The Coordination Committee of Special Procedures welcomes the Geneva II Conference and its aims to launch a process resulting in a comprehensive and durable political solution to the current conflict in Syria. It calls on all stakeholders, in particular the Government of Syria and opposition groups, to seize the opportunity to make substantive progress towards a rapid cessation of the violence and immediate humanitarian access to every part of Syria. The Conference provides an essential opportunity for dialogue and negotiation and all parties are urged to attend in a spirit of constructive dialogue for the future of Syria and all its citizens without discrimination. At the forefront of the Geneva talks must be the short-term objectives of re-establishing the rule of law, and protecting the security and human rights of all people in Syria. The lives, futures and fundamental human rights of millions of civilians are at stake.
Human rights obligations and the human rights dimensions of the crisis must be at the heart of the Geneva talks. The most important step to ensuring enjoyment by all of all human rights is to end the violence as swiftly as possible and establish a political process that creates an environment conducive to peace-building efforts. The United Nations human rights system, the normative standards and the tools that they provide should be an integral part of any peace process. Parties to the conflict have legally binding obligations concerning the rights of persons affected which must be fulfilled. Any durable solution to the conflict must have at its core protection of the fundamental human rights of all. We fully support a Syrian-led political solution that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and enables them independently and democratically to determine their own future as envisaged in the Geneva Communique.
Protection of the right to life of civilians must be absolute and unconditional, yet the death toll from the conflict to-date is well over 100,000 people. Many thousands are civilians, besieged and trapped in confrontations between Government and pro-Government forces and armed opposition groups. The horrific impact of the conflict on civilian women, children and elderly persons on all sides is shockingly evident and represents a gross violation of the human rights of each individual. Important progress has been made to eliminate the threat of chemical weapons, however conventional arms wreak a dreadful death and injury toll through indiscriminate shelling, airstrikes and bombings. Civilians, regardless of their religion, ethnicity or political affiliation, must be protected by all sides in the areas they control. War crimes and crimes against humanity have been documented in the conflict. We remind all parties of their obligation to abide by human rights and humanitarian law and note that perpetrators of violations must be held accountable for any such breaches.
A viable solution requires compromise and for moderate voices, including where relevant those of religious leaders, to come to the fore and to neutralize those which support and incite hatred and continued violence. Regrettably, sectarian tensions and attacks against specific populations have become increasingly evident and demonstrate a rapidly disintegrating social fabric. Continuing attacks and reprisals will only fragment further the already damaged social structure and inter-group relations. Religion has emerged as a major factor in the violence however it is not the primary or sole cause. Everything possible must be done to prevent deepening rifts along sectarian and ethnic lines which will hamper any peace and reconciliation efforts. The possibility for the conflict to foment wider regional instability requires that regional Governments and the wider international community fulfil their responsibility to take all possible steps to ensure a political solution and a rapid resolution of the conflict. International standards require protection of minority groups and an essential rights-based framework for ensuring equality, non-discrimination and stability as Syria begins a transition into peace-building and reconciliation including all communities.
Multiple and consistent reports, including by the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, document human rights violations against civilians. There are many reliable reports of massacres and other unlawful killing, arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention, hostage taking and enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment, sexual violence, the summary, arbitrary and extra-judicial executions, and violation of children’s rights, as well as incitement to these crimes and to sectarian hatred. Credible reports have described recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, attacks on places of worship and other human rights violations which, in some cases, may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. Those responsible for such rights violations must face justice and be held accountable for their actions. The Geneva II Conference should give special attention to the alleged participation of foreign fighters in all sides to the conflict which has aggravated the crisis in the country.
UN figures estimate that 2.3 million refugees have fled across Syria’s borders creating vast camps of those living in conditions of extreme vulnerability and dependence. We thank those States that have provided safe haven for refugees, and urge them to ensure equal protection to all refugees without discrimination. The international community must respond generously to the UN’s appeal for funds to support humanitarian relief efforts. An estimated 6.5 million people, 30 percent of the population, remain in Syria as internally displaced persons. Their basic needs - security, physical integrity, food, healthcare, shelter, water and sanitation, education - are almost impossible to meet. Providing humanitarian assistance to them is highly problematic due to insecurity. The situation is particularly grave for many who remain in the vicinity of the conflict and in areas where there is frequent change of control. According to OCHA, at least 250,000 people remain under siege facing deteriorating humanitarian conditions.
Humanitarian actors highlight the current lack of access, as well as the perilous conditions they face as they seek to deliver assistance. They work selflessly and in line with the humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence. Their capacity to operate freely and their security must be guaranteed by all sides. Sadly, medical staff have been persecuted, forcibly disappeared, tortured, and prevented from practising. Injured people of all ages have been targeted, instead of assisted. Health services and facilities have been forced into clandestine settings or are required to move regularly to protect victims and medical staff. The establishment of secure humanitarian corridors should be an immediate step with all parties to the conflict granting access to humanitarian actors. Hampering of aid to anyone based on their religious or any other affiliation is unacceptable and a grave violation of human rights. Confidence building measures are required, including the prompt release of any humanitarian or political detainees and permanent access to places of detention and all IDP camps for credible international monitors.
The human rights principle of participation of all is key to securing a lasting peace. All legitimate actors and population groups must have a voice in shaping the future and the protection of religious freedom and the ongoing security and human rights of all segments of society must be on the agenda of Geneva talks. The call to ensure that Syrian women participate in an equal, direct and meaningful way in the Geneva talks and all future discussion to end the conflict should be realized in practice, through the provision of the necessary support to women to participate effectively. It is imperative to secure the right of Syrian women to be heard so that the disproportionate consequences of the conflict suffered by them are adequately addressed. Women have a legitimate and critical role to play in rebuilding and reconciling Syria. Women must participate fully in all subsequent phases of peace-building in line with the commitments taken by the international community through in particular UN Security Council resolution 1325, 2016 and 2122 on women, peace and security.
The Coordination Committee of Special Procedures will follow the Geneva II Conference closely and follow up on the outcomes actively. Given our expertise in a wide range of human rights issues, we stand ready to support and assist all positive initiatives to end the conflict, re-establish the rule of law, and ensure protection of human rights and humanitarian assistance for all. We encourage the Syrian Republic to grant mandate holders, who seek to engage constructively with all parties on the human rights situation, access to the country. We equally encourage it to grant access to the UN Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and to monitors from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Participants at the Geneva II Conference should consider with utmost priority the fundamental right of the Syrian people freely to determine their political status and economic, social and cultural development without fear of reprisals or retaliation. The Syrian people deserve a future of rights, dignity, justice and peace, under a leadership and national institutions and political bodies committed to human rights of all and reflecting fully the diversity of the Syrian population. No effort should be spared to cease the tragedy of war that has engulfed them.