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Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue with the Commission on Inquiry on Syria

Human Rights Council
   MORNING

21 September 2015

The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic after hearing the Commission’s Chairperson, Paulo Pinheiro, present the Commission’s report.

At the beginning of the meeting, Joachim Rücker, President of the Human Rights Council, said that the Council had held a closed meeting on the Complaint Procedure last Friday and that the Working Group on Situations had not referred any case to the Council for action at this session.

Presenting the Commission of Inquiry’s report, Mr. Pinheiro said that Syria had fallen apart before the world’s eyes, the ties that bound a nation together had disintegrated and the shared history of Syria’s diverse communities had been torn asunder by this brutal war.  This disintegration, this rending of a nation, was the price of doing nothing made manifest.  As the war was heading to its fifth year, the Syrian tragedy had now reached European shores.  The deaths of children, suffered daily by Syrian families for more than four and a half years, were being mourned afresh; the profound human suffering, long seen in the hospitals and camps of Syria’s neighbours, was etched on the haggard faces of refugees huddled in European train stations and camping behind razor wire at Schengen borders.  This was the spiralling cost of the failure to bring Syria back to peace. 

Syria, speaking as the concerned country, said that the approach adopted by the Commission was far from being non-partial and failed to consider the armed operations of certain countries, such as the sponsoring of armed groups by Turkey, Jordan and Qatar.  Saudi Arabia sponsored the so-called Islamic Army, which shelled Damascus, while the United Kingdom and the United States sponsored the so-called moderate opposition forces, which also used civilians as a shield. 

In the ensuing interactive discussion, speakers said that the Commission of Inquiry continued to provide critical reporting on the crimes perpetrated by various parties to the conflict in Syria and that its latest findings were horrific.  The conflict continued to intensify, becoming more complex and bringing unpredictable consequences, and delegations decried the situation of children, and of women and girls, who had been targeted on the basis of their gender throughout the conflict.  The calls for justice, political negotiations and peace were without meaning to those who continued to visit atrocity on the Syrian people with impunity, speakers said, stressing that the humanitarian reality must find its way into the international decision making process; half-hearted political steps were not enough anymore.  Only a political transition that met the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people would enable them to determine their future independently and democratically, delegations said and welcomed the Security Council’s endorsement of the Special Envoy De Mistura’s plan to establish four thematic groups to work towards a political transition in Syria. A number of speakers believed that country mandates not supported by States concerned were an obstacle to achieving progress in the area of human rights, deplored the manipulation of events by the international media, and called for a political dialogue on the basis of the principles of the United Nations Charter.  They lamented that efforts to reach peace in Syria had been impeded by the interests of certain parties to the conflict.

Speaking were the European Union, Norway on behalf of the Nordic Group, Greece, Egypt, Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Tunisia, France, Albania, Turkey, Australia, Qatar, Ireland, United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, United States, Austria, Morocco, Malaysia, Estonia, Algeria, Venezuela, Bahrain, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Maldives, Chile, Czech Republic, Kuwait, United Kingdom, Romania, Cuba, Belgium, Jordan, Iraq, Ghana, Belarus, Russia, Brazil, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Canada, Italy, China, Israel, Latvia, Costa Rica, Iran, Spain, Portugal, Botswana, Nigeria, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Sudan and Paraguay.

Also taking the floor were: Syriac Universal Alliance, United Nations Watch, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Arab Commission for Human Rights, Allied Rainbow Communities International, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, International Commission of Jurists, and Union of Arab Jurists.

The Human Rights Council is holding a full day of meetings today.  At noon, the Council will hold a panel discussion on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including a focus on the issues of international abductions, enforced disappearances and related matters

Statement by the President

JOACHIM RÜCKER, President of the Human Rights Council, said that the Human Rights Council had held a closed meeting on the Complaint Procedure on Friday, 18 September, in which it had examined the report of the Working Group on Situations.  No case had been referred by the Working Group to the Human Rights Council for action at the thirtieth session.

Documentation

The Council has before it the report of the Independent International Commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (A/HRC/30/48)
 
Presentation by the Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria

PAULO SÉRGIO PINHEIRO, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, said that Syria had fallen apart before the world’s eyes.  A nation had collapsed into the world’s most chaotic and lethal battlefield.  The war remained deadlocked, as violence ripped through the social fabric of Syrian society.  The ties that bound a nation together had disintegrated and the shared history of Syria’s diverse communities had been torn asunder by this brutal war.  Civilians were being victimised on multiple grounds and children were particularly adversely affected.  Even Syria’s ancient history was not spared and on 30 August, ISIS had turned the Temple of Baal, a structure that had stood for over 2,000 years, into rubble.  This disintegration, this rending of a nation, was the price of doing nothing made manifest.  As the war was heading to its fifth year, the Syrian tragedy had now reached European shores.  The deaths of children, suffered daily by Syrian families for more than four and a half years, were being mourned afresh; the profound human suffering, long seen in the hospitals and camps of Syria’s neighbours, was etched on the haggard faces of refugees huddled in European train stations and camping behind razor wire at Schengen borders.  This was the spiralling cost of the failure to bring Syria back to peace.  This refugee crisis – having existed for years in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq – was largely driven by the Syrian conflict.  The two were inextricably linked and it was impossible to solve one without the other.

The Syrian exodus was motivated by the fact that civilians were the primary victims of attack by the warring parties, and indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks were the main cause of civilian casualties.  A Government bombardment of a market in Douma in mid-August had resulted in scores of civilian casualties, and thousands remained imprisoned in facilities where torture and death in large numbers were being consistently documented.  Anti-Government armed groups continued to conduct indiscriminate shelling on civilian areas, particularly in Aleppo, Damascus and Dara’a cities.  The terrorist group Jabhat Al-Nusra besieged and attacked towns and villages in Idlib and ran several detention facilities where killings and torture had been reported.  In areas under the control of ISIS, thousands of Yazidi women and girls – some as young as nine – had been abducted and were being held as chattel inside Syria where they were raped and beaten by the men who bought them.  ISIS also forcibly recruited and indoctrinated young boys, and public executions were routine in towns and villages throughout ISIS-controlled territory.

The failure of States to commit fully to bringing the warring parties to negotiation was a blight on the world’s collective conscience, said Mr. Pinheiro, and far worse was the supply of money, weapons and training bestowed upon belligerents in Syria. States supplying arms had legal, as well as moral obligations, he said, stressing that responsibility for crimes rested with the people who held the weapons, and those who aided and abetted by putting the weapons in their hands, be they State or non-State actors.  Over the past four years, the Commission of Inquiry had provided the Council with detailed information about the crimes being committed by all parties in Syria and it was now time to curb the flow of weapons.  The illusion of a military victory had not yet been dispelled and  this reasoning was grotesque in the face of a country destroyed and a people crushed by suffering.  The only solution to the conflict was a political one and it was time to overcome the diplomatic failure and recognise that there was a global interest in returning Syria to peace.  It was time to give full and effective support to the De Mistura plan and for the Security Council to act with the responsibility vested in it.  It was auspicious to note that Russia and the United States had agreed to discuss mechanisms for “deconfliction” in Syria.

Statement by the Concerned Country

Syria, speaking as the concerned country, said that the approach adopted by the Commission was far from being non-partial.  The report tirelessly repeated accusations on the basis of dubious sources.  It contained inaccurate information.  It was unacceptable to deny the Syrian State the right to fight terrorism which was supported from outside the country, to deny its constitutional right to protect its citizens from barbaric terrorism, and to continue making untrue allegations that Government troops targeted civilians on purpose in an attempt to tarnish the image of Syria.  The report offered strange justification for some of the armed groups in Syria, such as Al Nusra operating on a non-ideological basis.  The report failed to consider the armed operations of certain countries, such as the sponsoring of armed groups by Turkey, Jordan and Qatar, which shelled civilian populations.  The so-called Islamic Army sponsored by Saudi Arabia was responsible for shelling Damascus.   The United Kingdom and the United States were responsible for sponsoring the so-called moderate opposition forces, which also used civilians as a shield.  Non-traditional arms were used by all those armed groups.

Interactive Discussion

European Union stated that the situation in Syria remained dire for the civilian population, in particular women and children.  It continued to result in an ever-increasing number of deaths, serious injuries, kidnappings, sexual violence, arbitrary detentions and inhuman and degrading treatment.  The European Union called on all parties to immediately stop all forms of indiscriminate shelling and bombardment of civilian areas and for the Syrian regime to immediately cease all indiscriminate and disproportionate aerial bombardments, including the use of barrel bombs.  Norway, speaking on behalf of the Nordic Group, called the latest findings of the Commission horrific.  Civilians were being killed, injured, tortured, arbitrarily detained, threatened and subjected to extortion to instil fear and secure territorial control.  The Nordic Group called on parties to immediately stop targeting civilians, and to respect the right of all Syrian civilians for protection, irrespective of their gender, political, ethnic and religious belonging. 

Greece strongly condemned the recent destruction of places of worship, historical monuments and archaeological sites, and related killings perpetrated by ISIL.  Greece expressed utmost concern about the dramatically increasing number of internally displaced persons and refugees towards Europe, mostly through Greece, and said that, despite the current economic and social constraints faced by the Greek society, the authorities were doing their best to address this unprecedented situation.

Egypt said that the violence in Syria persisted and civilians continued to suffer; referring to the ongoing refugee crisis, Egypt invited the European Union to respect the provision of the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees.  All European countries must follow the example of countries neighbouring Syria and provide asylum to fleeing Syrians.  Egypt condemned the use of force against civilians and their being targeted by the different parties in the conflict, including the terrorist organizations, led by Da’esh.  Ecuador said that what had begun as a domestic political dispute in Syria had become internationalized and involved not only non-State armed groups, but foreign governments as well.  Ecuador agreed with the call of the Commission of Inquiry to put a stop to the sale of arms.  The international community should strengthen its commitment to the refugee legal instruments and address the international economic and financial crisis which had led to the reduction of international aid for Syrians.

Saudi Arabia was shocked at the fact that the international community was totally ignoring the perpetrated violations of the law by the Assad regime, which amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity.  The killing of 350,000 civilians and the displacement of eight million was evidence of this.  The world was facing a huge Syrian refugee crisis perpetuated by the Assad regime.  The solution to the crisis would not be effective until Assad’s regime was dismantled and Iran stopped intervening in the affairs of Syria.  Germany appreciated the focus of the Commission of Inquiry on the plight of the civilian population in Syria.  The parties to the conflict continued to massively violate international humanitarian law.  The population in Syria was in urgent need of an end to the continued  bloodshed and a sustainable political solution that met the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and safeguarded the human rights of all.   ISIL has instated a reign of terror in Syria, just as in Iraq.  Tunisia stressed the importance of documenting human rights violations in Syria and bringing the perpetrators to justice.  Some crimes constituted genocide and crimes against humanity.  Tunisia deeply regretted the displacement of Syrians and called for efforts to find a political solution in order to save lives and meet the political aspirations of the Syrian people.  It welcomed the efforts by some countries to host refugees from Syria.

France welcomed the work of the Commission, which had conducted its work in a precise manner despite the lack of access to the country.  The barbarity of Da’esh was extreme and its primary victims were Muslims.  However, certain communities were particularly vulnerable to Da’esh’s crimes, due to their religious and ethnic identity.  With those crimes in mind, on 8 September 2015 France and Jordan organized a conference on ethnic and religious violence in the Middle East, in order to come up with an action plan to document crimes and protect witnesses.  Albania voiced concern over the continuation of atrocities in Syria, which could now beyond doubt be called crimes against humanity.  It was increasingly necessary and urgent to find a political solution to the crisis.  Albania condemned in the strongest terms the besieging of communities, which were left without water and food, and it was outraged by the brutal killings by Da’esh and other terrorist groups.  Whereas the violations against civilians should remain the focus of the Commission’s work, it should also pay great attention to the spread of violent ideologies. 

Turkey was deeply concerned about the findings in the report and said that the humanitarian reality must find its way into the international decision making process; half-hearted political steps were not enough anymore.  Syria had become a broken country in the hands of a ruthless regime, which was targeting the entire Syrian population by different ways and means, including chemical weapons, and must be held accountable for its crimes against humanity.  Australia urged the investigation of the regime’s attack on the market in Douma in which over 100 civilians had been killed, and was distressed about the  persecution of vulnerable ethnic and religious communities by Da’esh, in particular the Yazidis.  Australia welcomed the Security Council’s endorsement of Special Envoy De Mistura’s plan to establish four thematic groups to work towards a political transition in Syria. Australia would provide a generous package to assist the Syrian people and would resettle an additional 12,000 refugees fleeing the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.  Qatar said that it was clear that the Syrian regime was responsible for crimes and violations taking place in Syria which caused chaos and instability in the country and in the region.  The regime was dying and had lost its legitimacy and control of territory.  The removal of Assad’s regime was the first step in finding a solution to the situation in Syria.  The international community and the Security Council must shoulder their legal and moral responsibilities, protect the Syrian population and bring those responsible to justice.

Ireland said that the calls for armed conflict and justice, political negotiations and peace were without meaning to those who continued to visit atrocity on the Syrian people with impunity.  It was impossible to evade the sense of devastation, the flight of millions of people who sought nothing more than to escape from the violence which had shattered their country, and the incalculable cost of reconstructing a nation consumed by war.  United Arab Emirates commended the efforts of the Commission despite the difficulties they had encountered.  It condemned the violence committed by the armed forces of the Syrian regime, which included aerial bombardment and other crimes against civilians.  It expressed concern over the regime’s complete disregard for international humanitarian law.  The United Arab Emirates had accepted some 250,000 Syrian citizens and provided them with free education and access to the labour market.  It also donated hundreds of millions of dollars towards refugee aid and reconstruction efforts.  New Zealand continued to support a Syrian-led political solution and it considered that it was long past time for the international community to come together to stop the violence and the attendant human rights and humanitarian law violations.  ISIL was not alone in carrying out those violations as a tactic of war against the civilian population.  Government forces and other non-state groups were also culpable.  United States stated that the Commission continued to provide critical reporting on the crimes being perpetrated by various parties to the conflict.  The United States strongly condemned the Assad regime’s continued aerial bombardment of civilians and use of torture.  Those ongoing attacks demonstrated the regime’s disregard for human life.  The international community had to collectively recognize the need to protect victims. 

Austria said the conflict in Syria was intensifying, and violence against humanity continued unabated.  The work of the Commission of Inquiry had clearly highlighted the massive damage and disastrous impact of the use of explosive weapons on civilians.  The massive recourse to barrel bombs had become part of the Syrian Government’s campaign.  Therefore, the international community needed to increase efforts to limit the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and called on all parties to the conflict in Syria to stop causing indiscriminate harm.  Morocco said the continuation of the deteriorating situation in Syria was evident.  Morocco was concerned about reports of children being recruited as soldiers, the dire effects of malnutrition, and the cutting of water supplies as a tactic of war.  Further, the recent migratory crises was disturbing, as it was clear that the actors in Syria had lost theirs control over the country.  The protection of refugees needed to be provided by the international community.  Malaysia regretted that the conflict in Syria had continued to intensify, becoming more complex and resulting in unpredictable consequences.  Civilians, especially children, women and girls, continued to be the main victims of the bloody conflict.  Malaysia condemned the indiscriminate attacks against the civilians and the practice of besieging them as a tactic of war.  Malaysia believed that the perpetrators of those gross violations of human rights must be brought to justice.

Estonia said that the report unfortunately illustrated how the conflict in Syria had continued to intensify with no end in sight.  Estonia decried the situation of women and girls, which had been targeted on the basis of their gender throughout the conflict, resulting in sexual violence, unjustified arrests, torture and inhumane treatment by the Government and abduction, enslavement, rape, forced marriage, and sale to slavery by ISIL.  Estonia stressed the important role of the International Criminal Court in the prosecution of sexual and gender-based violence.  Algeria expressed support for a political solution to put an end to the suffering of the Syrian people in accordance with Geneva One Accords, and stressed that in the context of this war, terrorism must not be tolerated.  The humanitarian situation was worsening, and the migrant crisis was one of its manifestations.  Algeria urged the international community to strengthen its humanitarian response.  Venezuela reiterated its solidarity with the noble people of Syria and their legitimate Government and said that Venezuela would welcome 20,000 Syrian refugees.  Venezuela deplored the manipulation of events in the country by the international media and called for a political dialogue on the basis of the principles of the United Nations Charter.  The dialogue initiated in 2012 must be pursued with full respect for sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria.

Bahrain thanked the Commission for their report and regretted that it had not been able to enter Syria.  All segments of the Syrian society continued to suffer the scourges of war.  There was an urgent need for a political solution to preserve Syria.  Bahrain was concerned about the escalating humanitarian situation in Syria and deplored the barbaric crimes being carried out in various parts of the country.  The international community should immediately take measures to facilitate a political solution for Syria.  Democratic People’s Republic of Korea stated that despite global efforts to ensure the protection and promotion of human rights, high-handedness and double standards remained unchallenged in the international field of human rights.  In particular the United States and its allies set as their primary target those countries that took an independent course of policy, in defiance of Western pressure, while turning a blind eye on certain countries that were siding with them.  Switzerland noted that the human cost of the Syrian conflict was immeasurable.  Human rights violations were destroying the social fabric of Syria, creating scores of refugees and displaced persons.  Switzerland reiterated its call on the Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court and asked the Commission to elaborate on how it could draw concrete results from its documentation of crimes, and on how it could appeal to all the parties to adhere to their obligations in terms of international humanitarian law. 

Maldives expressed its appreciation to the Commission for its update and tireless work on monitoring and documenting the continuing violations of human rights by all parties to the conflict.  The international community and the United Nations were failing when it came to protecting the rights of innocent civilians in Syria.  The photograph of the small Syrian boy was proof that the international community had failed.  Concluding, the delegation renewed its call to the Syrian authorities to grant access to the members of the Commission.  Chile said it was alarming that the numbers of refugees and displaced persons were increasing.  There was an urgent need to take all necessary measures to address the problem.  Particularly, Chile was concerned about the arms in the hands of terrorist groups.  Reiterating its full support to the Commission’s mandate, the delegation asked what should be done to reverse the situation.  Czech Republic, joining previous statements, remained deeply alarmed by the fact that civilians, women and children made up a large proportion of casualties of the conflict.  The delegation strongly condemned the extensive and systematic attacks and violence against ethnic, religious and other vulnerable groups, detainees, and the sick and wounded people.  The Czech Republic fully supported the efforts of the United Nations Special Envoy, and urgently called on all involved parties to constructively cooperate with him.  Kuwait said that since the beginning of this conflict, it had been clear that if the international community failed to take steps to stop it, a humanitarian disaster would happen.  Kuwait had hosted several conferences on the humanitarian situation in Syria, and had itself provided $ 3 billion.  Kuwait called upon all States to fulfil the pledges for humanitarian aid they had entered.

PAULO SÉRGIO PINHEIRO, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, thanked Syria for its comments on the report, and said that the Commission always stressed the legal responsibility of States to protect citizens from terrorism.  If Syria wanted to show the actions it had taken in this regard, it should allow the Commission of Inquiry access to the country, which would help the Commission in providing a more comprehensive account of the violations committed in this conflict.  The Commission of Inquiry had always reported on violations committed by all parties to the conflict, including the People’s Protection Units, and some of those findings were included in the current report, said Mr. Pinheiro.

United Kingdom remained a firm supporter of the Commission, whose report documented the heinous crimes committed by both the Assad regime and terrorist groups, including ISIL.  The instability and insecurity in Syria had led directly to the migration crisis that affected both neighbouring countries and the wider region.  The United Kingdom had played its part by providing over 1 billion pounds in humanitarian aid.  However, it should not be forgotten that the root cause of the migration crisis stemmed from Assad’s treatment of his own people.  Romania stated it fully supported the findings of the Commission, whose findings should not only serve as a record of facts but should trigger action by the international community.  Parties to the conflict had the obligation to do everything possible to protect civilians.  Romania reiterated its strong condemnation of all violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law.  Unless political procrastination and military escalation ceased, more people would become victims and would run away from their country.  Cuba expressed alarm that thousands of Syrian civilians sought refuge in neighbouring countries, and that thousands of children suffered dire consequences of the conflict.  It lamented the fact that efforts to reach peace in Syria had been impeded by the interests of certain parties to the conflict.  The aid in arms and funds that some NATO powers provided to armed groups in Syria constituted a primary obstacle to achieving peace.  The efforts to find a political solution should be guided by the interests of the Syrian people. 

Belgium was disturbed by the continued and systematic gross violations and abuses of human rights in Syria.  Civilians, especially women and children, were the primary victims of the current conflict.  There were clear indications that the actions taken by the Syrian Government and other terrorist groups in the county were war crimes.  Jordan thanked the Commission for the presentation of its latest report.  The crisis in Syria was a threat to the stability of the region.  It was very unfortunate that the people of Syria were paying the price as the terrorist groups in the country were spreading fear among civilians.  On refugees, the delegation noted that they should be able to return to their country.  Iraq said military action was not the right way to address the problem.  Iraq was the first victim of foreign terrorists who had been controlling parts of the country.  Such terrorist groups had conducted abduction, enslavement, rape, and forced marriage.  Further, they were causing water scarcity as a tactic of war.  Concluding, Iraq called on the international community to do its part, and hoped that a political solution would be found soon.

Ghana said that the Commission should remind the international community of the “never again” moment enshrined in the United Nations Charter to end untold hardships being witnessed in Syria today, and also remind of the international community’s pledge made in 2005 to uphold their responsibility to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.  Ghana stressed the need to counter the activities of human traffickers and smugglers which might help tackle the symptoms of the refugee crisis.  Belarus said that the international community must join its efforts to combat international terrorism, and to strengthen every effort to search for a political and diplomatic solution to the crisis.  The Council should renounce the politicization of the issue and conduct the dialogue on human rights within the framework of national sovereignty and not interference.  Country mandates not supported by States concerned were an obstacle to achieving progress in the area of human rights.  Russia said that the Commission’s reports were becoming more balanced, adding that many Syrians were fleeing from the taqfiris.  The Commission of Inquiry should give attention in its report to the use of poisonous substances by terrorist groups.  Jihadists were the main threat to Syria and a joint effort against terrorism must be undertaken, and Russia announced the creation of the Counter-terrorism Coalition to counter the IS.

Brazil regretted that the international community had not risen to the challenges posed by the Syrian conflict and had consistently failed to fulfil its commitments to address human rights violations against the Syrian people.  Irrespective of geopolitical rivalries, political views or religious beliefs, it was essential to uphold a human rights based approach to the crisis.  Brazil urged relevant stakeholders to abstain from providing any kind of political or material support that contributed to the warring activities.  Netherlands said the international community was facing one of the most acute and dire human rights and humanitarian crises in recent history.  The Netherlands condemned crimes against civilians perpetrated by the Syrian Government, as well as those committed by anti-Government forces and terrorist groups.  The only way to stop the ongoing tragedy was a political solution, and it thus called on all Syrian political forces and armed groups to fully participate in the process led by the United Nations Special Envoy.  Luxembourg deplored the suffering of the civilian population in Syria and human rights violations perpetrated by both the Government and anti-Government forces.  It voiced concern over the complete impunity for the perpetrated crimes.  Better access for humanitarian aid was essential and Luxembourg called on all the parties to respect international humanitarian law.  It also warned that the prolonged conflict had pushed an ever-growing number of Syrians to flee the country. 

Slovakia remained concerned about the systematic and widespread violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law in Syria.  With the continuation of the conflict, the suffering of civilians facing violence and extensive forms of abuses had been worsened.  The delegation was particularly alarmed by the situation of women, children and persons belonging to ethnic and religious minorities.  Concluding, Slovakia called on all parties to the conflict to respect civilians’ right to access to basic needs and to allow unhindered passage of humanitarian aid.  Canada condemned, in the strongest possible terms, the Syrian regime’s widespread and indiscriminate use of barrel bombs.  The use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime was in blatant violation of international humanitarian law.  Canada welcomed and fully supported the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2235, establishing a Joint Investigative Mechanism to identify the perpetrators of war crimes.  Concluding, Canada urgently called on all parties to the conflict to respect international hum rights and humanitarian law.  Italy regretted that the Syrian authorities did not grant the Commission access to the country.   The delegation was deeply concerned about the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the government forces and terrorist groups.  As there was no alternative to reviving the political track, Italy strongly supported the important work of the United Nations Special Envoy Steffan de Mistura. 

China noted that the conflict was escalating and terrorist groups expanding, with related human rights abuses, including sexual violence, leading to refugees fleeing the conflict and trying to reach Europe.  The pressing issue was to solve the humanitarian crisis, and to fulfil humanitarian assistance to civilians inside and outside Syria.  Neighbouring countries had to be supported, and European countries had to respect human rights and protect asylum seekers.  Israel said the Syrian tragedy was going nowhere as its main protagonists were pouring oil onto flames.  Iran and its proxy Hezbollah had thousands of fighters in Syria to fight shoulder to shoulder with the Syrian forces.  Israel also condemned the cruelty of ISIL, which, together with Assad’s regime had turned Syria into a slaughterhouse.  Israel had treated more than 1,700 Syrians into its hospitals, but remained, as a neighbouring country, in an alarming situation.  Latvia was concerned that ethnic and religious minorities were suffering as a result of the conflict in Syria, and condemned in the strongest terms atrocities by ISIL and other groups, including sexual violence against women and girls, persecutions of minorities, forced displacement and other grave human rights violations that amounted to war crimes, crimes against humanity and even genocide.  All persons responsible must be held accountable, which was why Latvia supported calls on the Security Council to defer the situation to the International Criminal Court. 

Costa Rica condemned in the strongest terms the violence in Syria and called on all parties to lay down arms and cease human rights violations.  It deplored the attacks against the civilian population and expressed concern over the use of chemical weapons.  Costa Rica called upon the Commission of Inquiry to put pressure on those countries that had any influence in Syria to end conflict.  In addition, perpetrators of the committed crimes should be held accountable and brought to justice.  Iran expressed grave concern over the continued violence in Syria, as well as over the activities of terrorist groups.  Terrorism threatened the internationally recognized borders, and Iran deplored the fact that some countries supported it.  The continuous crisis in Syria was of concern for many countries and thus a political solution should be immediately found in order to secure peace and stability in the region.  Spain stated that the conflict in Syria had intensified, with widespread abuses and violations of human rights by all parties to the conflict.  The international community should not allow the humanitarian crisis to worsen.  All parties should comply with international humanitarian law and bring an end to the suffering of civilians.  Redress for committed crimes should be sought through available international legal mechanisms.

Portugal said for years, the civilian population in Syria had been subjected to massive and widespread violence and gross violations.  The delegation urged all parties to provide Syrian people with immediate, full and safe access to humanitarian assistance.   Urgent action was needed to put an end to the continuing conflict, and there would be no solid foundation for a longstanding peace without justice.  Botswana said the situation in Syria was a tragedy as a human made conflict had turned millions of lives upside down.  The government forces and terrorist groups were all responsible for the war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.  Botswana strongly condemned gross violations of human rights, particularly in cases where vulnerable groups such as women and children were deliberately targeted.  Nigeria was worried about the current Syrian conflict, which was increasingly driven by international and regional powers due to their respective geostrategic interests.  The delegation was concerned over the number of refugees that the conflict had produced.  Nigeria strongly condemned the use of boys as soldiers, the targeting of women, and the use of torture. 

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia strongly condemned war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated in Syria, and noted with grave concerns that all the parties were involved in abuses.  Violence and military actions had to stop in order to prevent further injuries for civilian victims.  It was concerned at the increasing number of refugees and internally displaced persons and supported efforts by the international community and all parties to put an end to attacks, and stressed the importance of respecting international law.  Sudan was deeply concerned over violence and abuses committed in Syria, including the destruction of cultural sites.  It underlined the importance of a political peace process and stressed that a solution to the conflict lay in dialogue.  It underlined the importance of respecting the rights of refugees in accordance with international law.  It noted that Sudan had welcomed some of these refugees itself.  Paraguay voiced immense concerns at the humanitarian crisis in Syria and at the targeting of civilians.  It condemned terrorist acts and indiscriminate crimes committed.  It pointed at Paraguay’s efforts to receive some asylum seekers, and reiterated the appeal by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to all countries to welcome Syrian asylum seekers.  It urged receiving States to strengthen the social integration of refugees. 

Syriac Universal Alliance, The Federation Syriaque International reminded that Syria’s indigenous Christianity was disappearing.  It asked the Commission of Inquiry to recognize, stress and promote issues that were not addressed by the report.  The small number of Arameans in Syria were alone in their struggle and had not received any humanitarian aid from the United Nations.  United Nations Watch expressed concern that several members of the Council, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, had not taken any Syrian refugees, according to the High Commissioner for Refugees.  It asked whether the Assad regime would have been able to commit crimes without the support from certain members of the Council, including Saudi Arabia and the Russian Federation.  Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies stated that it was essential to give a face to the victims in Syria, who were not only numbers but people with shattered lives.  It noted that impunity continued to be the driving force that fuelled the conflict.  Any political process had to run parallel with mechanisms that provided effective remedies to victims and deterrence to perpetrators.

Arab Commission for Human Rights thanked the members of the Commission for their report.  The organization was deeply concerned about the refugees and displaced people with their limited chances of reaching safety, and encouraged the Council to speak with a stronger voice on Syria.  Allied Rainbow Communities International said the report demonstrated that the rise and consolidation of Da’esh threatened the existence of religious and ethnic minorities such as the Yazidis, Kurds, Assyrians, Christians, Alawites, and Shias as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.  Da’esh’s genocidal project was a powerful reminder of the reason why the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had been adopted unanimously.  International Federation for Human Rights Leagues said the issue had been on the agenda of the Council for a long time, during which 17 resolutions had been adopted.  Communities had been targeted by the government forces and terrorist groups in the country.  The Council could and should do more to protect the people of Syria collectively.

International Commission of Jurists called on the international community to respond to the findings of the Commission of Inquiry, strengthen its efforts to ensure accountability for human rights violations and abuses, and stop attacks against civilians and other international crimes.  It voiced concerns over the international community’s collective and continued failure to address the situation in Syria, which had to be referred to the International Criminal Court.  Union of Arab Jurists regretted that the report by the Commission of Inquiry was politicized and one-sided. 

Concluding Remarks

Syria, in concluding remarks, regretted that the Commission of Inquiry went beyond its mandate, and that its remarks led to politicization and double-standards.  Syria condemned Saudi Arabia’s support of ISIL and other terrorist groups to pursue its political agenda. 

PAULO SÉRGIO PINHEIRO, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, said in concluding remarks that the Commission’s methodology was to use reliable facts, and underlined that the Commission would continue its work towards accountability, including by updating its list of perpetrators.  One important effort would be to formally put the human rights crisis in Syria on the agenda of the Security Council.  Until now, there had been no progress at all for the international community to hold to account those responsible for crimes perpetrated in Syria.  Transitional justice would play a critical role in the future of Syria, and it was important that women and civil society actors took part in the political efforts to reach a solution to the conflict.  In response to allegations of impartiality by Syria, Mr. Pinheiro suggested that Syria contribute positively to the work of the Commission so as to avoid such doubts.   

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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