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Statement of all special procedures mandate holders of the United Nations Human Rights Council at the sixteenth Special Session of the Human Rights Council on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

Geneva, 29 April 2011

Statement delivered by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Mr. Olivier De Schutter

Madam Vice-President, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Coordination Committee of Special Procedures has requested me to deliver the following statement on behalf of the Special Procedures mandate-holders of the United Nations Human Rights Council:

Over the past weeks, we have witnessed a wave of protests across the Syrian Arab Republic, in other countries of the region and other parts of the world. There have been peaceful calls for democratic reforms and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Special Procedures have received reports that serious human rights violations are being committed in Syria. The Government security forces and the army have used disproportionate and indiscriminate force. Tanks and other artillery have been deployed, there has been sniping and indiscriminate firing of live ammunition into peaceful protests.

Acting under orders, forces are shooting directly at people without warning. This has led to the death of several hundred people. We have stressed that this use of force is in clear violation of international law. Firearms may only be used in self-defence or in the defence of others, and in strict compliance with the principles of necessity and proportionality. We call upon the Government of Syria to immediately stop the use of deadly force and to protect its own people. We call upon the Government to respect its human rights obligations, in particular with regard to the non-derogable rights to life and to freedom from torture and ill-treatment.

The protests mark the Syrian people’s desire to claim and peacefully demand their human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

Not only has the Government violently suppressed this right of peaceful protesters, it has arbitrarily arrested human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers. These play a crucial role in monitoring recent events and informing the public. We have called upon the Government, as we do today, to release immediately all those who have been arbitrarily arrested and detained.

The Government also appears to have restricted the exercise of the right to freedom of expression by limiting access to communication media. We call upon the Government to cease this.

We remind States that to seek accountability from Government and call for reforms is legitimate.

The Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council express concern about reports of shortage of food and water, inequality in the distribution of food, and denial of access to medical treatment. We urge the Government to ensure immediate access to these economic and social rights and basic services, including health facilities, water, food, electricity, and other basic amenities.

Madam Vice-President,

The Special Procedures, including myself, have been able to observe first hand through recent country visits that underlying grievances are rooted in lack of respect for basic civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. This includes discrimination; lack of participation of all parts of society, including women, in political and public life; and lack of accountability.

Since the protests began the authorities have committed to reforms, lifted the state of emergency in place for five decades, and committed to regularizing the situation of stateless Kurds.

These steps are welcome.

The real test, however, will be whether the Government follows through with these and other reforms and delivers on its human rights obligations under international law. We call for meaningful, inclusive and transparent dialogue with the people as these reforms are implemented. The President of the Syrian Arab Republic and the Government should also commit to holding accountable those responsible for the human rights violations.

This should include any high ranking officials and authorities implicated in human rights violations. There should be reparations and compensation to victims and members of their families.

The Special Procedures, as independent human rights experts of the Council, call for an independent, transparent inquiry to investigate the violations. We urge the Government to cooperate fully with the Special Procedures, and encourage it to extend a standing invitation to mandate-holders to undertake country visits. On behalf of all Special Procedures, I wish to reiterate that we stand ready to assist the Syrian Arab Republic, and other States, in their efforts to engage in social, economic and political reforms to build a democratic society that fully respects the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms.

But most importantly, we call for the use of violence to stop now.