Statement delivered on video by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mr. Christof Heyns
Madame President, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Coordination Committee of Special Procedures has asked me to deliver this statement on behalf of Special Procedures mandate-holders of the Human Rights Council.
That the Human Rights Council is convened in a special session on Syria for the fourth time demonstrates the gravity of the human rights violations unfolding on the ground since violence erupted in Syria in March 2011. At each special session, and through press statements and communications, we have condemned the attacks against the civilian population and called for an end to the violence from all parties.
We deplore the fact that since the last special session and after more than one year of widespread violence, the situation has alarmingly deteriorated. The killings which have occurred over the past few days have again alerted us to the imperative for immediate action from the highest level, in particular President Assad.
We fully support the statements made by the Security Council, the Secretary-General, the Joint Special Envoy on Syria, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Commission of Inquiry established by the Human Rights Council. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the series of attacks on residential areas, in particular the recent massacres of civilians in the village of El-Houleh reportedly involving Government forces and militias. We are particularly shocked at the death of numerous young children. We recall the State’s obligations to protect every individual’s right to life, including children, under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The indiscriminate and disproportionate use of artillery and tank shelling against residential areas is unacceptable. While the Government has justified lethal force in response to killings by terrorist groups, we emphasize that it is a State’s obligation to ensure that its security forces do not commit human rights violations, and also to exercise due diligence and take all necessary measures to prevent abuses by non-State actors. A failure to do so may constitute a breach of the State’s human rights obligations.
We note that the Government has appointed an inter-ministerial committee to investigate the events in El-Houleh, and stress that this investigation should be prompt, independent and thorough so as to shed light on the circumstances of the killings, and to ensure that perpetrators are held to account.
The recent attacks occur in contradiction to the commitments of the Joint Special six-point plan. Reprisals have reportedly been carried out against protestors, political and human rights activists, or persons suspected of anti-Government activities. This has led to arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, ill-treatment including of minors in interrogation and detention facilities, and sexual violence in places of detention against men, women and children.
As reported by humanitarian agencies, livelihoods and access to medical care, food, and water have been affected across the country, and dramatically so in conflict affected areas. Ensuring unhindered access to humanitarian assistance, including to internally displaced persons, must be a priority for all parties and be provided irrespective of other efforts to resolve the crisis. Reports of interference with and even deliberate destruction preventing access to adequate food, water and in particular medical care and assistance are of great concern to us and would, if confirmed, represent further egregious human rights violations.
The widespread violence has had an impact throughout the country where there is a growing number of internally displaced persons. In addition, more than 61,000 people are seeking shelter in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
All available information indicates that crimes against humanity, and possibly other crimes under international law have been committed in Syria. This has been documented in reports of the OHCHR fact-finding mission, the Independent Commission of Inquiry, in statements by the High Commissioner for Human Rights and numerous NGO reports. We consider that recent tragic events constitute an additional reason for the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.
In the meantime, as a matter of urgency, we urge the Syrian Government and all parties to take immediate measures to ensure that no more human rights violations are committed and to prevent further civilian losses. All parties must refrain from violence. To this end, we call on the Syrian Government to give clear public orders to security and military forces not to use force against civilians and to withdraw its troops from population centres.
The United Nations and all its members should, according to its Charter, be guided by respect for human rights. We therefore urge the Syrian Government to honour its commitments and international obligations in respect of peace, security and human rights for the Syrian population and neighbouring countries.
We urge the members of the Security Council to strengthen their efforts to restore peace and security in Syria. It is critical that they agree on firm action to stop the violence and human rights abuses.
We also call on the Syrian authorities to provide full and unhindered access to the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria, the Commission of Inquiry, the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council and all humanitarian actors.
I thank you for your attention.