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UN experts call on Syria to urgently end crackdown and implement reforms

GENEVA (15 April 2011) –UN human rights experts* on Friday denounced the rising death toll and brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters, journalists and human rights defenders in Syria despite the Government’s promises of reforms and consultations to end the 48-year-old emergency rule.

The experts noted that there were many underlying grievances that led to recent protests, including deep-seated corruption, injustice and discrimination, the lack of consultation, participation, and accountability. Political reforms, accompanied by economic and social reforms are urgent and critical. They urged the authorities to immediately stop the repression and engage in a meaningful, inclusive and transparent dialogue to implement reforms.

“Firing on peaceful crowds attending protests or funerals is by no means justified,” stressed Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on arbitrary executions. “Live ammunition is being used outside the prescribed limits and in clear violation of international law. Firearms may only be used in self-defence or in the defence of others.” Citing reports that people are now taking up arms to retaliate against law enforcement officials, Heyns warned that “this can easily escalate into widespread violence.”

Since the beginning of the protests calling for democracy, in mid-March, the violence has dramatically intensified, reportedly resulting in at least 200 deaths. Demonstrations are taking place across the country, in Dara’a, Damascus, Aleppo, Latakia, Duma and Banias.

“Use of violence and excessive force is not a solution to the unrest,” said Juan Méndez, Special Rapporteur on Torture, adding that "any form of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is prohibited, anytime, anywhere.” Méndez urged the Government to respect the physical and mental integrity of protesters, ensure justice and accountability for victims, and bring those responsible for violations to justice.

The Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover, added that those injured “must be guaranteed immediate access to health facilities, goods and services,” stating that the Government’s obligation to respect the right to health means that it must not deny or limit equal access to health services.

Alarmed at the reported arrest of hundreds of protesters, El Hadji Malick Sow of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, called for the immediate release of all peaceful demonstrators who have been arbitrarily detained.

Experts on the freedom of expression and on the situation of human rights defenders, Frank La Rue and Margaret Sekaggya, urged the Government to guarantee the right to freedom of expression and “immediately release the human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers, who play a crucial role in monitoring recent events and informing the public.” La Rue added that it was “unconscionable that the voices of students, the potential leaders of the future, are being silenced,” referring to the reported arrests of student protestors.

During an official visit to Syria in September 2010, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, had raised the need to end discrimination and ensure greater public participation. As one of the measures taken to meet public demands, the Government decided to regularize the situation of stateless Kurds, after they joined the protests last week. “The recent protests show the people’s impatience that the Syrian Government has ignored repeated calls for an end to discrimination and for effective public participation,” he said.

De Schutter was also alarmed by reports about the shortage of basic food in Banias and the distribution of wheat being barred in Dara’a, cities where the Government forces control access. “People must be guaranteed a right to access food, inherent to their dignity,” he stressed.

Gay McDougall, Independent Expert on minority issues, emphasized that the rights of all Syrians, including minority groups, must be upheld and that all voices in society must be heard in a process of meaningful reform. The Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, said that “only when women are truly involved in raising demands, claiming their rights and participating fully in public life, will advances in the elimination of discriminatory laws and practices, gender stereotypes and patriarchal structures be possible.”

The Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Chaloka Beyani, expressed concern that checkpoints had been set up blocking access for people in and around Banias, making it difficult for them to flee. He also cited as worrying, reports of violence against residents of the village of Bayda who offered refuge to people who had managed to escape. “The Government must avoid any further actions which might lead to human rights violations or further displacement,” he said.
(*) Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns; Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan Méndez; Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Anand Grover; Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, El Hadji Malick Sow; Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue; Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya; Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, Independent Expert on minority issues, Gay McDougall, Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and its causes and consequences, Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani.

ENDS

OHCHR Country Page – Syrian Arab Republic:
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/MENARegion/Pages/SYIndex.aspx

Read the Syrian Arab Republic country mission report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/16session/A.HRC.16.49.Add.2_en.pdf

For more information and media requests, please contact Mr. Tsatsu Dawson (Tel: +41 22 917 9711 / email: tdawson@ohchr.org)