Statement delivered on behalf of all Special Procedures mandate-holders of the United Nations Human Rights Council at the Seventeenth Special Session of the Human Rights Council on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

Geneva, 22 August 2011

Statement delivered on video* by the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan Méndez

Madam Vice-President, Excellencies, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Coordination Committee of Special Procedures has requested me to deliver the following statement on behalf of the Special Procedures mandate-holders of the Human Rights Council. We have taken this opportunity to address you as we have been alerted to some of the worst violations a State can commit against its people.

Since the beginning of the protests in Syria, we have persistently urged the Government to put an end to the violence. Most recently we have denounced that the scale and gravity of the crackdown against protesters continues unabated, and reiterated our call for an immediate end to the violent strategies adopted by the Government to quell largely peaceful demonstrations.

The figures reported speak for themselves. With 2,000 deaths reported since mid-March 2011, numerous serious injuries due to shelling, the use of live ammunition, heavy machine guns, sniping and ill-treatment, including thousands of arbitrary detentions of protesters, incommunicado detention, and possibly a large number of enforced disappearances, we fear that the threshold of widespread and systematic violence has clearly been reached.

According to reports, the Syrian people have suffered from further heavy restrictions on their fundamental rights and freedoms. Military operations have been conducted in numerous cities across Syria. Entire cities and towns have been reportedly besieged, depriving the population of basic water and food supplies and leading to a humanitarian crisis. Thousands of those who were not under siege have fled to neighbouring countries fearing reprisals from security forces.

It has not been easy to gather precise information about the extent of the atrocities unfolding on the ground, as journalists, human rights defenders and others have been prevented from monitoring the situation and investigating violations. Many have been targeted, banned from accessing the country, detained, ill-treated and even reported to be missing. Means of communication have been disrupted.

While promising reforms and enacting new legislation, the Government has unfortunately continuously stepped up the crackdown against protesters. The issuing of a number of legislative decrees in April, notably on the termination of the state of emergency, granting Syrian nationality to Kurds, or restricting the detention of people suspected of having committed criminal offences to 24 hours are welcome steps forward. However, we expect much more from the authorities, starting with an immediate end to the violence.

Despite numerous calls made by the United Nations Security Council, the Secretary-General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as many States, international organizations and civil society, the international community continues to be alerted to reports indicating blatant excessive use of force against unarmed civilians, unlawful prohibition of the rights to freedom of assembly and of expression, attacks against medical facilities and personnel, torture in detention facilities and deaths in custody, and unacknowledged detentions that constitute enforced disappearances.

The international community has the duty not to allow these violations to go unpunished and to assess whether some of these violations may constitute crimes against humanity. If we are serious about combatting human rights violations, we should not turn a blind eye to these egregious acts. We believe that those bearing the highest responsibility for such violations should be referred to the highest instances to be prosecuted and judged. Perpetrators should be held accountable and victims or their families should be adequately compensated.

In this respect, we deplore that the fact-finding mission of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has not been allowed access to the country to gather first-hand information on the human rights situation on the ground. We urge the authorities to grant such free and unfettered access. This would also send a strong signal that the Syrian authorities are willing to cooperate with the United Nations. We do however welcome the mission of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which will hopefully open space for humanitarian assistance that is so urgently needed. We nevertheless regret that the Government has not actively engaged with our mandates. We call for cooperation in this regard and to respond to our requests for access and information.

We once again, in the strongest terms, condemn the brutal repression of protesters and express our solidarity with the Syrian people and the victims of this unjustified repression. We urge the Syrian authorities to immediately stop all acts of violence and embark upon a path of urgent and thorough democratic reforms which meet the claims and demands of the Syrian people in a spirit of openness and dialogue, where everyone has a role to play in the public sphere, including women and minority groups, with respect for the human rights of all.

We thank you for your attention.

(*) Watch the video message:


Note to editors: Phone interviews can be arranged with:

· The Chairperson of the Coordination Committee of special procedures, Farida Shaheed;
· The Chairperson of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Jeremy Sarkin;
· The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns;
· And the Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez

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