19th Special Session of the Human Rights Council on the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria and the killings in El-Houleh

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4th Special Session of the Human Rights Council on Syria

This was the 4th time in 13 months that the Human Rights Council had convened for a special session on Syria; on this occasion, it was prompted in particular by the killings a week earlier in El Houleh which were met with shock and condemnation on an international scale.

The session was opened with a statement from the Office of the High Commissioner, who urged Syrian authorities to respect joint UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s 6-point peace plan and warned that failure to do so could place the future of both Syria and the Middle East in danger.  The Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary Executions suggested in his video message that the atrocities ought to be brought to the International Criminal Court.

Syria’s response

Syria claimed that the government-led investigation into the El-Houleh massacre had proven that there were no traces of artillery fire by government forces, as has been alleged, and that the killings were carried out by anti-government forces in order to provoke sectarian strife. The delegation also pointed to the USA and Israel in particular for supporting anti-government activists and for attempting to undermine the country and provoke unfounded international criticism.  These accusations were later echoed by Cuba in their statement.

Condemnation of Syrian regime

EU states explicitly held the government responsible for the El-Houleh massacre as well as other acts of violence against citizens.  They considered Annan’s peace plan and the UNSMIS mission as the best solutions to the conflict, and stated their intention to continue sanctions against Syria as long as oppression continued.  Canada, Qatar, Uruguay among others aligned themselves with this position.

The USA and France had particularly strong words of condemnation against the Al-Assad regime, offering support for those civilians involved in the uprising.  The Ambassador claimed that the weapons used in El-Houleh are only possessed by the Syrian authorities, thus rendering the government fully responsible for the massacre.

The question of Syria’s sovereignty & international intervention

Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Russia and China rejected what they perceived as some states’ intentions to intervene in Syria and thus undermine its national sovereignty and structural integrity; they called for an end to violence, but certainly not an end to the current regime.

Decision of the special session

The draft resolution S19L1 brought before the Council, presented by Djibouti, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the USA, with 60 cosponsors, acknowledges that the El-Houleh massacre could constitute crimes against humanity to be brought before the International Criminal Court.  It emphasises the Syrian authorities’ failure in their responsibility to protect civilians, and urges the state to allow UN human rights bodies and humanitarian agencies unlimited access to the country, as well as an independent fact-finding mission into the killings in El-Houleh, which will report to the Human Rights Council at its next session.  Joint envoy Kofi Annan is also invited to brief the Council at that session.  

The resolution was passed with 41 votes in favour, 3 against (Cuba, China, Russia) and 2 abstentions (Ecuador, Uganda).

You can read the resolution here

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