UN rights chief urges international community to make efforts to end impunity in Syria

Meeting of the Human Rights Council Special Session on Syria.
UN Photo/Pierre Albouy
Meeting of the Human Rights Council Special Session on Syria.

UN rights chief urges international community to make efforts to end impunity in Syria

The United Nations human rights chief today called on the international community to make all efforts to end impunity in Syria for all perpetrators of atrocities that have occurred there, and warned that without immediate investigations the situation would descend into a full-fledged conflict putting the whole region in grave danger.

“There is a need for prompt, independent and impartial international investigations into all serious human rights violations in Syria, including those that have occurred in Houla,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said, in a speech delivered on her behalf, during a special session of the UN Human Rights Council, which focussed on the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria and the recent killings in the village of Houla.

“We must make all efforts to end impunity, to ensure accountability for perpetrators, and to provide adequate and effective remedies for the victims,” she added.

The meeting is the Council’s fourth special session on Syria since the crisis in the Middle Eastern country began some 15 months ago. The UN estimates that more than 9,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began. According to preliminary investigations, the massacre in Houla last weekend resulted in the deaths of 108 people, including 49 children and 34 women.

“These acts may amount to crimes against humanity and other international crimes, and may be indicative of a pattern of widespread or systematic attacks against civilian populations that have been perpetrated with impunity,” Ms. Pillay said.

Ms. Pillay expressed her regret that despite the Council’s calls on the Government of Syria for cooperation, the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria still had not been granted access to Syria.

“I reiterate my call to the Government of Syria to grant the Commission of Inquiry full and unimpeded access to the country to carry out investigations into all human rights violations, including the Houla events,” she said.

In its update, based on interviews, to the Human Rights Council in May, the Commission – a UN independent panel probing abuses in Syria – said that the Syrian Government has so far not provided it with access. It noted that gross human rights violations continue unabated in the Middle Eastern country, amid increasing militarization of the strife there, despite an earlier agreement by parties to the conflict to halt hostilities.

In addition, it said that most of the serious violations were committed by the Syrian army and security services as part of military or search operations in locations thought to host defectors or armed people, and those seen as supporters of anti-government armed groups. It also noted that it had received several reports stating that anti-government armed groups were committing human rights abuses.

In her remarks to the Council on Friday, Ms. Pillay also called on Syria to assume its responsibility to protect the civilian population in the country.

“I reiterate that those who order, assist, or fail to stop attacks on civilians are individually criminally liable for their actions. Other States have a duty to do all they can to prevent and prosecute perpetrators of international crimes,” she said, urging the Security Council to consider referring the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Ms. Pillay urged the international community to back the six-point plan put forward by the Joint Special Envoy of the UN and the Arab League of States on the Syrian Crisis, Kofi Annan, and called on the Government to cooperate fully with the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS).

Spread out in various locations, the UNSMIS observers are tasked with monitoring the cessation of violence and supporting the full implementation of the six-point plan. The plan calls for an end to violence, access for humanitarian agencies to provide relief to those in need, the release of detainees, the start of inclusive political dialogue that takes into account the aspirations of the Syrian people, and unrestricted access to the country for the international media.

Mr. Annan is currently in Beirut, Lebanon, where he met with Government officials to discuss the situation in Syria and its potential impact on its neighbouring countries, as well as the measures that can be taken to avoid the conflict from spreading across borders.