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Human Rights Council mandates Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria to conduct special inquiry into events in Aleppo

AFTERNOON
 
GENEVA (21 October 2016) - The Human Rights Council this afternoon concluded its Special Session on Syria after adopting a resolution in which it requested the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic to conduct a comprehensive, independent special inquiry into the events in Aleppo, and identify all those responsible for alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law. 
 
In the resolution on the deteriorating situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic, and the recent situation in Aleppo, adopted by a vote of 24 in favour, seven against and 16 abstentions, as orally revised, the Council welcomed any genuine steps to improve the humanitarian situation in Aleppo and the decision of the Secretary-General to establish an internal United Nations board of inquiry on the incident involving the bombing of a United Nations-Syrian Arab Red Crescent relief operation to Urum al-Kubra, in the Syrian Arab Republic, on 19 September 2016. 
 
Before the Council adopted the resolution, it rejected five amendments proposed by the Russian Federation.
 
In the resolution, the Council urged the immediate implementation of the cessation of hostilities, and demanded that the regime and its allies put an immediate end to all aerial bombardments of and military flights over Aleppo city.  The Council demanded that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities and its supporters, promptly allowed rapid, safe, unhindered and sustained humanitarian access, including across conflict lines and borders.
 
The Council further requested the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic to conduct a comprehensive, independent special inquiry into the events in Aleppo, and identify all those responsible for alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law.  It further requested the Commission of Inquiry to support efforts to ensure that perpetrators of alleged abuses and violations be held accountable, and to provide a full report of the findings of its special inquiry to the Human Rights Council no later than its thirty-fourth session.
 
Syria, speaking as the concerned country, expressed regret that a group of Member States continued to take advantage of the Council by proposing politicized texts every few months.  The Government of Syria was committed to working with international humanitarian organizations, which was impeded by the activities of terrorist groups.  Syria said that the resolution which did not condemn terrorist groups for bombing safe corridors could not be considered credible.
 
Observer States Argentina and Iran spoke in the discussion, together with the following non-governmental organizations: United Nations Watch, Human Rights Watch, Cairo Institute for Human Rights, American Association of Jurists, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, International-Lawyers.Org, Union of Arab Jurists, CIVICUS-World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Arab Commission for Human Rights (in a joint statement), International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, and Rencontre Africaine Pour la Defense des Droits de l'Homme.
 
In the action on the draft resolution, the United Kingdom took the floor to introduce the draft text; Russia introduced oral amendments; and Slovenia (on behalf of the European Union), Venezuela, Paraguay, Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, and Russia spoke in a general comment.
 
Speaking in an explanation of the vote before the vote or after the vote were Qatar, the Netherlands, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, France, Albania, and Switzerland.

The Special Session opened this morning and a summary of the morning session of the Council can be found here.

This was the Human Rights Council’s twenty-fifth Special Session.  Documentation relating to the Special Session, including the resolution, is available on the Human Rights Council webpage.  The thirty-fourth regular session of the Human Rights Council will take place from 27 February to 24 March 2017.
 
Debate
 
Argentina was deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Syria.  The violence ought to cease, and human rights violations needed to stop.  Argentina underscored its emphatic condemnation of terrorism in all its forms.  It urged all parties to the conflict, in particular the Government of Syria, to facilitate the access of humanitarian actors to those in need.  The only solution to the conflict could come through a dialogue.

Iran said that the major part of the destruction of Syria was due to the activities of terrorists and armed groups.  Resolutions on Syria had mostly concentrated on targeting only one party to the conflict.  There was no military solution to the Syrian crisis, and a political solution needed to be comprehensive and include various State and non-State actors.  The Council should promote cooperation over confrontation.
 
United Nations Watch stated that Al Assad’s troops were aided by the forces of Russia, Iran and the terrorists of Hezbollah.  Perpetrators had names, and Russia had to be called by its name; it was not a time to equivocate.  Why did today’s resolution fail to name Russia, Iran or Hezbollah, but single out ISIS?  When would the statue of justice donated by Syria be removed from the Palais des Nations?
 
Human Rights Watch said that for weeks Russian and Syrian aircrafts had relentlessly bombarded opposition-controlled parts of Aleppo in repeated indiscriminate attacks which had killed about 320 civilians, including 100 children.  The Commission of Inquiry should identify those responsible for violations and abuses and present the report to a special meeting of the Council as soon as it was completed.  All Member States should support the General Assembly’s Emergency Special Session on Syria.
 
Cairo Institute for Human Rights recalled the words of the Special Envoy for Syria that if a solution was not found between now and December, Aleppo would not be there anymore.  The Council should support the recommendation by the High Commissioner to adopt criteria to restrain members from using a veto when there were serious concerns that war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide might have been committed. 
 
American Association of Jurists said that it was critical to find a negotiated political solution to put an end to the shameful bloodshed and hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations by bringing them to justice.  There was no room for a military solution.  It was regrettable that this Special Session and the draft resolution focused on a very limited area in such a complex situation in Syria.  There could be no impunity.
 
International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination stated that humanitarian aid had not been able to reach Aleppo for months.  The Organization condemned the bombing of civilian residences, schools and hospitals and the harm caused to civilians.  Preventing humanitarian convoys was deplorable and it was a violation of international humanitarian law.  The bombing had to come to an end.
 
International-Lawyers.org welcomed the recognition by the Council that States bore the primary responsibility for ensuring and protecting human rights.  The Government needed support and cooperation from the international community, and any foreign intervention had to abide by international law as enshrined in the United Nations Charter. International law had to be kept in focus by the Council during its considerations.
 
Union of Arab Jurists noted that the Turkish Air Force had committed a massacre the previous day, killing more than 150 civilians in northern Syria.  There had also been numerous other violations of Syrian sovereignty by countries supporting terrorism.  The Al Nusra Front and its affiliates were preventing civilians from leaving areas under their control, while using them as human shields. 
 
CIVICUS-World Alliance for Citizen Participation welcomed the ceasefire and stressed that the fleeting respite did not address the pressing humanitarian needs of Aleppo’s beleaguered population.  The wanton use of violence had to cease entirely if there was any hope of finding a negotiated settlement.  The Council should prioritize the cessation of all hostilities in Aleppo, ensure unhindered access to humanitarian aid for people in need, and task the Commission of Inquiry with a special inquiry into the events in Aleppo.
 
Arab Commission for Human Rights said in a joint statement that Syria had become almost a standing item on the Council’s agenda, and the civilian population was paying an extremely high price for the dirty war.  A military victory in Syria was an illusion.  The opposition groups should denounce all links with terrorist organizations, in particular Da’esh.  The Council should amend the draft resolution to include the setting up of a casualty tracking system.  
 
International Federation for Human Rights Leagues noted that the Special Session had been convened as the Security Council had failed to act to find a peaceful and sustainable solution to the conflict because of the use of veto power.  The session would be successful if the Council unequivocally recommended the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.
 
Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’Homme hoped that the protagonists would soon return to the negotiating table in Geneva.  Syria today was an occupied country in the throes of destruction by a government without any international or national moral credibility.  The situation of Aleppo was a failure of political mediation, and was causing human devastation. 
 
Action on the Resolution on the Deteriorating Situation of Human Rights in the Syrian Arab Republic, and the Recent Situation in Aleppo
 
In a resolution A/HRC/S-25/L.1 on the deteriorating situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic, and the recent situation in Aleppo, adopted by a vote of 24 in favour, seven against and 16 abstentions, as orally revised, the Council demands that all parties to the Syrian conflict, in particular the Syrian authorities and its allies, immediately comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law as applicable, including with respect to all besieged and hard-to-reach areas; urges immediate implementation of the cessation of hostilities;  demands that the regime and its allies immediately end all aerial bombardments of and military flights over Aleppo city; demands that the Syrian authorities cooperate fully with the Human Rights Council and the Commission of Inquiry by granting it immediate, full and unfettered access throughout the Syrian Arab Republic; strongly condemns the terrorist acts and violence committed against civilians by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Daesh), al-Nusrah Front or other terrorist organizations; and reiterates that the only  sustainable political solution to the current crisis in Syria is through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process.  The Council requests the Commission of Inquiry to conduct a comprehensive, independent special inquiry into the events in Aleppo.  
 
The result of the vote was as follows:
 
In favour (24):Albania, Belgium, Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, El Salvador, France, Georgia, Germany, Latvia, Maldives, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Switzerland, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, United Arab Emirates, and United Kingdom.
 
Against (7):Algeria, Bolivia, Burundi, China, Cuba, Russian Federation, and Venezuela.
 
Abstentions (16):Bangladesh, Congo, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Namibia, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa, and Viet Nam.
 
 
Before the Council voted on the resolutions, it rejected five amendments tabled by the Russian Federation.
 
 
Action on Resolution L.1, as Orally Revised, and Written Amendments L.2 to L.6
 
United Kingdom, introducing the draft resolution A/HRC/S-25/L.1, wished that recent developments on the ground in Aleppo did not warrant this exceptional and urgent consideration by the Council.  It was the regime and its principal ally, Russia, that had carried out indiscriminate aerial attacks on civilian targets in Aleppo.  The draft resolution was balanced, recalling the legal obligations of all parties to the conflict.  The greatest humanitarian gesture that Russia could possibly make would be to support the immediate and sustained implementation of a full cessation of hostilities.
 
Russian Federation, introducing written amendments L2 to L.6, recalled that it was Russia which had initiated political talks on Syria.  It was also Russia which had played the key role in providing humanitarian aid to the suffering population.  The first proposed amendment, L.2, called for a separation of terrorists from the so-called moderate opposition.  The L.3 amendment would welcome steps to improve a humanitarian situation in Aleppo, in particular the holding of a humanitarian pause.  The third proposed amendment, L.4, addressed the key issue of whether the international community would defend terrorists in Syria.  L.5 referred to the continued foreign support to Al Nusra, Islamic State and other unlawful formations.   The final amendment, L.6., would remove the distorted interpretation on the powers of the International Criminal Court.  Russia requested that all amendments be taken one by one, and urged all Council Members to support them. 
 
United Kingdom called on the Council Members to reject all five hostile amendments introduced by Russia, which were designed to divert attention from the responsibility for the violations in Aleppo.  The amendments also sought to justify the bombing of Aleppo under the threat of terrorism.  The United Kingdom called for a separate vote on each of the amendments and urged States to vote against them.
 
Slovenia, speaking in a general comment on behalf of the European Union, strongly condemned the aerial bombardments of eastern Aleppo by the regime and its allies, and condemned violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by all parties, particularly by the regime and its allies.  The European Union welcomed the request to the Commission of Inquiry to identify those responsible for those violations, which would help the international community to hold them accountable, and called on all to vote against the amendments.
 
Venezuela, speaking in a general comment, said that it had already manifestly condemned the politicization and double standards and initiatives such as this draft resolution.  Venezuela supported initiatives for dialogue and negotiated solutions, and would support the amendments introduced by Russia.
 
Paraguay, speaking in a general comment, reiterated the concern over the humanitarian crisis and its disproportionate impact on children.  The Council had to act in situations such as this one in defence of human rights, which was why Paraguay was one of the States which had supported the holding of the Special Session.  Paraguay wished to see a text with a stronger human rights approach and it would thus abstain.
 
Ecuador, speaking in a general comment, reiterated its serious concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Aleppo.  Ecuador called for the protection of human rights in Syria as well as ensuring the sovereignty of Syria.  The Council should uphold the principles of objectivity and universality.  Ecuador would abstain on the draft resolution and support the amendments proposed by the Russian Federation.
 
Saudi Arabia, speaking in a general comment, believed that the aerial bombardments on Aleppo could only be seen as terror acts.  It was yet another testimony of the lack of readiness of the regime to respect the cessation of hostilities and international documents and conventions.  The situation in Aleppo could no longer continue as it was now.  Saudi Arabia called upon the Council to vote for the draft resolution and against the amendments.
 
Syria, speaking as the concerned country, expressed regret that a group of Member States continued to take advantage of the Council by proposing politicized texts every few months.  The Government was committed to working with international humanitarian organizations, which were impeded by the activities of terrorist groups.  Al Nusra and so-called moderate groups had regrouped, and were taking advantage of the situation.  The resolution which did not condemn terrorist groups for bombing safe corridors could not be considered credible.  Crimes against humanity committed by the American-British alliance ought to be prosecuted.  It was hoped that the Council would vote against the British resolution. 
 
Action on L.2
 
Qatar, speaking in an explanation of vote before the vote, said that nobody objected to the fact that ISIS and Al Nusra were terrorist groups, which were rejected by the moderate groups.  The relatively low number of Al Nusra fighters in Aleppo could not justify the aerial bombardments of Aleppo.  The regime was trying to empty the city from any moderate opposition.  The delivery of humanitarian assistance to Aleppo had to be allowed.  All cosponsoring States would vote against the amendments.
 
Netherlands, speaking in an explanation of vote before the vote, supported the fight against terrorism.  As recent as yesterday, President Assad had accused the humanitarian White Helmets of being connected to Al Nusra, which was ludicrous.  
 
The Council then rejected amendment L.2 by a vote of 12 in favour, 20 against and 15 abstentions.  
 
Action on L3
 
Germany, speaking in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said that pauses that had been unilaterally declared without coordination with relief providers did not serve the purpose of improving the humanitarian situation in Aleppo.  Furthermore, the entry of humanitarian aid into Aleppo had to be guaranteed.  The amendment was unnecessary, and Germany would vote against it.
 
Saudi Arabia, speaking in an explanation of the vote before the vote on behalf of the core group of sponsors, stated that the continued hostility by the Syrian regime and its allies hindered all efforts to negotiated peace.  All humanitarian and political initiatives needed to provide for humanitarian aid into Aleppo.  Saudi Arabia would vote against the amendment and urged all Council Members to do the same.
 
The Council then rejected oral amendment L.3 by a vote of 13 in favour, 20 against and 14 abstentions.
 
Action on L.4
 
Belgium, speaking in an explanation of the vote before the vote, called upon all Members to vote against the amendment, which was a blatant attempt to absolve the regime and its allies of their responsibility for their actions in Aleppo.  The highest number of casualties had been caused by bombings by the Government and its allies.
 
The Council rejected amendment L.4 by a vote of 10 in favour, 22 against, and 15 abstentions.
 
Action on L.5
 
France, speaking in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said that the draft resolution already called upon the international community not to provide any support to terrorist groups.  A small number of Al Nusra fighters could not be used as an excuse to bomb Aleppo to oblivion.  France would vote against the amendment.
 
Albania, speaking in an explanation of the vote before the vote, called upon all Members to reject the amendment because the language of the draft resolution already dealt with the terrorist groups.  The amendment was designed to destroy the text of the resolution and dilute its focus. 
 
The Council rejected L.5 by a vote of 11 in favour, 20 against and 16 abstentions.
 
Action on L.6
 
Switzerland, speaking in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said it could not support the proposed amendment.  Switzerland was convinced of the role that was to be played by the International Criminal Court, and would not accept the elimination of its mention in the resolution.  The climate of impunity encouraged the continuation of violations, and a complete inquiry needed to look into the role of all actors.  The Syrian authorities were asked to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry. 
 
The Council then rejected amendment L.6 by a vote of 8 in favour, 21 against and 18 abstentions.  
 
Action on L.1 as Orally Revised
 
Russia, speaking in a general comment, said that the outcome of the voting on the amendments left a muddied impression, but was also a moment of truth which indicated that the commitment of many States to peace in Syria was simply empty worlds.  It turned out that the “Friends of Syria” were friends of puppet masters and terrorists.  Russia was doing everything to ensure a negotiated peace to Syria, in compliance with the United Nations Security Council resolutions.  Russia demanded that the entire draft resolution be put to vote, and said that it would vote against it.
 
The Council then adopted L.1, as orally revised, by a vote of 24 in favour, seven against and 16 abstentions.

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