Human Rights Council
21 June 2016
Concludes General Debate on the Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights
The Human Rights Council this morning heard an oral update by Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Chairperson of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, followed by an interactive dialogue. At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its general debate on the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.
In his oral update, Mr. Pinheiro said that, fuelled by battles for control of territory or resources, the situation was progressively deteriorating, especially in Aleppo and Idlib, where the ongoing attacks were claiming hundreds of lives, including of many children who had been born during the war and had died without seeing its end. Of particular concern were the allegations of recruitment of hundreds of children under the age of 15 in Idlib by Jabhat al-Nusra and other al-Qaeda affiliated groups. Despite widespread condemnation of sieges as a tactic of war, none were lifted in recent months; Darayya was heavily bombed the very next day after it received humanitarian aid for the first time in four years.
Mr. Pinheiro said more than half of Syrians remained displaced, with those seeking safety outside the country under deadly risks as they placed their lives in the hands of traffickers and smugglers. It was imperative for States to take immediate steps to trace thousands of unaccompanied children who disappeared after arriving to Europe and were feared to be exploited by criminal networks. Mr. Pinheiro recalled the Commission’s findings of the continuing genocide against the Yazidis of Sinjar, which must lead to much more assertive action by the international community, and especially by the Security Council. States needed to support vehemently, in word and deed, attempts to move belligerents to the peace table, as the Syrian people could not afford to wait.
Syria, speaking as the concerned country, said that for more than five years, there had been unprecedented incitement and instigation in the Council as countries with a black record of human rights violations worked to convene special sessions and issue decisions purportedly caring for the human rights of Syrians, while their actions did not hide their intention to prolong the crisis in Syria through supporting terrorism and undermining the peace negotiations in Geneva. The Commission’s report was based on the unreliable account of witnesses and organizations supported by other States while it ignored thousands of testimonies that the Syrian embassy had made available. It was high time to stop abusing the Council and recognize that the war in Syria was not a war between Syrians but a war against terrorism that affected all Syrians.
In the interactive dialogue, delegations stressed that a political solution was the only way to end this dreadful war, but the peace process was now unravelling due to the belligerence of the parties and their backers. The peace process must be joined with accountability and justice, and all parties, domestic and international, had to be held responsible for violations. Speakers commended the work of the Commission on corroborating the evidence which would be crucial in all accountability efforts, and for the analysis of the possible ways to ensure accountability for the crimes. They recalled the responsibility of the Human Rights Council to end the crimes in Syria and ensure accountability for perpetrators and noted that the failure of the Security Council to refer this situation to the International Criminal Court was a violation of the United Nations Charter.
The suffering in Syria was unspeakable, with horrific reports of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed daily by all parties to the conflicts, speakers said, and strongly condemned the use of starvation of civilians as a tactic of war by the Syrian regime, arbitrary detention, sexual abuse and torture in detention centres, and the recruitment of children by armed groups. Delegations were particularly concerned by the Commission’s findings of the continuing genocide of the Yazidis by the so-called Islamic State and called for an investigation into those crimes. Some decried the interference in the internal affairs of States under the pretext of human rights. They said the Council selectively targeted countries such as Syria under the pressure of Western countries, which were supporting terrorism and should be held accountable for violations on the ground. Country resolutions that did not have the support of States were a hindrance to human rights and the practice of adopting such resolutions had to be stopped.
Speaking were the European Union, Finland on behalf of the Nordic Countries, Lichtenstein, Brazil, New Zealand, Germany, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Ireland, Netherlands, Ecuador, Mexico, Estonia, Kuwait, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica, Belgium, China, United States, Czech Republic, Canada, Albania, Switzerland, Russia, Bahrain, Chile, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, Jordan, France, Greece, Australia, Portugal, Maldives, Romania, Egypt, Algeria, Botswana, Poland, Japan, Spain, Croatia, Morocco, Cuba, Qatar Venezuela, Ghana, Belarus, Sudan, Turkey, Iraq, United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates.
The following non-governmental organizations took the floor: United Nations Watch, Arab Commission for Human Rights, World Evangelical Alliance, and International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, European Centre for Law and Justice, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Allied Rainbow Communities International and Presse Embleme Campagne.
The summary of the presentation of reports of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the start of the general debate on the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, which the Council started on 20 June, can be found here.
Speaking in the general debate were World Jewish Congress, Association Bharathi Centre Culturel Franco-Tamoul, Liberation, Pasumai Thaayagam Foundation, Prahar, International Lawyers Organisation, United Nations Watch, Arab Commission for Human Rights, Fundacion Latinoamericana por los Derechos Humanos y el Desarollo Social, Organisation internationale pour les pays les moins avancés, Organization for Defending Victims of Violence, Iraqi Development Organization, Association des étudiants tamouls de France, Union of Arab Jurists, Agence pour les droits de l’homme, Indian Council of South America, Society for Threatened Peoples, European Union of Jewish Students, Colombian Commission of Jurists, Institute for Policy Studies, Auspice Stella, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Inc. Education Fund, Association Points-Coeur (joint statement), Chant du Guepard dans le Desert, Commission of Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches, Asian Legal Resource Centre, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, and Victorious Youth Movement.
Speaking in right of reply were Iraq and the Philippines.
The Council is holding a full day of meetings today. Next, it will discuss the human rights situation in Belarus with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, followed by the presentation of a report by the Commission of Inquiry on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.
General Debate on the Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, including the Right to Development
World Jewish Congress said that upholding freedom of expression was a requirement for any democracy, but noted the vital distinction between free speech and hate speech, particularly on the Internet. The World Jewish Congress had recently launched an initiative for the removal of neo-Nazi videos on the Internet. There was an urgent need for protecting minority groups on the Internet, it concluded.
Association Bharathi Centre Culturel Franco-Tamoul drew the Council’s attention to the systematic and widespread torture taking place in Sri Lanka, which was deeply rooted in the system. The Council should establish an international tribunal to investigate genocide against the Tamil in Sri Lanka.
Liberation raised concerns about modern forms of slavery in South Asia, and regretted that caste-based discrimination was not given proper attention by the Council. The Council should encourage its Member States to properly address this issue, in accordance with the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur on minority issues.
Pasumai Thaayagam Foundation questioned Sri Lanka’s will to prosecute those responsible for violations against the Tamil population, and to ensure the demilitarization of the northern part of the country. It stressed the importance of victim consultation and the involvement of international actors in any reconciliation efforts.
Prahar was concerned that the Government of India denied the existence of an armed conflict in the northern part of the country, and referred to violations of the rights of the child there, particularly with regard to discrimination in the juvenile justice system and cases of arbitrary detention of children.
International Lawyers Organization said in Egypt, almost three years after the unconstitutional change of government, this government still remained in power, propped up by the international community which was unwilling to challenge it and which was assisting it in the provision of military equipment. Summary executions of journalists were widespread, and there were numerous other violations of human rights.
United Nations Watch was profoundly concerned about the universal rights of Venezuelans. Venezuela was going through an unprecedented economic and social crisis, which the Government denied consistently. The National Assembly denied the right to exercise democracy. The Government infringed on the right to food and health. There was no bread or toilet paper. Diseases were not being treated due to lack of medicine and hospital equipment.
Arab Commission for Human Rights said human rights violations had continued in Syria since the last session of the Human Rights Council, targeting journalists, women, refugees, displaced persons, and other vulnerable people. Hundreds of Syrian refugees were facing hideous situations in the places where they fled. Even though Arab and Islamic countries were taking up their responsibilities, European countries, with the exception of Germany, remained marked by a fear of refugees.
Fundacion Latinoamericana por los Derechos Humanos y el Desarollo Social referred to the situation in Venezuela, where the Government had declared a state of emergency, in accordance with the Constitution, to address the complex economic situation, while ensuring the protection of the rights of the Venezuelans, contrary to false allegations.
Organisation internationale pour les pays les moins avancés underlined the importance of eradicating the causes of terrorism. In the north of Yemen, the economic situation had led to a rise of extremism. It was important to put an end to the proliferation of militias, and to give more attention to the situation in the south of the country. The Council should contribute to empowering the people of Yemen.
Organization for Defending Victims of Violence regretted that protecting women’s rights was not always considered a priority, and expressed its deep concern at the continuing targeting of women claiming their rights. In particular, it referred to abuses against women activists in Bahrain, and called on the authorities to release all female prisoners detained over politically-motivated sentences.
Iraqi Development Organization drew attention to the deteriorating situation in Yemen, which was being partitioned as per regional ambitions, particularly by the Saudi alliance which was causing the chaos. The price of basic goods was increasing, medical and food supplies had practically stopped, and 800,000 children were being deprived from education. The Council should establish an independent inquiry into the situation in Yemen.
Association des étudiants tamouls de France said that women were particularly vulnerable to discrimination and violence within their own communities. The Sri Lankan Government had carried out genocide against Tamils in 2009, and was now preventing the international human rights mechanisms from accessing the area. The Sri Lankan State apparatus had committed a range of sexual violence against Tamil women.
Union of Arab Jurists recalled that the United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development recognized the right to self-determination and sovereignty over natural resources. Unilateral coercive measures by some countries ran counter to the principles stipulated in the Declaration and were illegal because they had not been approved by the Security Council. Such was the case of sanctions imposed on the Syrian Government.
Agence pour les droits de l’homme said that in Nigeria, the Government continued its hideous violations. There had been a series of violations of individual cases that had been carried out by the Nigerian army. These instances indicated that immediate action by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was needed, at least to ensure the rights of women and children Nigeria.
Indian Council of South America said that the Indian people of Alaska had never ceded their right of self-determination to the United States of America or to Russia, or to any other State. Their right to their land and natural resources, under Article 1.2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, was being denied. They had the right to be a Member State of the United Nations and any treaties had to be settled with their political institutions.
Society for Threatened Peoples was highly concerned about the rights of the peoples of the Uighur region of China, who were Muslim, and who were denied their freedom of religion. Students had been prevented from fasting during Ramadan, a person had been sanctioned for growing a long beard, and eight Uighur farmers had been arrested and sentenced for praying in a home. This was part of a top down effort to diminish the role of the Uighur population.
European Union of Jewish Students was concerned at the high number of refugees worldwide, and regretted the inadequate response from the European Union. The European Union should stop its practice of widespread detention of migrants. The European Union-Turkey agreement was contrary to the right to seek asylum. The Council should call on the European Union to provide support to all refugees, regardless of their religion or their nationality.
Colombian Commission of Jurists referred to the situation of internally displaced persons in Colombia, and regretted the lack of budget and cooperation; the continuing human rights crisis continued to prevent the adoption of lasting solutions. The rights of the displaced had to be an integral part of Colombia’s peace efforts, and specific measures had to address the issue of forced displacement of indigenous people.
Institute for Policy Studies regretted that the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report on business and human rights failed to address the responsibility of transnational companies, including their abuses against environmental and land defenders. The United Nations Member States should go beyond the United Nations Guiding Principles, and support the adoption of a legally-binding international instrument, which would effectively ensure the accountability of all perpetrators.
Auspice Stella said that the society in Chile was falling into poverty and that the police widely used torture against the Mapuche, who were demanding their ancestral rights. The Mapuche activists were also subject to arbitrary arrests and were given long prison sentences.
Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Inc. Education Fund said that legalized abortion was not required by the right to health, and noted that many of the countries which had a ban on abortion had very low maternal maternity rates. The Human Rights Council should recognize that abortion was not a requirement in international law and should respect the sovereignty of countries which chose not to legalize it.
Association Points-Coeur said in a joint statement with Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII that it was important to recognize the role of the family in the protection of persons with disabilities, including by providing a favourable environment for the development of its members and protecting vulnerable ones. International human rights law clearly recognized the key role of the family in social cohesion and it was regrettable that the definition of family prevented the Council Member States from adopting the resolution on the protection of the family.
Chant du Guépard dans le Désert was concerned about the effects of widespread war and terrorism in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, and requested that a special agenda be placed on human rights and the environment. Environmental degradation worsened every day. Deforestation systematically attacked and threated the lives and development of all peoples. It was time to focus on issues that affected human rights and the environment.
Commission of Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches was highly concerned about the rights of the indigenous peoples of Mindanao in the Philippines, collectively called the Lumad. The Lumad were displaced as they had been forced to flee their territory because of its militarisation. Extrajudicial killings prevailed, and the armed forces of the Philippines and its militia groups continued to harass the Lumad peoples.
Asian Legal Resource Centre reiterated that in Asian countries such as Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, extrajudicial executions were eased by impunity by the police. Across Asia, the national security excuse was being exploited to facilitate extrajudicial executions. In Thailand, China, Bangladesh and Myanmar, the situation was such that even judges were afraid. The international community had to help the judiciary of these countries to become independent.
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development said that several Asian States had imposed legislation which restricted registration procedures and work of non-governmental organizations, and many had also restricted access to foreign funding for civil society organizations. Such was the case in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Lao People’s Democratic Republic. The concern was that this was meant to control the non-governmental organizations that criticized governments.
Victorious Youth Movement spoke about the campaign to stop sexual tourism and sexual exploitation of children in Italy. It was estimated that three million people annually travelled for purposes of sex tourism, and this was a violation of the rights of women and children. It was hoped that other countries would join the campaign.
Right of Reply
Iraq, speaking in a right of reply in response to the criticism of the performance of Iraqi Armed Forces, stressed that the actions of the army were only aiming to liberate the country. The Armed Forces were obliged to respect the highest standards of rules of engagement. The sacrifices had been great to clear cities from the crimes of ISIS. Non-governmental organizations should not be biased; they should be biased in favour of humanitarian causes and not in favour of ISIS; to say otherwise was equal to terrorism.
Philippines, speaking in a right of reply, said that there was no displacement due to mining as claimed by a non-governmental organization because the mining project had not begun yet. Claiming that the displacement was ongoing was premature. All mining licences were carefully examined by the State and mining companies had to provide social and environmental assessment and were also obliged to undertake free, fair and prior consultation with the indigenous people in the area.
The Council has before it “They came to destroy”: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis – Report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (A/HRC/32/CRP.2).
Presentation by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic
PAULO SÉRGIO PINHEIRO, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, said that due to the agreement reached in Munich earlier this year, a degree of normalcy had been achieved in some parts of Syria by the cessation of hostilities, leading to lives being saved for the first time. But the situation had nonetheless progressively deteriorated as battles raged once more for control of territory or resources. Civilians from all facets of the Syrian mosaic continued to be the main victims of the conflict, and lived under daily airstrikes by Government forces and indiscriminate attacks by armed and terrorist groups. In Aleppo and Idlib, ongoing attacks had claimed hundreds of casualties, including many children who had been born during the war and had died without seeing its end.
The Commission was particularly concerned about allegations that Jabhat al-Nusra and other al-Qaeda affiliated groups had recruited hundreds of children under 15 in Idlib. Despite widespread condemnation of sieges as a tactic of war, no sieges had been lifted in recent months. Besieged populations were amongst those paying the highest price for warfare, as aid reached less than half of the trapped populations. Darayya had been heavily bombed the very next day it had received humanitarian aid for the first time in four years.
More than half of the country’s population remained displaced, as ongoing violence continued to prevent people from returning to their homes. Those who were seeking safety outside Syria were exposed to equally deadly risks as they placed their lives in the hands of trafficking and smuggling networks. Thousands of unaccompanied children who disappeared after arriving in Europe were feared to be exploited by criminal networks. It was imperative that concerned governments carried out immediate steps to trace missing children, and give them the protection that they need, he insisted. States needed to support vehemently, in word and deed, attempts to move belligerents to the peace table.
Last week, he recalled, the Commission had reported on the continuing genocide against the Yazidis of Sinjar, including thousands of women and girls still being held by ISIS. Yazidi women and girls were still sexually enslaved, subjected to brutal rapes and beatings. Boys were taken from their mothers’ care and forced into ISIS training camps once they reached the age of seven. The finding of genocide should and must trigger an examination of each State’s obligations to prevent and punish this crime, Mr. Pinheiro said, insisting that the threat that genocide posed to international peace and security had to lead to much more assertive action by the international community, and especially by the Security Council.
The Syrian people could not afford to wait anymore, he said, stressing that the only way out of this war was through a political solution. It was high time that all parties agreed to confidence-building measures, including ending indiscriminate bombardments; granting humanitarian access to besieged populations; the release of all prisoners arbitrarily detained or abducted; the independent monitoring of detention centres; and the establishment of mechanisms to deal with cases of missing and disappeared persons. Victims were calling for accountability, he said, and the Commission would continue to investigate violations of international law and to identify perpetrators. “We need all States to insist time and time again that influential States and the Security Council unconditionally support the political process. That they facilitate and foster dialogue amongst the warring parties. That they do not compromise for anything less than long lasting peace,” he concluded.
Statement by the Concerned Country
Syria, speaking as the concerned country, said that for more than five years, there had been unprecedented incitement and instigation in the Council as countries with a black record of human rights violations worked to convene special sessions and issue decisions purportedly caring for the human rights of Syrians, while their actions did not hide their intention to prolong the crisis in Syria through supporting terrorism and undermining the peace negotiations in Geneva. The Commission’s report was based on the unreliable account of witnesses and organizations supported by other States while it ignored thousands of testimonies that the Syrian embassy had made available. There was also a media war being waged against Syria by television stations supported by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. It was high time to stop abusing this Council and to recognize that the war in Syria was not a war between Syrians but a war against terrorism that affected all Syrians. The Government aimed to protect its citizens from massacres and mass punishment by terrorists, including in Aleppo, where people were being killed by rockets and mortars provided to Al-Nussra by Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Recently, the United Nations Secretary-General had publicly admitted that the United Nations had been subject to a financial blackmail by Saudi Arabia to hide its crimes against children in Yemen and this was scandalous.
European Union was seriously concerned by the horrific atrocities committed in Syria. Gross violations of international humanitarian law and human rights continued unabated. The European Union condemned the Syrian regime’s disproportionate attacks against its own people and reiterated that all those responsible for violations must be held accountable. It urged a referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, where all parties would be held responsible. Finland, speaking on behalf of the Nordic Countries, said they strongly supported the independent work of the Commission of Inquiry and strongly condemned all violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law in Syria. The targeting of civilians by the Syrian Government, including schools, had to stop. A peace process was key, and it had to be accompanied by justice. Lichtenstein was particularly concerned about the findings of the report of the Commission of Inquiry on the so-called Islamic State’s violations of the Yezidi people in Syria. All parties had to be held criminally responsible. Accountability had to be part of any political settlement to the conflict. Lichtenstein was organising a side event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York with Qatar in this direction. Brazil thanked the Commission of Inquiry for the latest report, which addressed the plight of the Yezidi people. The so-called Islamic State was committing horrific crimes. Irrespective of the legal framework to collect facts and hold perpetrators accountable, it was clear that all parties, domestic and international, had to be held responsible for violations. Brazil urged countries receiving refugees and internally displaced persons to guarantee their fundamental rights, especially to the Yezidi people.
New Zealand stressed that a political solution was the only way to end this dreadful war, but the peace process was now unravelling due to the belligerence of the parties and their backers. How could the international community address the continuing impediments to the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Syria? The suffering in Syria was unspeakable, said Germany, with horrific reports of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by all parties to the conflict daily. The one prerequisite for human rights in Syria was peace. The report highlighted that crimes against the Yazidi communities might amount to crimes of genocide and Germany asked about the situation of other minorities in Syria. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia strongly condemned war crimes and crimes against humanity by all parties in Syria and noted that the Commission’s report clearly stated responsibility for those crimes, including for brutal atrocities committed against the Yazidis. Ireland stressed the responsibility of the Human Rights Council to end the crimes in Syria and ensure accountability for the perpetrators. The failure of the Security Council to refer this situation to the International Criminal Court was a violation of the United Nations Charter.
Netherlands said that the Commission’s work was vital to ensure that human rights violations in Syria did not go unpunished, and supported the referral of the situation there to the International Criminal Court. It was particularly worried about serious violations of international humanitarian law by the Government and other parties, and was greatly concerned about ISIS’ genocide against the Yazidis. Ecuador was particularly concerned about the intention of ISIS to destroy the Yazidi community, and supported the beginning of judicial proceedings to hold the perpetrators accountable. All parties to the conflict should undertake immediate efforts to reach a political situation, including an end to all violations of international law and measures to ensure accountability. Mexico condemned in the firmest terms all forms of violence and abuse by all parties, and was concerned about the situation of Yazidis in Syria and in Iraq. It supported the referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court, and reaffirmed the shared responsibility of the international community to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict, in full compliance with the provisions of the United Nations Charter. Estonia regretted to be reminded of the total failure to protect civilians in Syria, and was concerned about terrorist activities by Da’esh. Women and girls had been tremendously affected, Estonia noted, supporting the referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court. The solution to the crisis could only be political, Estonia concluded.
Kuwait shared the Commission of Inquiry’s concern regarding arbitrary detention and forced disappearances in Syria, as well as the situation of internally displaced persons. Kuwait had undertaken humanitarian diplomacy, and with other countries had co-chaired a series of conferences. Israel observed with deep concern the humanitarian situation in Syria. The Syrian regime kept using chemical weapons to massacre its own citizens. Israel condemned Iran and its proxy Hezbollah for sending arms into Syria, adding that Iran abused the vulnerability of Afghan refugees. The work of the Commission of Inquiry had never been more important than now. Iran said that ongoing acts of terrorism by the Israeli regime had proved the occupying power’s policy of terror. Terrorists were undermining international law, and the spread of the so-called Daesh required action by the international community. Iran re-emphasized that there was no military solution to the situation in Syria. Saudi Arabia thanked the Commission of Inquiry, and condemned the lack of access into Syrian territories. ISIS was perpetrating appalling acts of terrorism against Yazidis. Saudi Arabia renewed its position that there was a need for a political process under United Nations auspices to reach a solution as per the Geneva communiqué. Bashar al-Assad, whose hands were soiled by the blood of the Syrian people, would not have any role in such a process.
Costa Rica said that the international community must be able to act expeditiously to stop the atrocities and also to punish perpetrators of crimes committed in Syria. Impunity for those crimes was insulting. Belgium was alarmed at the Commission’s findings of Daesh’s continuing genocide of Yazidis and by the attacks on medical facilities. What were the most urgent measures that must be undertaken at this phase of the conflict? China had made genuine efforts to support the peace talks and was also a provider of humanitarian assistance to Syria. It was conflict and destitution that forced people to flee their homes and the international community should address root causes of the humanitarian crisis of displacement. United States welcomed the critical work of the Commission and requested Syria to immediately release all those arbitrarily detained and stop the torture of prisoners. Syria must also provide immediate access to all places of detention and all detainees, and ensure their right to a fair trial.
Czech Republic called on the Syrian authorities to grant unhindered access to the Commission of Inquiry. It supported the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, and was appalled at cases of arbitrary detention, sexual abuse and torture in detention centres. It reiterated its support to a political solution to the conflict on the basis of the Geneva Communiqué. Canada was concerned about ISIL’s crime of genocide against the Yazidis, and called for investigations of the crimes by ISIL and efforts to ensure that those responsible were held accountable, including through referring the situation to the International Criminal Court. Canada was particularly concerned about the situation of children, including their recruitment by armed groups, and asked whether there had been progress regarding detention conditions. Albania was alarmed that ISIS had committed very grave crimes against humanity and war crimes with the aim of extinguishing the Yazidi community, which could amount to genocide. Violence perpetrated by all actors against civilians, and in particular indiscriminate targeting and abuses in detention, had to stop. Switzerland reiterated its call to the Syrian Government to allow the Commission of Inquiry to enter the country. Switzerland was concerned about findings that the so-called Islamic State had systematically attempted to erase the Yazidi community, and called on the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.
Russia said that more than ever it was evident that terrorist groups were the major threat to peace in Syria, and called upon the experts to draft a separate report on the atrocities and crimes committed by them, particularly by Jabhat-al-Nussra. The Commission must pay attention to the stepped-up financial and material support to terrorists from abroad. Bahrain expressed deepest concern about the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria and condemned the killing of civilians by an array of weapons. The presence of regular foreign forces and militias in Syria had turned Syria into a battlefield for their own wars and struggles. Chile said that the Commission’s report was a valuable guide for the work of the Council and condemned all violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Syria. The United Nations should create a thematic group to guide the transition in Syria in which women should take an active part, said Chile, and asked how inclusive the political transition process should be. Democratic People's Republic of Korea opposed politicization, selectivity and double standards in the field of human rights and decried the interference in the internal affairs of States under the pretext of human rights. The Council selectively targeted countries such as Syria under the pressure of Western countries, which were supporting terrorism and should be held accountable for violations on the ground.
Republic of Korea commended the Commission of Inquiry for its report. It was deplorable that unspeakable crimes against humanity were still rampant in Syria, and that seeking accountability for crimes against humanity had been blocked. All parties in Syria were urged to resume their political dialogue. Jordan reaffirmed its unwavering stance to reach a political solution that stopped the bloodshed of the Syrian people, while ensuring the participation of all components of the Syrian people to achieve a political solution based on Security Council Resolution 2254. The importance of unfettered access to all of Syria was affirmed, as was the need to create a suitable environment to continue negotiations with the Syrian parties concerned.
Response by the Commission of Inquiry
Vitit Muntarbhorn, Member of the Commission of Inquiry, responding to questions, said that while women had been subjected to victimisation in Syria, women were also contributors to the community, and that should be strengthened, including by ensuring that women had a place at the negotiating table of the peace process. The Commission of Inquiry bore in mind the need to protect sources of information, particularly to protect victims, and worked with a protected database and under a “do no harm” principle. Regarding what was next concerning humanitarian assistance, the message should be that the international community needed to enable access in an unhindered manner. Aid should not be conditional, and the United Nations should determine the needs of those who were to receive assistance.
Regarding Germany’s question on the treatment of ethnic groups, Mr. Muntarbhorn said that the reason for singling out Yezidis was to highlight the intent to destroy the group. Regarding questions on what were the most urgent measures, there was a need to end indiscriminate attacks, as well as a need for confidence-building measures. The main elements as highlighted by the peace accord included humanitarian aid, and reversion to the political process at large. Regarding the question on the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, he noted that Syria was a party to that Convention, and that under it, States parties had an obligation to prevent and punish genocide. Security Council members were invited to take action, including the possibility of cross-referral to the International Criminal Court.
France said that the entry into force of a ceasefire did not lead to an improvement of the situation, as attacks against civilians had continued. The Syrian regime was mostly responsible for these crimes. France was concerned about violations against the Yazidis, which constituted genocide. Greece stressed the need for full accountability for the crimes and reiterated deep concern at the spread of extremism and the absence of protection of the civilian population. Greece called for a speedy resumption of intra-Syrian dialogue. Australia said that the ongoing siege of 600,000 civilians predominantly by the Syrian Government was unacceptable. Australia remained deeply concerned about human rights violations and abuses committed by the Government and its allies and by Daesh and was shocked at the increasing rate of attacks on hospitals and medical and media personnel. Portugal welcomed the call by the Commission for the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court and the establishment of an ad hoc tribunal and expressed its full support for the urgent need for accountability. It asked how the realization of the right to education for Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons could be ensured.
Maldives noted the crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity committed by Daesh against the Yazidi community and said that the international community must not let a whole community disappear. Syria must allow full and unfettered humanitarian access to all areas of the country. Romania said that the situation was devastating in many areas of Syria with civilians paying the highest price. All parties to the conflict must respect the cessation of hostilities and humanitarian aid must be allowed to reach all those in need. Egypt was terrified by the scale of destruction and was very concerned about the deterioration of the stability and human rights situation in Syria. All countries should follow the example of Syrian neighbours and open their doors to refugees.
Algeria condemned the ongoing violence and violations of human rights and international law in Syria, and continued to support efforts under the International Syria Support Group. There should be rapid and constructive resumption of inter-Syrian talks moving to direct negotiations to bring an end to the crisis, which had lasted too long. In the interim, humanitarian assistance needed to be delivered. Botswana expressed deep concerns about the escalation of the conflict and repercussions beyond the region, adding that Botswana would continue to support efforts aimed at finding a solution to the conflict in Syria. The people of Syria deserved justice, and efforts toward a peaceful solution to the crisis were applauded. Poland said that the scale of cruelty in Syria was appalling, noting that what worsened the situation was that the conflict was fragmented and localised. The international community could not turn a blind eye on atrocities committed by all parties in Syria, and Poland called on all parties to the conflict to halt atrocities and allow access to all areas of the country. Japan said the situation of human rights in Syria continued to be extremely grave, and urged all parties to the conflict to cease violence against citizens and observe international human rights law and international humanitarian law. The report from the commission that Daesh was committing genocide against Yezidis was deeply troubling. The international community needed to cooperate to prevent such atrocities.
Spain deplored the continuing humanitarian crisis in Syria and the immeasurable suffering of the civilian population, which was at the root of massive displacement. It was urgent for the parties to reach a political solution to the conflict, comply with their obligations under international law and fight against impunity for the crimes. Croatia commended the work of the Commission on corroborating the evidence which would be crucial in all accountability efforts, and for the analysis of the possible ways to ensure accountability for the crimes. Everything must be done to support the victims of atrocities, including the Yazidi. Morocco deplored the deterioration of the situation in Syria and this humanitarian tragedy which saw unimaginable suffering of the civilians, including torture, arbitrary arrests, aerial bombardments, and displacement. The international community must ensure the necessary conditions to establish and maintain a ceasefire and find a political solution while respecting the territorial integrity of the State. Cuba still believed that no effort should be spared to achieve peace and rebuild a country that was able to withstand attacks by terrorism. It was alarming that local and international efforts to build peace were at odds with some national interests that wanted the prolongation of the conflict and which had helped the emergence of extremism.
Qatar condemned the Syrian regime for the butchery and destruction it had committed and the hindrance of humanitarian aid convoys. If the siege continued, humanitarian assistance continued to be blocked and political prisoners were not released, this would show that the Syrian regime had not responded to the international community and had ignored the resolutions. Venezuela said the future of an entire generation was at stake and called upon the community of nations to undertake deeper efforts and to provide support to self-determination of the Syrian people. Venezuela accused foreign powers of continuous war-mongering, stating it was these factors that facilitated the emergence of armed groups. The Syrian people alone should have a say in its own affairs. Venezuela reminded of the principles of non-interference. Ghana was appalled by the continuous suffering of the Yezidi people at the hands of the Islamic State, and its hideous crimes. Ghana urged all sides to end the carnage and to commence dialogue. Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, forces of the so-called Islamic State had committed crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity. Belarus said the international community had to join forces to combat terrorism and continue to make every effort to seek a political and diplomatic solution to the crisis. Country resolutions that did not have the support of States were a hindrance to human rights. The practice of adopting such resolutions had to be stopped.
Sudan expressed its concern over the situation in Syria, noting that the humanitarian situation was deteriorating, which had led to adverse effects, especially for women and children. Sudan was hosting more than 140,000 Syrian refugees with whom Sudan was sharing its food and shelter, notwithstanding the country’s limited resources. Turkey rejected the allegations of the Syrian regime in their entirety, saying terror was the common enemy. From the beginning, the Syrian regime had been collaborating with Daesh and was the main reason for its emergence. The regime was targeting the Syrian people as a means of combat, and had during the last weeks intensified its efforts to kill the political process. Iraq said that a solution could not be found through victory by any party. Support was expressed for efforts made by the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General. Iraq was working to free people kept in sexual slavery and rehabilitate them, expressing a wish to help them until their towns and villages were freed. Crimes against minorities in Iraq and Syria were crimes against humanity. United Kingdom was appalled by the disregard for international human rights law by Daesh and by evidence of crimes against persons belonging to the Yazidi community. The regime continued its arbitrary arrest of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, and the United Kingdom called for an end to enforced disappearances and for United Nations humanitarian aid convoys to be allowed access to populations in need. United Arab Emirates deplored the acts perpetrated against civilians and violence against Syrian people. Government forces continued their killing spree against the population and the destruction of vital infrastructure. The United Arab Emirates firmly condemned the killings by the terrorist organization Daesh and called for accountability.
United Nations Watch said that for two years, the world had been witnessing displacement and killing of the Yazidis, mass graves and sexual slavery of women and girls. It was time for the Security Council to wake up to this genocide and refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. Arab Commission for Human Rights said that the Commission’s report outlined crimes against humanity and severe human rights violations by the regular forces and terrorist organizations such as Daesh, and yet the international community was doing nothing. What could be the role of religious leaders in Syria in bringing an end to this conflict and the crimes of genocide? World Evangelical Alliance said that whatever the future of Syria, accountability and justice would be key in overcoming the dark hours. The truth must be told and the international community must put people first and provide immediate and genuine support to the people of Syria.
International Federation for Human Rights Leagues said that there was a failure of the international community with regard to the suffering of the Syrian people. Specific measures were needed in order to tackle enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture and hunger, for which the Syrian Government was responsible. European Centre for Law and Justice asked the Human Rights Council to recognize the commission by ISIS of the crime of genocide, including against Christians. Crimes committed by ISIS were the continuity of an evil local tradition of persecution against minorities. The Security Council should take action against ISIS and States supporting it, and refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies said that thousands of Syrians remained in custody under appalling conditions, and reiterated calls for decisive action to hold the perpetrators of arbitrary detention to account. All States should share their responsibility to prosecute those crimes, in particular by exercising their universal jurisdiction and referring these cases to the International Criminal Court. Allied Rainbow Communities International highlighted reports of sexual violence perpetrated against boys and men, which remained an invisible issue but was part of ISIS’ genocidal project. It called on the Commission to analyse ISIS’ targeting of sexual minorities, which could also constitute genocide and crimes against humanity. Presse Embleme Campagne said at least 90 journalists had lost their lives covering the conflict in Syria. It was the bloodiest conflict for the media since WWII. Violations were committed by the so-called Islamic State in Turkey, as well as by bombardments by the Syrian Government in Aleppo. War crimes continued on a daily basis.
Syria, speaking as the concerned country, spoke in response to comments by certain delegations. It rejected the legitimacy of organizations carrying out terrorist attacks and deplored that the report placed them on an equal footing with the Syrian Government, which sought to protect its citizens. Syria recalled that the Syrian Government did not target civilians. The Syrian army bombarded terrorist sites, not humanitarian convoys. What was an issue was the role of terrorism and unilateral coercive measures, as the source of suffering of the people. What was also an issue was the human rights violations, mobilisation of children, and blackmail carried out by the Erdogan regime in Turkey. There was proof that terrorist operations were carried out in neighbouring countries, even though they denied them. The future of Syria had to be in the hands of its own people.
Vitit Muntarbhorn, Member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, addressed five questions that remained. On the progress of the release of political detainees, he said that even though local level release of detainees had been undertaken, he called for a national process of releases of detainees. This also called for the release of women, children and persons with disabilities. On the inclusiveness of the process, the Commission recalled the spirit of the Geneva Communique, which had been an all-inclusive effort, which included the role of women and civil society as active participants. On the question of whether there was sectarian motivation for human rights violations in Syria, the report had noted discourse among parties and hatred and violence had indicated sectarian motivation, however the conflict was fuelled by many other factors and sectarianism was not the defining factor. On the right to education for the displaced persons, the Commission was very supportive of the Convention on the Rights of Child, and the Sustainable Development Goals, which underlined not just primary but also secondary education, as well as pre-school education, and gender equity. In regard to the genocide which had been analysed in depth, the Commission had advocated that over 30,000 women still needed to be helped. This was a trans-border issue and it was in this spirit that the Commission saw it. The Commission stressed the importance of reconciliation by all religious communities to counter the genocide and the important role of the Ad-Hoc Court in this respect. Finally, he remarked that the question of rescue should not be forgotten.
Carla del Ponte, Member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, said enough evidence had been collected by the Commission. Unfortunately there had been no follow-up during the past five years. Thus, there had been no justice for the victims. She hoped that the Security Council would act in the Yezidi case, stating that referral to the International Criminal Court was urgent. It was time that the Office of the Prosecutor dealt with all the evidence that could be collected. Many cases had to be further investigated.
For use of the information media; not an official record
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