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Press briefings notes on Syria and North Korea

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 22 March 2013
Subjects:
1) Syria
2) North Korea


1) Syria

On the issue of the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria -- and I stress that this has not yet been confirmed, the evidence is not yet clear -- the use of chemical weapons is prohibited under customary international law. This absolute prohibition applies in all circumstances, including armed conflict. As a norm of customary international law, it is binding on the Government despite it not being party to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. It is also binding on anti-Government armed groups. A total of 188 States have signed up to this Convention.

The High Commissioner welcomes the Secretary General's decision to conduct a United Nations investigation into the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria, and we stand ready to join the investigation if requested to do so. If chemical weapons do indeed turn out to have been used, this can only be described as an abominable and depraved act. We hope these reports turn out to be incorrect, because if they are true this terrible conflict will have plunged to new depths.

The use of chemical weapons would most likely be either a crime against humanity or a war crime. The High Commissioner echoes the Secretary-General's call that -- if such a crime has been committed -- those responsible must be held accountable. While awaiting the outcome of the investigation, the protection of civilians must not be put on hold. The High Commissioner reiterates her call to all parties to the conflict to immediately halt attacks against civilians, and to go beyond that -- to actually provide for their protection.

2) North Korea

We warmly welcome the Human Rights Council yesterday establishing a Commission of Inquiry on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (also known as North Korea). We see this as a major breakthrough, and it was good to see that it was adopted by consensus: no state abstained, no state voted against. On 14 January, the High Commissioner made an important statement on the DPRK in which she called for just such "a full-fledged international international inquiry." She also pointed out that the international spotlight was "almost exclusively focused on DPRK's nuclear programme and rocket launches." That is no longer the case now the Human Rights Council has taken this very significant step of establishing a Commission of Inquiry. As the High Commissioner pointed out, the deplorable situation in DPRK in one way or another affects almost the entire population and has no parallel anywhere else in the world.

To find the news release issued on North Korea on 14 January 2013, please go to: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12923&LangID=E

ENDS
For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Cécile Pouilly (+ 41 22 917 9310 / cpouilly@ohchr.org)

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