Human Rights Council creates Special Rapporteur on Syria at special session on the ongoing crisis
Monday, 05 December 2011 18:36


On 2 December 2011, the Human Rights Council (the Council) held its 18th special session and third successive special session on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic. The special session had been requested by the European Union, with the support of 28 member states of the Council, to respond to  the report of the Commission of Inquiry (the Commission), which found that members of the Syrian military and security forces have committed ‘crimes against humanity’ in 2011.


The special session, supported by fellow Arab States Qatar, Kuwait, Libya, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, was also backed by 40 observer States. It concluded with the adoption of resolution A/HRC/S-18/L.1 entitled ‘the human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic’. The resolution was adopted by majority, with 37 votes in favour, 4 against, and 6 abstentions. Of the Arab States, all voted in favour. The resolution, which condemns the increasingly grave human rights violations in Syria, includes the decision to establish the mandate of a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Syria. The mandate holder will be appointed at the March 2012 session of the Council, coinciding with the end of the mandate of the Commission.  The mandate holder is requested to monitor the implementation of the recommendations from the Commission and of the Council’s resolutions.


As expected, Syria expressed strong opposition during the session both to the findings in the Commission’s report and to the draft resolution. Its main point of concern was that the resolution was policitised and that it therefore breached both the UN Charter, particularly with respect to the goal of strengthening constructive dialogue and international cooperation, and the Council’s mandate to address situations non-selectively and objectively. Moreover, the text of the resolution was described as ‘not objective’ and as based on the same misjudgement and ignorance towards ongoing reforms in the country that the Commission had allegedly displayed in its report.


The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navanethem Pillay, along with most of the States on the speakers' list, showed dissatisfaction with Syria's lack of cooperation with the international community and expressed concern over the increasingly violent situation in Syria as well as the continuous violations of human rights, not only against protesters. Violence against children was one of the main areas of concern mentioned by many States. Additionally, sexual violence against detainees and enforced disappearance were repeatedly mentioned. Syria was asked to cooperate with the international community and with the League of Arab States and frequently criticised for its refusal to stop the violence. Many States emphasised the urgency of the matter referring to the findings of the Commission that many acts of violence amounted to 'crimes against humanity' (Romania, the Maldives, Germany, Denmark, Luxembourg, Slovakia, and the Netherlands). However, India stated that the Commission's report went beyond its mandate by using this description and by calling for referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Reference to 'crimes against humanity' was removed from the final draft of the resolution, and there is no call for referral to the ICC. This is despite those calls being reiterated by Ms Pillay and endorsed in a joint statement by special procedures, which was delivered through videolink, by Ms Farida Shaheed, Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures.

Opposition to the resolution was voiced by a number of States for various reasons. Although the Russian Federation called upon Syria to end the violence, it agreed that the report was one-sided and strongly opposed any outside intervention in Syria. It also stated that the crisis was instigated from the outside and served foreign interests. China too expressed deep concern with the situation but believed that the resolution went too far and paved the way for intervention. Furthermore, the Chinese delegation insisted on peaceful political dialogue as the only way to solve the issue and warned of using human rights abuses as a pretext to undermine territorial integrity. Cuba’s main criticism was linked to the report and the alleged manipulations which led to the ‘fragmented and inaccurate’ conclusions of the Commission. It feared that further intervention would lead to an escalation of the situation and reiterated its confidence in the Syrian Government and people to solve the issues on their own. Finally, Ecuador urged all parties involved to find a peaceful solution but criticised the alleged selectivity tolerated by the international community (illustrated by the Council’s failure to take action on the situations of impunity in Iraq and Afghanistan). Its refusal to vote in favour of the resolution was based on its assumption that the resolution was a politicised attack on Syria and therefore a breach of the Council’s mandate of non-selectivity. The States which abstained from the vote were Angola, Bangladesh, Cameroon, India, the Philippines, and Uganda.


With the adoption of the resolution, a Special Rapporteur will be established. Earlier calls for the situation to be referred to the General Assembly and Security Council were replaced by a more vague recommendation that 'the main bodies of the UN' should urgently consider the report of the Commission and take appropriate action. 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 December 2011 13:05
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