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Civil society organisations call on UNHRC to convene special session on Syria

(CIHRS/IFEX) – In an open letter, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and other civil society organisations call on the United Nations Human Rights Council to consider the findings of the Syrian Commission of Inquiry and ensure accountability for attacks on peaceful protesters:

22 November 2011

To Member States of the United Nations Human Rights Council:

Joint call by civil society for a special session of the UN Human Rights Council to consider the findings of the Syrian Commission of Inquiry and ensure accountability

Your Excellency,

As civil society organizations from around the world, we urgently call on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to convene a special session on Syria immediately after the release of the report of the HRC International Commission of Inquiry on Syria (the Commission of Inquiry), which is due before the end of November 2011. We also call on the HRC to transmit the findings of the Commission of Inquiry to the UN Security Council. If the Commission of Inquiry finds that crimes under international law, including crimes against humanity, appear to have been committed by the Syrian government, we call on the HRC to urge the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The previous HRC Fact Finding Mission on Syria found evidence indicating that crimes under international law, including crimes against humanity and other grave violations of human rights, have been committed by the government of Syria in the context of largely peaceful pro-democracy protests. Should the Commission of Inquiry confirm these findings, it is incumbent on UN member states to ensure:

• The transmission by the HRC of the Commission of Inquiry's findings to all relevant UN bodies without delay, including the General Assembly and the Security Council;

• The immediate referral by the UN Security Council of potential crimes under international law within the jurisdiction of the ICC, including crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian government, to the ICC Prosecutor;

It is also incumbent on UN member states to ensure:

• The immediate cooperation of Syria with humanitarian organizations, including granting them full access to its territory;

• The urgent deployment of a human rights monitoring presence inside Syria;

• An urgent response to credible reports of reprisals by Syrian authorities against human rights defenders and those who cooperate and provide information to the Commission of Inquiry and other UN human rights mechanisms;

• Action by all relevant UN bodies to ensure the protection of Syrian refugees and asylum seekers and provide for their humanitarian needs;

• The immediate cooperation of Syria with the HRC Commission of Inquiry.

According to the UN, since the beginning of protests in Syria more than 3,500 individuals have been killed, amongst whom were at least 187 children. The number of killed may be much higher. In spite of the announcement on 5 November of the release of 553 detainees by the Syrian government, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said on 8 November that "tens of thousands remain in detention and dozens continue to be arbitrarily arrested everyday" and that "Syrian troops continue to use tanks and heavy weaponry to mount attacks on residential areas in the city of Homs." Cities such as Homs, Deraa, Hama, Idlib and Deir El-Zour remain under complete military siege.

In August, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights presented the findings of the Fact Finding Mission on Syria established by the HRC. This Fact Finding Mission concluded that crimes against humanity appear to have been committed by the Syrian government. The High Commissioner recommended that the UN Security Council refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the ICC. To date, the UN Security Council has failed to heed this request or pass a resolution aimed at providing protection for victims of human rights violations in Syria. We are deeply troubled by this inaction, and the reluctance of some members of the UN Security Council to support efforts to pass a resolution intended to ensure accountability for international crimes committed by the Syrian government.

On 4 October, the UN Security Council failed to adopt draft resolution S/2011/612 which would have required the Syrian authorities, inter alia, to cease all violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians. The Security Council failed to do so because of a veto by the Russian Federation and China. Brazil, India, Lebanon and South Africa abstained from the vote.

On 2 November, the Syrian government stated its intention to abide by the conditions of the Roadmap created by the League of Arab States (Arab League) concerning the situation in Syria. This Roadmap calls for a halt to all violence against civilians and a withdrawal of the government's military presence from cities. Despite this, the Syrian government has not halted its widespread and systematic attacks on civilians or withdrawn its military presence from cities. On the contrary, reports suggest that attacks against civilians by government forces have intensified in some areas of Syria since 2 November, with the city of Homs, in particular, coming under intense siege by the military resulting in numerous civilian casualties. According to human rights groups, more than 370 Syrians have been killed since 2 November. Prolonged violence by the Syrian authorities is resulting in a general deterioration of security within the country.

On 20 November, the Arab League, in an official statement, rejected the amendments of the Syrian government to a proposed Arab League led monitoring mission to Syria, determining that the amendments proposed by Syria "changed the very nature of the mandate of the monitoring mission of the LAS [Arab League] which is charged with achieving the implementation of the road map."

This continuing unwillingness of the Syrian authorities to end attacks against civilians and fully cooperate with the Arab League underlines the need for the United Nations to take decisive action to ensure accountability for crimes committed in Syria, and provide immediate protection for the victims of these crimes.

A Special Session on Syria should back the efforts of the Arab League to ensure an end to all acts of violence against civilians, the release of all political prisoners, the removal of the Syrian military from populated areas, and access to Syria by independent observers and international media.

We call on those states that have thus far opposed or failed to fully back international action to end crimes under international law and other grave violations of human rights in Syria and bring those responsible for these crimes to justice, now to support action by the HRC to ensure such accountability and to provide protection to victims and witnesses of such crimes, including by supporting a resolution at the HRC that urges the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the ICC if the Commission of Inquiry finds evidence of crimes under international law, including crimes against humanity.

We particularly call on Brazil, India and South Africa, in light of their own histories of struggle for democratic governance, to speak out strongly and clearly against the brutal repression that is continuing in Syria and to ensure that all alleged crimes under international law are investigated with a view to ensuring that those who perpetrate such crimes are held accountable.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
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