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Human Rights Council concludes dialogue on Syria and begins general debate on human rights situations requiring its attention

Human Rights Council
MORNING 13 March 2012

Human Rights Council this morning concluded its interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the situation of human rights in Syria and began its general debate on human rights situations that require the attention of the Council.

Paulo Pinheiro, Chairperson of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, in concluding remarks, said the Council had a crucial role to play in improving the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor the situation in Syria. This was particularly important considering the ongoing and continuing bloodshed in Syria. There was no magic solution, but what must be done was to support the mediatory efforts of Mr. Annan. This would achieve two objectives: an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, which was of utmost urgency and a negotiated settlement with the involvement of all parties in this conflict.

Kyung-wha Kang, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she appreciated the continued and insistent engagement of the Council with the situation in Syria that began with the establishment of a fact finding mission in May 2011 and was followed by the creation of the Commission of Inquiry. Ms. Kang said that the High Commissioner for Human Rights would support the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court and the extension of the Commission’s mandate.

In the interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Libya, speakers said that all acts of violence, especially those against civilians, must end and the Government and opposition parties should start a dialogue to restore stability in the country. Speakers encouraged Syria to fully cooperate with the Human Rights Council and reiterated their support to the joint United Nations and the Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, Mr. Kofi Annan. Some speakers said that the reality on the ground was the result of a combination of factors, and in particular, the deplorable concealed efforts by some specific countries to finance and arm opposition groups in Syria. They noted that the imposition of economic sanctions would have a negative impact on human rights in the country.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were Costa Rica, Belgium, Chile, China, Brazil, Romania, Iran, Mexico, Malaysia, Canada, Switzerland, Thailand, Poland, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Bulgaria, Venezuela, Portugal and Botswana.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Press Emblem Campaign, Liberal International, International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Amnesty International and the Arab Lawyers Union.

In the general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention, speakers raised the situation of human rights violations in a number of countries.

Speaking in the general debate were Denmark on behalf of the European Union, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Norway, the United States, Spain, China, Belgium, Ecuador, Hungary, Poland, Maldives, Austria and Cuba.

The Human Rights Council, at its midday meeting, will hold a panel discussion to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Declaration of the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. At 3 p.m. it will continue with the general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.

Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria

Costa Rica deplored the use of State force against the civilian population in Syria and noted that these actions could constitute crimes against humanity. The work of the Commission was a good step towards fighting against impunity. The orders to carry out these acts came from the highest levels of the security forces and the Government. Costa Rica would like to sponsor the recommendation to set up an inclusive political dialogue to negotiate an end to the crisis and protect human rights.

Belgium said the Commission of Inquiry had concluded that the Government of Syria had not only failed to respond to the legitimate political, economic and social demands of the people but also had manifestly failed in its responsibility to protect the population. Belgium supported the initiatives of the United Nations and the League of Arab States. Belgium concurred that the thorough monitoring of the human rights situation and the systematic collection of evidence needed to continue.

Chile said the Syrian Government had committed widespread, serious and systematic human rights violations. Chile shared the opinion of the Commission of Inquiry that armed groups had also committed violations. The main aim should be to put an end to the cycle of violence so it did not spill over into a civil war. The only solution would be a negotiated settlement. Chile applauded the efforts of humanitarian envoy Valerie Amos and would support the resolution to extend the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry.

China expressed concern for the situation in Syria and was convinced that the constructive dialogue would provide a solution. All acts of violence, especially those against civilians, must come to an immediate stop and the Government and opposition parties must start a dialogue to restore stability and normal social order in the country. China supported the leading role of the United Nations in conducting assessments and providing humanitarian assistance to the Syrian population under the condition that the sovereignty of Syria was respected.

Brazil encouraged Syria to fully cooperate with the Human Rights Council in the future and reiterated its support to the joint United Nations and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, Mr. Kofi Annan. The Commission of Inquiry had noted the worsening socio-economic situation in Syria. Economic sanctions had a negative impact on human rights and should be avoided. Brazil called on all humanitarian agencies to adhere strictly to humanitarian principles, particularly impartiality and independence.

Romania believed that the report of the Commission of Inquiry made the grave situation in the country evident enough. Romania joined all those who called for an immediate stop to human rights violations and for unimpeded access for humanitarian organizations. Impunity for crimes committed must come to an end. The mission of the Commission of Inquiry would be best achieved with the extension of its mandate and it should continue reporting on the situation in Syria for as long as it was necessary.

Iran said the reality on the ground was the result of a combination of factors, and in particular deplorable concealed efforts by some specific countries to finance and arm Syrian opposition groups. Iran welcomed the cooperation extended by the Syrian Government to the Commission. It was the responsibility of the State to investigate, prosecute and punish international crimes. The imposition of economic sanctions would have a negative impact on human rights. Iran welcomed United Nations Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s political negotiations.

Mexico shared the view of the Council for the need for a negotiated settlement to the crisis and hoped the efforts of Kofi Annan would pave the way to end the violence and establish an inclusive dialogue. Mexico asked the Commission for more details on the risks of ethnic and religious violence in Syria. Mexico asked for more information about how the international community could prevent ethnic and religious aspects from becoming central to the conflict.

Malaysia expressed its sympathies and condolences to the families of those killed and injured in Syria and was concerned there was little indication of the violence subsiding. Malaysia was also concerned about the deteriorating socio-economic situation, which left a majority of the people in complete disarray. Malaysia called for the international community to formalize a united and strong message of solidarity for the promotion and protection of human rights of all Syrian people.

Canada was appalled by the most recent findings of the Commission of Inquiry which painted an even more disturbing picture of gross violations of human rights committed with the knowledge and consent of the highest levels of the Syrian Government. Canada urged Syria to put an end to the atrocities, hold perpetrators accountable and fully cooperate with the Commission. Canada was gravely concerned about Syria’s restrictions on humanitarian access and commended the leadership of the Arab League and Turkey in bringing an end to the crisis.

Switzerland called on all actors to implement the recommendations put forward by the Commission of Inquiry. Switzerland vigorously condemned all violations of human rights in Syria and urged the authorities to respect the rights of the Syrian population, particularly their right to life, protection from torture and freedom of expression. Switzerland believed that the Security Council should refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. The solution to problems in Syria must entail the cessation of violence and establishing an inclusive dialogue.

Thailand urged the Government of Syria and all parties to seriously consider implementing the recommendations of the Commission. The well-being of the Syrian people was Thailand’s top concern and Thailand called on Syria to work with the international community to address the humanitarian situation. The international community must support Syria by responding to their requests for technical and humanitarian assistance and cooperation in order to support them in meeting their responsibility to protect their citizens.

Poland was appalled at the reported increasing militarization and intensification of the conflict in Syria. Poland regretted that reportedly, the Commission established by the Government to carry out investigations of the crimes committed, despite ample evidence, had not been able to successfully prosecute any of the responsible military and civilian officials. Poland asked the Commission to elaborate on the potential contribution of reparations for the victims of regime. Under what format would it be of most use to the population of Syria?

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said human rights should not be abused for political purposes. Some western countries were trying to turn the Council into an arena of confrontation and distrust, singling out independent sovereign States that did not share the same values with the west. Western countries were resorting to regime change under the pretext of human rights. This would only foment internal strife. The Syrian Government would be able to resolve the current domestic problems.

Bulgaria categorically condemned the appalling human rights abuses perpetrated by the Syrian regime and called for an immediate end to all repression against civilians. The updated report was an important documentary contribution to the overall efforts to ensure accountability in Syria. Given the escalating human rights abuses, it was imperative to extend the Commission of Inquiry’s mandate. Bulgaria appreciated if the Commission would provide their view on how the plight of children could be alleviated.

Venezuela deeply regretted the loss of life in Syria and called for a dialogue to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict. Venezuela deplored that some were prepared to use force against the Syrian people. The Human Rights Council could not be complicit in the repetition of the imperialistic blueprint applied in Libya and elsewhere with disastrous results. Venezuela expressed its concern that there was an attempt to establish an interventionist mechanism in this Council and in the United Nations under the name of the promotion and protection of human rights

Portugal said that the Syrian authorities had failed to protect their own people and added that the humanitarian situation must be addressed without delay. The perpetrators of the crimes must be held accountable and Romania considered it of utmost importance to continue the work of the Commission in identifying the authors of the horrendous violations for as long as those violations were being committed.

Botswana was alarmed by the continuing violence in Syria and called on the authorities to cease attacks on political opposition, human rights defenders and the media, and to refrain from arbitrary arrests, torture and enforced disappearances. Botswana was in agreement with many States that Syria had failed dismally in protecting its people and continued to violate their rights. That was why Botswana supported the referral of Syria to the International Criminal Court.

Press Emblem Campaign said that seven journalists had lost their lives in carrying out their duty during the increasingly violent and militarized internal unrest in Syria. There was a need for an international binding set of rules to ensure journalists free and safe access to conflict zones.

Liberal International condemned the brutal actions of the Syrian authorities and the continuous use of lethal force and arbitrary arrests against peaceful demonstrators and foreign journalists. The Council should recommend to the Security Council that it refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court and freeze President Bashar Al-Assad’s assets.

International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists said it was shocked and stunned from the idleness of the international community in relation to crimes committed by the authorities in Syria. The international community should not stand aside while atrocities were being committed against civilians and the Association urged Member States and the international community to act together to stop the violence.

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies called for the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria to be extended. The refusal of India and the Philippines to support the resolution was greatly disappointing. The work of Russia, China, Cuba and others to undermine efforts would not be forgotten by the millions of citizens throughout the Arab region.

Amnesty International said it had the names of more than 6,500 killed in Syria since mid-March 2011. Thousands had been arrested and otherwise detained. It was inexcusable that Russia and other governments continued to rely on contorted and twisted portrayals of balance to prevent the Council and other bodies from acting in unison.

Arab Lawyers Union hoped the Commission would make reference to the prohibition to provide arms to armed groups. There should be no foreign interference in Syria. Imposing sanctions was a dangerous approach. Arab Lawyers Union did not want the situation to deteriorate to such an extent that the region went up in flames.

Concluding Remarks on the Situation in Syria

PAULO PINHEIRO, Chairperson of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, in concluding remarks said that paragraph 27 of the report made a reference to the treatment of minorities and stated that both sides were trying to gain the support of minorities. It was very important to consider reparations in the context of accountability. The protection of children should not be too difficult; the Government should respect the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and not treat children as adults. It must also stop indiscriminate bombing of the residential areas. As to the role of the Council in strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights, it had a crucial role to play in improving the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor the situation. This was particularly important considering the ongoing and continuing bloodshed in Syria. On the question of Switzerland on how to start the dialogue, Mr. Pinheiro said that there was no magic solution, but what must be done was to support the mediatory efforts of Mr. Annan. This would achieve two objectives: an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, which was of utmost urgency, and a negotiated settlement with the involvement of all parties in this conflict. It was important to leave aside the illusion that an aggressive solution would resolve this crisis; the Member States must support with all means the role of Mr. Annan instead.

KYUNG-WHA KANG, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she appreciated the continued and insistent engagement of the Council with the situation in Syria and provided a brief summary on the history of the Council’s focus on the crisis. The Council’s first engagement was the establishment of a fact finding mission in May 2011 which produced a report from interviews with over 100 individuals which documented widespread or systematic violations of human rights that could amount to crimes against humanity based on the Rome Statue. In September 2011, the Council established the Commission of Inquiry which concluded at the end of November that crimes against humanity had been committed in Syria. The Council then asked the Commission to provide an updated report which confirmed that atrocities had been committed with greater intensity and generated a confidential list of individuals responsible for committing such crimes. The High Commissioner would support the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court and the extension of the mandate of the Commission. Ms. Kang said that the collection of information had been challenging and since December lines of information on the ground with the Office of the High Commissioner were severed; however individuals would be sent to Syria to monitor the situation. The Deputy High Commissioner concluded by calling for an immediate cease to the violence in Syria.

Human Rights Situations that Require the Council’s Attention

Documentation

The Council has before it the report of the High Commissioner on the implementation of Human Rights Council Resolution S-17/1 (A/HRC/19/79)

The Council has before it the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Human Rights Council Resolution S-18/1 (A/HRC/19/80)

The Council has before it a note verbale dated 27 December 2011 from the Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva addressed to the President of the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/19/G/2)

The Council has before it a note verbale dated 26 February 2012 from the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva addressed to the President of the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/19/G/3)

The Council has before it the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Human Rights Council Resolution S-18/1 (A/HRC/19/G/4)

General Debate on Human Rights Situations that Require the Council’s Attention

Denmark, speaking on behalf of the European Union, welcomed the fact that the Council was fully seized of human rights situations in Myanmar, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Iran. The Council had looked into the extremely worrying human rights situation in Syria. The European Union was following closely the situations in Yemen and Libya and strongly encouraged Bahrain to accept an interactive dialogue. The European Union was concerned about the human rights situation in Belarus, Sudan and China and reports of violations in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Eritrea.

Switzerland said the populations of North Africa and the Middle East had risen up to ensure their rights were respected and to denounce the brutality of their leaders. This had permitted advances in human rights in the region. In Egypt the population was participating in a process of political transition. Switzerland was concerned about the human rights situation in Bahrain and Sudan. Developments in Belarus were preoccupying; Switzerland encouraged the Government to participate in the dialogue process of the Council.

Czech Republic noted the encouraging developments in Myanmar. In China, reports of continued escalations in Tibetan areas were alarming and international access should be allowed. The delegation urged the Democratic Republic of the Congo to fight sexual violence and called on Iran to put an end to the prosecution of human rights defenders and lawyers. The Czech Republic was concerned about reports of human rights violations in Eritrea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The situation in Belarus continued to deteriorate.

Norway strongly condemned all attacks against peaceful protesters and human rights defenders. Egypt should continue a speedy transition to civil rule and facilitate a process of genuine democratization. Norway called on Bahrain to implement recommendations of the independent Commission of Inquiry and regretted the restrictions for the United Nations and non-governmental organizations to enter the country. Norway was also concerned about the situations in Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus and called on the Governments of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to comply with their international human rights obligations.

United States condemned the slaughter, torture and kidnapping of journalists and civilians, including women and children in Syria. Belarus imprisoned peaceful demonstrators, China used arrests and forced disappearances to silence dissent, and Sudan continued attacks on civilians and human rights abuses throughout the country. Of particular concern was the situation of refugees and asylum-seekers from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the continuing flight of Eritreans, use of violence by Cuba’s security forces against its citizens and restrictions of civil society and persecution of political opposition in Venezuela.

Spain said the international community was a witness to constant human rights violations that required the attention of this Council. Such was the case of Syria where violence must end immediately. Spain hoped that the new Libyan authorities would work with the United Nations mechanism to instill accountability for committed crimes. Spain condemned the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus where the oppression of journalists and dissidents continued and expressed its concern over the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in South Kordofan and Blue Nile in the Sudan.

China said that the Council should engage in constructive dialogue and not in open confrontation. All States should fully respect the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of each country. Models of human rights varied according to the economic and social development of each State. China was concerned with the human rights situation of minorities in the United States and the failure to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Belgium attached great importance to the protection of all minorities. There was concern for the situation of detainees in Libya and the human rights situation in Iran, including the persecution of human rights defenders and the use of the death penalty. Sri Lanka should work in close cooperation with the United Nations on the issue of impunity. Belgium urged Belarus to put an end to human rights violations.

Ecuador said that the human rights of alleged terrorists could not be denied under extraordinary forms of rendition and called for a Special Rapporteur to be established on the application of rendition and other human rights violations in the fight against terrorism. Ecuador was concerned with human rights violations committed by the United States military in Afghanistan. The United States must comply with its commitment to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.

Hungary said that the situation in Syria was unattainable and despite regional and international efforts to resolve the crisis, the prospect was bleak. The striking pattern of human rights violations in Iran was another issue of concern and Hungary called on this country to respect its human rights obligations and engage with the United Nations human rights mechanisms. The steady deterioration in the human rights situation in Belarus demanded the attention of the Council and Hungary called on the authorities to stop human rights violations and release all political prisoners.

Poland firmly condemned the Syrian authorities for the ongoing and systematic human rights violations and expressed concern with the deteriorating humanitarian situation in this country. It was vital that all violations of international human rights law in Libya were investigated and that the Government addressed the situation in detention centers and alleged use of torture. In Belarus, the authorities continued to violate the human rights and freedoms of their citizens including the practice of politically motivated trials, application of unfounded and tough judgments, and the use of torture in detention centers and in penal colonies.

Maldives updated the Council on recent human rights developments in the Maldives
and said that a national commission of inquiry had been established to look into the events leading into the resignation of the former President and to establish the facts of the transfer of power. The Government reiterated that the security and privileges of the former President would be fully respected. Any and all human rights abuses would be dealt with according to the law and the Maldives’ international human rights obligations.

Austria said the continuous, clear and unequivocal condemnation of the Council of serious human rights violations in Syria and Iran stood as testimony to the Council’s ability to generate political will and live up to its responsibility. At a time of change and political transition it was important to remain watchful of the situation of minority groups, women and journalists. Austria was concerned about the increasing use of the death penalty, particularly in Iraq. Austria also remained concerned about the deteriorating human rights situations in Iran, Nigeria and Belarus.

Cuba said the United Sates and the European Union had attacked a long list of countries as if they were credible judges. These threats were not legitimate. These countries were the worst human rights violators, killing civilians with the use of military action and causing increases in the number of hungry and impoverished persons due to the economic order. Dialogue and cooperation among equals should be promoted. This was the only approach that was sustainable.

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For use of the information media; not an official record