Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, High Commissioner Pillay, both for your briefing and for all the work you and your office are doing to highlight the plight of the Syrian people during this most difficult time.
Mr. President, the information that High Commissioner Pillay has just provided us is deeply disturbing. It confirms, yet again, that the Asad regime is in blatant defiance of its commitments to the action plan it agreed to with the League of Arab States and of its obligations under international law. These commitments agreed with the League of Arab States included immediately ending all acts of violence, releasing those who have been detained arbitrarily, withdrawing the army from cities and towns, guaranteeing the freedom of peaceful demonstrations, and allowing full and unhindered access for Arab institutions and Arab and international media. And yet, as we have seen, the Asad regime has chosen to do just the opposite, turning its heavy weaponry on its own citizens and shelling its own cities and towns.
At present, we cannot know all the exact details of what has occurred. The Asad regime has chosen to keep observers away, whether they are from the Arab League, international human rights monitors, or the international press. But in broad strokes the reality is completely clear and it is appalling. We know enough. We know that more than 6000 Syrians have been killed. We know that scores of children have died. We know that Syrians are being tortured by their own government. And we know also that when investigations are made and final responsibility is determined, we too will be judged as members of the United Nations. This is the context of our discussions today.
Mr. President, the United States again calls on the Syrian government to respect the human rights and dignity of its people. We call on all parties to cease all violence immediately.
We also recognize that when citizens protest peacefully and respectfully for months on end, and these protests are met by gunfire and mortar fire, directed at them by their own government, at a terrible cost in the lives of civilian men, women and children, then armed opposition cannot come as a surprise. We hold the Syrian regime fully responsible for the worsening cycle of violence.
Mr. President, the United States applauds the initiatives and leadership of the Arab League and, in particular, welcomes the announcement of a Friends of Syria conference to be held on February 24 in Tunisia. We commend the Arab League for putting forth a plan calling for the regime to halt operations against defenseless civilians, facilitate a transition, and broker a political solution to this ongoing crisis. We strongly agree with the Arab League's demand yesterday to "immediately and fully stop all acts of violence and the murder of civilians" and its renewed call on the "Syrian armed forces to immediately lift the military siege imposed on residential districts and villages."
Mr. President, we believe the international community must work together to speak with one voice in supporting these efforts, and in that regard we commend Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for his sustained commitment to resolving the Syrian crisis.
The United States has been working intensively with the international community, including in this body, the Security Council, and the Human Rights Council, to address the situation in Syria. We again call on the Syrian government to permit unfettered access to the Commission of Inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council in August. We also call on Syrian authorities to allow full and unimpeded access for humanitarian relief personnel in order to ensure the timely delivery of humanitarian aid to vulnerable populations, including the more than 70,000 internally displaced persons residing in Syria.
Mr. President, the United States fully supports the Syrian people's demands for a unified Syria with a democratic, representative, and
inclusive government that respects human rights and fundamental freedoms and provides equal protection under the law for all individuals, regardless of sect, ethnicity, religion, or gender. As President Obama said on February 4, "Every government has the responsibility to protect its citizens, and any government that brutalizes and massacres its people does not deserve to govern."
Thank you, Mr. President.
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