UNHRC slams Syrian gov’t, calls for fact-finding mission

Council asks to investigate the “crimes” that have been “perpetrated” in Syria and to ensure full accountability.

Syrian masses protest 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian masses protest 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The United States won a victory at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday, as it persuaded a majority of the 47 member states to condemn the Syrian government for its “lethal violence against peaceful protesters.
The council also asked the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights to send a fact-finding mission to Syria, to investigate the “crimes” that have been “perpetrated” there and to ensure full accountability.
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It further asked that a report on these activities be delivered to the council at its 17th and 18th sessions.
The US had called for the special session on Syria and had penned the text of the resolution. As part of its negotiations to pass the resolution, it deleted the section that referred to the Syria’s bid for membership on the council, due be considered on May 20.
But in speaking of the resolution on Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “The findings of this special session further reinforce the crucial need for council members to reject Syria’s hypocritical candidacy for membership on the Human Rights Council.
“No country engaged in such horrific and ongoing human rights abuses should be considered for membership on this important body,” she said.
Clinton said support for the resolution “unequivocally indicates that the use of force by the Syrian government to quell peaceful political demonstrators is unacceptable.
“The international community has spoken and expressed its outrage at the violence used by the Syrian government to deny its population their universal human rights, including the freedoms of expression and assembly.”
The resolution was approved by 26 nations. Nine countries opposed it and seven countries abstained.
Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and Bahrain were among five delegations absent for the vote, which came after heated debate and behind-the-scenes negotiations that led to some watering down of the text.
“In general it is a good result, we knew it would be a compromise,” Radwan Ziadah, a Syrian exile who heads the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies, told Reuters.
“At the same time, the countries who were absent were very telling.
Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Jordan, four Arab countries, this is very telling, it tells you how much the Syrian regime is isolated. This very important step for us,” said Ziadah, a visiting scholar at George Washington University who came to Geneva for the session.
A Syrian rights group said this week at least 500 civilians had been killed since unrest broke out in Deraa in mid-March.
Amnesty International said Syrian forces were committing grave violations with total impunity, and the NGO voiced concern over the fate of hundreds of people held in custody.
“We have received harrowing firsthand testimony of torture and other ill-treatment, including severe beatings with sticks, rifle-butts and cables, electrocution and sexual assault, that has been meted out on detainees, some of them children,” Peter Splinter, Amnesty’s representative in Geneva, told the council.
Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ghana and Zambia were among key swing states that supported the Western resolution. Pakistan, China and Russia voted against it, denouncing meddling in Syria’s internal affairs and accusing the council of double standards.
“My country has always believed that ‘naming and shaming’ is an approach which is counterproductive,” Pakistani Ambassador Zamir Akram told the gathering.
“This will only complicate the situation of human rights in Syria and increase tensions in the country,” China’s envoy warned before the vote.
Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, Syria’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said his country’s security forces were showing “maximum selfrestraint to avoid victims among innocent civilians.”
Some 60 officers and soldiers had been killed in the violence, he said.
Britain and France condemned the crackdown and said Syria had no place on the council. “The appropriate response to the protests is reform, not repression,” British Ambassador Peter Gooderham said.
Human Rights Watch called for the Arab League to withdraw its support for Syria’s candidacy to the rights forum.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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