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Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at The Urgent Debate on the Human Rights and Humanitarian Situation in the Syrian Arab Republic at the Human Rights Council 19th Session

Geneva, 28 February 2012

Thank you for convening this debate on the human rights situation in Syria under agenda item 1.

As you may know, on 13 February, I briefed the General Assembly on the situation of human rights in Syria, and appealed to Member States to act urgently to protect the Syrian people from the continuously violent crackdown and the rise in casualties. I called upon the international community to take action and spare the civilian population from further suffering amidst countless atrocities committed against them.

Since then my Office has received disturbing reports of a rapidly deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation. Recent reports further indicate that Syrian military and security forces have launched massive campaigns of arrest, arbitrarily detaining thousands of protestors, as well as activists and others suspected of anti-Government activities.

I am particularly appalled by the recent escalation of violence in the country. Residents of cities such as Homs and Hama have borne the brunt of the violence, blockades and curfews. Similar accounts of intensifying assaults have been received in other cities. During the blockades, residents have not been able to obtain water, food and medical supplies. The blockades have often made it impossible to get the injured to hospitals. Children have not been spared, with some reports suggesting more than 500 have been killed since March 2011, with as many as 80 in January 2012.

The Syrian army has reportedly used tanks, mortars, rockets and artillery to cordon off cities, and shelled densely populated neighbourhoods in what appears to be an indiscriminate attack on civilian areas. Hundreds of people have reportedly been killed since the start of this latest assault in the beginning of February 2012. 

Reports indicate that hospitals, which were already struggling to cope with all those injured in recent weeks, are now overwhelmed. People have set up makeshift clinics and medical supplies have been depleted. The crisis has exacerbated pre-existing high levels of poverty and unemployment. The humanitarian situation is dire and the Secretary-General has requested a further assessment of the situation.  There must be an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to end the fighting and bombardments.

While it remains difficult to accurately determine the number of casualties, on 15 February 2012, the Government provided us with its own figures of 2,493 civilians and 1,345 soldiers and police officers killed between 15 March 2011 and 18 January 2012 (a total of 3,838 casualties). According to information available to my Office, the actual numbers may far exceed these figures.

While the protests have remained largely peaceful, reports of armed attacks by anti-government fighters against Syrian forces have increased, also with further consequences on civilians. The Government of Syria has shared several reports with my Office, which contain statistics about armed attacks on the health and transportation sectors, educational institutions as well as casualty figures among Syrian military, police and law enforcement personnel as a result of alleged acts of terrorist armed groups. The Government claims that armed terrorist groups disguised under different names have perpetrated crimes against Syrians.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The International Commission of Inquiry report, which was published on 22 February, concluded that the human rights situation has deteriorated significantly since November 2011.  It found that “the Government has manifestly failed in its responsibility to protect the population; its forces have committed widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity, with the apparent knowledge and consent of the highest levels of the State”.   It further stated that anti-government groups have committed abuses, but not “comparable in scale and organization to those carried out by the State”.

The Commission of Inquiry calls for an end to all violations and to combat impunity, and recommends the initiation of an inclusive political dialogue, bringing together the Government, the opposition and other anti-Government actors to negotiate an end to the violence, to ensure respect for human rights and to address the legitimate demands of the Syrian people.

The League of Arab States has responded to the events in Syria and its efforts should be supported. The Government of Syria maintained that it had cooperated with the League to the fullest extent possible, including by signing the Arab League protocol in December 2011 after which the League observers’ mission started its work. The observer mission was to be extended, with the acquiesance of the government, until February 24th, but was suspended by the League of Arab States.  My Office remains ready to provide assistance to the League of Arab States as appropriate.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I call upon the Syrian authorities to cooperate fully with international mechanisms, including Mr. Kofi Annan who was recently appointed as joint Special Envoy of the Secretary-General and the League of Arab States to Syria. I also renew my earlier calls for full cooperation with my Office, including through the establishment of an OHCHR field presence in the Syrian Arab Republic.

I further call upon the Government of Syria to allow independent international monitors to visit all places of detention and grant unhindered access to humanitarian actors. I also call on the Government of Syria to release all political prisoners and persons who have been arbitrarily detained. The Government must launch prompt, independent and impartial investigations in accordance with international standards to end impunity, ensure accountability, bring perpetrators to justice, and to take measures to ensure adequate, effective and prompt reparation for the victims. 

The Government of Syria has cooperated to some extent to address the situation, such as the access provided to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the League of Arab States observer mission to prisons and detention facilities, as well as the release of thousands of individuals who were detained in the context of the recent events in Syria.

However, these steps pale into insignificance in the face of the continuing onslaught of violence and arrest against people by State actors.    In light of this and in the face of the unspeakable violations that take place every moment, I remain convinced that referring the situation of Syria to the International Criminal Court will be a step in the right direction. The human rights mechanisms of this Council can also play an important role to enhance truth, justice and accountability in Syria.   However, what is urgently needed today is for the killings to stop. For that to happen the international community must unite in sending a clear message to the Syrian authorities and the Security Council must assume its responsibility to protect the population of Syria. More than at any other time, those committing atrocities in Syria have to understand that the international community will not stand by and watch this carnage and that their decisions and the actions they take today ultimately will not go unpunished.

Thank you.


For more information or for media requests please contact spokesperson Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or press officer Ravina Shamdasani (+ 41 22 917 9310 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org)

Learn more about the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/AboutUs/Pages/HighCommissioner.aspx

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