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Statement of Chaloka Beyani, Chairperson of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, during the urgent debate of the Human Rights Council on the deteriorating situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

Urgent Debate on the deteriorating situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic and the recent killings in Al Qusayr

Twenty-Third Session of the Human Rights Council

Geneva, 29 May 2013

Mr. President, Distinguished delegates, colleagues and friends,

I am delivering this statement on behalf of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Using his presence at the Council today, the Coordination Committee has also asked my colleague Christof Heyns to share his views from the perspective of his mandate.

The convening by the Human Rights Council of this special session today reflects the urgency and profound seriousness of the situation in Syria. We continue to struggle to understand how to respond to the conflict in Syria in a way which upholds the principles of respect for human rights, our responsibility to protect innocent civilians, and bring a halt to a nation’s descent into a spiral of violence and destruction.

Despite the brave efforts of many, within and outside Syria, to respond to the urgent humanitarian needs and find a solution to end human suffering, we have not yet succeeded. We now must examine closely the political, security, legal and ethical dimensions of this crisis, and how to address the current weaknesses in systems at the national, regional and international levels which have allowed it to escalate so horrifically.

Since violent unrest broke out in Syria in March 2011, the increasing gravity of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and the scale of humanitarian needs and destruction in the country have exceeded our worst expectations. Over 70 000 persons are estimated to have been killed during this conflict; residential areas and civilian facilities such as schools and hospitals have been subject to indiscriminate attacks by Government forces. There are accounts that anti-Government forces have been committing grave violations against civilians, including humanitarian workers, and using civilians as human shields. We reiterate our strong condemnation of such violations and call on all parties to the conflict to end the violence. We also urge them, with the support of the international community, urgently to find a political solution.

The United Nations estimates that there are now nearly 7 million people in need in Syria, of whom 3 million are children. Over 4 million people have been internally displaced and a further 1.4 million have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Significant more funding than originally predicted is needed to meet these urgent humanitarian needs. Regional and international solidarity will be required to provide urgent assistance for those inside Syria, protect those who have sought refuge outside Syria, resource hosting communities, and provide recovery assistance to what will be a traumatized Syria post-hostilities. We commend neighbouring States that have welcomed Syrian refugee populations and appeal to them to maintain strict respect for open border policy and non-refoulement. We call on donors to demonstrate their solidarity by urgently expanding assistance to neighbouring countries that are hosting refugees.

It is imperative that the Syrian Government and all other parties to the conflict ensure full and unimpeded humanitarian access to all in need, be they under Government or opposition control. While some cross-line assistance has been possible, there are significant gaps in assisting those in need, including IDPs in many areas. We are deeply concerned that humanitarian access within Syria has been shrinking as a result of security concerns and administrative and operational restrictions. We are profoundly disturbed by the increasing number of humanitarian workers and UN staff members who have been killed, injured and kidnapped, and the attacks on UN vehicles, medical personnel and facilities. Such actions violate humanitarian principles and international law, take the lives of these workers, and deprive civilians of life-saving assistance. The Government of Syria must act urgently to increase capacity to respond to growing humanitarian needs. It must ease its administrative procedures for the provision of aid in Syria and reverse its increasingly restrictive authorization policy for local and international humanitarian NGOs wishing to undertake humanitarian work.

The State has the primary responsibility to ensure respect for human rights and international law, and exercise due diligence in order to prevent abuses by non-State actors. But all other parties to the conflict also have specific responsibilities and should also be held accountable under international law.

On 15 May 2013, the General Assembly adopted resolution A/67/L.63 on Syria requesting that the mandate on the human rights of internally displaced persons provide it with a report on the dire situation of IDPs in Syria, including with regard to their safety, basic rights and livelihoods, within 90 days. This mandate will prepare this report, on the basis of a desk review, with the support of other key United Nations stakeholders, and stands ready to share the findings of this report with this Council.

Mr. President,

If we fail to find a solution to this crisis, the short and long term consequences on the Syrian people and the State itself will be immeasurable. There will also be profound negative effects on other countries in the region. There are already indications that this crisis is affecting neighbouring countries. We call on the Syrian authorities and all other parties to the conflict to respect international law and urgently find a political solution. We also urge them to provide full and unhindered access to the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria, the Commission of Inquiry, the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council and all humanitarian actors. We appeal to the Security Council to strengthen its efforts to restore peace and security to the country.

The Council must use all means possible to end the suffering of the Syrian people. This is their expectation and the Council's moral and legal responsibility.

Thank you for your attention.