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High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Human Rights Council: 350,209 Civilians Have Been Killed in the Syrian Conflict

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AFTERNOON

24 September 2021

Council starts general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention

Council concludes interactive dialogue with the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

The Human Rights Council this afternoon heard an oral update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the extent of civilian casualties in Syria, who said that her Office had compiled a list of 350,209 identified individuals killed in the conflict in Syria between March 2011 to March 2021.

The Council also started its general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention, concluded its interactive dialogue with the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and then met in private to consider its complaint procedure.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that resolution 46/22 had requested her Office to resume its work on the extent of civilian casualties in the Syrian Arab Republic. Her Office had followed a strict methodology as their numbers included only those people identifiable by full name, with an established date of death, and who died in an identified governorate. Any information that did not include these three elements was excluded, and an exhaustive review had been carried out to prevent duplicate records. On this basis, the Office of the High Commissioner had compiled a list of 350,209 identified individuals killed in the conflict in Syria between March 2011 to March 2021. The records that they had received with only partial information indicated the existence of a wider number of killings that as yet had not been fully documented. She called for the creation of an independent mechanism, with a strong international mandate, to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people; identify human remains; and provide support to relatives.

The Council also started its general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention. In addition to alleging violations of human rights in specific countries and regions, speakers also raised issues concerning multilateralism, the COVID-19 pandemic, sexual and gender-based violence, hate speech, the right to freedom of expression, unilateral coercive measures, and the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, among others.

Speaking in the general debate were: France, Egypt, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Venezuela, Pakistan, China, Germany, Armenia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Austria, Netherlands, Cuba, Russian Federation, India, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Pakistan, Sudan, Ukraine, Philippines, Denmark, Sudan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Côte d'Ivoire, France, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Israel, Australia, Finland, Spain, Switzerland, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Lao People's Democratic Republic, United States, Belarus, Turkey, Ireland, Norway, Cyprus, Malta, Syria, Turkmenistan, Estonia, Georgia, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, South Sudan and Vanuatu.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

In the discussion, some speakers regretted that perpetrators of human rights violations continued to benefit from systemic impunity. They urged the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide the human and material resources necessary for the fulfilment of the Mission's mandate. Some speakers expressed their dismay over the increasing politicisation and polarisation within the Council.

Speaking during the discussion were: Nicaragua, Colombia, Belarus, Sweden, Iran, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Zimbabwe, Organization of American States, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, South Sudan, Bolivia, Canada and Eritrea.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: Freedom House, Fundación Latinoamericana por los Derechos Humanos y el Desarrollo Social, United Nations Watch, Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, Advocates for Human Rights, World Organisation Against Torture, International Human Rights Association of American Minorities, and Asociacion HazteOir.org and Centre pour les Droits Civils et Politiques.

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-eighth regular session can be found here.

The Human Rights Council will resume its work on Monday, 27 September at 10 a.m. to continue its general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

The interactive dialogue with the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela started in the morning meeting and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

One speaker found it reprehensible that a member of the Council refused to cooperate with a Mission created by a resolution of the Council. Some speakers said the lack of cooperation of the Venezuelan authorities with the Mission was regretful. They encouraged the Council to continue examining allegations of extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and sexual and gender-based violence, which were occurring in Venezuela. One speaker said that in Venezuela there was no justice and no respect for the law. Some speakers highlighted that the lack of independence of the judiciary in Venezuela, as described in the report, prevented victims of human rights violations from finding the truth, justice and reparations that they deserved. The fact that perpetrators of human rights violations continued to benefit from systemic impunity was regretted. The Mission was urged to share relevant information with other United Nations Special Procedures as well as with the International Criminal Court. The Office of the High Commissioner was urged to provide the human and material resources necessary for the fulfilment of the Mission's mandate. Calls were made for Venezuela to establish independent investigation and prosecution mechanisms to ensure that government-affiliated agencies and paramilitary groups that were complicit in these acts were held accountable.

Some speakers said they had consistently opposed the Council’s consideration of the human rights situation in Venezuela. They stressed that the investigation mechanisms emanating from the Council must be approved by the concerned country and that there should be constructive cooperation between the two sides to implement what was included in the Council's resolution. One speaker said that there was evidence of clear politicisation and double standards in the work of the Council. Some speakers called on the thematic Special Procedures to work more closely with the Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures to assess and respond to the negative impact of sanctions on the human rights of the people of Venezuela. Some speakers expressed their dismay over the increasing politicisation and polarisation within the Council. They further shared the view that the selective focus of the Council on certain human rights issues and situations, such as resolution 45/20, ran counterproductive to the Council’s mandate of global promotion and protection of all human rights. They reiterated once again that the human rights agenda must be pursued in a fair manner, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 60/251 that established the Human Rights Council, and with due respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter such as national sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in internal affairs of States.

Concluding Remarks

FRANCISCO COX VIAL, Member of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, said that the report was based on testimonies of victims and current and former justice officials, as well as legal court documents. All of these elements came from the country itself. The Mission would have liked to visit Venezuela, but the authorities had refused. He further stated that the draft reform of the judiciary unveiled by the Venezuelan Government after the presentation of the report addressed some of the violations noted in the area of preventive detention, for example. It was hoped that the protection of political opponents would be improved as a result. The problem was not only the law, but also the way that the law was implemented. The report emphasised the need for reform of the entire judicial structure, including an end to State interference in the functioning of the judiciary and ensuring that victims of human rights violations had access to independent justice.

Presentation by the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the Report of her Office on the Extent of Civilian Casualties in the Syrian Arab Republic

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that resolution 46/22 had requested her Office to resume its work on the extent of civilian casualties in the Syrian Arab Republic. In 2013 and 2014, they had commissioned three statistical analyses of documented killings in Syria. However, the situation in Syria in 2014 had grown more complex and dangerous, which had affected the capacity to maintain the required standards of quality and verification of her Office, and led them to suspend this work. In 2019, the Office had reinforced its capacity to record civilian casualties and resumed its statistical analysis, in order to include Syria in its global reporting for the Sustainable Development Goals indicator on conflict-related deaths – SDG indicator 16.1.2.

Ms. Bachelet said that through this work, they had produced a statistical analysis of people killed in Syria. This assessment had encompassed her Office's own data, records maintained by civil society organizations, many of them collecting raw data on the ground, as well as information from the Syrian Government, which had shared records covering part of the 10 years. They had followed a strict methodology as their numbers included only those people identifiable by full name, with an established date of death, and who had died in an identified governorate. Any information that did not include these three elements had been excluded, and an exhaustive review had been carried out to prevent duplicate records.

On this basis, the Office of the High Commissioner had compiled a list of 350,209 identified individuals killed in the conflict in Syria between March 2011 to March 2021. Over one in every 13 was a woman – 26,727 women in all. Almost one in every 13 was a child: 27,126 children. Ms. Bachelet explained that the records that they had received with only partial information – and which were therefore excluded from their analysis – indicated the existence of a wider number of killings that as yet had not been fully documented. She called for the creation of an independent mechanism, with a strong international mandate, to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people; identify human remains; and provide support to relatives. She concluded by saying that the daily lives of the Syrian people remained scarred by unimaginable suffering and that they had endured a decade of conflict and faced a deepening economic crisis, as well as the impacts of COVID-19. It was incumbent upon all to listen to the voices of Syria's survivors and victims, and to the stories of those who had now fallen silent forever.

General Debate on Human Rights Situations that Require the Council’s Attention

Some speakers affirmed that the preservation of human dignity was the basis of all human rights and expressed their condemnation of any manifestations of violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms anywhere in the world. They stressed the right of everyone to enjoy human rights without discrimination of any kind. Some speakers called on the international community to uphold multilateralism, solidarity and collaboration and to promote and protect human rights through constructive dialogue and cooperation. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was raised. It had reportedly reversed gains in development and poverty reduction while supersizing inequalities. Speakers believed a collaborative approach in international engagements would produce better results in addressing the pandemic. Speakers also regretted that during the unfolding of the pandemic, there had been a marked increase in sexual and gender-based violence, which was a cause of collective concern. Concerns were also expressed against a surge of hate speech, disinformation and incitement disguised under the right to freedom of expression. Speakers stated that the right to freedom of expression, including access to information, was a fundamental human right, and a prerequisite for democracy and the realisation of other human rights. Concerns over media freedom were expressed. One speaker rejected unilateral coercive measures. Concerns over specific countries situations were expressed.

Speakers said that the work of the Human Rights Council was faced with serious challenges, and the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity was at stake. They regretted that, turning a blind eye to their own human rights problems, some countries continued to interfere in the internal affairs of others under the pretext of human rights, in an attempt to impose their own political values on others. This undermined the sovereignty and independence of other countries and international solidarity and cooperation, and caused persistent damage to the international efforts to promote and protect human rights. Such behaviour should be jointly opposed and rejected by the international community. Concerns were expressed regarding any practices that would deviate the Council from its main course for which it was established, which was to promote and protect human rights. Speakers stressed the importance of the Council's commitment, when considering human rights issues, to the principles of universality, impartiality and objectivity, and to avoid selectivity, politicisation and double standards.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/09/plus-de-350-000-personnes-ont-ete-identifiees-comme-ayant-ete

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