Council adopts resolution condemning human rights violations in Syria
Thursday, 01 March 2012 11:18


On 28 February and 1 March the Human Rights Council (the Council) held an urgent debate on the escalating grave human rights violations and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Syrian Arab Republic. At the end of the debate the Council adopted a resolution (37 votes in favour, 3 against, and 3 abstentions) condemning the continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights and expressing concern at the humanitarian situation. The resolution calls for the Council to remain seized of the matter and to take further action, including after the forthcoming interactive dialogue with the commission of inquiry on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic.


Both the legitimacy of the debate and the outcome text were rejected by Syria, whose delegation walked out of the debate, dismissing the discussions as 'sterile'. It strongly criticised the Council, describing it as a toy in the hands of some countries whose aim is to 'fuel the flames of terrorism' and 'prolong the crisis in the country by expressing support to armed groups'. While Syria admitted the human rights situation in the country is not 'perfect', it claimed that this is due to armed groups using residential areas as bases, and targeting the infrastructure of the State, including hospitals. The delegation also criticised the economic sanctions imposed on Syria, describing their impact on civilians as the worst form of human rights violation.


The Syrian delegation found support from several other States. The need for an urgent debate had been questioned by both Cuba and the Russian Federation, who saw the resolution that emerged from that debate as an unnecessary duplication of the Council's work, in the light of the fact that the Council will consider the report of the commission of inquiry into the situation in Syria later in the session. During negotiations on the draft text, Turkey, who led the initiative, stated that the added element of the humanitarian aspect to the crisis ensured that the debate and resulting text added value to the process being pursued by the Council. This point was endorsed during the negotiations by Denmark speaking on behalf of the European Union (EU).


During the urgent debate the Russian Federation focused on the humanitarian aspects of the situation, calling on Syria, and the 'armed groupings', to ensure that the situation does not deteriorate in this respect. China supported the position taken by Arab countries, that violence be stopped immediately, that civilians be protected 'in earnest', that humanitarian assistance be provided, and external intervention avoided. It expressed hope that the issue will be resolved through the framework of the League of Arab States.


Many other States (Belarus, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Korea, Ecuador, India, Iran, Jordan, Mauritania (on behalf of the Arab Group), Morocco, Nicaragua, and Venezuela) endorsed the position expressed by China that the situation should not be used as a basis for foreign intervention. During the negotiations on the text, Cuba, Egypt, India, Lebanon, and the Russian Federation had called for a reference to territorial integrity and sovereignty to be included in the draft. This reference was included in the final resolution. Mexico, however, stated clearly during the debate that the principle of non-interference cannot be invoked when serious crimes against humanity are taking place.


Cuba criticised what it saw as the failure of some countries to acknowledge the efforts being made by Syria. During the informals on the draft text held prior to the urgent debate, China, Cuba, and the Russian Federation had called for the text to make positive reference to the recent referendum held in Syria on a revised constitution.


Most States echoed the condemnation by both the President of the General Assembly (PGA) and the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the escalating levels of violence in Syria. Both the PGA and the High Commissioner noted that the Syrian authorities had 'manifestly failed' to meet their responsibilities to their people. The High Commissioner added that crimes against humanity had been committed with the apparent knowledge and consent of the highest levels of the State. While she acknowledged that anti-government groups had also committed abuses, she noted that these were not comparable in scale or organisation to those committed by the State.


In a particularly strong statement, the US censured the actions of President Assad and his 'criminal cohort', which it described as waging a brutal and murderous campaign. The US, together with Portugal (on behalf of the EU), Norway (on behalf of the Nordic Group), and Slovenia, called for Assad to step aside. Other States (Austria, Botswana, Chile, the Netherlands, and Slovakia) echoed the call, made here again by the High Commissioner, to refer the situation the the International Criminal Court (ICC). Botswana, Chile, the Czech Republic, Gabon, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, the United States (US) criticised the Security Council's failure to fulfil its role following the veto from China and the Russian Federation on a draft resolution that would have given the Security Council power to take further action. Botswana made a direct plea to the Russian Federation and China to review their positions, with Saudi Arabia described them as 'short circuiting' the international community. The final text adopted, however, contains no mention of either the Security Council or the ICC. A paragraph was added, at the request of the US and the EU, stressing 'the importance of accountability' and the need to 'hold to account those responsible for human rights violations, including those violations that may amount to crimes against humanity'. 


During the adoption of the resolution the Russian Federation stated that the text was an example of the one-sided approach to Syria, and called for a vote. Cuba stated that it would vote against the resolution as it promotes foreign intervention. These views were endorsed by China. Ecuador stated that while it supported the urgent debate, it did not feel that the resolution is balanced and expressed its belief that action should only follow the interactive dialogue with the commission of inquiry. It stated that it would abstain on the resolution. India and the Philippines also abstained. Thailand expressed its disappointment that the resolution does not reflect the violations committed by the opposition groups, even if those violations are of a lesser scale, but stated that it would vote in favour of the resolution.


The resolution was adopted with 37 votes in favour, 3 against, and 3 abstentions, with China, Cuba, and the Russian Federation voting against, and India, the Philippines and Ecuador abstaining). Angola, Burkina Faso, Kyrgyzstan, and Uganda did not vote. Burkina Faso, after the vote, stated that had it been present it would have voted in favour. Bangaldesh voted in favour of the resolution, stating that while it usually abstained on resolutions on country situations on principle, it had made an exception in this case based on the deteriorating situation and the merit it saw in a resolution coming from the Council at this time. It expressed its concerns however that the resolution was unbalanced.


The Council will hold the interactive dialogue with the commission of inquiry into the situation in Syria on 12 March.


Last Updated on Friday, 02 March 2012 13:33
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