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Statement to the General Assembly on behalf of Ms. Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

[Delivered by Mr. Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights]

7 June 2012, New York

Mr. President,
Secretary-General,
Secretary-General of the Arab League,

The High Commissioner is currently on mission and has asked that I deliver this statement on her behalf.

Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

We continue to witness a serious deterioration of the human rights situation in Syria, which demands our full attention and engagement. Only yesterday, we received reports of large-scale killings in Qubair, near Hama, which as the Secretary-General has said, UNSMIS is currently trying to verify on the ground.

Last Friday the Human Rights Council met for the fourth time in a special session to address the atrocious events in the area of El-Houleh. The Council condemned in the strongest terms the outrageous killing of 108 people, including 49 children. Some were reported killed by artillery and tank fire by government forces on a residential neighborhood in El-Houleh. But it seems many of the victims were summarily executed in their own houses. According to witnesses, pro-government Shabiha paramilitary committed these violations.

The Syrian inter-ministerial committee investigating the events reported that “armed terrorist groups” were responsible for these killings.

The Human Rights Council requested the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic to, and I quote, “conduct a comprehensive, independent and unfettered special inquiry, consistent with international standards, into the events in El-Houleh, and, if possible, to publicly identify those responsible for these atrocities, and to preserve the evidence of crimes for possible future criminal prosecutions or a future justice process”.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

These killings are indicative of a pattern of widespread or systematic attacks against civilian populations, and may amount to crimes against humanity and other international crimes. There are indications that the situation in Syria – at least in certain areas - amounts to an internal armed conflict. This would have legal implications, triggering the possibility of commission of war crimes, in addition to crimes against humanity. It makes the call I made to the Security Council to consider referring the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court even more urgent.

Because of the consistent denial of access to the country, the Commission of Inquiry continues to investigate human rights violations committed in Syria by interviewing victims and witnesses who fled to neighbouring countries.

On 24 May, the Commission published a Periodic Update based on two field missions in March and April. It reported that gross violations in Syria continue unabated in an increasingly militarised context, despite the Special Envoy’s six-point plan. The Commission concluded that most of the serious human rights violations documented were committed by the Syrian army and security services.

The Commission of Inquiry received several accounts of violations committed by anti-Government armed groups, including acts of torture, summary executions, and kidnapping and abductions, as well as the use of children for tasks such as medical porters and messengers.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last week, OHCHR concluded a mission in countries neighbouring Syria, on the basis of which it has documented continuing and additional serious human rights violations in Syria.

In particular, OHCHR documented a pattern of civilian deaths and injuries reportedly arising from the use of live ammunition and lethal use of force against protestors, as well as from indiscriminate attacks and lack of proportionality resulting from the continued use of heavy weapons in populated areas. My Office has also received multiple reports of civilians being killed by snipers in Homs when seeking food and other basic necessities of life.

Reports indicate widespread arbitrary detention. Allegedly, Government forces have detained family members of wanted persons, including children, in order to compel those individuals to turn themselves in. I note the release of several hundred detainees by the Government of Syria, confirmed by UNSMIS last week. However, many thousands of civilians, including children, are believed to remain in detention. The whereabouts of many of them are unknown.

Reports of the widespread use of torture and cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees, as well as numerous reports of sexual violence committed against detainees, including children, remain of grave concern. My Office has received fresh accounts, directly from victims, of multiple forms of torture, including electric shocks, severe beating while in stress positions, cigarette burns, mock executions, sleep deprivation, as well as psychological torture such as threats to rape family members. Detainees also suffered from cruel and degrading conditions of detention.

In this context, I urge the Government of Syria to release all persons arbitrarily detained, and to immediately allow access to all detention facilities. I also call upon the Government of Syria to take vigorous steps to immediately halt the widespread and systematic practice of torture.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

People are dying as we speak. I urge the international community to unite here in the General Assembly, as well as in the Security Council, and to speak with one voice to all Syrians – including the Government and armed opponents – in order to convince them to pull back from the brink and begin genuine negotiations for a peaceful process of change. There would be a terrible cost for not doing so.

The Joint Special Envoy’s six-point plan must be implemented. All parties must move away from the path of conflict. They must cease all forms of violence and human rights violations and in so doing create the environment for a peaceful solution to the crisis facing their country. Only a negotiated solution which guarantees the political participation and the protection of the rights of all Syrians – regardless of their religion, ethnicity or political belief – can prevent further human rights violations and further bloodshed.