Special session of Human Rights Council sets up commission of inquiry into the situation in Syria
Tuesday, 23 August 2011 16:57


From 22 to 23 August 2011, the Human Rights Council (the Council) held its17th special session on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic. The provision to call a special session allows the Council to address urgent human rights concerns at any time, outside of its regularly thrice-yearly sessions, at the request of at least one-third of member States.


The17th special session, which was initially requested by Poland on behalf of 25 member States and supported by 33 observer States, concluded with the adoption of draft resolution A/HRC/RES/S-17/1 entitled ‘The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic’. The resolution was ultimately adopted by majority, with 33 votes in favour, 4 against, and 9 abstentions. Of Arab States, Djibouti was the only one not to vote in favour of the resolution, choosing instead to abstain. The resolution is in many ways a continuation and expansion of the 16th special session resolution 16/1, which called for the creation of a fact-finding mission by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to investigate all alleged human rights violations. Resolution 17/1 expresses ‘deep regret’ over the lack of cooperation from the Syrian Government with the fact finding mission, and proposes the creation of an independent commission of inquiry to not only investigate alleged abuses, but ‘where possible, to identify those responsible, with a view of ensuring that perpetrators of violations, including those that may constitute crimes against humanity’ are held accountable.” The commission of inquiry is requested to publish its report as soon as possible, no later than the end of November 2011, and to present a written update on the situation in Syria to the Council’s 19th session, in March 2012.


Though the resolution is strong in calling for the Syrian government to end the violence, resolution 17/1 was met with criticism by a few member and observer States. Speaking as the concerned country, Syria voiced strong disappointment over the ‘inaccuracy’ of the reports that encouraged the 17th special session, specifically in regards to the number of deaths that have occurred. Syria continued by blaming international mass media for fomenting dissent and projecting a biased narrative of the events taking place within the country. This criticism was supported by Venezuela and Cuba, who argued that the US and its allies, together with ‘western media’ had a political interest in destabilising the region. The Syrian Ambassador concluded by reiterating his Government’s commitment to sustained dialogue with its citizens, and noted a promise to grant a general amnesty for those who have committed crimes against security forces if violence ceases.


Syria’s assessment of the human rights situation was markedly different from that of High Commissioner Navi Pillay and the majority of member States. Ms Pillay emphasised the findings of the fact-finding mission which pointed to widespread, endemic human rights violations including murder, enforced disappearances, and destitution of large swaths of the population. The issue of child abuse and torture was also addressed by the High Commissioner and reiterated by several states including the Czech Republic, Belgium, the Maldives, Portugal, and the United States. Since Mid-March, the High Commissioner emphasised, over 2,200 Syrians have been reported killed; 350 deaths occurring during the holy month of Ramadan – a period of reflection and introspection for many within the region. Poland, speaking as the lead sponsor of the resolution (on behalf of the EU), echoed the High Commissioner’s statements and accused Syria of lacking credibility in its effort to arrange peaceful dialogues with its citizens. This assessment was supported by many member States. A few, however,, including Iraq, Venezuela, and Russia, noted progress by the Syrian government in allowing a humanitarian UN mission into the country and appealed to the Council for greater patience in allowing other reforms promised by President Bashir al-Assad to be implemented.


Of the four states to vote against the adoption of the resolution, Cuba, Russia, and China voiced strong opinions over the misguided nature of the resolution, describing it as biased and selective. During the informal negotiations on the draft, both China and Russia called for language to be included to welcome President Assad’s announcement that the military operations were at an end. These countries, along with Venezuela and Cuba, were also unhappy with what they perceived as international interference in the internal affairs of a country. Cuba went so far as to call the adoption of such a resolution setting a ‘nefarious precedent’.


Although general consensus on resolution 17/1 was not reached, the resolution was passed with an increased majority relative to resolution 16/1, with Jordan, Bahrain, and Qatar, who had been absent at the time of the vote on resolution 16/1, voting in favour of resolution 17/1. Saudi Arabia also voted in favour of the resolution after abstaining on resolution 16/1.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 August 2011 16:58
© by The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 2019