Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria
Human Rights Council
14 March 2017
The Human Rights Council in its midday meeting held an interactive dialogue with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic.
Paulo Pinheiro, Chairperson of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, recalled that the Commission’s mission since its inception was to give voice to the millions of victims of the conflict in Syria, underlining the fresh images of horror from the battle for Aleppo. The recapture of Aleppo should not deceive the warring parties into believing that a military solution was possible. The only way to end the conflict was through a genuine and constructive political dialogue, in which context the Astana and Geneva talks gave encouraging signals. For political dialogue to have a chance of success, Member States had to exert their influence over warring parties and acknowledge that they too had a role in the war. Human rights and accountability issues had to remain key priorities at the negotiating table, and States also needed to protect the rights and dignity of all Syrians who had been forced to leave their homes to escape the violence.
Syria, speaking as the concerned country, said that since the beginning of the conflict, it had attempted to protect the civilians of Aleppo, adding that the report contradicted the truth about the situation in east Aleppo, where numerous civilians were forced to stay at the mercy of terrorist groups. Syria rejected the allegations about the attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, the use of chlorine and the attacks on humanitarian convoys. Those allegations were unfounded, based on an amateurish approach, and aimed to politicize and manipulate the truth.
In the ensuing discussion speakers reiterated support for the work of the Commission of Inquiry and its steadfast attention to the situation of the victims, which was a permanent reminder of what should come first. They expressed deep alarm about the findings that war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the use of chlorine and deliberate attacks on civilians, had been committed in Aleppo. Justice and accountability for human rights violations were integral to ensuring peace in Syria. Speakers expressed support for the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism to assist in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the most serious crimes under international law committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011. Other speakers stressed that the role of the international community was to promote peace and stability in Syria. The Syrian people should be able to overcome their differences, and foreign meddling in their domestic matters should end.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Pinheiro invited the delegates to read the conference paper which was circulated today, as it was an example of the balanced approach that the Commission applied. One third of that paper was dedicated to terrorist organizations. Recalling that the Commission of Inquiry did not take sides, Mr. Pinheiro recalled that each report applied a balanced approach and dedicated equal attention to the principal parties to the conflict.
Carla del Ponte, Member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, explained that the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism would complement the work of the Commission of Inquiry. The Commission investigated the crimes committed by all parties, while the Mechanism would focus on the high-level political and military officials.
Karen Koning AbuZayd, Member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, said that the work of humanitarian agencies had to be recognized, adding that the greatest obstacle to the delivery of aid was the lack of financing as only half of the humanitarian appeal for Syria was funded. The Commission of Inquiry was actively investigating cases of sexual and gender-based violence, and would soon publish a thematic paper of sexual violence in conflict.
Speaking were Denmark on behalf of the Nordic countries, European Union, Liechtenstein, Poland, Holy See, Qatar, Israel, United Kingdom, Greece, Brazil, Croatia, France, Czechia, Germany, Russian Federation, Switzerland, Japan, Belgium, Cuba, Venezuela, China, Netherlands, Egypt, Italy, Algeria, Iran, Morocco, Georgia, Chile, New Zealand, Kuwait, United States, Saudi Arabia, Estonia, Turkey, Iraq, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Hungary, Luxembourg, Albania, Belarus, Ecuador, Slovakia, Jordan, Ireland, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Mexico, Portugal and Lithuania.
Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: Conseil International pour le Soutien à des Procès Equitables et aux Droits de l’Homme, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Union of Arab Jurists, European Centre for Law and Justice, Associazione Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII, World Jewish Congress, Alliance Defending Freedom, and World Council of Arameans.
At 3 p.m. the Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, followed by a general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.
The Council has before it the Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (A/HRC/34/64).
Presentation of the Report
PAULO SERGIO PINHEIRO, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, stated that the Syrian conflict would soon enter its seventh year. Since its inception, it had been the Commission’s mission and goal to give voice to the millions of victims of the conflict. Most fresh were the images of horror which emanated from the battle for Aleppo, in which not even orphanages had escaped the wrath of violence. Many had perished due to the lack of even the most basic healthcare services. Reports of arrests and enforced disappearances continued to emerge. In western Aleppo, civilians had been terrorized under a near daily barrage of attacks, including the use of improvised mortars and rockets. The recapture of Aleppo should not deceive the warring parties into believing that a military solution was possible. The possibility of a military victory was entirely mistaken, stressed Mr. Pinheiro.
The only way to end the conflict was through a genuine and constructive political dialogue, in which context the Astana and Geneva talks gave encouraging signals. For political dialogue to have a chance of success, Member States had to exert their influence over warring parties and acknowledge that they too had a role in the war. The increasingly complex conflict was partially fueled by the involvement of external actors and the financial, materiel and other support they lent to the warring parties. Human rights and accountability issues had to remain key priorities at the negotiating table. Perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity had to be held to account, which was not negotiable. The creation of the mechanism to assist in the investigation and prosecution of persons responsible for such crimes was a crucial step in the direct direction. Member States also needed to protect the rights and dignity of all Syrians who had been forced to leave their homes to escape the violence.
Statement by the Concerned Country
Syria, speaking as the concerned country, objected to being allocated only five minutes to reply to the Commission of Inquiry’s 15-minute presentation, which in its report had drawn on competences that it did not have to make accusations against the Government. Since the beginning of the conflict, the Syrian Government had attempted to protect the civilians of Aleppo, and had made a unilateral decision to evacuate the injured and the needy from east Aleppo. Those who had tried to pass by humanitarian avenues had been killed by the terrorists. The report contradicted the truth about the situation in east Aleppo, where numerous civilians were forced to stay at the mercy of terrorist groups. They were used as human shields, did not have access to medical assistance, nor could they use the United Nations convoys to be evacuated. Syria rejected the allegations by the Commission of Inquiry about the attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, the use of chlorine and the attacks on humanitarian convoys. Those allegations were unfounded and based on an amateurish approach, and aimed to politicize and manipulate the truth. It was no surprise that the States which had supported the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry were the same that manipulated the truth, and supported terrorists, including the United Kingdom, United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, France, and others.
Denmark, speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, said it was deeply alarmed about the findings that war crimes and crimes against humanity were being committed by the Syrian forces, including the use of chlorine and deliberate attacks on civilians. Justice and accountability for human rights violations were integral to ensuring peace in Syria and the Nordic countries asked the Commission of Inquiry about the expectations with regards to cooperation with the new accountability mechanism. European Union welcomed the resumption of peace talks in Geneva while remaining concerned about violations of the ceasefire in Syria. The report on Aleppo had underlined that war crimes had been committed by the Syrian regime. The European Union was supporting the Brussels Conference on the future of Syria and the region in April 2017.
Liechtenstein was particularly pleased to see the reference in the report to the accountability mechanism, and the necessity for all Member States to cooperate with it. Liechtenstein supported a swift operalization of the mechanism. How did the Commission of Inquiry plan to engage with the mechanism at the institutional level? Poland stressed its full support for the renewal of the mandate of the Commission. The international community could not turn a blind eye to human rights violations committed by combatting parties in Syria. Poland had taken effective measures to assist the Syrian population in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Humanitarian aid should be allowed to all areas of Syria. Holy See reiterated its solidarity with all victims of violence of more than six years of senseless slaughter. It was unacceptable that children had to pay the price of the conflict; some children knew nothing but war as they had been born under bombs. It was of utmost importance that religious and ethnic minorities be fully involved in the negotiation process with equal rights and responsibilities.
Qatar said that what had happened in eastern Aleppo was proof of the most heinous violations and crimes by the Syrian regime and its allies. Based on the details of the report, the responsibility of the Syrian regime in attacking a humanitarian convoy amounted to a war crime. Qatar warned of attempts to repeat elsewhere what had happened in Aleppo.
Israel was appalled by the severe fighting ongoing in Syria, where the innocent continued to pay the daily price. Against its international commitments to eliminate its chemical weapons stockpiles, the regime had intentionally used it to kill its own civilians. The reckless killing of 17 humanitarian workers in the convoy was another proof of the lack of consideration. Israel supported the call to end all sieges and the indiscriminate shelling. United Kingdom said that the Aleppo report highlighted the terrible suffering of civilians in the besieged city. The Syrian regime continued to use the same tactics. All parties should be called out for their violations. The Commission should be given unhindered access to Syria, while all States were asked to support the independent investigative mechanism. What were the precise findings of the Commission on the attack on the humanitarian convoy last year?
Greece reiterated deep concern at the rising extremism and the lack of protection of all ethnic groups in Syria, Christians in particular, and condemned the destruction of religious sites perpetuated by Da’esh. Another concern was the growing number of refugees, including those fleeing Aleppo, who were currently stranded in Greece. Brazil was alarmed by the Commission’s findings about the use of chemical weapons in Aleppo and reiterated its support for the work of the Commission, noting that its steadfast attention to the situation of the victims was a permanent reminder of what should come first. What could be innovative modalities for engagement with Syria, was there any room for building trust and confidence with the country?
Croatia regretted the destruction of the fibre of life in Aleppo and the unmeasurable suffering of its inhabitants, and condemned the absence of protection for all the population in Aleppo and all its ethnic and religious groups. France said that despite the cessation of hostilities, attacks against civilians continued, including the use of chlorine and sieges, and stressed the urgency of a renewed political process in Syria. Czechia strongly condemned all violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict in the battle of Aleppo. The scale of those violations was deeply shocking. Impunity for those crimes was unacceptable and the situation in Syria must be referred to the International Criminal Court. Germany took note of the Commission of Inquiry’s findings that crimes and atrocities in Aleppo had been committed by all parties to the conflict and called for accountability. It was what was owed the victims.
Russian Federation pointed out at the symbolic time the latest report by the Commission had been published, just as the parties were getting ready for the next round of talks. Russia asked how the reported 200 Jabhat-al Nusra terrorists in eastern Aleppo had managed to have thousands of so-called moderate rebels under their control. Had the Commission asked for objective data on monitoring airspace over Syria? Nobody had asked Russia. Switzerland called on the Syrian Government to allow access to its territory to the Commission of Inquiry. All parties to the conflict were called upon to avoid attacks against civilian targets. Switzerland underlined that it was essential that justice be done, and reiterated its call to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. How could States best support efforts of cooperation between the Commission, the independent mechanism and Syrian non-governmental organizations? Japan found it regrettable that the Commission could not access Syria. The information on the attack on the humanitarian convoy by the Syrian air force was deeply disturbing and those responsible should be brought to justice. All parties were urged to immediately stop attacks against civilian targets. Was the Commission willing to directly engage all parties in dialogue, Japan asked?
Belgium said that today the full scale of atrocities committed in Aleppo was becoming clear. The Commission’s report gave a detailed account of such violations, which could not be tolerated. Perpetrators should be brought to justice, and victims had to have the right to redress. Belgium was a staunch supporter of the independent mechanism established in December 2016. Cuba stressed that the role of the international community was to promote peace and stability in Syria. The Syrian people should be able to overcome their differences, and foreign meddling in their domestic matters should end. It was time to find a peaceful, just and negotiated solution to the conflict in which hundreds of thousands of innocent people had lost their lives. Venezuela said that the Syrian people were calling for help and solidarity from the international community. The international media campaign against the Syrian Government continued. Venezuela reiterated its call for a peaceful resolution of the conflict; dialogues for peace in Geneva and Astana ought to be continued. There was a need for an inclusive political process led by Syrians themselves.
China noted that the international community had increased the momentum to find a solution for the conflict in Syria. In order to create a sound environment for the talks, the debate at the Council should promote that process, ease the humanitarian crisis and combat terrorism. Netherlands condemned the unacceptably heavy use of indiscriminate weapons, including incendiary weapons, barrel bombs and chemical weapons. Perpetrators from all warring parties in Syria should be held responsible for their crimes. Egypt deplored the loss of civilian lives, the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Syria, and the shortage of water and food. Cutting external funding to terrorist groups in Syria was key to ending the violence. Italy urged all parties to cease hostilities, to ensure the fulfilment of the ceasefire nationwide, and to guarantee unimpeded humanitarian access to all areas. The only way to reach peace in Syria was through a political process of intra-Syrian negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations. Algeria stated that attention should be focused on the modus operandi of terrorist groups. It welcomed the progress made during the third round of intra-Syrian talks, and encouraged all parties to take part in that process in a constructive way.
Comments by the Members of the Commission of Inquiry
PAULO SERGIO PINHEIRO, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, reiterated that the Commission had always gone to great pains to preserve its independence. Its findings were based solely on the information collected by the Commission. Secondary source materials were used for collaborating the materials collected directly by the Commission. No news articles or videos were quoted in the report. The Commission thus strongly rejected any accusations of politicization. There was no military solution to the conflict, and civilians on all sides had to be protected. The Commission would not abrogate its responsibility to be impartial and edit its reports simply because they were politically unpopular or upset parties to the conflict. How could the Commission be accused of not being in the country to investigate the situation first hand if it was denied access to Syria, Mr. Pinheiro asked? The Commission’s staff were available to go through the details of the report with representatives of interested States, including Russia. The details on the methodology would also be gladly shared with any interested party. The Commission had tried everything to have contacts with the Government without any success.
CARLA DEL PONTE, Member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, said that the Commission was fully ready to cooperate with the independent mechanism, as it was a tool for victims to get justice. The mechanism would be able to continue the Commission’s investigations and have it ready for trial, once the Security Council decided it was time to grant justice to victims. States should continue to cooperate with the Commission while providing support to the newly established mechanism so that accountability could be ensured.
KAREN KONING ABUZAYD, Member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, said that the details of the attack against the humanitarian convoy were in the report. It had clearly been an air strike, and the conclusions were based on various and comprehensive evidence. The Commission was very confident about what it had reported regarding the attack against the convoy.
Iran stated that there was no military solution for the conflict in Syria, and any solution should respect its territorial integrity and sovereignty. It was urgent for Member States to contribute constructively to the ongoing peace talks. Financing of terrorists by Israel was also highlighted. Morocco reiterated the need for an urgent end to hostilities in Syria and for the protection of civilian populations whose humanitarian needs had to be met unconditionally. The solution for the crisis required respect for Syria’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Georgia urged all sides in Syria to comply with their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and to bring perpetrators of crimes to justice. Chile remained deeply upset by the serious and systematic human rights violations in Syria. It called on all parties to the conflict to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry, and to reach an effective political agreement.
New Zealand condemned the serious breaches of international humanitarian law against the people of Syria and Aleppo. The Syrian regime had shown little regard for civilians, laying siege of cities. Only genuine security sector reform could provide peace for the Syrians. Kuwait reminded that it had supported the work of humanitarian organizations in Syria and that it had supported efforts to find a political solution to the conflict. It noted that the Council had not fully borne in mind the fate of Syrian children.
United States welcomed the critical work of the Commission of Inquiry and said no side had caused more death and suffering than the Syrian Government. The Commission was asked how its members intended to continue investigating the grave situation in Syrian detention centres. Saudi Arabia thanked the members of the Commission of Inquiry for the report, adding that the report showed the scope of crimes committed, where civilians were targeted by indiscriminate bombing. Saudi Arabia called for a peaceful transition under the aegis of the United Nations and resolution 2254 of the United Nations Security Council. Estonia condemned the unlawful attacks by the Syrian Government and Russian forces, which caused immense suffering to the Syrian people. The members of the Commission of Inquiry were asked how the mechanism could support all parties involved in human rights violations being held accountable.
Turkey categorically rejected the futile and deceptive allegations made by the Syrian regime’s representative, condemning such “pathetic” attempts to distort reality and drew attention to the fact that there were serious human rights violations committed by “YPG” fighters under the pretext of fighting Da’esh which should be given due consideration. Iraq said information had been given that showed ignorance, adding that some did not like Iraq’s victories in Mosul. The Iraqi army had targeted Da’esh on the border, and that undertaking should enjoy international support in line with United Nations Security Council resolutions. Democratic People's Republic of Korea said politicization, selectivity and double standards in the field of human rights were a major obstacle to genuine cooperation for the promotion and protection of human rights and developing countries were selectively targeted for attack. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea expressed its support and solidarity with the Government and people of Syria in their struggle to defend national sovereignty.
Hungary urged all warring parties to immediately end all human rights violations, including starvation, unlawful detention, holding besieged civilian population as human shields and unlawful killings. The Syrian authorities were urged to meet their responsibility to protect the Syrian population and provide unhindered, countrywide access to all persons in need of humanitarian need. Luxembourg was concerned about the human rights violations and the violations of humanitarian law, including the use of barrel bombs and cluster bombs. Particularly worrisome were attacks against hospitals and schools. Luxembourg condemned deliberate attacks against humanitarian convoys. Luxembourg was politically and financially supporting the investigative mechanism, and was calling upon others to do the same. Albania remained alarmed about the ongoing, systematic and widespread human rights violations in Syria. The violence perpetuated by the Syrian authorities had a grave impact on the refugee flows and internally displaced persons. Albania strongly condemned the terrorist attacks and activities in the country, and welcomed the establishment of the independent mechanism in December 2016.
Belarus reiterated that a lasting solution in Syria could only be achieved through the ending of the armed conflict. The report was very limited in its references to violence and crimes committed by terrorist groups; the report seemed unbalanced and could be used to put pressure on one party in the conflict. Belarus supported negotiations in Astana. Ecuador was seriously concerned about the violations of human rights in Syria, which should be thoroughly investigated. The Government of Syria and the opposition were both receiving military and political support from external actors. Ecuador called for the cessation of the selective use of the Council’s mechanisms. Access to humanitarian aid had to be ensured. Slovakia was appalled by gross and systematic human rights violations and abuses in Syria. Slovakia expressed grave concerns over the use of chemical weapons. Slovakia had supported the establishment of the international, impartial and independent mechanism to assist in investigating and prosecuting international crimes in Syria.
Jordan underscored the importance of an immediate and permanent ceasefire all over Syria, and called for an urgent political solution to the conflict. It reiterated the need for a solution acceptable to all parties. Ireland reiterated its support for the renewal of the United Nations-led effort to restart political negotiations to end the conflict in Syria based on the 2012 Geneva Communique and Security Council resolution 2254. United Arab Emirates stated that it would spare no effort to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria, and called on all parties to adhere to international humanitarian law obligations. It stressed the need for unhindered access for humanitarian aid in the country. Bahrain expressed deep concern over the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria, and condemned the attacks, raids and sieges against civilians by the Syrian regime. It called for an extraordinary General Assembly session to study the situation in Syria.
Mexico stressed that the civilian population in Syria was the main victim of the conflict, as seen during the clashes in Aleppo. Mexico condemned gross human rights abuses and the blockade of humanitarian aid. Portugal underlined the unbearable suffering of the civilian population in Syria, adding that some abuses might amount to war crimes. The humanitarian needs of civilians demanded a comprehensive response from all actors in Syria and the international community. Lithuania called for the immediate release of any arbitrarily detained persons, particularly women and children, and for an end to impunity. It was currently deciding on the provision of financial support to the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism.
Conseil International pour le soutien à des proces équitables et aux Droits de l’Homme said the human rights situation since the start of the crisis had required the attention of the Council. The forces of evil had brought in 300,000 people to destroy the Syrian State, but the people of Syria had been able to face numerous States involved in their country in various ways. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom said the Commission’s findings reflected how women and children were disproportionately affected by violence, and noted that the report of the Panel did not provide gender disaggregated data, asking if the Commission of Inquiry had received such information and asking why it was not reflected in the report.
Union of Arab Jurists said the Commission ignored the true reasons for the escalation in the country, which was extremists and their actions against the secular State. Another reason for the escalation was the interference of external States. European Centre for Law and Justice said Christians and other religious minorities were victims of genocide yet the Human Rights Council had remained silent while ISIS had continued its reign of terror. Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII said the war in Syria was entering its sixth year, and more than half the population had been forced to leave their homes. All were invited to read an appeal by Syrians, and the current Pope was quoted regarding non-violence. World Jewish Congress said six years of war had had a devastating impact on Syria, and civilians had paid the highest toll for the violence. Describing a meeting with a child refugee, he said all violations of human rights had to end with special protection extended to vulnerable groups.
Alliance Defending Freedom regretted that the Commission’s report did not acknowledge the plight of ethnic and religious groups in Syria, in particular Christians. Those groups suffered killings, torture, kidnappings, sexual enslavement and forced conversion, and the atrocities were committed on a mass scale with the intent to destroy those groups. The Commission of Inquiry should refer to it as genocide. World Council of Arameans (Syriac) urged the recognition of the genocide committed by ISIS against vulnerable minority groups such as Arameans and Yezidis, who were also targeted and driven from their homes and ancestral land by various other armed groups in the region.
PAULO PINHEIRO, Chair of the Independent international Commission of Inquiry on Syria, recalled that the Commission had issued a report on detention last year, which had drawn on the many years of work on this issue. The Commission of Inquiry did not stop documenting cases of torture, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention and would continue to do so. Noting that several speakers raised the issue of the persecution of minority groups, particularly Christians, Mr. Pinheiro said that the Commission of Inquiry was monitoring this situation since the very beginning of its work and said that data on precise cases of violations against those groups would be included in the next report.
CARLA DEL PONTE, Member of the Independent international Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said that the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism would complement the work of the Commission of Inquiry. The Commission investigated the crimes committed by all parties, while the Mechanism would focus on the high-level political and military officials. It was time to start obtaining justice for the victims, said Ms. Del Ponte and welcomed the statements which stressed that there could be no peace without justice.
KAREN KONING ABUZAYD, Member of the Independent international Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said that the work of humanitarian agencies must be recognized and said that the greatest obstacle to the delivery of aid was the lack of financing as only half of the humanitarian appeal for Syria was funded. The Commission of Inquiry was actively investigating cases of sexual and gender-based violence, and would soon publish a thematic paper on sexual violence in conflict. Ms. Koning Abuzayd stressed the importance of advocating for more psycho-social support to victims, and ensuring that re-victimisation and re-traumatization of victims was avoided.
PAULO PINHEIRO, Chair of the Independent international Commission of Inquiry on Syria, invited the delegates to read the conference paper which was circulated today, as it was an example of the balanced approach that the Commission applied; one third of that paper was dedicated to terrorist organizations. Recalling that the Commission of Inquiry did not take sides, Mr. Pinheiro recalled that each report applied a balanced approach and dedicated equal attention to the principal parties to the conflict.
For use of the information media; not an official record
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