Majority of States support extension of mandate of Commission of Inquiry on Syria
Thursday, 15 March 2012 19:55


On 12 and 13 March the Human Rights Council (the Council) held an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria (the Commission), which reported on the escalating violence in the country. The President of the Commission, Mr Paulo Pinheiro, stressed that a military intervention would not solve the crisis. He invited the Council to support the mediatory role played by former Secretary General Kofi Annan, appointed by the United Nations (UN) and the Arab League as joint special envoy to Syria. Mr Pinheiro emphasised that only an inclusive mediation process supported by an immediate ceasefire from all parts could help start the reconciliation process, but it needed to be preceded by the delivery of humanitarian relief to the population in distress. Member and observer States of the Council thanked Mr Pinheiro and the work of the Commission, but were divided on the role that the international community can play in the Syrian crisis. Some States called for the President of Syria Bashad al-Assad to step aside. Most expressed support for the delivery of humanitarian relief. Yet others, including Russia, China, Cuba, and Venezuela questioned the objectivity of the report and suggested that Syria should be allowed to deal with the situation on its own, in full respect of its right to self-determination.


Mr Pinheiro summarised the situation after one year of violence, stating that armed confrontations have intensified and resulted in over 17,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and thousands of refugees fleeing into neighbouring States. While the Syrian Government has given very limited access to humanitarian organisations, the international community is still concerned for the suffering of women and children. The Assad regime, claiming terrorist organisations are operating in Syria, has been committing systematic and gross violations of human rights that may amount to crimes against humanity, he said. These include arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary execution, and disregard for the Convention on the Rights of the Child by treating children as adults. Many States called for the involvement of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and requested background information in order to establish accountability for the atrocities being committed by both regime and opposition forces. The delegations that called for an involvement of the ICC included, among others, Austria,[1] Botswana, the European Union (EU), Norway and Chile.  States speaking in the interactive dialogue agreed with the Commission that both sides are committing human rights violations, although not to an equal degree.


As a concerned country, Syria responded to the report of the Commission agreeing on the need for a comprehensive national dialogue to end hostilities and to find those responsible of crimes against humanity. Yet Syria objected to the need for economic sanctions, which would harm the civilian population, and stated that reconciliation could not occur without external parties refraining from interfering. Syria accused the Commission to having reached ‘hasty conclusions’, not supported by facts, and of being used for ‘political reasons’. As a result, Syria rejected the report and stated its belief that interference by external political forces would cause a civil war.


The Russian Federation, China, Cuba, and Venezuela were among those who accused the report of being based on distorted facts. These delegations also emphasised that Syria needed to be allowed time and space to deal with the crisis in full respect of its national sovereignty. Furthermore, an intervention by external forces would simply be an attempt to establish a puppet regime and would be seen as a repetition of the interventions in Libya and Afghanistan.


Syria stated its expectation that the Commission's mandate should not be extended, as according to the delegation the Commission has become politicised and has lost its legal credibility. Other States, including the United States, the Czech Republic, and the EU supported the extension of the mandate to allow the Commission to continue its work and in particular to ensure accountability for the human rights violations that have been committed.


On 13 March, the EU held an informal consultation on a draft resolution on the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Syria complained that the draft made no reference to the efforts made by the Government to ‘democratise’ the country. Furthermore, Syria claimed that the international media is manipulating and distorting facts to support a military intervention. States were divided on a number of issues, including the reference of the meeting of the Friends of Syria group and the effects that sanctions could have on the civilian population. There were also diverging opinions on how to make reference to human rights violations committed by non-State militias. While it is clear that both Government and opposition forces are committing atrocities, the Commission report stated that they are not comparable in scale.


[1] Austria spoke on behalf of a cross-regional group of 13 States: Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Costa Rica, Croatia, France, Ireland, Lichtenstein, the Maldives, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, and Switzerland.


Last Updated on Thursday, 15 March 2012 19:57
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