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Human Rights Council decides to dispatch a commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations in the Syrian Arab Republic

23 August 2011

The Human Rights Council this morning adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic and decided to dispatch an independent international commission of inquiry. The passage of the resolution comes at the end of a Special Session held at the request of the delegations of Poland and the European Union and backed by 24 Member States and 32 Observer States. This is the second Special Session to be held on Syria this year; the first was convened on 29 April 2011.

The resolution, adopted by 33 votes in favour, 4 votes against and 9 abstentions, strongly condemns the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities; welcomes the report of the fact-finding mission of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and expresses profound concern about its findings; and calls upon the Syrian authorities to immediately put an end to all human rights violations; to protect their population and fully comply with their obligations and calls for an immediate end to all violence in Syria. It also calls on Syrian authorities to allow independent media to operate without undue restrictions, to allow access to the Internet and telecommunications networks for all and to lift censorship on reporting. The resolution expresses concern about the humanitarian situation and urges the Syrian authorities to ensure timely, safe and unhindered access for all humanitarian agencies and workers and to ensure the safe passage of humanitarian and medical supplies into the country. The resolution calls for a Syrian led political process and for an inclusive, credible and genuine national dialogue conducted in an environment without fear and intimidation and with the aim of addressing the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian population.

The Council also decided to dispatch an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March 2011, to establish the facts and circumstances that may amount to such violations and of the crimes perpetrated and, where possible, to identify those responsible with a view of ensuring that perpetrators of violations, including those that may constitute crimes against humanity, are held accountable. The resolution requests that the report of the commission be made public as soon as possible, and that an update is presented during the 19th session of the Council and transmitted to the General Assembly.

Poland, introducing the resolution, said that the text represented a clear response by the Council to the ongoing and systematic violations in Syria and the continued violence and lack of respect for fundamental rights and freedoms.

Russian Federation and China made general comments and requested that the draft resolution be put to a vote.

Russian Federation said that the draft resolution remained one-sided and politicized. It did not take into account the positive steps taken by the Syrian authorities to engage the country and introduce elections; it ignored the willingness of the Syrian Authorities to engage in dialogue; and it was essentially aimed at removing a legitimate government. China said that the correct way to protect human rights was not through accusations and that a response to the current crisis should be based on respect for the United Nations Charter, Syria’s sovereignty and the promotion of dialogue.

Syria, speaking as a concerned country, regretted the fact that this resolution remained political and unbalanced. The resolution sent a mistaken message which poorly described the situation. The authors of the draft refused to respond to attempts to change the resolution in order to make it more balanced, and this reflected the clear will to intervene politically in an independent and sovereign country. Syria had declared yesterday that it was prepared to receive a mission of inquiry from the Office of the High Commissioner. This statement, however, had not been favourably welcomed by the States who prepared the draft resolution and this confirmed their determination to politically condemn Syria and to pass over any proposals for reform that existed in Syria.

Cuba, Uruguay and India spoke in explanation of vote before the vote. Representatives from Thailand and Indonesia made statements in explanation of vote after the vote.

The next regularly scheduled session of the Human Rights Council will be from 12 to 30 September 2011 in the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Summary of the Resolution

The resolution, referred to as (A/HRC /S-17/L.1) on The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic, recalls resolution S-16/1 and strongly condemns the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities; welcomes the report of the fact-finding mission of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and expresses profound concern about its findings, including that patterns of human rights violations existed that may amount to crimes against humanity. The resolution calls upon the Syrian authorities to immediately put an end to all human rights violations, to protect their population and fully comply with their obligations and calls for an immediate end to all violence in Syria. It also decides to urgently dispatch an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March 2011. The resolution calls for a Syrian led political process and for an inclusive, credible and genuine national dialogue conducted in an environment without fear and intimidation and with the aim of addressing the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian population.

Introduction of Resolution

CEZARY LUSINSKI (Poland), introducing draft resolution A/HRCS/S-17/L.1, entitled “The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic”, said that with the a to ensuring full openness and transparency of the drafting processes, delegations engaged in three rounds of informal consultations. The resolution represented a clear response of the Council to the ongoing and systematic violations in Syria, and the continued violence and lack of respect for fundamental rights and freedoms. It set up an international commission of inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in order to ensure that perpetrators were held accountable. Given the gravity of the situation, Poland hoped that the resolution would be adopted by consensus as a demonstration of support for the Syrian people and that the Council could timely respond to human rights violations.

General comments before the Vote

VALERY LOSHCHININ (Russian Federation), in a general comment, said that together with a number of other States they tried to ensure the draft resolution was more balanced and objective and made appropriate proposals to the draft, which unfortunately were not accepted. Despite editorial and technical changes the draft remained one-sided and politicised. It did not take into account the positive steps taken by the Syrian Authorities to engage the country and introduce elections. It ignored the willingness of the Syrian Authorities to engage in dialogue and accept a mission from Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Essentially the draft was aimed at removing a legitimate government while fully ignoring the principals of democracy. The draft was also unacceptable because instead of establishing a dialogue it could be used for destructive purposes and to greater destabilize Syria. Russia could not agree with such an approach. Together with China, Russia requested that the draft resolution be put to a vote, and Russia would vote against it.

HE YAFEI (China), in a general comment, expressed concern with the draft resolution. The correct way to protect human rights was not through accusations. Syria was a major country in the Middle East and its security and stability had important regional implications. A response to the current crisis should be based on respect for the United Nations Charter and the principles of international relations, respecting Syria’s sovereignty and promoting dialogue as a basis for a solution to the crisis. The Human Rights Council’s Special Session, while concerning itself with and discussing the situation in Syria, should take an objective approach based on precise information. A solution to the crisis should be sought through the promotion of dialogue and cooperation and the restoration of social stability. Some countries’ draft resolution had not respected the principles outlined above and the resolution would make the situation more difficult. For this reason, along with the delegation of Russia, China had requested a vote on this resolution and would vote against it.

Statement by Concerned Country before the Vote

FAYSAL KHABBAZ HAMOUI (Syria) speaking as a concerned country, regretted the fact that this resolution was 100 per cent political and not balanced. The resolution sent a mistaken message which poorly described the situation in Syria. The authors of the draft resolution refused to respond to attempts to change the resolution in order to make it more balanced. The outright refusal by the co-sponsors of the resolution reflected the clear will to intervene politically in an independent and sovereign country. Yesterday Syria declared that it was prepared to receive a mission of inquiry from the Office of the High Commissioner and at the present time there was a United Nations mission present in Syria to assess the humanitarian situation. Syria’s statement that it was prepared to favourably receive this mission had not been favourably welcomed by the States who prepared the draft resolution. Once again, this confirmed there was a determination to politically condemn Syria and to pass over any proposals for reform that existed in the country. The delegation of Syria asked all Member States present in the Council to vote against the draft resolution for the reasons given and in-line with the Council’s mandate.

Explanations of Vote before the Vote

JUAN ANTONIO QUINTANILLA ROMAN (Cuba), speaking in an explanation of vote before the vote, said that once again the Human Rights Council was examining a political draft resolution which was selective and confrontational, and this reminded them of similar practices which had led to the dissolution of the previous Commission on Human Rights. Practices like these had nothing to do with the new culture of work required for the success of the Council. The United States and its allies aimed to consolidate mechanisms to condemn countries in the South. These countries did not want to comply with their commitment to abolish double standards and politicization were the same ones who cynically spoke about the weakening of the Council and presented resolutions against developing countries. How was it possible that no Special Session had addressed the actions of NATO and the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya? Once again the hypocrisy and lies which constituted the basis for United States policy and that of its main allies were confirmed. Developing countries could not be silent accomplices to the hypocrisy, double standards and politicization. For these reasons, Cuba would vote against the draft resolution.

LUCIA TRUCILLO (Uruguay) speaking in an explanation of vote before the vote, stated concern at the serious violation of human rights in Syria and regretted the excessive use of force by the Syrian authorities against the population in order to suppress universally recognised human rights. There had been no dialogue. Uruguay called on the Syrian authorities to stop all violence and allow access to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ mission and humanitarian bodies, especially in the cities that had been attacked, and in refugee camps. Uruguay supported the statement given by Poland on behalf of the European Union, and it urged the government of Syria to cooperate with the international community at the next session of the Council and in their Universal Periodic Review in October.

GLORIA GANGIE (India), said that its position concerning country specific resolutions was well known. India believed that engaging the country concerned was a more positive approach than pointing and naming. Since some members of the Council had sought to establish a country specific resolution it would have been preferable that the resolution were adopted by consensus; this had not been the case. India’s vote should not be interpreted as condoning the violence in Syria. However, each country should first resort to domestic mechanisms and measures, and only when those mechanisms were exhausted should international action be used. For this reason, India would abstain.

Explanations of Vote after the Vote

SIHASAK PHUANGKETKEOW (Thailand) speaking in an explanation of vote after the vote, said it was not an easy decision for the Thai Mission, but they voted in favour of the resolution because of the situation on the ground and the need to turn back the tide of violence in Syria. Thailand also voted in favour out of respect for the people of Syria and to send a firm message to the government of Syria. Thailand said that cooperation was essential for dialogue, but the Syrian authorities had not cooperated or been in dialogue with the international community and access to the United Nations humanitarian mission was still pending and conditional. Therefore, in light of the continuing grave situation and the need to uphold human rights, Thailand voted in favour of the resolution.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), speaking in an explanation of vote after the vote, said that Indonesia did not deny that human rights violations in Syria warranted the attention of the international community, and it urged all parties to exercise restraint and put an end to the violence. In this understanding and as a reflection of concern for the deteriorating situation, Indonesia was in favour of the resolution. The Council should promote dialogue, genuine cooperation and avoid confrontation in the protection of human rights. The objective of this session was to have a concrete impact on the ground, promote and protect human rights, and not to allow further politicization of the issue. Indonesia looked forward to a genuine national dialogue and a Syrian-led political process and decided to vote in favour of the resolution hoping for a favourable solution to the crisis.

Voting Results

Votes in Favour (33): Austria, Belgium, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Chile, Congo, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Guatemala, Hungary, Indonesia, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Mauritius, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Peru, Poland, Qatar, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, United States of America, and Uruguay.

Votes Against (4): China, Cuba, Ecuador, and Russian Federation.

Abstentions (9): Angola, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Djibouti, India, Malaysia, Mauritania, Philippines, and Uganda.

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For use of the information media; not an official record