Syria

Establishing a Mechanism on the Missing in Syria is a Priority, Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic Tells Human Rights Council

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6 July 2021

The Situation in Myanmar Has Escalated to a Multi-dimensional Human Rights Catastrophe, High Commissioner Warns Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and started an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her oral update on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

Paulo Pinheiro, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, stated that the pandemic and the current economic crisis had inflicted new dimensions of suffering on Syrians. Five international armies, their proxies and a plethora of other non-State actors continued to fight in Syria – including the air forces of the Russian Federation, the United States and Israel. Civilians had to navigate through all of these actors to simply go about their lives. More than 2.7 million internally displaced persons remained stranded in increasingly desperate living conditions in Idlib governorate. Despite initial and encouraging reductions in violence following the March 2020 ceasefire, violence had escalated since January this year across northwest Syria. Despite the continued inadequate response at the Security Council, there now finally appeared to be some momentum behind the establishment of a mechanism on the missing. This was a priority.

Syria, speaking as a country concerned, said Syria rejected meetings and resolutions at the initiative of some States that sought, through misinformation and lies, to justify the interventionist policies and acts of military and economic aggression against it. These acts had caused enormous human suffering to the Syrian people and were a direct cause of migration and displacement inside and outside of Syria. Syria had sent dozens of communications to the Office of the High Commissioner regarding practices that violated human rights that resulted from the United States' acts of aggression, as well as the Erdogan regime's persistent support for terrorist organizations, and its systematic "Turkification" campaign.

In the ensuing dialogue, speakers regretted the lack of substantial progress in the political process, saying the elections had been neither free nor fair. They expressed deep concerns about reports of social and demographic engineering in all areas and mass waves of displacement. Noting that there were 130,000 Syrians reportedly missing or in detention, speakers stressed the importance of registering deaths so as to ensure accountability and transitional justice. Further efforts to combat COVID-19 were urgently needed. Year 11 of the conflict in Syria continued to inflict unprecedented levels of suffering on Syrians, with over 13 million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance as human rights violations continued unabated.

Speaking were Estonia on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Croatia on behalf of a group of countries, Kuwait, Qatar, Liechtenstein, Israel, Germany, Australia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, France, United Arab Emirates, Cuba, Brazil, Switzerland, Japan, Bahrain, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Iraq, Armenia, Malta, China, Netherlands, Italy, Iran, Venezuela, United States, Egypt, Jordan, Romania, Sri Lanka, Belarus, Ireland, Belgium, Georgia, United Kingdom, Turkey, Russian Federation, Albania, Cyprus, Greece, and Nicaragua.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, International Council Supporting Fair Trial and Human Rights, International Commission of Jurists, International Human Rights Council, World Vision International, Baptist World Alliance, Palestinian Return Centre Ltd, Jubilee Campaign, Advocates for Human Rights, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

The Council then began an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her oral update on the human rights situation in Myanmar.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that in recent months, the situation in Myanmar had evolved from a political crisis to a multi-dimensional human rights catastrophe. Suffering and violence throughout the country were devastating prospects for sustainable development and raised the possibility of State failure or a broader civil war. What had begun as a coup by the Myanmar military had rapidly morphed into an attack against the civilian population that had become increasingly widespread and systematic. Nearly 900 people had been killed. Some 200,000 people had been forced to flee their homes as a result of violent military raids on neighbourhoods and villages.

Speakers stated that accountability must be ensured to deter more atrocity crimes, reiterating their strong support to the mandate of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar. The military coup was condemned strongly by some speakers who emphasised that the international community must refrain from any measures that risked lending legitimacy to the military regime. A lasting solution must be found to the plight of both the Rohingyas in Myanmar, and the Rohingya refugees, ensuring their safe and dignified return. Speakers said that the inclusive engagement of human rights dialogue was key, calling on the international community to support the efforts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to break the impasse in the country, and welcoming the Five Point Consensus.

Speaking were the European Union, Sweden on behalf of a group of countries, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Germany, Sierra Leone, Australia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, France, Spain, Japan, China, Maldives, Lao People's Democratic Republic, United States, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Romania, Ireland, Timor-Leste, United Kingdom, Mauritania, Marshall Islands, Bulgaria, Netherlands, Philippines, India, Iran, and Ukraine.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Edmund Rice International Limited, Centre pour les Droits Civils et Politiques - Centre CCPR, and Article 19 - International Centre Against Censorship.

Turkey, Greece, Armenia, and Azerbaijan took the floor in right of reply.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council's forty-seventh regular session can be found here.

The Human Rights Council will next meet at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 7 July, to hold the quadrennial panel discussion on promoting human rights through sport and the Olympic ideal, followed by the resumed interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. It will also hear the presentation of the report of the Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic

PAULO PINHEIRO, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, stated that the pandemic and the current economic crisis had inflicted new dimensions of suffering on Syrians. Five international armies, their proxies and a plethora of other non-State actors continued to fight in Syria – including the air forces of the Russian Federation, the United States and Israel. Civilians had to navigate through all of these actors to simply go about their lives. More than 2.7 million internally displaced persons remained stranded in increasingly desperate living conditions in Idlib governorate. Despite initial and encouraging reductions in violence following the March 2020 ceasefire, violence had escalated since January this year across northwest Syria. To the east in Afrin in Aleppo Governorate and Ras al-Ayn in Hasakah Governorate, unclaimed attacks using improvised explosive devices were killing and maiming scores of civilians. In the northeast, unpopular initiatives by the self-administration, economic hardship, and rising insecurity linked to the re-emergence of Islamic State remnants had triggered widespread demonstrations, predominantly in Arab-populated regions.

In al-Hawl camp, more than 60,000 women, men, and children continued to languish in despair more than two years after the United States-backed Syrian Democratic Forces took control of the last populated areas under Islamic State control. Thousands were held in inhumane conditions in other northeast camps, with 90 per cent of the population being women and children: this was an outrage. The majority held in these camps were foreign nationals, as Member States continued to evade their obligations - all of these children were victims first and foremost. High numbers of assassinations of medical workers, former judges, reconciliation leaders as well as reconciled fighters by a variety of different parties continued. Government security forces had destroyed houses in recently retaken areas for monetary gain while policies often appeared intended to punish and to perpetuate displacement. In areas not subject to active hostilities, the economic situation, the COVID-19 pandemic, and insecurity continued to devastate the populace. Despite the continued inadequate response at the Security Council, there now finally appeared to be some momentum behind the establishment of a mechanism on the missing. This was a priority.

Remarks by Country Concerned

Syria, speaking as a country concerned, said Syria rejected meetings and resolutions at the initiative of some States that sought, through misinformation and lies, to justify the interventionist policies and acts of military and economic aggression against it. These acts had caused enormous human suffering to the Syrian people and were a direct cause of migration and displacement inside and outside of Syria. Syria had sent dozens of communications to the Office of the High Commissioner regarding practices that violated human rights that resulted from the United States' acts of aggression, as well as the Erdogan regime's persistent support for terrorist organizations, and its systematic "Turkification" campaign. The Government of Syria remained committed to facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid from within Syria, in cooperation with the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, in accordance with the principles that regulated the work of the humanitarian agencies, away from selectivity and political conditionality.

Discussion

Speakers, regretting the lack of substantial progress in the political process, said the elections had been neither free nor fair. They expressed deep concerns about reports of social and demographic engineering in all areas and mass waves of displacement. Noting that there were 130,000 Syrians reportedly missing or in detention, speakers stressed the importance of registering deaths so as to ensure accountability and transitional justice. Further efforts to combat COVID-19 were urgently needed. Year 11 of the conflict in Syria continued to inflict unprecedented levels of suffering on Syrians, with over 13 million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance, as human rights violations continued unabated. What could be done to galvanise parties to the conflict to genuinely engage in the political process? Pointing out that the healthcare system had been ripped apart by attacks, they said indiscriminate attacks, as well as attacks against civilian objects, must be stopped. Violations of international humanitarian law must be prosecuted before the competent courts.

Interim Remarks

PAULO PINHEIRO, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, said that, ideally, Syrian national courts and national mechanisms or the International Criminal Court would play a key role in bringing about justice and accountability in Syria. However, as this was not possible, the exercise of international jurisdiction by domestic courts outside of Syria had proven a fruitful avenue. There was a pressing need for those detaining the missing and the disappeared to provide information about their whereabouts. As regards the recording of casualties, the Commission of Inquiry had not been able to do that itself; civil society's work in that regard must be bolstered. Reiterating the urgency of addressing the situation of the missing and the disappeared, he said the Commission was pushing very hard to establish a mechanism that would bring together families and human rights mechanisms. They would be best placed to decide on the way forward. On humanitarian access, the discussion should be about expanding the crossings, not about whether they would close. Humanitarian assistance should not be reliant on United Nations Security Council resolutions, Mr. Pinheiro stated.

Discussion

Some speakers were concerned that Syria's sovereignty was being attacked by this politicised, counter-productive dialogue, as Member States of the United Nations continued to oppress the country: the will of the people, voiced through the recent elections, must be heard. The plight of detained Palestinian refugees was particularly concerning. They were not numbers, but human beings with lives and dreams. Violations committed both by Government and non-State armed groups amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Security Council continued to abdicate its responsibility - it was crucial to fill the accountability gap and refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. If the Security Council failed to reauthorise cross-border operations, thus halting United Nations assistance to at least 2.5 million children, the world might witness the worst child protection crisis in the world. Unilateral coercive measures had had a disproportionate impact on the Syrian population, hampering essential aid. The Commission must address the Turkish occupation of northern Syrian territories as an occupation, in order to encourage Turkey to assume its responsibilities in protecting the civilian population.

Concluding Remarks

PAULO PINHEIRO, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, noted that Syrian families were coming together to form a charter to find a way forward - it was important to collect and verify the information on the disappeared. The Commission was very concerned about the plight of children. In response to a question asking the Commission to imagine what it was like to be a child in Syria today, Mr. Pinheiro said children under the age of 10 had only known conflict and nothing else, this had had a traumatic effect: an increasing number of suicides by children had been noted. Young girls risked being forced into child marriages or ending their education simply because schools were on the other side of a checkpoint. The Commission had documented the recruitment of children in Syria, but it was not mandated to investigate this area. The conflict was over 10 years old and there were no encouraging signs of a political settlement. Since there was no end, it was incumbent on all to look for small steps to ease the day to day life of Syrians - how could they help mothers seeking access to their children or husbands in detention, for example? Progress in day to day life could help and create some forms of trust that may help the political process.

Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her Oral Update on the Human Rights Situation in Myanmar

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that in recent months, the situation in Myanmar had evolved from a political crisis to a multi-dimensional human rights catastrophe. Suffering and violence throughout the country were devastating prospects for sustainable development and raised the possibility of State failure or a broader civil war. What had begun as a coup by the Myanmar military had rapidly morphed into an attack against the civilian population that had become increasingly widespread and systematic. Nearly 900 people had been killed. Some 200,000 people had been forced to flee their homes as a result of violent military raids on neighbourhoods and villages. This crisis had compounded the already disastrous impact of COVID-19 on an economy that relied on remittances, the garment industry and other sectors shattered by global recession. A country-wide general strike combined with the widespread dismissal of civil servants – including educators and medical personnel – had incapacitated many essential services in the country.

The coup had exacerbated a number of long-running conflicts in Myanmar's borderlands. Fighting had resumed in Kachin, Kayin and northern Shan states, as well as other areas such as Chin and Kayah states that had been largely peaceful in recent years. Laws had been instrumentalised to stifle freedom of expression; curb independent media as well as social media; and arbitrarily detain at least 5,200 people. Over 90 journalists had been arrested and eight major media outlets had been closed. The High Commissioner welcomed the release of 2,200 prisoners last week as a first step, but this should be unconditional and followed quickly by the many thousands still arbitrarily detained, including political leaders. The military leadership had not successfully secured control of Myanmar, nor the international recognition it sought. On the contrary, its brutal tactics had triggered a national uprising that had changed the political equation. At the same time, Myanmar's people had shown incredible resilience in organising systems of mutual solidarity and support. But despair was rising. Some people, in many parts of Myanmar, had taken up arms and formed self-protection groups. All armed actors must ensure that civilians and civilian structures were protected. Emphasising the continuing need to address the situation of the Rohingya, Ms. Bachelet said despite a tenuous ceasefire in Rakhine state, there had been no material change in the conditions that would be needed for any safe or sustainable return of refugees.

Discussion

Speakers stated that accountability must be ensured to deter more atrocity crimes, reiterating their strong support to the mandate of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar. The military coup was condemned strongly by speakers who emphasised that the international community must refrain from any measures that risked lending legitimacy to the military regime. A lasting solution must be found to the plight of both the Rohingyas in Myanmar, and the Rohingya refugees, ensuring their safe and dignified return. Speakers said that inclusive engagement of human rights dialogue was key, calling on the international community to support the efforts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to break the impasse in the country, and welcoming the Five Point Consensus. Some speakers noted that the participation of concerned countries in the interactive dialogue was crucial, and the Council must follow the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity. All political prisoners must be released immediately and unconditionally, and the regime had to stop the use of lethal force and military weapons against civilians.

Sexual violence and the use of torture against detainees, as well as the detention of children, appalled speakers. The lack of humanitarian access and cross border humanitarian assistance to deliver aid to persons in need, and prevent further displacement, was concerning. Speakers deplored the continuous use by the police of excessive and lethal force against protesters. It was an outrage that broad restrictions on the media, Internet blackouts, public gatherings and other measures that curtailed freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly remained in place. Women and girls bore the brunt of the junta's repressive campaign; its long-established practice of using rape and sexual violence as weapons of war was well documented. Medical doctors who had joined protesters had been subjected to violence, disappeared and killed. Access to healthcare was limited in the country despite being urgently needed. The sovereignty of Myanmar lay with the people of Myanmar and their duly elected representatives, speakers emphasised.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/07/afternoon-establishing-mechanism-missing-syria-priority