Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue on Syria
Thursday, 22 September 2011 13:58


On 19 September 2011 the Human Rights Council (the Council) met for an interactive debate on the human rights situation in Syria. This debate comes on the heels of the Council’s recent 16th and 17th special sessions that established a fact-finding mission and commission of inquiry respectively to investigate human rights violations within the Arab State.


Deputy High Commissioner Kyung-wha Kang addressed the Council on several alleged human rights violations occurring in Syria by the government’s military and security forces. These include military personnel under orders of ‘shoot to kill’ on demonstrators, heavy artillery and tanks as tools for blockades against civilians gathering food and water, restrictions on freedom of assembly and movement, abductions, unlawful detainment and torture of civilians including children, and summary executions without trial. Much of the information in the High Commissioner’s report was obtained by an independent fact-finding mission set up by the 16th special session of the Council. That mission, although denied direct access to the country, verified its information from a collective of Syrian refugees, military and security force defectors, and human rights activists within the country. Ms Kyung-wha Kang continued by reiterating the High Commissioner’s support of a second mission to Syria—established by the 17th special session—this time with a larger scope that would not only gather information on human rights violations, but ‘where possible, to identify those responsible with a view of ensuring that perpetrations of violations (…) are held accountable.’ The Deputy High Commissioner concluded by stating that there is enough credible evidence to warrant an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC).


The Syrian response was not more constructive than on previous occasions, and presented no surprise. The delegation continued to hold its previous position, arguing that most of the human rights violations are being carried out by ‘armed gangs’ aimed at overthrowing the Government, with security forces bearing the brunt of the assault. It maintained that the Government’s top priority was to protect its citizens, and that false allegations of human rights violations are being spread by said gangs in order to stir up international condemnation. Ultimately, the Syrian delegation claimed, it was currently the victim of an international ‘media war’ against the Government.


Although the vast majority of States supported the High Commissioner’s report, a few states took a more critical position. Belarus was concerned with the apparent ‘one-sided’ nature of the report, claiming that it needs to give equal attention to all opinions in a conflict situation. In her closing statement the Deputy High Commissioner refuted this accusation, citing that although documents submitted by the Syrian Government were annexed to the report, it was not in the High Commissioner’s mandate to cover all positions, but rather to identify human rights violations in Syria. Belarus also noted promises by the Syrian Government to carry out political reforms, including holding a national dialogue on elections that could come as early as the end of 2011. This was part of a larger argument made by several States, including Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, China, and the Russian Federation, who all claimed that peaceful, internal dialogue between the government and demonstrators is the only way to resolve the crises and prevent further damage to the country. State sovereignty, they argued, must be upheld.


One of the more telling moves at the interactive dialogue was the changing stance of the Turkish delegation. Turkey had voiced its concern for the Syrian people during the 17th special session in August, but the State took a much sharper tone this time around; it condemned the Syrian Government for its human rights violations and extended its support for Syrian refugees – 8,000 of which currently reside in camps on the Turkey-Syria border.


Over the past few months there has been a shift from States merely condemning the actions by the Syrian Government toward claiming President Assad has lost its legitimacy. This was said explicitly by Australia, Portugal, Austria, Botswana, and the Czech Republic. Moreover, the response to those States alleging that the Council is going beyond its mandate and should avoid interfering with internal, national affairs, was best articulated by the Maldives when it averred: ‘we [the Council] are here to protect human beings, not to protect Governments.’


Along with the Deputy High Commissioner, many States and NGOs, also called for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to consider investigating the human rights abuses occurring in Syria. In her closing statements, Ms Kyung-wha Kang reiterated this possibility, noting that the alleged human rights violations committed by the Syrian Government ‘absolutely’ fall within the scope of the ICC and that the OHCHR, if called upon to provide information to the ICC, would definitely do so.


The Council will next consider the situation in Syria in March 2012, when it will consider the report of the Commission of Inquiry composed of Yakin Erturk, Sergio Pinheiro, and Karin Abu Zeid appointed by the President earlier this session.  

© by The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 2018