HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE WITH COMMISSION OF INQUIRY ON SYRIA
Concludes Interactive Dialogue with Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and Practice and Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education
17 June 2014
The Human Rights Council at its midday meeting today held an interactive dialogue with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria. The Council also concluded its clustered interactive dialogue with the Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice and the Special Rapporteur on the right to education.
Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Chairperson of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said that the conflict had reached a tipping point, threatening the entire region. With warring parties in unrelenting pursuit of the illusion of military victory, violence had escalated to an unprecedented level, and impunity was prevalent. Attempts to reach a negotiated political settlement appeared to have been abandoned. Influential States had turned away from the work required for a political solution and some continued to deliver arms, artillery and aircraft to the Syrian Government, or supported armed groups with weapons and financial support. The Commission continued to urge a negotiated political solution. Accountability had to be part of any future settlement.
Syria, speaking as the concerned country, said that the report was based on alleged statements by justice evaders and even terrorists, which showed that the Committee had very low criteria. It was biased and overlooked the link between the terrorist crimes and the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the country. It was paradoxical that Western States regularly spoke of democracy, but did not acknowledge the exercise of democratic rights by millions of Syrians who had recently elected their President.
During the dialogue speakers condemned in the strongest terms systematic violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Syria and expressed grave concern about the surge of violations, the use of weapons of mass destruction and barrel bombs, the sectarian violence and the spill over of war. All parties should recognize their deep responsibility to comply with all humanitarian obligations and allow for the passage of humanitarian assistance. Speakers were concerned by the current deadlock in the political process and called on all parties to work harder to find a solution to the conflict. There could be no impunity for the numerous violations of human rights and accountability for violations of international human rights law must be ensured, including though the International Criminal Court.
Speaking were the European Union, Sierra Leone, Czech Republic, Republic of Korea, Cuba, Portugal, France, Tunisia, Venezuela, Maldives, Japan, Israel, Austria, Ireland, Poland, Morocco, United States, Kuwait, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Russia, Argentina, Romania, China, Slovakia, Iran, Libya, Canada, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Ecuador, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Algeria, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Italy, Chile, Estonia, Germany, Brazil, Thailand, Bahrain, Botswana, Qatar, Mexico, and Jordan.
The Council will continue its interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 18 June.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its clustered interactive dialogue with Frances Raday, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice, and Kishore Singh, Special Rapporteur on the right to education. The opening statements and a summary of the initial discussion are available here.
Speaking in concluding remarks, Ms. Raday said that the Working Group looked forward to integrating the feedback received during the dialogue in its upcoming work and reiterated the Group’s call for the elimination of discriminatory laws, which continued to be enforced in several countries. The Working Group would continue to work in synergy and in a complimentary manner to promote women’s equality and welcomed the participation of men in this endeavour to eliminate discrimination which would benefit, women, families, communities and States.
Mr. Singh, also in concluding remarks, expressed appreciation for delegations’ support for the notion of holistic assessments, and for the Seychelles’ keenness to engage with the international community. A human rights holistic approach to education assessment included the development of key competences and human right values as an important component of education.
Centre for Inquiry took the floor during the discussion.
During the meeting, the President of the Council said that following up on the request of Ethiopia on behalf of the African Group, the Council had decided to hold an interactive dialogue on South Sudan on Tuesday, 24 June, at noon, following the dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of Côte d’Ivoire.
The Council is holding a full day of meetings today. This afternoon, at 3 p.m., the Council will hold a panel on women’s human rights and the sustainable development agenda, as part of its annual full-day discussion on women’s rights.
Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and Practice and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education
Centre for Inquiry highlighted the ramification of religious personal law systems to instituting a much wider system of discrimination than that recognised in the report of the Working Group; and urged the Council to do more to investigate and highlight instances where the right to freely manifest one’s religion or belief was manipulated to discriminate against women and girls.
FRANCES RADAY, Chair/Rapporteur of the Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice, said that the Working Group looked forward to integrating the feedback received during the dialogue in its upcoming work. Responding to questions regarding the post-2015 development agenda, Ms. Raday said that the Working Group had provided input to the inter-governmental working group regarding each of the targets and indicators in order to achieve the goal of transformative equality. The Working Group welcomed comments reinforcing the call for the elimination of discriminatory laws, which continued to be enforced in several countries. Concerning parenthood and care work, the Working Group called for the elimination of structural barriers in order for women and men to enjoy real choice and equal capabilities to determine their work/care balance. The Working Group called for gender balance in top leadership in economic and financial policymaking, as well as gender mainstreaming of the Guiding Principles on businesses and human rights. The Working Group called for the elimination of the barrier constituted by violence, in order to ensure women’s and girls’ access to public space, opportunities and education. The Working Group also called for gender sensitive budgeting, in particular in the context of the economic crisis, noting the impact of austerity measures on women. The Working Group would continue to work in synergy and in a complimentary manner to promote women’s equality and welcomed the participation of men in this endeavour to eliminate discrimination which would benefit women, families, communities and States.
KISHORE SINGH, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, expressed appreciation for delegations’ support of the notion of holistic assessments, and for the Seychelles’ keenness to engage with the international community. Mr. Singh assured delegations that all the observations would be taken into consideration in further work. Several delegations had expressed an interest to support and advance the holistic mission of education. Mr. Singh also thanked France for the notion of humanistic culture. The Special Rapporteur thanked non-governmental organizations for their support to the mandate. Important questions had been raised, such as those regarding the integration of education in the post-2015 agenda and how to integrate human rights into educational assessment systems. Concerning educational quality, Mr. Singh drew attention to his report to the General Assembly concerning the right to education in the context of the post-2015 development agenda. A human rights holistic approach to education assessment included the development of key competences and human right values as an important component of education. Finally, Mr. Singh thanked delegations for their support to the mandate.
The Council has before it an update by the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (not immediately available).
Presentation by the Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria
PAULO SERGIO PINHEIRO, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, presenting the report, said that the conflict in Syria had reached a tipping point, threatening the entire region. With warring parties in unrelenting pursuit of the illusion of military victory, violence had escalated to an unprecedented level. Perpetrators of crimes had no fear or thought of consequence. Impunity had made its home inside Syria. The international community, and specifically the Security Council, had yet to demand accountability for the crimes that were being committed daily against the Syrian people. Through their inaction, a space had been created for the worst of humanity to express itself and it had done so. People were tortured to death inside detention centre in Damascus, men were beheaded in public squares in Al Raqqah, women lived with the scars of sexual abuse, and children were recruited and used as members of fighting forces. In over 3,000 interviews, the Commission had collected detailed narratives indicating a massive number of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Government forces had been making slow but significant gains in the strategic areas of Homs, Damascus and Aleppo governorates. This had been a result of often indiscriminate attacks and their use of prolonged sieges. More important had been the backing, in the form of both fighters and equipment, provided by external allies. Non-State armed groups had been losing ground. In several areas, this was due to the abusive treatment of civilian populations, the inability to ameliorate the humanitarian situation, and at times the corrupt management of resources under their control. Foreign fighters continued to join the battlefield, helped by porous borders and growing recruitment networks. Security Council Resolution 2139 on humanitarian access demanded that the flow of food, water and medicines not be restricted. Yet, that was what the Syrian Government and non-State armed groups continued to do. The war had had a devastating impact on Syria’s economy and the disastrous situation had been compounded by economic sanctions.
The conflict in Syria could not continue to be viewed in the same way as a mere three months ago. Attempts to reach a negotiated political settlement appeared to have been abandoned. Influential States had turned away from the hard work that was required for a political solution and some States and individuals continued to deliver mass shipments of arms, artillery and aircraft among others to the Syrian Government, or supported armed groups with weapons and financial support. None of these could claim ignorance of how their support would be used. The Commission continued to urge a negotiated political solution. Accountability had to be part of any future settlement. In Syria, the majority of the population was the victim of the current conflict. Historic distances in pursuit of justice had been travelled in the former Yugoslavia, in Sierra Leon, and Rwanda among others. But the international community had stumbled and fallen when it came to seeking justice and protection for the Syrian people.
Statement by the Concerned Country
Syria, speaking as the concerned country, expressed dissatisfaction with the delay in the distribution of the report. The report was based on alleged statements by justice evaders and even terrorists, which showed that the Committee had very low criteria. Why did the Committee now mention those countries which were financing terrorism in Syria? The report was biased, as it overlooked the link between the terrorist crimes and the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the country. The report overlooked, for example, the fact of who had cut water supplies to Aleppo. It was paradoxical that Western States regularly spoke of democracy, but did not acknowledge the exercise of democratic rights by millions of Syrian who had recently elected their President.
European Union said the Syrian regime in particular remained responsible for grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law. The European Union was also concerned about the growth of extremism, and of ISIS in particular. The Syrian regime had regrettably rejected the Geneva Communique on political transition in the country.
Sierra Leone said the world was witnessing one of the worst humanitarian crises of modern times. Even the humanitarian assistance which was available did not reach those in need. The international community had to ensure that all perpetrators of war crimes were brought to justice. Czech Republic was deeply concerned by systematic violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Syria, and called on Government forces and rebel groups to stop using civilian facilities for war purposes. The international community ought to establish accountability, and the Geneva Communique should be fully implemented. Republic of Korea was concerned by the current deadlock in the political process aimed to resolve the crisis. All parties should recognize their deep responsibility to comply with all humanitarian obligations and allow for the passage of humanitarian assistance.
Cuba said it continued to closely follow the situation in Syria and noted the fragmented and imprecise information. Cuba rejected that the death caused was being attributed in a selective manner to one of the parties, which it found had simply served to encourage foreign intervention and attacks leading to deaths. Portugal said that the information brought to the Council amounted to crimes against humanity and all those responsible had to be held accountable. The number of refugees and internally displaced persons had reached unprecedented levels. All parties to the conflict were called upon to provide for immediate and full access to humanitarian actors and assistance to those people in need. Tunisia encouraged all members of the Commission to continue their work in independence and transparency. Tunisia expressed grave concern on information regarding the surge of violations and crimes tantamount to genocide and crimes against humanity, as well as the spill over of war and the increase of the provision of weaponry. France said that the intransigence of the regime had prepared fertile ground for terrorism, stifling the voice of the moderate opposition. Facing a regime suppressing its own people, extremist groups had progressed. Some were extremist, in particular the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which today was destabilizing Iraq. Venezuela regretted the lack of objectivity and impartiality in the presentation. Syria had given a lesson to the world with the holding of presidential elections, in a democratic and transparent manner. The community of nations should respect the will of the Syrian people. These elections were an important step forward and showed that Syria sought peace.
Maldives remained deeply alarmed by the unlawful killings, enforced disappearances and growing sectarian violence in Syria. Maldives was disappointed by the lack of rapid response by the international community, which was also underlying the credibility of the United Nations. Maldives believed that perpetrators ought to be held accountable, and all cases of crimes against humanity should be sent to the International Criminal Court.
Japan found it unfortunate that the Government of Syria was not cooperating with the Commission, and asked Syria to grant the Commission access to the country. All parties to the conflict should immediately cease the violence. Recent presidential elections had run against the implementation of the Geneva Communique, which called for a negotiated political transition.
Israel said that the legitimate demands of Syrians to seek their basic human rights and dignity had been answered by the brutality of the Assad regime. It was women and children who were the worst victims of the conflict. Innocent civilians were caught in the middle of the crossfire between the Government troops, supported by Iran and Lebanon’s Hizbullah forces and various rebel groups. Austria said recent evidence of torture and murder of detainees, contained in the so-called “Cesar” report, was deeply troubling. Did the Commission think that the Government was committing systematic torture and extrajudicial killings? Ireland said that there could be no sustainable peace unless those who had committed horrific crimes were brought to justice. The human rights situation was critical and worsening, while the list of violations of abuses of human rights and humanitarian law was ever longer.
United Kingdom said that over the last three years the Syrian people had been subjected to horrific repression, including widespread and systematic detention and sexual abuse of civilians. The United Kingdom fully supported the United Nations Secretary-General’s call for further action to ensure that humanitarian aid reached all those that needed it. Poland strongly condemned violations of international humanitarian law and human rights, including the escalation of violence targeted at civilians and vulnerable groups, such as women and children. The Security Council should immediately address the situation of impunity and refer violations to the International Criminal Court. Kuwait strongly condemned the continuation of gross and systematic violations of human rights of the Syrian population. It reiterated its call to the authorities to fully implement their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law, and allow free and unfettered access to humanitarian assistance.
United States said that despite the denial of access into Syria, the Commission of Inquiry had continued to provide critical reporting on the ongoing gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law carried out by Government forces and associated militias. Perhaps the Commission could comment on the recently released photos from the Aleppo central prison. Morocco reiterated its deep preoccupation at the continued use of siege as a weapon of war and a blatant violation of human rights and international humanitarian law. Perpetrators of all these violations had to be held accountable for their acts. In order to meet the needs of the population in Syria, it was indispensable to allow access to humanitarian assistance.
New Zealand condemned actions that prevented humanitarian aid from being delivered to the population in need and asked what could be done to facilitate this delivery. New Zealand called on all parties to work harder to find a solution to the conflict and said that the accountability for violations of international human rights law must be ensured. Democratic People's Republic of Korea said that human rights issues or disputes must be resolved through genuine dialogue and constructive cooperation and that any attempts to interfere in a country’s internal affairs and impose unacceptable pressure under the pretext of human rights should not be justified. Russia agreed that human rights violations were committed by both parties to the conflict and it was clear that the activity of rebels, among whom there were numerous mercenaries, was the major threat to Syria and the region. The Commission of Inquiry should ensure that it provided verified information.
Argentina said that the situation in Syria had further declined and stressed that there could be no impunity for the numerous violations of human rights. The only possible outcome of this crisis was by peaceful solution and it was regrettable that the parties did not agree to the Brahimi peace plan. Romania believed that the documentation of human rights violations committed in Syria must continue and strongly condemned the crimes and heinous acts committed by all parties. Justice was needed and Romania reiterated its call to the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.
China was deeply pained by the ongoing conflict in Syria and condemned all violations of international law by parties to the conflict. The parties in Syria should stop the fighting and violence and resume negotiations under the Geneva framework. The international community should provide a necessary, neutral environment for future talks, and a political solution should be clearly favoured. Slovakia regretted that the Commission had so far not been permitted to enter Syria. Slovakia condemned in the strongest terms atrocities committed by all sides to the conflict, and expressed grave concern over the spread of extremism. Humanitarian organizations should have immediate and unrestricted access to Syria, while impunity had to end. Iran stated that there was a growing concern over the activities of extremist terrorist groups in Syria. Iran was of the view that the Council should not obstruct national reconciliation in the country. The only solution to end the conflict in Syria was by giving Syrian people a chance to decide on their own future, and the recent presidential elections could be seen as a window of opportunity for political dialogue.
Libya strongly condemned all human rights violations irrespective of who had committed them. Libya was gravely concerned about the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in various parts of Syria and all spheres of life. The independence and territorial integrity of Syria ought to be preserved. Canada said that the Syrian regime and others had demonstrated callous disregard for humanity. Especially inhumane were rapes and brutalizing female family members of opposition fighters. The crisis in Syria was continuing to affect children disproportionately, scaring them for life. What could be done by the international community to ensure that accountability was part of any future political solution?
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia called on all parties involved to take concrete steps to de-escalate the conflict and implement the agreement reached in Geneva, including by an immediate ceasefire to protect civilians and allow free and interrupted work of humanitarian organizations. Ecuador reiterated deep concern about the conflict in Syria, which, now in its third year, was moving from an internal to an international one; with its spiral of violence it had become a threat to other countries in the region, such as Iraq. Netherlands was disappointed with the international community and those with primary responsibility to resolve this conflict and said that the parties must return to the negotiating table to find a peaceful solution. This could not be sustainable without justice and holding the perpetrators responsible, preferably before the International Criminal Court.
Belgium said that failure to hold those responsible for violations to account might fuel further atrocities and given the lack of prosecution at the domestic level, the Security Council should refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. Norway said that the humanitarian situation in Syria was disastrous and demanded that all parties ceased firing on civilians and ensured the delivery of humanitarian aid. The international community must take serious note of the use of barrel bombs and the Security Council must deal with the situation in Syria in a more robust manner.
Saudi Arabia said that the gravity of the tragedy of people under the totalitarian regime of Syria was clearly visible. Many Syrians had become victims of torture, starvation and chemical weapons. Fifty percent of school children did not go to school, and more than 10 million people were internally displaced. The Syrian regime was shamelessly trying to persuade the Council of the validity of sham elections which had taken place recently. Liechtenstein asked if the Commission had information on whether prisoners were subject to abuse across Syria. Was there any information on the prisoners who had already been released, their conditions and whereabouts? Liechtenstein believed that the crimes against humanity in Syria ought to be addressed in front of the International Criminal Court. Switzerland deplored the fact that the Syrian authorities still refused to grant access to the Commission and urged them to do so. Switzerland strongly condemned the broad violations of human rights and humanitarian law with impunity. Humanitarian actors should be granted access to all regions in Syria and civilians should be allowed to flee the fighting.
Algeria said the conflict was threatening the territorial integrity of Syria and its social fabric. A negotiated settlement was the only way to put an end to the humanitarian tragedy. The international community should step up its efforts to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people. United Arab Emirates said that blatant and widespread violations of human rights by regular forces and their allies had been confirmed by the Commission’s report. The figures reflected the deterioration of the situation. It was regrettable that Syria had not cooperated with the Commission. The United Arab Emirates supported all international and regional efforts which aimed at putting an end to the violence.
Egypt continued to observe with concern the situation in Syria and condemned the violence against civilians and all violations of human rights. All parties should listen to the demands of the Syrian people and ensure a political solution to the crisis, with a peaceful transition. Italy said that the international community and the Human Rights Council must not remain silent in light of the human rights violations occurring in Syria, adding that full accountability must be promptly established. There was no alternative to a political solution to the crisis based on the Geneva Communique. Chile condemned the brutality of the conflict and reiterated the urgency of putting a stop to all violence, including sexual violence against women. How could the United Nations Security Council resolution 2139 be best implemented? What path could be followed to ensure the successful political engagement of the parties?
Estonia said that the pursuit of a political solution must not stop and that it was disappointing when those efforts met serious obstacles, such as the recent presidential elections held in Syria which could not be considered a genuine democratic vote and took them further from the basis of the Geneva Communique. Germany said that the use of starvation as a method of combat was a grave violation of international law and must be stopped immediately by all parties concerned. Germany was deeply worried by the actions of extremists and terrorist groups, in particular ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusra, and that the regime was doing nothing to stop them.
Brazil said the report recorded the persistence of human rights violations carried out by armed groups and the State. All parties to the conflict should allow access to deliver food, water, and medicine to civilians. Thailand was alarmed by the escalation of violence and attacks against civilians and urged all parties to stop besieging civilian areas and medical facilities. Thailand echoed the call of the Commission to return to the negotiating table, noting that a political settlement and the full participation of the Syrian people were the only lasting solutions to the conflict. Bahrain underlined its firm position to protect the unity, independence and territorial integrity of Syria and would take part in international efforts to alleviate the suffering of Syrian people and reach a solution to the crisis on the basis of the Geneva Communique.
Botswana lamented the tragedy unfolding before the international community, including the use of starvation as a weapon of war. The blocking of delivery of medical supplies and equipment continued to lead to the loss of lives, including women and girls. Botswana regretted the veto on a Security Council resolution which sought to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. Qatar condemned the Syrian regime’s use of chlorine gas in violation of Security Council resolutions, stressing that the international community’s failure to find a settlement to the crisis had led to numerous deaths. Qatar also condemned the illegitimate results of the recent presidential election. It highlighted the need to bring all perpetrators of violations to justice.
Mexico said that given the gravity of the violations of international humanitarian law, it was important to stress the existence of national and international mechanisms available to fight impunity. Mexico called on all parties to the conflict to stop acts of torture against children and to stop using schools as military bases. How could the coordination between the various United Nations agencies be developed to ensure the protection of children? Jordan said that the report reflected a clear deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria. The crisis was now expanding beyond its boundaries and threatening regional stability. Jordan had welcomed over 650,000 Syrian refugees since the start of the crisis and would continue to offer assistance to all those in need. The international community’s help was needed so that humanitarian help could continue to be provided.
For use of the information media; not an official record