no regard to the popular will in Libya, ‘regime change’ was brutally imposed.

    I could debate Srebrenica and Ruanda too – in both cases, your very brief summation is, at the least, highly debatable. But to keep this post a reasonable length, I’ll skip over that. Suffice it to say that the UN Charter also respects the sovereignty of member nations – that’s a CORE principle (R2P of course is not even in the Charter). People around the world are sick and tired of war, imperialism and the hubris of western powers. Decades ago, I truly thought that era was over. Now I see it resurgent, pushed by the very nations who present themselves as the main custodians of civilized values.

    Australia should not be part of this. We can be and should be better than that. Oh – and by the way – WHEN will ANYONE be arrested for the vicious assault on Syria’s Embassy in Canberra in early February? Are the AFP trying? (The assailants were 40-strong – how hard is it to find 40 thugs, unless they have inside protection?) Are we now so one-sided that we no longer even respect the safety and security of our diplomatic guests?

    For shame!

  2. Douglas Darby permalink
    June 1, 2012 2:49 pm

    Dear Minister,
    I am quite sure that through your ongoing brilliant leadership the UN will eventually adopt an R2P Council separate from the Security Council which will do wonderful work in protecting the innocent citizens of the World.

  3. Dick England permalink
    June 3, 2012 5:04 pm

    It seems pretty clear that Assad is the best of a bad lot in Syria. Why try to tip him out and make things worse? I am dead sure you will have read Kissinger’s article in the 2 June Washington Post. Is Kissinger just a pussy compared with Bob Carr? This is crazy. It’s more stupid than backing the Poms on Suez. I am hoping that all your public statements are a fraud, and that behind the scenes, Australian diplomats are desparately trying to talk some sense into the Europeans, the British, and the Americans. There are three sinking ships for you! We need to stand off a safe distance from them.

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