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Human Rights Council decides to hold urgent debate on Syria’s Eastern Ghouta

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2 March 2018

MORNING

GENEVA (2 March 2018) - The Human Rights Council this morning decided to hold an urgent debate on the situation in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta at 3 p.m. today by a vote of 25 in favour, 4 against, with 8 abstentions.

Opening the meeting, Vojislav Šuc, President of the Human Rights Council, said a request for the proposal was received on Thursday.

Introducing the proposal, the United Kingdom called on the Council to act swiftly to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Eastern Ghouta, referring to the situation in Syria as one of the most prolific slaughter houses of modern time.

Several States said the proposal was a duplication of the Council’s work as the Syrian situation would be discussed later in the session.

Syria, speaking as a concerned country, said the proposed debate would embolden terrorist and militant groups attacking Damascus and only serve to negatively affect the safety of civilians in the region.

Speaking during the discussion were the delegations of United Kingdom, Venezuela, Cuba, China, United States, Australia, South Africa and Syria.

The Council will hold the urgent debate on Eastern Ghouta today at 3 p.m.  The debate will conclude with the consideration of a draft resolution.

Action on Proposal

VOJISLAV ŠUC, President of the Human Rights Council, said he had received a request to hold an urgent debate on the situation in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta.  If the proposal was adopted, the Council would hold the urgent debate later in the day.  

United Kingdom said that for the Human Rights Council to be credible it had to respond to the most pressing human rights crises.  Syria had become one of the most prolific slaughter houses of modern time.  Despite relevant resolutions addressing violence in the region, repeated attacks against civilians continued, all in the background of a five-year siege.  The United Kingdom asked how the Council could not respond to the crisis.  The scale of the crisis did not afford the Council the luxury of time and there was every reason to respond as soon as possible.  The United Kingdom urged States to support the call for the urgent debate.

Venezuela called attention to rules of procedure and said it opposed the proposal for the urgent debate proposed by the United Kingdom.  Venezuela did not understand the situation in Eastern Ghouta as one requiring an urgent debate.  The human rights situation in Syria was already set to be discussed later in the Council’s session and there was evidence of clear political maneuvering by States supporting the proposal for the urgent debate.  Venezuela said the debate would duplicate the Council’s work.  From a procedural point of view, the debate violated the Council’s rules as there was no time at all for proper consultations on the matter.  States supporting the debate had constantly requested better use of the Council’s time, yet they proposed measures that went counter to improving the body’s efficiency.

Cuba reminded of the methods of work of the Human Rights Council which should be transparent, impartial, just, equitable and pragmatic.  Accordingly, the proposal to hold an urgent debate on Eastern Ghouta would create additional pressure on the already burdened programme of work for the session.  It would delegitimize the process and duplicate the work of the Council which already planned to hold a dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria.  Thus, Cuba objected to the holding of the debate.

China voiced concern about the suffering of the Syrian people.  The international community should make common efforts to implement Security Council resolution 24/01.  There was no prior and full communication for having the urgent debate on Eastern Ghouta.  The Security Council had already discussed the conflict in Syria and thus the debate in the Council was not necessary.

United States strongly supported the United Kingdom’s call to urgently discuss the situation in Eastern Ghouta.  It reminded of the recently adopted Security Council resolution 24/01 which called for a ceasefire throughout Syria, and added that the Council had to discuss that urgent situation.  It also reminded of three precedents when the Council had held urgent debates.  It was ironic that those opposing countries used claims of efficiency measures.  The United States implored everyone to speak to their humanity and support the holding of the urgent debate.

Australia noted that the situation in Eastern Ghouta was appalling and that it was entirely appropriate that the Human Rights Council took action to respond to the situation there.

South Africa deplored rights abuses taking place in Syria but regretted the short notice with which the proposal was tabled.  The situation in Syria was to be discussed later in the session.

Syria, speaking as the concerned country, said it opposed holding the debate as there had been no developments on the field that justified such a discussion.  Transforming the Council into a politicized body sent the wrong message to the world.  Such a debate would undermine efforts underway to end the violence and stop military operations in the field.  The debate would also motivate terrorists and rebels attacking Damascus, affording them political cover to continue their acts.  The debate would prevent civilians from exiting Eastern Ghouta and using the humanitarian corridor to exit the region.

Venezuela said that for the reasons already expressed by its delegation it would call for a vote on the proposal and would vote against the proposal.  Venezuela called on States to vote against holding the urgent debate.

The Council then adopted the proposal to hold an urgent debate on Eastern Ghouta by a vote of 25 in favour, 4 against, with 8 abstentions.

United Kingdom, in an explanation of the vote after the vote, thanked the Bureau of the Human Rights for having supported its request, and informed that informal consultations would be soon held on the draft resolution proposed by the United Kingdom.

VOJISLAV ŠUC, President of the Human Rights Council, announced that the urgent debate on Eastern Ghouta would take place today at 3 p.m.  The meeting would conclude with action on a draft resolution.  

Russian Federation stated that the initiative to hold an urgent debate on Eastern Ghouta was useless and counter-productive.  Many other country situations had been mentioned.  Why was it that Eastern Ghouta had become a subject of the consideration of the Council?  The Russian Federation reminded that when the question was dealt with by the Security Council, subsidiary bodies could not submit proposals on the same topic.  Russia noted that the draft resolution had been published late and most States had had no time to consult their capitals.  The draft resolution would not be translated and circulated in all United Nations languages, as required by the United Nations procedures.  Such conduct would only lead to a polarization of the Council and it would undermine the remnants of the constructive dialogue that still existed in the Council.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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