Madam Chair, the situation in Syria grows more desperate with every passing day and the list of Bashar al-Assad's victims grows even longer. The recent massacre in Houla, where 49 children were murdered, makes it agonizingly clear just how far Assad is willing to go in order to deny his people their legitimate democratic rights. He is willing to cling to power regardless of the cost to Syria or the Syrian people.
Our government has repeatedly condemned the savagery of the Assad regime and will continue to support the Syrian people in their struggle. Just last week, we expelled all remaining Syrian diplomats to protest the Houla massacre, coordinating this measure with several of our closest allies. As the Minister of Foreign Affairs said at the time, “Canada and our partners are speaking loudly, with one voice, in saying these Syrian representatives are not welcome in our countries while their masters in Damascus continue to perpetrate their heinous and murderous acts”.
The Assad regime's brutal campaign of oppression has created a humanitarian emergency and has witnessed the systematic violation of human rights. It has had profound negative consequences for regional stability and has provoked a strong and wide-ranging response from the international community, including the development of the peace plan by UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan and the deployment of UN observers to monitor its implementation.
The humanitarian situation in Syria continues to deteriorate. More than 9,000 Syrians have been killed during the past year and tens of thousands have been displaced, including more than 70,000 refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Over one million Syrians are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and our government has acted by providing up to $7.5 million in humanitarian assistance that will help provide Syrians with emergency food assistance, safe water, sanitation facilities, essential household items and other much needed assistance.
The Houla massacre is only the latest in a lengthy list of gross human rights violations carried out by the Assad regime since the beginning of the crisis in March 2011. The list is long and varied, including restricted media access, denial of the right to peaceful assembly, the use of force against unarmed demonstrators, military assaults on civilian areas, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances, summary executions, denial of medical treatment, torture and sexual violence, including against children.
These atrocities are so widespread that the commission of inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council reports that the Syrian regime is responsible for crimes against humanity. The human rights situation is so dire that the Human Rights Council has held four emergency sessions on Syria, most recently on June 1. Canada participated actively in this session, co-sponsoring the resolution that condemned the Houla massacre and the ongoing human rights abuses being carried out by the regime.
As the Minister of Foreign Affairs has stated, “we have a solemn duty to defend the vulnerable, to challenge the aggressor, to protect and promote human rights and human dignity at home and abroad”.
While Canada wholeheartedly condemns the actions of the Assad regime, we must also be diligent in standing up for Syria's religious minorities and ensure that their rights are respected in Syria's present and its future. It is vital that Christian communities and others are not subject to prosecution or violence. Rest assured, Canada will be watching.
As damaging as Assad's oppressive policies have been for Syria, they may be even more destructive to regional stability. I have already highlighted the refugee situation caused by the crisis, which is placing a significant burden on countries, like Jordan, that have only limited resources with which to support these new arrivals. The conflict also risks inflaming sectarian and political tensions in neighbouring countries, most notably Lebanon where we have already seen the violence from Syria start to spill over into struggles between pro and anti-Assad Lebanese factions. Syria's Iranian ally has been quick to supply Assad with the tools and resources it needs to suppress its own popular protests for democratic change, even at the risk of turning the conflict into a regional proxy war.
The increased chaos and heightened sectarianism that will result only serves to provide terrorist organizations, like al-Qaeda, with opportunities to thrive and carry out further attacks against innocent civilians. Therefore, the international community must work together to end the Syrian crisis as quickly as possible.
We continue to believe that the best hope for doing so is Kofi Annan's peace plan, which has been endorsed by the UN Security Council and the Arab League. This plan calls for an immediate ceasefire in order to pave the way for a Syrian-led negotiated political transition.
Implementation of the plan is being observed by the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria. UN observers provide an unbiased and on-the-ground assessment of what is actually happening in Syria, ensuring that the regime is held to account for the abuses that it is committing. The Syrian government has accepted the Annan peace plan but, sadly, has refused to abide by its commitments, as seen all too tragically in that the UNSMIS has been able to confirm Assad's responsibility for this massacre.
Canada strongly supports the Annan peace plan and works with UNAMIS. We have contributed $250,000 to Kofi Annan's mission and call on all parties, particularly the Assad regime, to immediately and fully implement all aspects of the plan, most importantly the ceasefire. The international community has made its support of the Annan plan inescapably clear and, in light of Assad's continued refusal to fulfill his commitments to Special Envoy Annan, we urge the UN Security Council to adopt binding international sanctions against the Assad regime in order to increase the pressure on Assad to immediately stop the violence. We call on those countries with influence in Damascus to encourage Assad to implement the Annan plan while he still has a chance to do so.
Our support for the Annan plan has been the key element of our response to the crisis in Syria, but it is far from the only one. Canada has repeatedly condemned the Assad regime, including the Prime Minister's call for Assad to step down in August 2011. In addition to expelling Syrian diplomats, Canada has imposed eight rounds of sanctions against Assad and his supporters. In addition to our humanitarian assistance, Canada has also committed up to $1 million in non-lethal support for peaceful, pro-democracy actors in Syria.
On the international stage, Canada has been an active participant in efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis, both through established venues, such as the G8 and the United Nations, as well as through new groupings, such as the Friends of the Syrian People.
Regardless of the venue, however, we have already made it clear that Canada supports the Syrian people in their struggle for democracy. We have stood with them throughout the crisis and we will continue to stand with them in the future.