UN Human Rights Council to put pressure on Syria

by Marie Sanz, AFP

The UN Human Rights Council’s annual session opens Monday determined to put more pressure on Syria’s hardline regime after publication of a list of officials suspected of crimes against humanity.

“We want Syrian authorities to give up being in denial,” said one diplomat. The Human Rights Council must “continue to put pressure on Syrian authorities”.

The annual meetings which will be opened by UN rights chief Navi Pillay and Nassir Abdulaziz Al Nasser of Qatar, president of the UN General Assembly for 2011-12, will also look into latest developments in Iran, Libya, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and North Korea.

However debates during the first three days were expected to focus on the nearly one-year deadly crackdown by the regime of Bashar al-Assad on dissent in Syria.

More than 7,600 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad’s rule erupted in March, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

About 90 government ministers and senior officials, including the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Spain, Egypt and Iran, as well as Libyan Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al-Kib, were expected to attend.

Qatar, which has backed calls for an Arab peacekeeping force in Syria, and several other Arab countries, the European Union and the United States have called for an “urgent debate” on the escalating crisis on Tuesday.

“I hope that a strong political message will come from this debate with an appeal for better access to humanitarian aid, and particularly a humanitarian truce for which the ICRC continues to work,” said council president Laura Dupuy Lasserre of Uruguay.

International investigators on Thursday gave Pillay a list of Syrian military and political officials suspected of crimes against humanity that will be discussed on March 12.

The UN-commissioned panel said it documented a widespread and systematic pattern of gross violations by Syrian forces, “in conditions of impunity”, since March 2011.

It said Syria’s government had “manifestly failed” to protect its people, but also said it had found instances of gross abuses committed by rebel fighters, many of them army defectors.

The commission recommended the initiation of an inclusive political dialogue, bringing together the government and opposition groups.

The human rights council was expected to look into a draft resolution that would renew the panel mandate.

The council wants international pressure on the Assad regime to be stepped up, an end to the violence and better access for humanitarian aid, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, US ambassador to the council, told a press briefing.

A European diplomat also confirmed that the annual session which winds up on March 23 aims to agree on a “strong resolution” as the situation on the ground continued to get worse. He called the panel list “shattering”.

The council has so far held three special sessions on the festering Syria crisis and Pillay has asked the UN Security Council and General Assembly in New York to hold Assad to account for crimes against humanity.

Hasni Abidi, director of the Study and Research Centre for the Arab and Mediterranean World in Geneva, praised the council for its work in the Syria crisis, saying that “for the first time we can see that the human rights council has an edge over traditional UN bodies” in New York.

“It sets the bar very high,” he told AFP, “which means that there is no possible room left for negotiations with the Assad clan when those people are wanted for crimes against humanity.”

Religious intolerance, freedom of expression, human rights violations because of sexual orientation and minority rights are also on the menu of the four-week session.

On March 7 a debate on gay rights has been scheduled but the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has expressed its misgivings.

“We hope that member countries of the OIC will not boycott the debate, which would be a very negative message,” said Dupuy Lasserre.