Mr President, Excellencies, thank you for the opportunity for Australia to participate in this session.
The nations of North Africa and the Middle East - home to many of the world’s oldest human civilisations - are at a critical point in their history as the region struggles to contain conflict and violent extremism.
Some conflicts, such as between the Israelis and the Palestinians, have defied decades-long efforts to resolve them.
Australia has long supported a long-term, enduring, sustainable peace in the Middle East. We support a two state solution which recognises that Israel is a vibrant democracy in the region and that both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples have an inherent right to exist within secure borders.
Other conflicts – in Libya and Yemen, for example – may have flared in comparatively recent times, yet their root causes have been many years in the making.
The underlying causes of these conflicts are diabolically complex.
The need for an effective international response is most urgent in Iraq and Syria, where Daesh is inflicting unspeakable brutality on innocent people.
The human costs of these conflicts have escalated to horrific proportions.
The destabilising effects have radiated across the region and beyond, encouraging violence in scores of countries world-wide.
Australia is not immune from these conflicts.
Around 120 Australian citizens have travelled into Syria-Iraq – many to fight for Daesh.
With our partners, Australia has responded to the crisis.
We are a leading contributor to the global counter-Daesh coalition.
This month, Australia extended air operations to target Daesh in Syria, building on our operations in Iraq and consistent with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.
Australia strongly refutes any criticism of the legal basis for our operations in Syria.
Our action is designed to cut off Daesh’s capacity to sustain its operations in Iraq, including the use of Syrian territory to train, prepare attacks, resupply, and move fighters across the border.
Article 51 of the United Nations Charter clearly recognises the inherent rights of States to act in self defence.
The Government of Syria has failed to constrain Daesh’s continued attacks in Iraq from safe havens in Syria.
Australia, together with Coalition partners, is acting in response to the request for assistance by the Government of Iraq, and is undertaking necessary and proportionate military operations against ISIL in Syria in the collective self-defence of Iraq.
The Russian Federation has advised us of its intention to undertake airstrikes in Syria against “terrorist targets”.
If this is Russia’s real intent its strikes must focus on Daesh which, by any measure, is the most significant terrorist threat in Syria and Iraq.
Military action is a necessary but in no way sufficient response to Daesh.
Sustainable political settlements are required to end the conflict.
We support the efforts of Iraq’s Prime Minister al-Abadi to seek reconciliation and deliver inclusive government for all Iraqis.
We continue to advocate for a political solution that can bring an end to the brutal conflict in Syria, where horrific atrocities by the parties – particularly the Assad regime, Daesh and Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra – have taken a devastating humanitarian toll.
We support the efforts of UN envoy de Mistura towards a negotiated political transition. We believe all transition options should be considered.
Australia is also working to meet humanitarian needs generated by the conflicts, permanently resettling an additional 12,000 refugees drawn from Iraq and Syria’s most vulnerable.
We are working with the UN to deliver food, water, healthcare, education, emergency supplies and protection to more than 240,000 Iraqis and Syrians.
This will bring Australia’s contribution to help address the humanitarian crises in Syria and Iraq to around $230 million since 2011.
We commend Iraq and Syria’s neighbours, notably Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, for the burden they have shouldered.
Much more needs to be done.
We encourage member states to give generously to the Iraq and Syria humanitarian appeals.
We must all support the Iraqi and Syrian people in their desperate hour of need.