Syria’s military and security forces have committed crimes against humanity during their crackdown on protesters, a United Nations-appointed probe said today, urging the Government to immediately end “gross” human rights violations and bring perpetrators to justice.
In August the UN Human Rights Council established the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in the country since March, when the pro-democracy protests began.
Syria is “responsible for wrongful acts, including crimes against humanity, committed by members of its military and security forces as documented in the present report,” states the report, which was presented at a news conference in Geneva by the three-member commission.
The 39-page report documents patterns of summary execution, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, torture, including sexual violence, as well as violations of children’s rights.
“The substantial body of evidence gathered by the commission indicates that these gross violations of human rights have been committed by Syrian military and security forces since the beginning of the protests in March,” states the report.
According to international law, when certain crimes are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilians and the perpetrators know that their conduct is part of this attack, such offences constitute crimes against humanity, the report points out.
“The commission is thus gravely concerned that crimes against humanity of murder, torture, rape or other forms of sexual violence of comparable gravity, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty, enforced disappearances of persons and other inhumane acts of a similar character have occurred in different locations in the country since March,” it adds.
The commission called on the Syrian Government to put an immediate end to the ongoing gross human rights violations, to initiate independent and impartial investigations of these violations and to bring perpetrators to justice.
It also reiterated its call for immediate and unhindered access to Syria, noting that the Government, despite many requests, failed to engage in dialogue and to grant the commission access to the country.
The report – authored by chairperson Paulo Pinheiro, Yakin Ertürk and Karen Koning AbuZayd – is based on interviews with 223 victims and witnesses of alleged human rights violations, including civilians and defectors from the military and the security forces.
From the end of September until mid-November, the commission held meetings with Member States from all regional groups, regional organizations, including the League of Arab States and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), human rights defenders, journalists and experts.
More than 3,500 Syrians have been killed since the start of the protests, which are part of a broader uprising across North Africa and the Middle East that has led to the toppling of long-standing regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
“Governments have an obligation to maintain public order. They bear the ultimate responsibility for protecting individuals under their jurisdiction, including those participating in public assemblies and exercising their right to freedom of expression,” states the report.
“In the Syrian Arab Republic, the high toll of dead and injured is the result of the excessive use of force by State forces in many regions,” it adds.
Among its recommendations, the commission suggested that the Human Rights Council establish the mandate of a special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Syria, and that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) establish a field presence in the country with a protection and promotion mandate.