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Council holds Interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Situation of Human Rights in Syria

Human Rights Council
AFTERNOON 12 March 2012

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the situation of human rights in Syria.

Paulo Pinheiro, Chairperson of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said that the intensification of armed confrontation had widened the trail of suffering in Syria. The human rights and humanitarian situation was becoming bleaker day after day in neighbourhoods in Homs, Idlib, Hama, rural Damascus and Dar’a. The Government had given limited access to humanitarian organizations, but unimpeded humanitarian access should be granted. It was imperative to break this cycle of violence in order to avert escalation of the armed confrontation into civil war.

Kyung-wha Kang, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, introduced the reports submitted by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner in follow-up to Special Sessions on Syria. The report of the Secretary-General noted that the Commission of Inquiry had not been allowed access to Syria.

Speaking as the concerned country, Syria said that the Commission of Inquiry, after six months, had finally understood that there were armed groups operating in Syria which had violated human rights and that there was no alternative to engaging in national dialogue to achieve reconciliation. External parties should refrain from pitting different factions operating in Syria against one another by arming them. Economic sanctions had resulted in dire circumstances for the country. The Government rejected the report of the Commission, which had become political and was biased as it contained unsubstantiated accusations against the Government based on hearsay. The crisis was due to the influence of external parties.

During the interactive dialogue, speakers said widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity may have been committed in Syria with the apparent knowledge and consent of the highest levels of the State. Speakers regretted that the Syrian Government had not cooperated with the Commission of Inquiry. The report of the Commission mentioned the increased violence, use of extreme military force against protestors and shelling of densely populated areas. Since 2011 more than 500 children had been killed and many had been arbitrarily arrested and even tortured. Speakers fully supported the call by the High Commissioner to the United Nations Security Council that the situation in Syria be referred to the International Criminal Court. Speakers hoped that the authorities would cooperate with the efforts of Special Envoy Kofi Annan.

Several speakers noted the existence of extremists among the opposition. One speaker said the information provided by the Commission of Inquiry was imprecise, fragmented and the object of frequent manipulation. The sanctions only made the situation worse and needed to be withdrawn. Syria was the cornerstone of the architecture of regional stability, and the events in Syria could bring about destabilization of the entire region. The key to managing the situation would be inclusive political dialogue among all segments of society. One speaker asked for the Commission’s view on the scope of its mandate. Was the current mandate appropriate? Were there issues to which more attention should be paid? Speakers asked to hear what the Commission thought were the priorities for structural reform which would break the culture of impunity and deliver justice for victims.

Taking the floor in the interactive dialogue on the human rights situation in Syria were: Austria, Russian Federation, European Union, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Germany, Qatar, Cuba, Norway, Jordan, Australia, Turkey, Uruguay, Kuwait, Japan, Slovenia, Spain, France, United States, Czech Republic, Morocco, Ecuador, and United Kingdom.

The Human Rights Council will meet at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 13 March in private to discuss its complaint procedure. It will meet in public at 9:30 a.m., when it will continue with its interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Syria, to be followed by its general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.

Documentation

The Council has before it an update on the report of the International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (A/HRC/19/69)

Presentation by Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria

PAULO PINHEIRO, Chairperson of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said that the intensification of armed confrontations had widened the trail of suffering in Syria and the human rights and humanitarian situation was becoming bleaker day after day in neighbourhoods in Homs, Idlib, Hama, rural Damascus and Dar’a. It was estimated that more than 70,000 people had been internally displaced in the country since March 2011, while thousands sought refuge in neighbouring countries. The desperate situation of civilians needed to be addressed as a matter of utmost urgency. After months of obstruction, the Government had given limited access to humanitarian organizations, but unimpeded humanitarian access should be granted as a rule, rather than an exception. The Commission of Inquiry regretted having no access to the country and acknowledged the efforts made by the Government to respond to some of the Commission’s queries by providing numerous documents. However, such information did not replace the need for investigations and access to first-hand testimony on the ground.

Force used by the Government against armed groups often led to collective punishment of civilians. Anti-Government groups had also committed abuses, although there was a great disparity between the means they used and those deployed by Government forces. It was imperative to break this cycle of violence and to avert the escalation of the armed confrontations into civil war. Impunity for human rights violations must come to an end, said Mr. Pinheiro, adding that the Commission’s findings might assist future independent and credible investigations by the competent authorities. The whole international community must work with unity of purpose to meet the legitimate aspirations for human rights, dignity and justice of all communities in the country. Ultimately, it would be up to the Syrian people to determine the process and mechanisms to achieve reconciliation, truth and justice. The challenges were immense, but there existed a window of opportunity for the Syrian people to decide collectively on the way forward.

Presentation of Reports by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Syria

KYUNG-WHA KANG, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, introduced the reports submitted by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner in follow-up to Special Sessions on Syria. The report of the High Commissioner on the implementation of resolution S-17/1 reviewed the status of its implementation as of 5 December 2011 and noted the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry on Syria which had presented its report to the Council in November 2011. The Commission’s written update was being presented to the Council today. The report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the resolution S-18/1 included a summary of the responses received from the Government of Syria on 24 January and 10 February 2012 and noted that the Human Rights Council had decided to establish the mandate of a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Syria once the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry ended. The report also noted that to date, the International Commission of Inquiry had not been allowed access to Syria.

Statement by Syria as the Concerned Country

Syria, speaking as the concerned country, said that the Commission of Inquiry after six months had finally understood that there were armed groups operating in Syria who had violated human rights and that there was no alternative to engaging in national dialogue to achieve reconciliation. External parties should refrain from pitting different factions operating in Syria against one another by arming them with weapons. Economic sanctions had resulted in dire circumstances for the country. The Commission of Inquiry had shied away from objectivity and its report had been made an instrument for political purposes. The Government rejected the report of the Commission of Inquiry which had become political and was biased as it contained unsubstantiated accusations against the Government based on hearsay, for example on the application of the death penalty, which came from individuals outside of Syria.

The crisis in the country was due to the influence of external parties who were waging a media war against Syria and had imposed unilateral economic sanctions, and the infiltration of terrorist Al-Qaeda groups in the country. The real aim of the civil war ignited under the guise of humanitarian action was the dividing up of Syria by countries such as Israel who supported the colonization of Arab lands. Syria reaffirmed it was determined to put an end to the current situation and was ready to open up a national and comprehensive dialogue to implement reforms. The Government had the support of the population as three weeks ago two thirds of the people had voted in support of the Government and for the mandate of the President of Syria. The Human Rights Council had held three special sessions on Syria which was totally outside the mandate for which the Council was created, and this had resulted in a total silence on human rights violations in other places, notably Israeli attacks in the Occupied Syrian Golan and in Gaza.

Interactive Dialogue on Syria

Austria, in a joint statement, said since November, more widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations seemed to have taken place in Syria. Widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity may have been committed. As Syria was unwilling or unable to fulfill its obligations, Austria fully supported the call by the High Commissioner to the United Nations Security Council that the situation in Syria be referred to the International Criminal Court.

Russian Federation said it was important that the report included information on the acts of violence committed by armed rebels and noted the existence of extremists among the opposition. There had been arrests of individuals close to Al Qaeda. The key to managing the situation would be an inclusive political dialogue among all segments of society. The sanctions only made the situation worse and needed to be withdrawn. Syria was the cornerstone of the architecture of regional stability, and the events in Syria could bring about destabilization of the entire region.

European Union said Syrian Government forces had committed widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations that amounted to crimes against humanity with the apparent knowledge and consent of the highest levels of the State. Accountability should be ensured by independent monitors. The European Union would be interested to hear what the Commission thought were the priorities for structural reform in Syria which would be necessary in order to break the culture of impunity and deliver justice for victims.

Saudi Arabia said that the Syrian armed forces had carried out acts which had involved major broad scale violations against civilians and equated to crimes against humanity. There were contradictory positions at the international level which had been unable to bring an end to the violence. Saudi Arabia said there was a need for a joint position at the international level and the Commission of Inquiry must continue its work.

Indonesia said that the vast majority of the Syrian population had been affected by the crisis with prices for basic food items increasing by up to 37 per cent, which hurt the poor in particular. The first step toward a lasting solution in Syria was to stop the continued acts of violence by all parties. The international community should play a critical role in providing an enabling environment to encourage all parties to fully commit to find a peaceful solution.

Germany said that since 2011 more than 500 children had been killed and many had been arbitrarily arrested and even tortured. Germany denounced and condemned the atrocities and horrendous violations of human rights committed by the Syrian regime. The documentation of human rights violations provided by the Commission of Inquiry was extraordinarily valuable and Germany urged that the mandate be extended.

Qatar regretted that the Syrian Government had not cooperated with the Commission of Inquiry. The report mentioned the increased violence, the use of extreme military force against protestors and the shelling of densely populated areas. Thousands of civilians had died, hundreds of which were children. Syria had failed in its responsibility to protect its population and had committed gross human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity. Qatar condemned the arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions committed.

Cuba said the information provided by the Commission of Inquiry was imprecise, fragmented and the object of frequent manipulation. The calls for regime change were alarming. Cuba rejected the trend of turning a deaf ear to proposals by the Syrian Government. Civil war or intervention by foreign forces in Syria would have consequences for all of humanity and the region in particular. It seemed that the Commission was following a predetermined recipe to support military aggression against Syria.

Norway said Syria had failed in its responsibility to protect its population and had committed widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations that could amount to crimes against humanity, with the apparent knowledge and consent of the highest levels of the State. Norway endorsed and supported the call by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the United Nations Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

Jordan said that the new report of the Commission of Inquiry had highlighted the mounting humanitarian suffering in Syria. Jordan reaffirmed its support for resolutions that condemned human rights violations in the country and had supported the Arab League initiative as a practical way out of the chaos. Jordan called for dialogue and cautioned that military intervention would have serious repercussions for peace and security in the region.

Australia urged Syria to work with the Arab League to implement inclusive democratic reforms to meet the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. Australia was profoundly disappointed at the veto of the United Nations Security Council’s proposed resolution on Syria on 4 February 2012 and called on the Security Council to fulfil its responsibility to assist the Syrian people by supporting the efforts of the Arab League.

Turkey said the unlawful violence inflicted on the Syrian people by the Syrian regime had no justification. Turkey would host the Syria Friends Group’s second meeting in Istanbul in the coming weeks and strongly believed that this meeting would continue to deliver the right messages to the Syrian regime and facilitate, through diplomatic and political efforts, a peaceful solution to the crisis in the country.

Uruguay said that despite special sessions of the Human Rights Council, resolutions of the General Assembly and reports of the Commission of Inquiry, there were still serious and widespread human rights violations that could amount to crimes against humanity ongoing in Syria. There was nothing more despicable than shooting against one’s people. Uruguay added its voice to the condemnation of the human rights violations of the Syrian authorities and in particular, the killing of boys and girls. The only way to end the violence was through a negotiated dialogue.

Kuwait hoped that the Syrian authorities would cooperate with the efforts of the Special Envoy Kofi Annan. Kuwait had provided emergency assistance to those who had taken refuge in some neighbouring countries. A fund-raising campaign was launched in which the Emir offered a donation of five million dollars and a total 12 million dollars was raised.

Japan strongly condemned the continuing repression by the Syrian authorities as well as the extremely grave violations of human rights. It was deeply regrettable that the Syrian authorities had declined requests by the Commission to visit their country. Japan was deeply concerned about the findings of the Commission that there were reasonable grounds to believe that officials at the highest levels bore responsibility for gross human rights violations.

Slovenia strongly condemned the ongoing serious human rights violations by the Syrian authorities and welcomed the efforts of the international community in addressing them. Slovenia regretted the lack of cooperation with the Commission of Inquiry by the Syrian Government and said that the next step should be the referral of this situation to the International Criminal Court. The suffering of civilians must not be used as a means of conflict and the international community could not stand by while the humanitarian situation was deteriorating in front of its eyes.

Spain firmly condemned the death of civilians and human rights violations committed by the Government in Syria. Spain urged the Syrian authorities to accept the Arab League plan, to start political transition and to listen to the demands of its population. Spain further urged the authorities to provide access to the Commission of Inquiry and the Special Rapporteur in order to investigate human rights violations committed since July 2011.

France said that far from hearing the appeals of the international community, the Syrian Government continued its repression and violence which was causing a humanitarian crisis. The Syrian regime had failed to protect its people and crimes against humanity were being carried out everywhere. France called on the international community to prepare the way for referral of the Syrian case to the International Criminal Court.

United States said the Assad regime’s brutal killings, torture and indiscriminate bombings continued day after day after day in Syria. A living nightmare and humanitarian disaster had become part of daily life throughout Syria. It was of utmost importance that the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry was extended. Assad must leave now and let the people of Syria continue toward building a brighter future. The United States asked how the international community could aid the people of Syria in documenting human rights violations for purposes of accountability.

Czech Republic said the report of the Commission of Inquiry bore witness to horrifying human rights violations committed by governmental forces. The Czech Republic reiterated its call for an immediate end to the violence, cooperation with the international community and unhindered access for humanitarian aid. The Czech Republic asked for the Commission’s view on the scope of its mandate. Was the current mandate appropriate? Were there issues to which more attention should be paid?

Morocco expressed concern for the innocent victims of the events in Syria. Morocco’s approach had been purely humanitarian and emphasized work with the Arab countries to reach a negotiated solution to bring an end to the crisis. Morocco sought a way to protect Syrian citizens from the violations, compensate victims and carry out justice. Morocco wished to pursue Arab efforts to find a compromise such that the people’s aspirations led to a democratic solution in Syria.

Ecuador said that the procedures for the examination of country situations appeared to be an absolute fixation by the countries of the North. Ecuador reiterated that human rights were universal and must be respected by all and for all. That was why the allegations of human rights violations in Syria must be investigated. Ecuador reiterated its appeal to the Government of Syria and the armed groups to stop the violence and to respect the human rights of all Syrians.

United Kingdom said that despite of the continuing refusal of the Syrian authorities to grant access to the Commission of Inquiry, it was now clear from its latest report that the regime was ready to go to any length to cling to power. The United Kingdom was concerned about the abuses committed by opposition groups. The United Kingdom asked the Commission’s view on what the international community could do to assist the systematic collection and secure storage of evidence on international crimes.

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For use of the information media; not an official record