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55th Session of the Human Rights Council: Inquiry into Human Rights Violations in Syria

© 2023 Anas Alkharboutli/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

55th Session of the Human Rights Council: Inquiry into Human Rights Violations in Syria

20-03-2024

Haneen Alawawdeh

Team UN Geneva Researcher,

Global Human Rights Defence.

The 55th session of the Human Rights Council included the 33rd and 34th meetings, which focused on the dialogue with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. The commission, represented by Mr. Paolo Sergio Pinheiro, Mr. Hani Megali, and Ms. Lynn Welchman, presented its findings on the intensifying violence impacting Syrian civilians. The report, presented by the Chair Mr. Paolo Sergio Pinheiro, documented numerous instances where civilian areas such as schools, markets, and hospitals were attacked, leading to significant civilian casualties and the displacement of populations [1]. The commission conveyed serious concern about the deteriorating situation as ongoing clashes among different factions increased the instability in the region. Furthermore, the report shed light on human rights violations like arbitrary detentions, executions, and the hindrance of humanitarian aid. The commission underlined the pressing need for a ceasefire and an international effort towards a fair political solution. Despite the obstacles, the commissioners acknowledged Syrian civil society activists and victim associations for their work in pursuing justice and accountability. The conclusion of Mr. Pinheiro’s presentation was a call to the international community to maintain focus and act to lessen the Syrians’ suffering and strive to end the conflict.

In response, Mr. Haydar Ali Ahmad, representing the Syrian Arab Republic, delivered a robust critique against the Commission of Inquiry’s reports and methodologies, contending that they have been manipulated to align with the political agendas of their supporters rather than offering an impartial assessment of the human rights situation in Syria. He accused the COI of displaying a biased focus that condemns the Syrian government while downplaying the roles of foreign actors, alleging that this compromises the Commission’s credibility. Additionally, he leveled accusations against the COI, suggesting it indirectly supports terrorist groups and overlooks the transgressions of countries backing it. Ahmad defended Syria’s commitment to combating terrorism and addressing the humanitarian crisis, emphasizing the government’s efforts to facilitate the safe return of refugees and condemning sanctions imposed by Western nations. He portrayed Syria as resolute in its endeavor to reclaim sovereignty amidst what it perceives as the politicized exploitation of its humanitarian challenges.

During the deliberations of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, representatives from several European countries, including but not limited to France, Italy, Germany, Malta, Switzerland, and Belgium, articulated a consensus of concern regarding the ongoing humanitarian crisis and systematic human rights abuses perpetrated in the Syrian context. These states unequivocally decried practices such as indiscriminate torture, arbitrary incarceration, and violent civilian repression, which are attributed to the Syrian regime and its supporting forces [2].

These European nations advocated for actionable international measures aimed at the investigation and legal redress of war crimes, suggesting recourse to entities such as the International Criminal Court. The discourse from these states emphasized a persistent violation of International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law, particularly by the Syrian regime and its affiliates, and they supported proposals for the referral of the Syrian situation to judicial institutions that handle such crimes.

The European Union, conjoined with its member states, underscored the crucial need for maintaining humanitarian corridors and ensuring aid delivery within Syrian borders. They acknowledged the conflict’s exacerbation of pre-existing socioeconomic declines and its role in the mass displacement of Syrian citizens, emphasizing the necessity of humanitarian intervention to mitigate civilian adversities.

Additionally, Belgium and Ukraine foregrounded particular aspects of the crisis. Belgium called for sustained political commitment to the Syrian cause, focusing on the ceasing of international law violations. In contrast, Ukraine specifically attributed responsibility for civilian suffering to the indiscriminate aerial offenses conducted by Russian military assets in Syria.

In a strong stance against Syria, the United States, represented by Mr. Jesse Lynch, firmly supports the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (COI), and expresses appreciation for its commissioners. Lynch condemns the Syrian regime’s brutal suppression, denouncing extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, and the deployment of chemical weapons. Highlighting the ongoing atrocities, emphasis is placed on the regime’s airstrikes causing civilian casualties and mass displacement. The United States stands in solidarity with Syrian human rights defenders, endorsing initiatives such as the UN’s independent institution on missing persons as crucial steps toward achieving accountability [3].

Contrarily, the Russian Federation, represented by Mr. Ivan Tatarinov, opposes punitive measures against Syria. Tatarinov attributes Syria’s socioeconomic challenges to sanctions imposed by the US and its allies, which hinder reconstruction efforts and the return of refugees [4]. He criticizes the US for its alleged unlawful military presence and human rights violations. The focus is on restoring Syria’s control under legitimate authorities, dismissing perceived biases in the Commission’s approach.


Similarly, Belarus, through Mr. Maksim Sapsai, voices discontent with the sanctions on Syria, suggesting that such measures only intensify the hardships of the Syrian populace and pose obstacles to the path of peace. Belarus condemns what it perceives as prejudiced mandates and unwarranted external meddling, pressing for collaboration with the Syrian authorities to resolve the ongoing strife. Belarus demands an immediate halt to sanctions and foreign interference, pushing for trust-based discussions to enable the secure repatriation of migrants and to safeguard human rights within Syria.

Also, Iran, through Mr. Ali Bahreini, aligns against punitive measures. Iran concurs with Syria’s ambassador, highlighting the country’s challenges, including territorial occupation and external interventions. They criticize the Commission for overlooking the impact of unilateral coercive measures (UCMs), advocating for their immediate cessation and reconstruction efforts. Iran calls for safeguarding Syria’s resources and ending support for terrorist groups, urging a comprehensive approach to alleviate the suffering of Syrians.

Iraq opposes measures against Syria, viewing them as selective and politicized. They express concern over the humanitarian situation in Syrian camps and reject unilateral coercive measures. Iraq advocates for a negotiated and peaceful solution without foreign interference, emphasizing respect for Syria’s sovereignty. Also, Egypt echoes similar sentiments, Egypt condemned external interventions and sanctions in Syria, urging respect for Syrian sovereignty and UN-led political resolution efforts. They accused the USA and UK of aggravating humanitarian issues through air strikes and sanctions, calling for these measures’ removal and support for Syria’s reconstruction. Egypt also criticized the Human Rights Council’s ineffective handling of the Syrian crisis despite substantial efforts.

On the other hand, Jordan and Lebanon, both neighboring countries directly impacted by the Syrian crisis, share concerns and priorities in their approaches. Jordan emphasizes the enduring consequences of the crisis, particularly its burden of hosting over 1.3 million Syrian refugees, and calls for adherence to UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the safe return of refugees. Jordan highlighted the inadequate international support received, with only 22% of the Syrian crisis response plan funds allocated to the country. Lebanon disagreed with the commission’s assessment that the Syrian Arab Republic remains unsafe for return, considering it an overgeneralization beyond the commission’s mandate [5]. Lebanon argued that this conclusion failed to consider the complexities of the situation, particularly the challenges faced by neighboring countries like Lebanon in hosting protected refugees.

However, Qatar has reaffirmed its staunch support for accountability and the need to tackle the Syrian crisis, by commending the work of the Commission of Inquiry and highlighting the escalating humanitarian situation in Syria. Through these acknowledgments, Qatar emphasizes the imperative of adhering to a diplomatic resolution in line with Security Council Resolution 2254 and insists on bringing human rights violators to justice to provide redress for their victims [6]. Moreover, Qatar appeals to the international community to exert influence on the Syrian regime to participate constructively in the constitutional committee, thereby fostering a political resolution as delineated by Security Council Resolution 2254.  Despite facing criticism from Syria regarding the tone of its language, Qatar stood by its position, which prompted the Vice President to reiterate the importance of maintaining diplomatic decorum.

In the discourse on the Syrian crisis, contributions from human rights organizations centered on themes of humanitarian assistance, the pursuit of justice, and the strengthening of civil society. Physicians for Human Rights highlighted the deliberate and ongoing assaults on medical professionals and facilities in Syria, illuminating the devastating impact on healthcare infrastructure and medical services availability to the public. The Gulf Center for Human Rights drew attention to persistent violence and breaches of humanitarian legislation, advocating for accountability for these infractions and endorsing international efforts to investigate and prosecute those responsible. The Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression praised the report detailing violations in Syria and accentuated the critical role of the body charged with determining the whereabouts of the missing. The World Jewish Congress addressed the importance of safeguarding women’s rights within the Syrian context, stressing the urgency of confronting gender-based violence and calling for concerted measures to combat the culture of impunity, especially concerning crimes of a gendered nature.

At the conclusion of the dialogue, the commissioners accentuated the acute adversity faced by Syrian women, children, and particularly those in women-headed households, noting worsening conditions, restricted access to essential documents, and a decline in humanitarian aid that has led to increased gender-based violence risk. They also highlighted the plight of approximately 30,000 children detained in camps in the northeast, emphasizing the need for their repatriation and commending the efforts of states working towards this goal. Addressing the broader conflict, the commissioners called for an end to external support to parties violating humanitarian and human rights laws, advocating for a Syrian-led recovery process, enhanced humanitarian access, and stronger civil society and institutional support. Acknowledging advances in holding human rights violators accountable, they stressed the need for continued work to achieve full justice for victims, concluding with gratitude for the contributions to the dialogue and reaffirming a commitment to addressing the ongoing humanitarian and human rights challenges in Syria.


Sources and further readings: 


[1] United Nations. (2024). Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. Retrieved from https://documents.un.org/doc/undoc/gen/g24/012/73/pdf/g2401273.pdf?token=AmMfboYznAP76nywEt&fe=true


[2] Syrian Network for Human Rights. (2023). Most Notable Human Rights Violations in Syria in October 2023. Retrieved from https://snhr.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/M231103E.pdf


[3] United Nations. (2023, June 29). Press Release: General Assembly Adopts Resolution Establishing Independent Institution on Missing Persons in Syria, as Speakers Debate Text’s Merit. Retrieved from https://press.un.org/en/2023/ga12514.doc.htm



[4] Human Rights Watch. (2023, June 22). Questions and Answers: How Sanctions Affect Humanitarian Response in Syria. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/06/22/questions-and-answers-how-sanctions-affect-humanitarian-response-syria


[5] United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. (2024, February). Syrian Returnees Subjected to Gross Human Rights Violations and Abuses – UN. Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2024/02/syrian-returnees-subjected-gross-human-rights-violations-and-abuses-un


[6] United Nations Security Council. (2015, December 18). Resolution 2254 (2015). Adopted by the Security Council at its 7588th meeting, on 18 December 2015. Retrieved from https://documents.un.org/doc/undoc/gen/n15/443/34/pdf/n1544334.pdf?token=iSazKQvXvXoXK0SJ3Z&fe=true


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