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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 1735


Senator STEPHENS (New South Wales) (14:36): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr. Can the minister update the Senate on recent events and developments in Syria?

Senator BOB CARR (New South Wales) (14:36): There is now an epic crisis of human rights in Syria. What we are witnessing is appalling and unabated human suffering. More than 7,500 civilians have been killed, tens of thousands of people have been arrested and 18,000 people are in arbitrary detention. They are UN figures. The evidence of widespread human rights abuses, possible war crimes and crimes against humanity is growing. According to Amnesty International, recent testimonies give insights into a system of detention and interrogation which appears intended primarily to degrade, humiliate and terrify its victims into silence. According to Amnesty's report, detainees have suffered 'prolonged and repeated beatings with various instruments including sticks, rifle butts and electric cables, as well as kicks'.

Australia condemns utterly the violence in Homs that came to light on 11 March. The senseless massacre of women and children only adds to the depravity we have seen since the Assad regime turned its guns on the Syrian people a year ago. There are now reports, hard to believe, that Syrian authorities have placed landmines near the borders with Lebanon and Turkey. It is clear to all that this violence cannot continue.

Australia commends the efforts of UN Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan to bring a political solution to Syria. He visited Syria on the weekend of 10 and 11 March. President Assad has not yet responded to Mr Annan's proposals. Assad's recent undertaking about parliamentary elections can be seen as nothing more than window-dressing. It is too little to end the violence. It will not bring peace. In fact, talk of elections in the face of daily killings is laughable. Assad's earlier promise on political reform has not been honoured and the violence has only worsened. In the New York Times on 13 March, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said— (Time expired)

Senator STEPHENS (New South Wales) (14:38): Mr President, I have a supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate what the Australian government's response to this crisis has been?

Senator BOB CARR (New South Wales) (14:38): The first point to make is that we have been among the first in calling for President Assad to step down. He is a president without legitimacy, without credibility and with no future in Syria. We have repeatedly strengthened our sanctions against Syria's regime. Australia now lists 109 individuals and 40 entities connected to the violence in Syria subject to our sanctions. We will continue to consult our friends in the international community on placing additional pressure.

Australia has been at the fore of supporting action in the UN, in the General Assembly on 19 December and 16 February and in the Human Rights Council on 29 April, 23 August, 2 December and 1 March. Overwhelmingly, the UN General Assembly has twice condemned the violence in Syria. Australia has co-sponsored both resolutions. Overwhelmingly, the Human Rights Council has expressed its outrage. Australia has co-sponsored all four resolutions on Syria. (Time expired)

Senator STEPHENS (New South Wales) (14:39): Mr President, I have a further supplementary question. I thank the minister for that answer. Can he can also advise on what next steps the international community could take to actually improve the situation in Syria?

Senator BOB CARR (New South Wales) (14:39): This week the members of the UN Security Council started another round of discussions on North Africa and the Middle East. Australia was gravely disappointed by the veto by Russia and China of a UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to violence and supporting the Arab League peace plan. The Security Council has again been considering a possible resolution on Syria. Differences within the council, however, remain wide. But every new outrage that comes to light in Syria must galvanise the council's will to exercise its international peace and security authority under the UN charter. Australia will continue to urge this.

Yesterday I spoke to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and congratulated her on her efforts to build Security Council resolve. She said:

… the United Nations believes firmly in the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all member-states, but we do not believe that sovereignty demands that this council stand silent when governments massacre their own people …

I also spoke to British Foreign Secretary William Hague who is no less— (Time expired)