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Statement of Christof Heyns Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

Urgent debate on human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

Human Rights Council 23rd Session

Geneva, 29 May 2013

Honourable President,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

For more than two years we have witnessed the relentless deterioration of the human rights situation in Syria, with violence and human rights violations reaching an alarming level of gravity.

In accordance with the mandate entrusted to me by this distinguished body, I have closely followed the situation of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions on the ground in Syria. At various special sessions of the Human Rights Council, and through press statements and individual communications, I have expressed my concern over the shocking number of unlawful killings perpetrated by all parties to the conflict in Syria, as well as reiterated the call that violence from all sides cease immediately.

The present information reported on the violations of the right to life in Syria raises an ever higher level of alarm. The fourth report of the independent international Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic stipulates that the situation has been worsening further, following the escalation of the conflict between the Government forces and affiliated militia on the one hand and anti-Government armed groups on the other. The tens of thousands of deaths, especially of civilians, constitute a figure that is particularly appalling.

Government forces and militia associated with it reportedly continue to commit unlawful killings. Massacres, as well as the excessive and indiscriminate use of force, continue to reap a grim toll. Reports on the killings perpetrated by the anti-Government armed groups are also very distressing. According to credible reports, many of the killings committed by all sides may amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes.

I am deeply concerned at the current level of unlawful killings perpetrated by all parties in the Syrian Arab Republic. I would like to recall the obligation under both international humanitarian law and international human rights law to protect the right to life. While the Government continues to justify the lethal use of force in response to killings by what it calls terrorist groups, I stress that it is a State’s obligation to ensure that its own security forces do not commit human rights violations and to protect its population.

Accountability for unlawful killings committed needs to be ensured by the authorities in Syria to shed light on the events unfolding since March 2011. Perpetrators must be brought to justice, in accordance with the established procedures of law and relevant international standards. The violence must stop.

I support the calls for the members of the Security Council to strengthen their efforts to help restore peace in Syria, and express hope that an International Conference to be convened next month on Syria will be a meaningful step in this direction. I also call on the Syrian authorities to extend full cooperation to the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry, as well as to all human rights and humanitarian actors including the Special Procedures mechanisms.

I thank you for your attention.