UNHRC to debate creation of investigatory c'tee on Syria

"It's important for the int'l community to come together in timely way in response to a grave and worsening situation," US official tells 'Post.'

Suzanne Nossel 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Suzanne Nossel 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The UN Human Rights Council is set to debate a call for an independent commission of inquiry into “alleged violations of international human rights law” in Syria when it convenes for a special session in Geneva on Friday.
This is the first time in its five-year history that the council has debated human rights abuses in Syria.RELATED:Rights group: Civilian deaths in Syria rise to 500
“I am hopeful that tomorrow we will be able to pass a strong resolution that sends a clear message to the Syrian government,” said Suzanne Nossel, US deputy assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of International Organization Affairs.
She spoke with The Jerusalem Post on the eve of the special session, to underscore its significance in light of the human rights crisis in Syria, which she said had “captured the world’s attention.”
The United States called for the special session and penned the draft resolution that will be debated and voted upon.
“I think it is important for the international community to come together in a timely way in response to a grave and worsening situation,” Nossel said.
“We have seen an escalation in violence and the number of killings. We are concerned that the situation could get worse.”
Nossel said the resolution clearly held the Syrian government accountable for the violence against its own population, but UN Watch warned that a later draft of the document had watered down some of that language.
The new text, the NGO said, failed to condemn the Syrian government. It also did not clearly call on the UN General Assembly to vote against Syria’s bid for a seat on the Human Rights Council when 15 of the 47 council seats are filled on May 20.
Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East
Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East
This latest draft was not posted on the UN website as of press time, but UN Watch said it had a copy of the draft, and gave it to the Post.
The original version of the US resolution condemned the Syrian government for killing and torture hundreds of innocent protesters, while the revised version condemned these actions, but not the Syrian government.
Similarly, the original version said that Syria’s recent human rights violations should be considered at the May 20 membership elections.
The more recent draft, however, merely recalled that a candidate’s contributions to human rights should be taken into account.
Still, in calling for an investigatory committee, the resolution does provide a mechanism to hold human rights abusers in Syria accountable for their actions.
The draft resolution states that the committee, when possible, will “identify those responsible, to make recommendations, in particular on accountability measures, all with a view to ensuring that those individuals responsible are held accountable.” The council’s president is to appoint this committee, which will submit a report to the council at its 17th regular session in June, according to the draft resolution.
Similarly it asks the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to travel to Syria and report back to the council.
The resolution drew rare praise from UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer.
“I commend US leadership which has resulted in holding Syria accountable for the first time ever at the human rights council,” he said. “The resolution is a positive, but we are concerned that the condemnation of the Syrian government was watered down and that there is no direct rejection of Syria’s membership bid.
“Instead there is only a vague reference to the election,” said Neuer.
US Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) criticized the council on Thursday in a statement. She took issue with Syria’s bid for a seat on the council.
“Recent atrocities in Syria and Libya have demonstrated just how broken the UN Human Rights Council is. Libya served as a member of the council until just recently, and Syria is poised to become a member next month,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“In this upcoming special session on Syria, the council will try to fool the world into believing that it defends human rights. However, the facts that the council only acts after extensive atrocities have already been committed, and is dominated by human rights abusers like China, Cuba and Russia, demonstrate what a sham the organization is,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
“What we need is a body of members committed to human rights and democracy, which can draw attention to and condemn human rights violations early and often. We should be spending our time and effort trying to create such a genuine human rights body. We do not help the cause of human rights or the victims of abuses by trying to prop up the failed Human Rights Council.”