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Ambassador Donahoe Takes Questions from the Press at Syria Special Session – Transcript
December 2, 2011

Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council

Speaking with the Press on the Sidelines of the Special Session on Syria

December 2, 2011

Ambassador Donahoe:  Today is a very important day for the Human Rights Council.  As you know, this is the third time that we’ve had to call an urgent session to address the human rights crisis in Syria in just the last seven months.  Today’s session had unprecedented support from 29 members of the Human Rights Council and 72 UN member states.  That’s the highest level support we’ve ever received for any special session at the Human Rights Council.  Those numbers are significant.

I think what’s notable about what we heard today from the Commission of Inquiry and the High Commissioner as well as the Special Procedures include the escalating numbers of killings, numbers of people in detention and arrested, numbers of people seeking exile, refugees, and those who are internally displaced.  The numbers are escalating and the situation is worsening by the day.

I also have to comment on, in particular, the really disgusting, appalling factual evidence of torture of children to the point of death; sexual violence on a widespread basis, particularly against men, also of children to the point of death and of women in detention.

Another very important aspect of the proceedings I just stepped away from include the emotional appeals we heard from the Arab leadership.  This special session was called for with the support of Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Libya in their renewed membership status, and Jordan.  Very important to have all of that Arab support.  And I think you could even go so far as to say the emotional appeal made by the Arab members really captures the sentiment today of the international community and they are leading us in our shared views that the Assad regime must step down, the violence must end.

I think last I will comment on the evidence of complicity of the Assad regime in these atrocities.  There is no doubt of that complicity in the intentional nature of this violence.  It’s systematic, widespread, and to the point of possibly raising to the level of crimes against humanity.

I think the evidence that we heard today, and that’s in the report coming from defectors about their instructions to shoot and kill, open fire on peaceful protestors is devastating, and the fact that some of those defectors themselves lost their lives because they could not follow those orders speaks for itself.

I will stop there and take your questions.

Question:  How disappointed are you that the resolution appears to have been watered down and removed any reference to the Security Council?  Is that an effort to get all countries including Russia and China on board?

Ambassador Donahoe:  I think there’s always a tradeoff.  The United States, as much as anybody in this case, would like to see the most forward-leaning possible resolution with respect to the human rights situation in Syria.  We always want it to be the most forward leaning.  However, we all have a tradeoff with garnering the support from as many countries as possible and we’re always seeking cross-regional support.  So we are extremely satisfied that what looks like will be the end point, the resolution that we will pass later today, will be very forward-leaning and will have the highest level of support that we could have hoped for.  So I think we have a really nice balance there between those two elements.

Question:  The Russians suggested that opposition forces in Syria are getting weapons from outside and that is fueling the conflicts.  What is your position?

Ambassador Donahoe:  I would say everybody has to keep the focus on the complicity of the Syrian authorities.  That is where our focus should be.  These are human rights violations by the government and I think that there’s a lot of propaganda about whether it’s involvement of outsiders or the responsibility of opposition forces.  I think a lot of that should not be our focus.  Our responsibility is to address the complicity of the government and accountability for human rights violations that have been committed by the government.